- Post is under moderationBirds’ fully-fettled M235i / #BMW-F22 / #BMW-M235i / #BMW-M235i-F22 / #BMW-M235i-Birds-F22 / #BMW-2-Series / #BMW-2-Series-F22 / #BMW-2-Series-Coupe / #BMW-2-Series-Coupe-F22 / #BMW-M235i-Birds / #2017 / #Birds / #Birds-M235
Bird of Prey Everyone’s having a go at improving the M235i but Birds’ fullyfettled example might be the best yet. With more power and a thoroughly refined suspension set up this M235i is gunning for the M2… and might just beat it! Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Dave Smith.
It’s almost possible to determine how desirable a BMW model is by the amount of tuning products that become available from the aftermarket for that car. It probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise that we’re not inundated by companies offering upgrades for the 5 Series GT, but hardly a day goes by without there seemingly being an upgrade for BMW’s latest pocket rocket, the M235i and it’s slightly more recent sibling, the M240i. And in case hatchback owners are feeling left out it’s fair to say that the vast majority of what works on the Coupé also translates to the three- and five-door models, too.
In the past few issues we’ve had several F22 Coupés in these pages vying to be the definitive version of the top-notch coupé and while we don’t think that any of them are claiming to rival BMW’s engineering capabilities what most companies are offering is something a little bit more hardcore than BMW’s factory offerings. There’s no doubt that if it chose to BMW could create the ultimate weapon using the F22 M240i but that car’s called the M2… and by the same rationale it can’t make the M2 the best thing since sliced bread as then no one would buy an M4. Ultimately the M240i is built to compete at a particular price point and for that reason there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The world’s more or less your oyster when it come to tuning this model with a plethora of parts to choose from, both in terms of styling and performance, but at first glance Birds’ subtle black example that’s waiting patiently for me at the company’s Iver HQ looks like its missed out on the upgrades – take the badges off and it could almost pass for a 218d M Sport. Nice. That’s how I prefer my high performance machinery, understated.
Despite its subtle looks a huge amount of work has gone into the set up for this 2 Series and when one speaks to Birds’ MD, Kevin Bird, it’s clear that he’s absolutely passionate about getting the best out of the car. As Quaife’s official distributor for both BMW and Mercedes limited slip differentials it’s almost a given that one would be fitted to the M235i to improve traction, and as more power never goes amiss an engine upgrade has endowed Birds’ M235i with a 390hp output. But it’s in the realm of #BMW suspension that Kevin really excels and he’s not been overly impressed with some of BMW’s latest offerings, especially on the F30 generation of machinery.
Having already worked wonders on several of BMW’s latest cars – most of which we’ve driven and been impressed by (witness the 435d xDrive in last month’s issue) – Kevin set about putting the experience he’d gained working with the F-Series cars onto the M235i. While definite improvements were made with some bespoke springs and dampers Kevin decided to get a second opinion from James Weaver, a legendary sports car racer, who Kevin had become reacquainted with at a charity track event. Weaver had driven Birds’ Z4 35i at this event and had reckoned it could be considerably improved so Kevin wondered whether Weaver could offer some useful pointers when it came to the development work on the M235i. Weaver has won more sports car races than most people have had hot dinners and along with his chassis engineer, Peter Weston, knows more about setting a car up than just about anyone and after some initial meetings it was agreed that Weston and Weaver would help to fine tune the Birds’ M235i package and as a starting point Weston requested some measurements from the car. “I was astonished at the level of detail he required,” Kevin commented. “Not only things like arm ratios, corner-weights, spring stiffness, damper rates and so on, but stuff that we’d never even started to consider, like unsprung weights of each corner, centre of gravity above front and rear axles, bump stop stiffness and contact points. The measuring work alone took us two full days.”
It was time well spent though as a few days later Weston came back to Birds with new spring and damper settings and after waiting for the springs to be produced and for Bilstein to re-valve the dampers they were duly fitted to the car to await a test by Weaver. Kevin takes up the story again; “The weather was cold and damp, but nevertheless, after much fiddling with tyre pressures, front and rear geometry and different wheel and tyre sets, a conclusion was reached. There was no doubt that the car was behaving much better than our own calculated confection, but it was suggested that even more could be achieved in terms of ride quality and especially traction and grip levels with a second revision to the set up”.
After a further period of waiting the revised set up was fitted to the car. “This included changes to spring rates both front and rear, and damper curves to suit. Moreover, changes to the front track width (to generate less negative scrub radius) and, surprisingly, a different choice of tyre,” said Kevin, and he does admit to having his doubts as to whether the extra expense was worth it, after all, the first of the Weaver/Weston kits had seemed more or less spot on when he’d tested the car. He should have had faith though as when he drove the revised set up on the car he says it was a revelation. “Not only was the ride quality better than before, ultimate body control improved on our bumpy B roads and the steering feel improvements were in a different league. And the traction and grip levels? Simply unbelievable. Given the temperatures and conditions, we never expected to be able to assess that characteristic, but it’s blindingly obvious that where we had so little before, now we have it everywhere. This is without doubt the best suspension tune we have achieved so far.”
