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    Matt Ehrbar E36 BMW-M3-Convertible

    / #BMW-E36 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-Cabrio / #BMW-M3-E36 / #BMW-M3-Convertible / #BMW-M3-Convertible-E36 / #BMW-E36-Convertible / #BMW / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-Cabrio / #BMW-3-Series-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-Cabrio-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-M3-Cabrio-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-M3-Cabrio


    We admire someone who sticks to their guns. Matt said he wouldn’t buy an E36 M3 unless it was Techno violet so when this car popped up for sale just five miles from him, he knew he had to make it his. Being in the US, his M3 has an auto gearbox, which we never got here in the UK, but a manual swap is coming soon. The car was one of three built with a Sand interior; however, as it was in bad condition, Matt swapped it for a black interior. During its time with him, the M3 has been treated to uprated cooling and steering systems, a respray, and a few choice mods. These include R1 Concept discs and Hawk pads, K Sport coilovers and 17-inch CCW Classic 5s with polished faces and gold ARP hardware sitting on 15mm spacers all-round.
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    MODERN CLASSIC

    The E36 M3 is fast becoming something of a modern classic and this bagged ’vert is as clean as they come. Alex Barnett’s E36 M3 proves that with simple, well-executed modifications and a clean base you can make your BMW a real modern classic… Words: Ben Koflach. Photos: Matt Dear.

    What makes something classic? It’s an almost unanswerable question. While BMW’s own parts computer now designates the E36 as a classic model, is that a label that can truly be assigned to it? Looking over Alex Barnett’s E36 M3, though, you’d be hard-pushed to deny it of its status as something of a modern classic. So many E36s are left in a poor state of fettle, demonised for the track, or have been modified just that bit too far that the original ’90s feel they left the factory with has been lost. The E36 M3 was a special car and fortunately 24-year-old Alex’s retains its original nature yet with his own twist on it. Here’s a car that’s more about what hasn’t been done than what has. It has ‘cool classic’ written all over it.

    “I’ve owned the M3 for around 18 months now,” explains Alex. “I had a 323i Coupé before which I was planning to turbo or S54 swap, but when I thought about what I wanted from a car in the long run, I thought an M3 might be a better bet. I looked at eBay and saw this M3 for sale at a good price in Colchester. I messaged the seller, Ross, and headed down there the same weekend to view it. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it.”

    One of Alex’s many talents is paint correction and detailing. He could see the potential in the M3 even though it wasn’t looking its best when he picked it up. “The car was in reasonable condition,” he says. “The paintwork was okay but really flat and the rear arches were starting to rot – which the E36 is known for. Other than being on some FK coilovers, it was standard. Once I’d bought it I got straight to work on getting the paintwork up to my standards.”

    In the end every panel apart from the doors and boot was repainted before Alex was completely happy with it but, as you can see, it was worth it. Alex’s trusted bodyshop Chappell Coachworks (near Brands Hatch race circuit) has done a sublime job. “The plan was always to stance it; if it had been an M3 Coupé I’d most likely would have turned it into a track car but, being a convertible, I thought the right path would be to stance it… which I received a lot of hate for!” laughed Alex.

    “I put my Borbet A wheels on the car, wound the coilovers right down and started attending shows,” he smiles. However, there was always a plan in the back of Alex’s mind. He didn’t want to ruin the E36’s undercarriage by running low and static. He knew air was the best way to go. “With it being an M, I think keeping it OEM+ is an investment so that one day I can turn it back to standard and sell it – not that I plan to do that just yet! After about a year of driving it static, Joey Hazell pointed me in the direction of Jamie Hitchcock, who was selling an E36 air-ride combo.”

