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    Less is often more and this subtly-modified E92 M3 proves that point, with some mean styling touches and 480hp.

    Liquid Performance has a classic approach to modifying: big power, subtly contained in a factory-fresh suit. This E92 M3 proves the formula – you can go in hard without getting extreme… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Henry Phull.

    There’s a classic Hollywood anecdote about Robert De Niro, concerning a bee and an argument. It goes like this: after Martin Scorsese had finished working on Mean Streets in 1973, he took the film to Cannes. A whole entourage came along, and one evening they were dining at Le Moulin de Mougins, a restaurant way up in the hills above the town. De Niro was there along with his girlfriend of the time; he had a reputation for picking feisty, aggressive girlfriends – girls he could argue with. During dinner the table was buzzed by a colossal bee, which bothered the group so much that they called over a waiter, who took it down with a flick of his tea-towel. It landed in De Niro’s girlfriend’s water glass.

    She kicked up a fuss, he yelled at her, he told her to take a hike, and she did. It was a ten mile walk back to Cannes; De Niro insisted that everyone leisurely finish their meals before they made their way back, and they picked her up in a cab on the way – bedraggled, infuriated, but also grateful. He bought her a bottle of perfume the following morning, and order was restored.

    Now, the De Niro of the mid-1970s was very different to the De Niro of today. Back then you’d expect to see the angry young man cruising around in a yellow NYC cab with blood and, er, other fluids on the back seat. But not today (yeah, we’re blurring the lines between fiction and reality, it’s called breaking the fourth wall, just go with it). Today, De Niro is an altogether more suave character – edgy, sure, but also classic.

    Refined. Whereas in his youth he was so socially awkward he used to refuse to talk at auditions and fell asleep on the sofa at parties, today he’s more at home in his own skin. No yellow cabs for him now. In 2016, Bobby is more of an E92 M3 kinda guy.

    Specifically, we reckon, the sort of E92 M3 you’d find peeping through the garage doors at Liquid Performance in Southampton. Not quite the postcode you’d expect to find him in, granted, but let’s persevere. We’ll let one of the company’s bosses, Ross Ponsford-Jones, explain the rationale: “We’ve gone for a functional OEMupgrade look,” he says, matter-of-factly. “The vehicle was modified to try and retain comfort and luxury as well as performance – such as having the M Performance bucket seats, for example – but also having a unique look to make it stand out as different from the average E92 M3.” Which wraps the idea neatly into a little nutshell, really – boisterous, yet measured; mainstream, but offbeat. A De Niro M3 for the post- Hollywood Netflix generation.

    What did the guys at Liquid do, then, to achieve this impressive feat? Well, they concentrated on the basics. By focusing on the details, they’ve achieved something that you might almost be able to call stealthy, were it not for the inherent outrageousness of the E92 in stock form. They’ve pinched ideas here and there from the BMW upgrades catalogue, while also keeping an eye on the more obscure iterations of the model as it butted heads with contemporary sports cars and junior supercars – not least the fabled M3 GTS.

    If you’re going to do this sort of thing, you really do need to do it properly, which is why Ross’s team sought the best possible donor available. Makes sense really, doesn’t it? It’s what De Niro would demand. He’s a forthright sort of guy. The car they landed upon was resplendent in Frozen silver paint; indeed, the little heard-of Frozen silver Edition was a car designed for M3 enthusiasts who liked to tick option boxes but were worried they might get carried away (um, possibly), being in effect a version that cost £4000 more than the stock M3 but provided £9000-worth of extras. Aside from the unique paint colour, there were all kinds of other goodies to enjoy.

    “The spec includes the Competition Pack,” Ross explains, “which brings lowered suspension and three-stage Electronic Damper Control along with revised DSC+ settings. There’s also adaptive headlights, Comfort Access, electric folding mirrors, sliding armrest, and PDC front and rear.”

    Obviously some of these features are more exciting than others, but even a hairychested sports car like this is never going to be driven at ten-tenths 100% of the time. Sometimes you need to have somewhere to rest your elbow. Sometimes you do approach the locked car with your hands full. Spec matters.

    However, this isn’t What Car, we’re not here to discuss OEM spec lists. Liquid used this generous state of trim as a base upon which to lavish some extra unique accoutrements: “We’ve programmed in a few custom codes,” grins Ross knowledgably.

    “The mirrors fold automatically when the car’s locked, the auto wiper return position’s reset, the DVD operates in motion, the ignition gong’s removed…” Again, not the sort of mods that would set a teenager’s heart a-flutter when viewed in isolation, but it’s all part of the bigger picture.