Unsurprisingly as I stepped into Birds’ demonstrator I had pretty high expectations, especially as so much development work had gone into the car’s set up – no off the shelf parts here – with every aspect of the car’s underpinnings having been closely examined and finely honed by people who’ve probably forgotten more about driving and car control then I will ever learn. As is the way with these things the pictures have to take priority so I gingerly pick my way around the M25 and some of Surrey’s back roads to rendezvous with snapper Smithy. I’m concentrating on avoiding puddles and trying to keep the car clean at this point – and sadly I notice I’ve failed miserably in this respect when I arrive at our location – but it does dawn on me as I step out of the car that I’ve not actually noticed the ride quality as I’ve been cruising along. Which is exactly as you want it when not on a charge as you don’t want your internal organs going through a work out every time you drive your car, especially when you just need it to be a form of transport rather than for entertainment.
Once the M235i’s been given a thorough cleaning and the static images are in the bag it’s time to head out for some action shots and now that I’m less concerned with keeping it clean I can delve a little bit deeper into the car’s performance and concentrate on the driving experience. Having slipped the car into Sport mode to sharpen up the throttle response one’s immediately hit by the additional soundtrack coming from the BMW M Performance exhaust with which this car is equipped – it might not make the car go any faster, but it sure sounds good.
Running past the camera for the side-on panning shots is a little frustrating as what I really want to be doing is hammering the car as hard as possible but as this will make Smithy’s life tricky and will just make the process take even longer I content myself with driving briskly enough to give the images the sensation of speed, all the while feeling very comfortable in the car. No crashing over bumps, no jiggly ride, spot on in fact.
Finding suitable corners in this part of the world can be difficult so we decide to head for where we know there’s something suitable which is a 15 minute drive away and what a 15 minutes they are. The back roads round here are quite tight but progress is rapid and massively grin inducing. Speeds rise as familiarity grows and my first impression is one of significant improvements to the steering, with the M235i almost feeling as if a slightly quicker rack has been installed. The car now responds with more immediacy as the steering wheel is turned and even on the damper sections of roads we encounter understeer really doesn’t rear its ugly head unless one’s being wildly optimistic with one’s corner entry speed.
At the same time it’s devastatingly rapid on the straights between the corners and it makes no matter whether you simply leave the ‘box to its own devices or elect to swap cogs yourself with the paddles. This latter mode gives you a little more control as you enter the corners and one aspect I particularly like about this conversion is that it’s not afraid to allow the car a certain amount of body roll. This endows the M235i with the necessary compliance to shrug off and ride out mid-corner imperfections and the further I drive it the more convinced I become that virtually nothing is going to throw it off line or upset its cornering attitude. Grip levels are astonishingly high and there’s traction by the barrel load, not something you can always say about the M235i in inclement conditions when you ask it to deliver its last two-tenths of performance. In un-fettled form it can become a little ragged in these circumstances, but the Birds machine just gets on with the job of being blisteringly quick yet entertaining at the same time without a buttockclenching moment in sight.
Once the pictures are in the bag and Smithy’s headed off to get editing the images I decide to take the long way home and avoid the M25, just to further experience the pace and poise of this car on the back roads. It doesn’t disappoint on any level. The ride’s great, the grip is of the highest order and the performance is sensational. The standard M235i might be a great bit of kit, but if you’re a keen driver who likes to use all the car’s performance without any compromises then may I suggest you speak to Kevin Bird about how he can transform your pocket rocket into an M2 eater.
CONTACT: Birds / Tel: 01753 657444 / Web: www.birdsauto.com
DATA FILE BIRDS’ #BMW-M235i / #BMW-M235i-Birds
/ #Birds-B2-3.5-Complete-Conversion : 390hp engine upgrade, Birds’ springs and dampers, #Quaife limited slip differential, 18-inch tyres and geometry set up – £7239.
B2 Dynamics package: Birds’ springs and dampers, Quaife limited slip differential, 18-inch tyres and geometry set up – £4776.
Please note: Prices quoted include all parts, labour and VAT. Further upgrades are available on request.
“Not only was the ride quality better than before, ultimate body control improved on our bumpy B roads and the steering feel improvements were in a different league”
Speeds rise as familiarity grows and my first impression is one of significant improvements to the steering.
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- Post is under moderationIf you’re looking for the ultimate everyday machine that’s also capable of embarrassing junior supercars then you should check out Birds’ wonderful 435d. Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Gus Gregory.
/ #BMW-435d-xDrive-F32 / #BMW-435d-F32 / #BMW-435d-xDrive / #BMW-435d / #BMW-F32 / #BMW / #BMW-4-Series / #BMW-4-Series-F32 / #BMW-4-Series-Coupe / #BMW-4-Series-Coupe-F32 / #2017 / #Birds-B4 / #Birds-B4-F32 / #Birds-F32 / #BMW-435d-xDrive-Birds-B4 / #BMW-435d-xDrive-Birds-B4-F32 / #BMW-435d-Birds-B4-F32 / #BMW-F32-Birds
Birds’ stunning #BMW-435d-xDrive . Everyday Weapon Birds’ 435d can be either a mild-mannered pussycat or a ripsnorting road warrior.
