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    RETURN TO FORM

    After almost a decade away from BMWs, Walter Bucco built this gorgeous grey #E46 #M3 and came back with a vengeance. How do you return to the BMW scene after almost a decade lost in the wilderness and still manage to hit the headlines? We try to discover Walter Bucco’s secret with his subtle but stunning #E46-M3 . Text: Words and Photos. Photos: Matt Petrie.

    In North America, Walter Bucco is regarded as one of the originators of the E46 tuning scene, latching on to the new Motorsport model as soon as it arrived in dealerships in #2001 . His early adoption of the M3 in striking Laguna Seca blue, not to mention his thorough reworking of its looks and specification with high-end components from Euro luminaries such as #AC-Schnitzer , #Harmann and #Hartge , endowed him with the double-barrelled ‘OG Pappa Smurf’ nickname that has stuck to this day.

    Remember, this was a time when the internet was still in its infancy and inspirational material was much more difficult to find than via a simple Google image search. Meanwhile, parts from famous Euro brands often had to be ordered the long-winded way, from foreign catalogues and through expensive personal imports. No wonder the pioneers of the scene were so admired. Walter’s partnership with the #BMW-E46-M3 was not only recognised by others but became a defining chapter in his own car-life. Because despite defecting from the Munich marque to the Stuttgart species in 2005, it took the New Jersey resident a good six years to eventually realise that no amount of time, money or factory-approved tinkering from Aufrecht Melcher Grossapach (I didn’t know it meant that either ~ Ed) was able to recreate the enjoyment and involvement offered by his sorely missed Beemer.

    In 2011 Walter made the decision to return to the good old days with another E46. By that point, however, the third-generation M3 had been out of production for four years and the next-generation #E92 Coupé was already halfway through its life cycle. So if our man was to stand any chance of recreating a dream period in his life, the second-hand example he needed to turn up would have to stand up to superfine scrutiny.

    After months of searching, this 2004 model was found. Admittedly, its Silver grey paintwork (code A08) was in relatively poor condition due to an owner that preferred mechanical brush washes rather than being caressed clean with lamb’s wool mittens and a strict two-bucket cleaning regime. Yet in every other respect it had been meticulously maintained and, best of all, featured the sought-after Cinnamon nappa leather upholstery.

    Drawn as he is to BMWs, Walter’s devotion did not extend to a straightforward refresh of the paintwork in the original hue. He wanted to stay in the grey spectrum and knew of a remarkable-looking shade available on the #Ferrari-458-Italia called Grigio Medio. Despite not having a flake of pearl metallic at its disposal, this grey paint is able to change colour like a chameleon as it reacts to different light qualities. Perhaps because of this, its precise ingredients are as closely guarded as the recipe for Coca-Cola; known only by its maker. Nevertheless, with a little muscleflexing by the bodyshop and countless weeks of email wrangling with the Ferrari factory the code was finally released for mixing.

    Before the car could be given its stunning new coat, however, Walter wanted to source a new Europeanspecification OEM front bumper. Why? Though essentially the same design, it does without the awkwardly placed reflectors that interrupt the US model’s ‘feng shui’. Much later, this smooth front end was enhanced with an authentic Hartge carbon fibre front splitter, an item Walter describes as “painstakingly brutal” to source… and no doubt pay for. We assume he is now very careful when parking the car or tackling driveway inclines. This was paired at the opposing end with an AC Schnitzer diffuser, shaved of its ugly exposed bolts and painted to match the rest of the trim.


    With a beautiful framework prepared it was time to decide on the rolling stock, the vital item upon which everything else hangs. And, once again, Walter avoided the easy option. He bought a set of second-hand Racing Dynamics RS2 split-rim wheel centres, got them restored and colour-coded to match the body, and then proceeded to equip them with all-new barrels, lips and hardware to a secret offset. All we know is that the final measurements are 9.5x19” (front) and 10.5x19” (rear) and that with some careful fine-tuning of a new KW coilover setup the arch clearance and stance is now absolutely spot-on. If you’d like to know, our definition of this is an arch radius that eclipses halfway into the depth of the tyre sidewall.

    Engine-wise, the #BMW E46 M3 was known for a having a powerplant that offered the highest specific output of any naturally aspirated engine yet produced by BMW. Admittedly, the US-specification model was a little down on power compared to European versions due to a couple of strangulating catalysts but it was still a screamer with raised compression, high-lift cams, Double #VANOS variable valve timing and finger-type rocker arms within a lightweight alloy head.

    Walter has not strayed far from standard with this project, trusting that BMW’s M technicians really do know their stuff. In fact, their expertise has been employed in an additional area through the fitment of freerflowing exhaust manifolds and catalytic converters designed for the limited edition #BMW-E46-M3-CSL , a model that was never available in North America. From this beginning, the exhaust culminates in a meaty-sounding stainless steel Status Gruppe Tuning back box with two pairs of discreet black tailpipes. Compared to the OE item, this muffler is literally half the weight and releases three to five brake horsepower through more efficient evacuation.

    As a specialist publication tasked with publicising performance BMWs we see countless examples of modified E46 M3s yet we can’t remember another car that looks as good as this on such a modest specification sheet. Of course, that does not mean it has been easy to elevate the car to this level, but few people have Walter’s history with the model; a modifying experience that literally goes back to the very beginning of the breed. With this car our man has definitely posted a return to form.

    DATA FILE

    ENGINE: 3.2-litre straight-six #S54B32 , OEM E46 M3 CSL manifolds and catalytic converters, Status Gruppe Tuning stainless steel back box with optional black tailpipes, OE six-speed Getrag gearbox.

    CHASSIS: 9.5x19” (front) and 10.5x19” (rear) Racing Dynamics RS2 split-rim alloys with colour-coded centres, with 235/35 (front) and 275/30 (rear) Falken FK452 tyres, KW coilovers, OE brakes.

    EXTERIOR: Resprayed in PPG Ferrari Grigio Medio paint, OEM Euro-spec front bumper, Hartge carbon fibre front splitter, modified AC Schnitzer rear diffuser.

    INTERIOR: Standard with optional Cinnamon leather seats.

    THANKS: Calamusa family at Pine Brook Auto Refinishing for all the paintwork, Stefan Djuric for the wheel build, my family and fiancee Holly, all the guys from Euro Techniks.
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