    But let’s stop being sensible for a moment. People who buy M3s don’t do so solely for the gadgetry potential, they do it for the mischief. The luxury element is merely a happy bonus. So what does one do with a fire-snorting V8 that’s already packing the thick end of 420hp and is, in a convoluted sense, basically the F1-derived S85 V10 with a couple of cylinders lopped off (kinda)? If you’re Liquid Performance, you do what you’ve already been doing with the rest of the car: hack into the scrolling Matrix ones-and-zeroes, throw in some new code, and modify the thing from within its very core. Or, more specifically, you get DMS Automotive to do it for you.

    “We went for a custom Stage 2 remap,” says Ross. “It’s now putting out 480hp, making it one of the fastest ever naturally aspirated E92s DMS has tuned.” Aha! We knew this wasn’t just going to be a case of retrofitting gizmos from the options list. Phrases like ‘fastest ever’ are very much at the heartland of what we stand for.

    Furthermore, since we’re talking ‘fastest ever’, there are few tweaks and tricks in evidence here from the aforementioned M3 GTS, that bonkers £100k+ E92 that was basically a race car with number plates. Here we see the staggered 19” Competition alloys that you’d otherwise find on the mythical orange screwball, but behind the scenes there’s also lurking the DCT gearbox software from the GTS, offering more aggression – something in-keeping with the ramped-up horsepower levels. And if you’re working on your ‘go’, you need to give some thought to your ‘woah’, which is why we see a sneaky set of yellow Brembo calipers sidling in from stage left, sleeves rolled up and ready to dive headfirst into a spiralling whirlpool of thrust retardation.

    Naturally, like a fired up De Niro in a crisply-tailored dinner suit, the focus must constantly swing back and forth between the precipice of full-blown aggression and the creamy mellowness of suaveté, and Ross feels that the M3’s seats are a strong marker of this. “We enabled the heating elements inside the M Performance seats, which represented a huge amount of complexity,” he says, casually dusting off the difficulties like specks from a cuff. “Even the local BMW franchised dealers couldn’t figure out how to do it…” An infinitesimal smile curls at the corner of his lips as he says this. He knows the capabilities of his team, he’s rightly proud of their achievements. Ditto the approach to the aesthetics, with which Liquid deviated from the official BMW parts to instead augment the Frozen silver with a sprinkling of goodies from the European Autosource catalogue; grilles, vents, mirror caps, just enough to ensure a level of neatness that never strays into the realm of the gaudy.

    With all of this thoroughness and attention to detail coursing through the build, Liquid Performance’s take on the E92 platform very much represents the sort of car that could feasibly have sat within BMW’s own brochure, somewhere between the stock model and the GTS. It’s a naturally aspirated heavy-hitter that’s optioned up to the hilt, and if Robert De Niro were ever to find himself ambling through Southampton with his peepers peeled and chequebook to hand, you can imagine that his switch would be well and truly flicked. But he’s probably a PBMW subscriber anyway, isn’t he? Hey, Bobby – can you see yourself in this?

    Imagine those vast chasms of horsepower resonating with a sharp bark through that titanium Akrapovic exhaust. It certainly beats arguing about bees in restaurants…

    Matt black and carbon exterior elements add a sense of menace.
    It’s now putting out 480hp, making it one of the fastest ever NA E92s #DMS has tuned.
    The vehicle was modified to retain luxury as well as performance.
    Carbon galore inside, along with those #BMW-M-Performance seats, which have had their heating elements enabled.

    DATA FILE #BMW / #Liquid-Performance / #BMW-E92 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-E92 / #BMW-M3-Liquid-Performance / #BMW-M3-Liquid-Performance-E92 / #M-DCT / #BMW-GTS-DCT / #BMW-M3-M-DCT-E92 / #BMW-M3-M-DCT

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 4.0-litre #V8 / #S65B40 / #S65 / #BMW-S65 , #DMS-Automotive custom Stage 2 remap, Pipercross race filter, #Akrapovic full titanium exhaust system with carbon tips, seven-speed M DCT gearbox, BMW GTS DCT gearbox software. 480hp

    CHASSIS 9x19” (front) and 10x19” (rear) #BMW-Competition-GTS wheels with 245/35 (front) and 265/35 (rear) Continental SportContact 5 tyres, #Brembo-GT-BBK with 6-pot yellow calipers, #BMW-Competition pack (including lower suspension and EDC)

    EXTERIOR European Autosource matte black side grilles, front grilles and bonnet vents, BMW M Performance carbon fibre mirror caps and carbon fibre boot lip spoiler, H3 Lux angel eyes, Xenon headlights, privacy glass