Depending on which order you’ve read the features in this month’s issue you might have spotted a recurring theme, that of traction. The M235i we drove suffered from a lack of it to a certain extent and the two big power M6’s pace was really hampered by an inability to transmit their prodigious thrust to the greasy Tarmac. Put simply, none of these three cars would have seen which way #Birds ’ innocuous-looking 435d went had we driven them back-to-back on typically slick UK winter roads. Not only is this car devastatingly quick, it also has the ability to be so no matter what the conditions.
I must admit that I’m not normally a huge fan of the ‘Luxury’ trim level that BMW’s foisted on us for the past few years, and it would seem that I’m not alone – the new G30 Five won’t be available as a Luxury model in the UK and neither will the face-lifted 4 Series Coupé that you can read about in our News pages. The bottom line is that hardly anyone was buying the Luxury trim models. Maybe I’m a marketing man’s dream, but I’m a succour for the chunky M Sport styling and now I’m in a position that I’ll be looking to buy my own wheels again I’m drawn to the M Sport kitted used examples like a moth to a candle despite knowing that the equivalent SE will be cheaper to buy and will ride better too! Having said all this I’m also secretly drawn to this Birds car – yes, I know it’s a Luxury, but look at it, it’s just so innocuous – no one would expect it to be a candidate for the ultimate everyday weapon, and in the right conditions a supercar humbler.
We’ve always been impressed with machinery that’s been fully-fettled by Birds as MD Kevin Bird doesn’t do things by halves. While he could simply fit a range of off the shelf tuning products he’d be the first to admit that would be selling his customers short. Sure, there are some parts that can be simply fitted to make an improvement, but to do things properly Kevin always buys a demonstrator to which he can experiment with until he’s happy with the outcome and can then pass on that knowledge to his customers in a series of suitable upgrades safe in the knowledge that the car will be right straight from the word go.
The F3x generation of 3 and 4 Series have been with us for a while now so Kevin’s had quite a while to perfect his upgrades for the car, and without a doubt he’s spent the most amount of time on the car’s suspension as he feels that BMW has lost the plot to a certain degree with its most recent F-prefix cars. He’s not a fan of the adaptive dampers as they never seem to offer the right reactions when extracting the performance from the car – they may be fine for providing a comfortable ride when you’re in cruise mode, but so can a passive set up if it’s properly designed and set up.
After having looked at just about everything the aftermarket had to offer Kevin embarked on the process of having a suspension set up designed to his specifications. While Kevin knows how he wants his cars to perform he’s happy to admit that he doesn’t have the knowledge required to draw out a damper curve for a suspension specialist to work with so he’s enrolled the help of chassis engineers to assist him in the quest for the perfect set up. We’ve had a chance to sample this work on a couple of cars and have always come away impressed, and it was no different on this 435d. Springs and dampers have been attended to and the result is a machine that resists understeer far more effectively than before and one which engenders a real feeling of confidence in what the car’s response is going to be to any given input.
We’ll look at this a little more in a minute but for the time being let’s have a quick look at what else has been installed on Birds’ B4-35d demonstrator. It’s perhaps a sign of the times that diesels are able to develop pretty high power outputs to go with their prodigious torque capabilities and perhaps because of this BMW to a certain extent holds back the outputs of its twin-turbo diesel motors. Straight out of the box the 435d develops 313hp and 465lb ft of torque but after its been treated to the Birds engine management software upgrade we’re looking at an altogether healthier 380hp and a monstrous 575lb ft of torque. Kevin has looked at the various tuning boxes on the market and has concluded that he prefers to have the software reprogrammed as it gives you more control on what changes are being made. Additionally some tuning boxes only really deliver once you’ve applied at least 70 percent throttle, and with these turbo diesel lumps offering so much low down the rev range it’s nice to be able to access the additional performance on part throttle.
From the power and torque figures you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to glean that this is going to be one very rapid 4 Series so Birds has taken the sensible step of offering a brake upgrade on the car too. Birds recommends a 19-inch wheel on the 4 Series and this allows the fitment of its #Alcon 365x32mm discs, gripped by six-piston callipers. This set up features grooved discs, low weight alloy hubs and lightweight callipers and Birds reckon they allow excellent retardation from cold all the way up to the highest temperatures they can generate. On the subject of wheels and tyres it’s worth noting that the first thing Birds would recommend is ditching the runflats if your car is so equipped as the benefits of any suspension work will be negated if these are retained.