    The air-ride combo system is simple but functional and ticks all the boxes as far as Alex is concerned. It’s a two-way manual setup with the pump and tank stowed in the boot. The struts, meanwhile, are #GAZ units with matching front bags and Air Lift rears. Of course, a wheel upgrade was what was needed to make the most of the newfound lows, and Alex chose an all-time classic – the #BBS RF, which he found in Germany and had shipped over. “The wheels I got in June 2014 from Germany as I couldn’t find a set I wanted in the UK,” Alex tells us. “They’re 8.5x17” and 10x17” with 2.5” and 3” dishes, which I stripped down before Players Classic this year for a freshen-up.”

    This reworking included the centres being powdercoated in the white you see before you, and the dishes were given a thorough polish, too. Finally, Alex consulted split-rim guru Dan Taylor at Wheel Unique for a complete set of gold spike hardware, black and red BBS badges and metal hex centre caps to replace the original plastic items.

    “Once I got the centres back I got straight on with building them back up in time for the all-important Players event,” Alex says. “The tyres were refitted and tested for leaks. They held pressure, which I was pretty stoked with, as it was my first time building split-rims and with all the horror stories I’d heard I was really worried in case I hadn’t done the job correctly.”


    E36 geeks will also spot that there are a few additions to the exterior aside from those wheels but it’s been very much Alex’s plan all along to keep it as BMW intended but with his own touch. Therefore the foglights have been blanked and the orange indicators have gone in favour of subtly smoked versions. The rears lights Alex carefully painted red and, aside from a gentle arch roll, everything else is original and as perfect as can be.

    “My favourite part of the car, I would have to say, is the air-ride system as I can have mad lows when parked up and still drive the car at normal height and keep the underside in good condition,” reveals Alex. “I still love the noise of the air releasing out of the solenoids and confusing people in traffic by making the car go up and down quickly.


    “I plan to keep the car looking pretty similar to how it is now in future but eventually doing a nut and bolt rebuild, making it nice and clean underneath and inside. The shell is rot-free which is great for a 20-year-old car, so first up will be small changes like new bushes and a good lick of Waxoyl to extend its life. As the M3 is now becoming a classic it’s really in my best interests.”


    Alex certainly considers the E36 M3 to be a classic, and with the way he’s treated his, it has every right to be titled as such. His masterful modifications have made it a car that draws attention for all the right reasons, even E36 purists will find plenty of details to enjoy, and yet the whole thing has been brought bang up-to-date with his own twists. This is a true modern classic.

    M3 Coupé Vader seats replace the standard items. Below: manual air-ride setup uses a single air tank.

    Far left: Milltek exhaust looks and sounds great.

    Left: Front fogs have been blanked. #BBS RFs look fantastic on the E36. Below: Adjustable front top mounts.

    DATA FILE #Air-ride #BMW-E36 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-Cabrio / #BMW-M3-E36 / #BMW-M3-Convertible / #BMW-M3-Convertible-E36 / #BMW-E36-Convertible / #BMW / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-Cabrio / #BMW-3-Series-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-Cabrio-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-M3-Cabrio-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-M3-Cabrio

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.0-litre straight-six #S50B30 / #BMW-S50 / #S50 , #Milltek decat centre section and backbox, five-speed manual gearbox, #AC-Schnitzer short-shift

    CHASSIS 8.5x17” (front) and 10x17” (rear) #BBS-RF three-piece wheels (with white centres, red/gold caps, gold spike hardware and metal hex centres) with 205/40 (front) and 215/40 (rear) Nankang NS2 tyres, two-way manual air-ride using #GAZ-Gold shocks, #Gaz front airbags, #Air-Lift rear bags, adjustable front top mounts, #Powerflex trailing arm polybushes

    EXTERIOR Avus blue paint, smoked front and side indicators, all-red rear lights, foglights blanked

    INTERIOR Factory black leather interior with M3 Coupé Vader front seats

    THANKS My girlfriend Jess for helping me throughout the show season with the car and putting up with me working on the car near on every evening, Dan Taylor at Wheel Unique for fulfilling all my wheel needs, Gary Chappell for doing all the bodywork and always squeezing it in, Auto Finesse for all of the products I use to get the car to the standard I like

    I love confusing people by making the car go up and down quickly.
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