    INTERIOR Heated #BMW-M-Performance seats and carbon fibre interior trim including centre console, custom Alcantara steering wheel with M stitching and black leather rally marker, custom Alcantara handbrake gaiter, BMW Competition sill plates
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    With a supercharger slapped onto its meaty straight-six, this E46 M3 is the ultimate fast road tool. When the checklist for your project build features ‘must be a daily driver, and must be fun on canyon roads’, the E46 M3 is a pretty sound choice. Throw in a supercharger and the job’s a good ’un… Words: Daniel Bevis /// Photos: Richard Le /// #BMW

    There’s a lot to be said for being understated. Still waters run deep, as the old saying goes, and it’s as true in the modifying sphere as anywhere else that what you see isn’t necessarily what you get – it sometimes takes a keen eye or an investigative demeanour to reveal the full story. Picture yourself in a dark, smoky dive bar in a hick town on a windy Friday night – the characters who’ll immediately catch your attention are the drunk office girls caterwauling around the jukebox or the frat boys slamming back thimbles of moonshine, but it’s the guy sitting alone at the bar that you need to watch out for. The one in the cowboy hat, coolly sipping neat bourbon and eyeballing everybody in the place to get the measure of every last soul – his appearance isn’t remarkable, and yet there’s something foreboding about his presence that makes him unmissable.

    That shadowy, sinister figure is essentially the embodiment of Sonic Motorsports’ M3, resplendent as it is in subtle menace and simmering aggression. Sure, it’s not the most outrageous or heavily modified E46 to appear in these pages, but it doesn’t need to be, does it? You can tell just from a single glance that it’s the sort of car that cashes its own cheques, that doesn’t care what you think. Without even seeing it in motion, you just know that it’d be a devastating mover…

    To a degree that can be true of any E46 M3. The act of taking a relatively soberlooking #BMW-3-Series and shoving in a feisty sixpot producing a power figure that begins with a three was a masterstroke of mischief by BMW and, as the M3 badge’s heritage dictates, these cars aren’t just about power. They’re about poise, handling, finesse, chuckability, precision… there’s a reason that they’re seen as the benchmark of sporting coupes. But, as is a well-trodden path in Performance BMW circles, such things can always be improved. You know this. That’s why you’re reading this magazine. The improver in this particular instance is Sonic Motorsports, based in San Jose, California. This outfit, if you’re a resident of The Golden State (or even if you’re not, to be frank) is one that you need to shuffle on to your list of ‘People Who Matter’, as there’s a palpable whiff of tenacity with a soupçon of fury in the air down on Charcot Avenue.

    “I work as the shop foreman and owner at Sonic MS, so I get to work on a variety of different cars,” says Barrett Howard, the fella with the M3’s keys on his desk. “This one was actually a customer’s car – he had made the decision to move on to the E9x platform, and he offered to sell it to me. I knew that the car had been well taken care of, and the E46 is a phenomenal platform to build on, so I took him up on it. It’s arguably the best handling car in its weight class and it comes with a decent amount of power as well – but of course, that was only a starting point for us!”

    Encouraging sentiment indeed, and very much in line with Sonic’s mission statement: ‘practice makes perfect’, they attest, only making upgrades to customers’ cars that fit within their levels of expertise and experience – not to say the guys are afraid to push the boundaries, more that they’re insistent on any car that goes out the door being tip-top and ready to rock. Sonic believes in doing it right first time, which surely makes for smiles all-round. Okay, this M3 had become Barrett’s own car, so would there be a chance that he and the team would put a little more effort in than they would with a paying client’s motor? No, not a bit of it – because when you’re operating at 100%, it’s not possible to push any harder. And that, again, is a good thing for all.

    So, how does one improve upon the already formidable power that the iconic S54 straight-six is serving up? Well, for Sonic it made sense to go down the route of forced induction. “We build a lot of fast cars here, so it was only natural we went down this road,” Barrett explains. “A supercharger was a good start since it doesn’t have the lag associated with a turbo. The #Dinan supercharger setup is pretty comprehensive, but also has the benefit of being a bolt-on package, so the work was fairly simple and straightforward.” The gains for such an upgrade weigh in at around 150hp, which is very significant – think of it as a percentage of the motor’s stock power, it’s actually pretty eye-watering. Even more impressive, then, that the stock internals can take it without bursting. They do make these Motorsport machines strong, don’t they?

    Barrett chose to augment this Vortech-flavoured upgrade with some sensible additions, including a Dinan throttle body, CSF radiator and oil cooler, which all coalesces neatly with the SMG transmission to make for a natty little sleeper. Well, okay, not a sleeper, you can’t really call it that, but it does belie its subtle looks with a raging hellstorm of horsepower.