The kit we’ve so far discussed – springs and dampers, a set of 19-inch non-run flats, the performance upgrade and the Alcon brakes – are packaged together by Birds as what it terms its complete conversion for the 435d and while it might look a lot at a smidgen over £8000 (including all parts, labour and VAT) it offers to transform the performance of your 3 Series or 4 Series. Quality components don’t come cheap and it’s also worth remembering Birds offers a 24-month warranty on complete conversions so obviously has complete confidence in the products it offers. For those wishing to add additional items – such as anti-roll bars or a Quaife limited slip differential – these can again be bundled together as part of a package or added individually as the customer wishes. One of the joys in visiting Birds is that the company accepts that each of its customers may have slightly differing requirements and is happy to tailor its products and advice accordingly.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating though so we set forth from Birds HQ to cruise up the M40 to our photoshoot location where some challenging roads await. Obviously we’re expecting it to perform well when the going gets tough, but in order for the Birds car to fulfil its duality of purpose it first needs to be able to demonstrate that it’s a usable everyday machine in cut and thrust traffic. Initial impressions are favourable with the eight-speed auto quietly and unobtrusively doing its thing in the background while tickling the throttle every now and then is accompanied by a meaningful shove in the back, even on part throttle loads. Having just stepped out of a car sitting on much smaller wheels and with no pretensions to being a sporting machine the ride does, at first, seem to be a little on the hard side but as the miles pass under the 435d’s wheels we become accustomed to the slightly firmer than standard set up and end up not being able to fault the car’s behaviour on the motorway. It rides the crests and troughs very well, always seeming to be able to complete its movement before hitting the next bump or road imperfection whereas sometimes in a normal BMW you’re left with the feeling that the underpinnings are still trying to deal with one road imperfection when it hits the next which can have an unsettling effect.
Pulling off the motorway and onto some more demanding roads and the 435d demonstrates what a devastatingly quick cross-country machine this can be.
There’s power and torque seemingly everywhere in the rev range and you can have the choice of using delicate and measured inputs to ride the wave of torque or being a bit more brutal in which case the eight-speed auto drops cogs with alacrity and flies you up the road, slurring one ratio into the next as only that #ZF ‘box can do. And it’s at this point that you realise you haven’t dialled in Sport mode and once you do there seems to be a whole new level of performance to dip into.
At which point one is invariably really travelling so it’s reassuring that those Alcon brakes can wash off speed without breaking into a sweat – the pedal feels is very reassuring and even on the slippery sections of road we encounter it resists the temptation to trigger the ABS very well. Invariably though once one has knocked a chunk of speed off the dial when tackling the corner that one wanted to slow for it becomes apparent that you’ve actually washed off too much speed and that the 435d could corner much quicker. In fast sweepers the chassis inspires real confidence, gripping hard and resisting understeer very effectively while it’s a similar story amongst the tighter stuff, too. The front end clings on for dear life and the only thing you really have to do is to remember to get onto the throttle earlier than you would in an equivalent rear-wheel drive BMW so you can bring the front axle’s drive capabilities into play, and when you do you can feel the front end pulling you through just as the rear tyres start to scrabble for grip. It’s deeply satisfying and we can’t really imagine that there are all that many machines that would show this 435d a clean set of exhaust pipes, especially on these tight roads where a bigger machine would struggle somewhat.
Once we’ve finished playing and got a set of pictures in the bag it’s time to head home and sample the car’s cruising abilities once again. Snapper Gus gets behind the wheel and once we emerge back at Birds HQ he’s got a big smile on his face and concludes “That’s quite a weapon isn’t it.” Quite so. Swapping back into my everyday car I couldn’t help but feel how sloppy and stodgy it felt, it had felt fine in the morning!
This 435d is currently up for sale at Birds so if you fancy a stunning everyday supercar slayer that will pass quietly under the radar we’d very much urge you to get in touch. We can’t imagine it’ll hang around for long…
CONTACT: #BMW-F30-Birds / Tel: 01753 657444 / Web: www.birdsauto.com
There’s power and torque seemingly everywhere in the rev range
Birds-B4 component prices
ENGINE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE 380HP: £2106
B4 XDRIVE ANTI-ROLL BAR KIT: £914
QUAIFE BMW LSD CONVERSION: £1605
B4 SPORT SUSPENSION: From £1723
EXCHANGE QUAIFE BMW FINAL DRIVE: £1710
SPORT SUSPENSION SPRINGS: £679
ALCON AE BRAKE KIT FRONT, 365X32: £2862
ALCON AE BRAKE KIT REAR, 343X28: £2377
OZ WHEEL & TYRES SET: POA
Please note: All prices quoted within this panel refer to components fitted individually not as part of a B4 Dynamic Package. Prices include parts and labour but not VAT.
/ #Birds-B4-Package prices
B4-3.5d 380HP COMPLETE CONVERSION: £6803
Engine management software, Alcon 365mm front brakes, B4 Sport suspension, 19-inch non-run flat tyres
B4 DYNAMICS PACKAGE 1 £2312
B4 anti-roll bar kit, Quaife LSD
B4 DYNAMICS PACKAGE 2: £3096
B4 anti-roll bar kit, Sport suspension springs, #Quaife LSD
B4 DYNAMICS PACKAGE 3: £4039
B4 anti-roll bar kit, B4 Sport suspension, #Quaife-LSD
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- Post is under moderationReal World Performer. We try out. Birds’ divine #BMW-335d-xDrive-F30 with an engine upgrade, thoroughly revised suspension and a big brake kit. The M Cars might grab all the headlines but Birds’ tweaked 335d offers a stunning blend of performance and control to give it an unbeatable edge when the going gets tough. Words: Bob Harper. Photography: Dave Smith. #2016 / #BMW-335d-xDrive-Birds-F30 / #BMW-335d-Birds / #BMW-335d-F30 / #BMW-335d / #BMW-F30 / #BMW / #BMW-F30-Birds
If you’re experiencing a mild case of déjà vu you needn’t worry as this Alpine white F30 saloon has indeed appeared with these pages relatively recently and while it was in its early stages of development last time we drove it this is now the finished article. Those with good memories will remember that it’s a 335d xDrive and that it’s been fettled by Birds. What you won’t know, though, is that this is, without a doubt, the best diesel BMW I’ve ever driven. I was going to leave the word diesel out of that last sentence which should give you an idea of quite how good it is…
As luck would have it, on the day we’ve reserved for our photoshoot the weather forecast is for a typically British summer’s day – rain in Biblical quantities is expected – and I’m tempted to call it off until we have a better day in prospect. It does dawn on me, though, that as this is the 335d it has the benefit of four-wheel drive so it wouldn’t actually be a bad idea to sample it in the sort of conditions where a big power rear-wheel drive machine will inevitably suffer. Armed with enough wet weather gear to clothe a battalion, snapper Smithy and I elect to head north west from Birds’ Iver HQ as the rain is coming in from the south east and there’s a vague possibility we might not get completely soaked to the skin if we get a move on.
Negotiating the back roads towards the M40 we’re both struck by the car’s ride – it’s definitely on the firm side of the spectrum. Having said that it doesn’t crash its way over potholes or feel particularly unpleasant, it’s just significantly stiffer than the VW Passat we’ve arrived in. Once onto the motorway, though, and moving at higher speeds the low speed firmness feels like its been dialled out and we get on with the business of munching miles quickly and serenely – one of the 335d’s fortes. Economy on the run up towards Birmingham hovers around the 45mpg mark, although on the slower trip back south that edges ever-closer to 50mpg, which is seriously impressive given the F30’s performance potential.
Smithy’s eager to know what’s been done to the car so that he can compose a mental short list of what he needs to snapped before the rain inevitably arrives, so I run him through what we’re sitting in. First up is the performance boost, which is the only upgrade the car had when we drove it a few months back. In a nutshell this offers 380hp and 575lb ft of torque – hugely impressive gains of 67hp and 110lb ft. To this Birds, and its tuning partner Quantum Tuning, have added a larger intercooler to ensure that these gains can be replicated in all temperatures and conditions, and you can just spot this through the central front air intake in the lower front bumper, but it’s subtle stuff.
Kevin Bird is a strong believer in properly fettling a car and in many cases he’d definitely recommend that other areas of the car be upgraded before you start looking for more power and he’s particularly keen on fettling suspension, expending a huge amount of energy in finding the optimum setup. In recent years he’s become increasingly disillusioned with off-the-shelf components, often finding that a one-size-fit-all solution just doesn’t reap the sort of dividends he’s looking for. In the end he realised that there was nothing available in the aftermarket that would fully satisfy his needs so he now develops a bespoke suspension setup for each new model range if there’s a demand from customers. Working in conjunction with spring and damper manufacturers and suspension guru Rhoddy Harvey-Bailey, Kevin’s setups have impressed us every time we’ve driven a car that’s been upgraded, so we’re keen to discover if this is the case with the 335d.
Interestingly, even though we drove #Birds 435i quite some time ago Kevin was somewhat troubled to find that what necessarily worked on the 4 Series didn’t translate to the 335d and it quickly became apparent that the four-wheel drive machine’s setup was actually quite different to that of the rear-drive Coupé. We won’t delve too far into it here (partially as Kevin doesn’t want to give away all his secrets!) but there’s lots of talk about how what used to be called bump stops are now acting as secondary dampers and that the anti-roll bar setup that works perfectly on the 435i seemed to unsettle the 335d. The bottom line is that this car now wears bespoke springs and dampers to Kevin and Rhoddy’s specification but its anti-roll bar setup is currently as per the standard machine. Lastly on the suspension front are a set of non-run-flat tyres – this upgrade would be the first thing Kevin would recommend to anyone not happy with their car’s setup.
The exhaust on the car is a twin outlet item that’s been modified from a 435i and it does give a better look than the standard 335d’s pair of pipes that emerge from the rear valance next to each other on the left-hand side of the car. Quite why BMW has changed the design from the E9x generation of 335d is unknown – there certainly doesn’t seem to be any technical reason as far as we can tell. Kevin was originally going to design a new exhaust, but in the final analysis he reckons that as every customer is looking for something slightly different the development cost simply wasn’t justified and he thinks that BMW’s own M Performance items are probably the best way to go as he couldn’t design a better setup for the same sort of outlay.