    “I wanted it to be as subtle as it could be, that was the vision all along,” Barrett confirms. “But I also wanted to take a little of the magic of the CSL, to get it as close to that look as possible.” This, it hardly needs saying, is no small undertaking, particularly if your keenness for authenticity extends to grafting in the famed carbon fibre roofskin that the CSL enjoyed. That’s not a five-minute job.

    It’s easy to be blasé about the acquisition of CSL parts here in the UK, but this is in fact a rather more involved task for our Transatlantic cousins – just 1400 Coupé Sport Leichtbau models were built for the 2004 model year, so they’re pretty obscure to start with; however, the bulk of CSL allocation went to Europe, and they just weren’t offered by North American BMW dealers. So if you want to find the parts that were unique to the CSL – such as the carbon fibre roof, the ducktail bootlid, the fibreboard boot floor, or what-have-you, you need to have sufficient fingers in the appropriate pies. But Barrett is a man in the know and, with a crafty tap of the nose, he informs us that he can find such things if required. “The roof and the ducktail are the most obvious nods to the CSL,” he says, “but with a lot of the modifications, it’s a case of subtle things that only the true enthusiast would spot.” There you go then, a challenge for your BMW-spotting credentials – pore over the photos and see what nerdy details you can find…

    Sonic Motorsports, as one might hope, is not the sort of outfit that’ll just throw a load of horsepower into a stock chassis to see what’ll happen – you’ve probably got the idea now, but it’s a belt-and-braces sort of affair. And besides, the guys doing the work are enthusiasts like you, and we all love cherry picking upgrades from the performance catalogue, don’t we?

    “The car was built for the purpose of being able to be daily driven, as well as driven hard on the nice canyon roads we have around here,” he says, “and the Öhlins Road and Track coilovers we’ve fitted do a great job of making it comfortable on local roads as well as keeping it planted around the curves.” There’s a meaty brake setup working hand-in-hand with this too, in the form of a Brembo GT big brake kit up front with BMW Competition items at the rear; all more than up to the task of hauling up a supercharged M3 when the going gets twisty.

    As impressive as the build is, we’ve touched on a lot of modifications that represent an established formula here, all of which neatly ties into the aforementioned ‘practice makes perfect’ ethos. The supercharger upgrade, the CSL aesthetics, the taut combo of Öhlins and Brembo, it’s all very logical. So what Sonic needed was a hook, something to work with the subtle look of the car while at the same time offering something unusual and offbeat – and it’s for this reason that you’ll find a set of RAYS wheels under the arches. #RAYS is a Japanese brand, which immediately jars with the Bavarian DNA, whose history lies in motorsport, and Volk Racing is a subbrand that offers super-light forged sports wheels such as the G25 you see here.

    They’re not just a cool design, they are also very much fit for purpose on a performance car such as this, as well as offering something that you perhaps wouldn’t expect to find on an E46.

    Job done then, yes? Time for Barrett and his colleagues to clap their hands together, congratulate one another on a job well jobbed, and move onto the next one? No, not quite: “Oh, I’ve got more in store,” he smirks. “It’ll be needing a manual gearbox conversion at some point. And I’m planning a turbo kit for it right now…”

    Exciting times. And whatever happens, you can be sure that this M3 will remain resolutely under the radar as it scythes through the canyons, appearing to passers-by as little more than a deep blue flash and a sinister rumble before it’s merely a memory, a whisper on the breeze. You don’t always have to shout to be heard. Sometimes subtlety makes the strongest statement of all.

    “I wanted it to be as subtle as it could be, but I also wanted to take a little of the magic of the CSL to get it as close to that look as possible”

    TECHNICAL DATA FILE Supercharged E46 M3 / #BMW-M3-Supercharged-E46 / #BMW-M3-Supercharged / #BMW-M3-E46 / #BMW-M3 /

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six #S54B32 / #S54 , #Dinan-Stage-3-Supercharger , #Dinan throttle body, #CSF radiator, CSF oil cooler, six-speed #SMG-II gearbox.

    CHASSIS 9.5x19” (f) & 10.5x19” (r) #RAYS-G25 wheels with 245/35 (front) & 275/30 (rear) Yokohama AD08 tyres, Öhlins Road & Track coilovers, Hotchkis anti-roll bars (f & r), subframe reinforcements, #Powerflex bushes, #Brembo GT front #BBK , #BMW-Competition rear brakes.

    EXTERIOR #CSL carbon fibre roofskin, bootlid and diffuser.

    INTERIOR Full custom #JBL audio install.

    THANKS My crew at Sonic MS and all the vendors that sponsored this build.
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