The last item on the upgrade list is a set of serious stoppers. This is something that will no doubt be needed if you’re planning to use the car’s improved performance. For this application Kevin has optioned a set of Alcon discs and callipers, with the discs measuring a meaty 365x32mm, which certainly look the part nestling behind the 19-inch M Sport alloys. For cars equipped with 18-inch wheels there’s a slightly smaller 343x32mm kit, while for those customers who really want the ultimate in stopping power there’s also an optional 343x28mm setup for the rear.
While we’ve delved briefly into the performance on the run up towards the Midlands neither Smithy or I are desperately keen on getting a thorough soaking so we peel off the motorway and head to our intended photo location. I get busy with the cleaning gear while the cameras are set up and by the time we’ve shot the statics and the detail images there’s a very faint dusting of drizzle starting, which is fine by me as I’ll be able to sit in a nice warm interior for the rest of the shoot. Smithy looks less pleased as he’ll be standing in a field taking action shots as I fly past. And it’s perhaps for this reason that he deems a short stretch of road with corn fields in the foreground and background as being suitable for some moving sideon shots. He then proceeds to tell me I need to be going as fast as possible so it looks dramatic which will be tricky given it’s a short piece of road…
Fortunately we’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no one else on the road to witness the bonkers acceleration this 335d is capable of. It’s an absurdly simple process: turn the car round, plant size 10 on throttle, leave it welded to the bulkhead while the tyres find traction on the now slick Tarmac and hold onto the steering wheel for dear life for the fear that were it not for the driver’s seat backrest you’d now be sitting in the rear seat. Kevin’s timed this thing at 4.1 seconds from rest to 60mph, and if anything that seems conservative from where I’m sitting. The absurdly rapid acceleration does bring into focus the hope that those Alcon stoppers are up to the job as at the end of the short straight is a tight 90-degree left hander but I shouldn’t have worried as time after time they wash off the excess speed without breaking into a sweat and this is backed up by a very reassuring pedal feel, too.
Once Smithy’s happy he’s got some suitable panning shots in the bag we move onto the cornering and while the rain has eased a little and the roads are just a little damp, the way the 335d xDrive goes about its business is deeply impressive and very entertaining, too. You need to do a little bit of recalibration work within your brain to get the best out of the car because if you approach the corner in a typical rear-wheel drive manner you’re simply not allowing the chassis and drivetrain to shine. Flooring the throttle in a rear-wheel drive machine too early in the cornering phase will lead to either a dollop of understeer or a tendency for the car to want to swap ends, especially in the wet, but with the four-wheel drive chassis in the 335d you need to feed the power in early and the front axle digs in and pulls you round the corner. Once you’ve got the hang of the correct technique the 335d makes ridiculously short work of corners and the way it’s happy to change its course through a series of right-left-right direction changes is even more impressive than the way it handles individual corners. Perhaps the icing on the cake is that it’s not an entirely sterile experience as you still get a decent amount of feedback through the seat of your pants about what the chassis is doing and there’s enough of a rear-drive bias to get a modicum of movement from the tail as you exit corners. The fact it can do all this in increasingly inclement conditions must mean that this has to be one of the fastest ways of crossing the countryside once the weather’s closed in. And the very damp Smithy, who I pick up after the last run for the camera, shows that the weather has now really caught up with us.
With no more prospects for photography other than an in-car driving shot we head back to Iver and consider Birds conversion for the 335d. The complete kit as we’ve tested here will cost a smidgen over £8500 (including parts, labour and VAT), and while that’s a sizeable chunk of cash it does elevate the 335d xDrive from being a very good car into a truly exceptional one. If you’re in the market for an upgraded 3 Series we’d urge you to try this car as we reckon that once you’ve sampled its delights you’ll be as smitten as we were.
CONTACT: Birds Tel: 01753 657444 Web: www.birdsauto.com / #Birdsauto
The 335d makes ridiculously short work of corners.
TECH DATA #Birds-B3-3.5x / #Birds-B3-F30
ENGINE: Straight-six, turbodiesel / #N57
MAX POWER: 380hp
MAX TORQUE: 575lb ft
COMPLETE CONVERSION: £8515
ENGINE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE 380HP: £2496
B3X SPORT SUSPENSION: £1682
ALCON AE BRAKE KIT FRONT, 365X32: £3380
19-INCH TYRE SET, CONTI SPORT CONTACT 5: £1460
ALCON AE BRAKE KIT REAR, 343X28: £2810
ALCON AE BRAKE KIT FRONT, 343X32 (FOR CARS WITH 18” WHEELS: £3110)
B3X ANTI-ROLL BAR KIT: £1037
EXCHANGE QUAIFE BMW FINAL DRIVE: £2016 (All prices include parts labour and VAT)
Reworked 335d xDrive offers stunning ability in the corners with astonishing grip and plenty of poise; ride is firm, but not unduly so; twin exhausts look much better than the production version.
The way the 335d xDrive goes about its business is deeply impressive and very entertaining too.
Right: Q Sport intercooler can be seen nestling behind front air intake Below: engine looks entirely standard; Alcon brakes sit behind standard 19-inch M Sport alloys equipped with non-run-flat tyres.
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- Post is under moderationCROSSING THE LINE
One of the most spectacular builds we’ve seen in a long time, this #BMW-M135i is quite unlike anything else. Words: Elizabeth de Latour /// Photos: Henry Phull @ Slam Sanctuary
When Bruce Gowans said he had plans for his M135, he wasn’t lying. A year ago, this car was candy red with a modest boot build and Watercooled Industry wheels and now, well, it’s pretty much unrecognisable. There’s modifying your car and then there’s forging ahead with an absolute vision that’s uncompromised and single-minded in its intent. This car is what happens when someone makes that vision a reality.
There is no typical modified BMW owner, and Bruce certainly fits into that non-box of atypicality. He is of the ‘older’ generation, shall we say, and resides in a tiny village in the heart of the Bedfordshire countryside, a million miles away from the frenetic and eclectic world that is the modified BMW scene. But this mechanical engineer has a heart that pumps pure petrol and has spent his entire life flitting from modified car to modified car, with an underlying appreciation for BMW but never the opportunity to indulge that interest in Bavarian metal until he acquired this M135i. “I’ve been interested in BMWs ever since I was a lad and grew up into a petrolhead! I’ve been a fan since the first E30 M3 and seeing an E9 coupé on neighbour’s drive when I walked to school and thinking how cool it looked. I bought the M135i, my first BMW, for its ‘performance for the price’ factor and because the drivetrain, the engine and the transmission are such a great combination in this vehicle. I bought it brand-new in 2013 and was going to keep it stock…”
“Both Shakey and I thought that translating this design into a vinyl wrap would be a nigh-on impossible task”
Digital audio explained:
“The system in this car was spec’d to accommodate Bruce’s passion for high resolution audio. It’s cutting edge in the fact it can play any file format he wants and samples up to 196khz with bit depths of up to 24-bit. When you consider a CD (still reference in so many studios) samples at 44.1khz at 16-bit, that’s a huge amount more information. Of course, all of the car’s OEM equipment and functionality is retained and played through the new system alongside solid state hard drives, wireless streaming and various other inputs.”
Carl Shakespeare, Director, Studio Incar
Clearly that didn’t happen. It seems like the car was stock for all of five minutes before Bruce had started tinkering and while the mods started off sensibly and in a restrained manner, once the momentum began to build there was clearly no stopping Bruce (or the M135i). “The first mod was to get a new exhaust developed and fitted by Scorpion Exhausts. Then Luke and the guys at Plush supplied and fitted the air-ride, sourcing components from AirREX and an eLevel system from Accuair. This was closely followed by a carbon-fibre front splitter from SSDD,” he says. “Spring 2014 brought a change in colour, with a candy red colour wrap from Avery called True Blood.
New MD1 wheels from Watercooled Industries were added, closely followed by a Juice Box 4 (JB4) piggyback ECU from Burger Motorsports and a decat downpipe which were fitted at #Performance-Developments in Sunderland. The car went to #Forge-Motorsport in #Gloucester to have one of its high-performance intercoolers fitted, along with one of its dump valves.” With all those mods on board, it made 400hp and 450lb ft of torque on the dyno and considering how blisteringly quick the standard M135i is, that’s going to be more than enough power to keep Bruce happy. “After having the traction control kick in once too often, I took the decision to fit a limited-slip diff to the car. Options were thin on the ground for this platform but Birds in Iver, Buckinghamshire developed a Quaife ATB for it, which has made a massive difference to the way the car drives.”
And that is where the story would end for most people. A dramatic wrap, some exceedingly nice wheels, air-ride and some performance mods. A fine selection of upgrades. Job done. But that’s not where this story ends, as you can clearly see. “At the end of 2014 I planned to make some big changes to the car and started speaking to Carl Shakespeare at Studio Incar about my plans,” he explains. “We discussed my ideas for a rear-seat delete and a high-end audio installation and things just got out of hand. I had already decided to try and get a BTCC body kit. I contacted West Surrey Racing and negotiated with the guys there to buy a genuine race car kit from their 2014/15 BMW 1 Series race car. However, fitting it proved more difficult than you might think! The BTCC cars have front and rear subframes and crash structures that are specified by TOCA and these also provide mounting points for the front and rear body panels. These didn’t match up with the mounting and fixing points that BMW specify! It required the rear wings to be cut and tubbed – scary stuff! Luckily, Stylehaus in Northampton has some serious skills and brought the whole thing together.
“Shakey project managed the whole build with input from me, like my suggestion for the triple tank setup. Once the car was back from the bodyshop, and with a little bit of extra fettling by Fibreglass Phil in Kent (the manufacturer of the BTCC kit), the audio and air install could begin in earnest.” With a bit of direction from Bruce, Shakey was free to run riot inside the M135i. The end result is an interior that feels like it’s very much been built around the air and audio and one look inside leaves you in no doubt that this car’s main purpose is to astound. The rear seats have been removed completely, replaced by the awesome triple floating tank setup that looks like a spaceship, illuminated from above and hovering over the massive 15” Hertz Mille sub which forms part of the incredibly high-end digital audio install, while the rear load space is home to the three Audison amps, on display in a beautifully designed enclosure. There’s acres of Alcantara in here, which reaches up to cover the roof lining as well, while some extremely sexy custom door pods are home to Hertz Mille speakers. Finally, a custom panel in the centre console (also trimmed in Alcantara) houses the controllers for the audio system and the air suspension. It’s one of the most spectacular, special and perfectly-executed builds we’ve ever seen and it’s nothing short of a work of art.
With such a spectacular build going on, the right wheels were going to be absolutely essential and Bruce was keen to move away from the usual suspects, like BBS and Rotiform, and try something different. “I had been in touch with Brada wheels in the States for a year or so, originally to try and get some wheels for my GT3,” he says. “I spoke to Zane and we agreed a design and spec for the wheels that were destined to go on the BMW. However, because the car was away having the body kit fitted, Shakey and I could only make an educated guess as to what the exact widths and offsets of the wheels would be, with us only knowing what the overall width of the BTCC car is and working back from those dimensions…” It can be hard enough to work out your exact wheel specs when you’ve got your car in front of you so this was most definitely a risky strategy but it worked and the resulting wheels are the perfect fit for the M135i. Bruce opted for Brada’s BR1 crossspokes with gloss black centres, matt black lips and stainless steel bolts in 9.5x19” at the front and 10.5x19” at the rear, the fitment perfect for tucking the wheels under the massive arches when the car is aired out.
In terms of styling, the kit alone wasn’t enough for Bruce and he decided to take things to the next level. “The wrap design wasn’t established until quite late in the build. I have always been a fan of the BMW Art Car projects but picking a design to base the wrap for the M135i was tricky. Several of the Art Cars are ‘challenging’, to say the least,” he laughs, “but this Frank Stella design from 1976 was selected – it appealed to my inner engineer! Both Shakey and I thought that translating this design into a vinyl wrap would be a nigh-on impossible task, since the original consisted of lots of parallel horizontal and vertical lines; the hardest thing to do with vinyl wrap… Carl contacted JD Wraps in Essex and a deal was struck. When I collected the car a week later I was amazed. The guys had done an awesome job.” The combination of kit and wrap is one that is both single-handedly responsible for the utterly insane amount of attention this car garners but is also the most polarising aspect of the whole project. Some people love the wrap but hate the kit. Some people hate the kit but love the wrap. Some people hate them both. And some people like everything that this car has got going on! However you feel, it’s a talking point and gets the car noticed. Bruce loves it, however, which ultimately is the most important thing.
Amazingly, all this work took just six months, really not long at all considering just how much has gone into the build and how complete the transformation has been. Bruce chose the Players Classic show for the car’s unveiling. It got as much attention as you’d expect and the sort of reactions you’d expect. “It seems to be very much a ‘Marmite’ car!” Bruce tells us. More importantly, though, he can now sit back and actually enjoy the car. Beyond the looks and the next-level interior, he’s got a fast, powerful car that’s great to drive, with an incredible sound system. It’s a package that just begs to be taken out on the road and enjoyed and, in fact, that’s now his only plan for the future.
DATA FILE #2015 #BMW-M135i-F21 / #BMW-M135i / #BMW-F21 / #BMW / #Brada-BR1
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION 3.0-litre straight-six turbo #N55B30 / #N55 , JB4 piggyback ECU from #Burger-Motorsport , #Scorpion full exhaust including a decat downpipe, #Forge / #Forge-FMIC / , #Forge-DV , stock #ZF eight-speed automatic gearbox #ZF8HP , #Quaife ATB LSD from #Birds
CHASSIS 9.5x19” (front) and 10.5x19” (rear) #Brada BR1 three-piece wheels with gloss black lips, matt black faces and stainless hardware, with 235/35 (front) and 275/30 (rear) #Goodyear Eagle Asymmetric 2 tyres, #AirREX air-ride and Accuair eLevel management
EXTERIOR #BMW-M-Performance carbon fibre wing mirror shells, #BMW M Performance black front grilles, #BTCC body kit from WSR, Art Car wrap by #JD-Wraps
INTERIOR Interior by #Studio-Incar , full digital audio install comprising Audison AV Quattro amp x2, Audison AV Uno amp, Audison bit Ten D processor, #Audison bit Play HD source, #Hertz-Mille three-way front end, Hertz Mille 15” sub, rear seat delete, custom air installation, Alcantara roof lining, integrated audio and suspension controllers built in to the centre console
THANKS Studio Incar and Shakey in particular for handling this project and for keeping my spirits up when I needed it, Zane and Jacob at Brada, Myles and Chris at Brada UK, Fibreglass Phil, Scorpion Exhausts, Forge Motorsport, the guys at Stylehaus, Luke Massy, Phil James, Kat and the team at JD Wraps, Voodoo Elie for getting me out of a tricky situation, and last but not least, Ed Hamilton at JK Engineering for being a great friend, being just as daft as me and as big a petrolhead as me!
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