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A period-styled early-’90s E30 is a very desirable thing these days. So what happens if you exaggerate all of the details just a little bit? Ernie Hofstetter is the man to ask… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Anna Taylor.
/ #BMW-E30-M50-swapped / #BMW-E30-Cab / #M50-swapped
Exaggeration, despite what your teachers at school told you, is nothing to be ashamed of. Indeed, it can be helpful in getting ahead in life to artfully embellish and subtly big up the finer points of your character and achievements, to massage the salient facts into something more colourful. Doesn’t hurt anybody, does it?
Ernie Hofstetter is a man who appreciates the nuances of this sort of behaviour. We’re not saying he’s a show off, of course – not by any means. But he’s reached the stage in his life when he’s seen a few automotive scenes come and go, ebb and flow, and he’s been taking notes all the way through. And here, with this E30, we find his meisterwerk; the physical manifestation of his years of careful observation, made real in glorious style. He’s taken the archetypal retro #BMW convertible, made it look sort of like a spec’d-up period example, but cunningly exaggerated the details. Thanks to this carefully thoughtthrough approach, the car’s almost like a cartoon – it looks like it would have done rolling through his hometown of Howell, New Jersey back in 1991, but something’s different… it’s lower, broader, meaner, more aggressive. Those subtle small details have added up to a mighty whole.
“Back when I was 18, I thought these E30s were the coolest thing,” Ernie remembers. “When the time came around decades later that I wanted a fun car, that model immediately came to mind. Throughout the years my cars have always been modified – one of my favourites was my 2006 Lincoln Mark LT pick-up truck – but this a bit different. I’ve always been interested in BMWs, it’s a quality European driving machine, so it was the clear choice this time.”
Ernie happily admits that he didn’t have a distinct plan for the car when he first got hold of it, and was willing to let inspiration be his guide. The cabriolet was found for sale in Philadelphia, and was in reasonable condition – not amazing and certainly not up to Ernie’s high standard but, of course, it was never the intention to buy someone else’s project. He wanted to create something unique of his very own: “Let the modding begin,” he mischievously grins.
The first area that was primed for exaggeration was the big oily bit under the bonnet. While M20 motors have their merits, Ernie wanted to go harder, better, faster, stronger, and the way to achieve this was to swap the thing out for the rather mightier choice of the M50. Specifically, an #M50B25 : the 2.5-litre #straight-six that you’d normally find powering an E36 325i. “The M20 was boring and ugly,” he says, somewhat mercilessly, “and the M50 is much cleaner and sleeker. Any non-essential parts were removed from the engine bay, along with any unnecessary brackets and so on, to make it all look as clean as possible; the battery was relocated to the boot to help with this too. I uprated the cooling system with a Mishimoto radiator and a Spal fan, and the exhaust system consists of ceramic-coated exhaust manifolds with heat wrap, a Borla mid-section and a Vibrant muffler – all custom, of course!
The car also started off as an automatic, but we couldn’t have that so it’s been swapped to a manual Getrag 260 five-speed transmission, with a Z3 shifter and aluminium shift carrier.”
A pretty comprehensive transformation, you’ll surely agree, but Ernie was just getting started. Having substantially beefed up the muscularity of the old drop-top, neatly morphing it from cruiser to bruiser, it was time to address the question of altitude.
Now, Ernie’s seen a thing or two, as we said, so he’s observed the stance scene evolving from grass roots to comparative mainstream. However, while air-ride has been around since World War II, its presence at the forefront of custom car culture is a relatively recent thing; back when our man was a teenager, the way to get your ride hopping was to slam in some hydros. So is that what Ernie’s opted for here? Not quite… you see, that exaggeration factor has come into play again. “I’ve always had the need to go lower,” he explains (note that he uses the word ‘need’ – that’ll no doubt be familiar to a number of you. This isn’t just playing, it’s a lifestyle). “The only thing that could satisfy me with this project was air suspension. So now the car has a full Air Lift system, with 3P management, rolling sleeves up front and Slamit Industries bags in the rear with Bilstein shocks. I custom-painted the airtank in the trunk, which gives a good supply of air at all times!” Well, that’s good to hear.
The next logical step was to put some thought into the wheels. No good slamming the thing over a set of weedy stock steels, right? So Ernie bolted on some 17” rims from iForged… but then he quickly changed his mind. The period style of the early Nineties was calling, and he found himself drawn toward the timeless charms of the BBS RS, knocking the diameter down an inch but beefing up the girth to amusing degrees: these things are 7.5” wide at the front, 8.5” out back, and the way it sits is so aggressively juicy that it almost makes your eyes water. Imagine an automotive cartoonist in the early 1990s sketching up a BBS-shod E30, slamming it to the ground with improbable lows – that’s the look Ernie’s achieved in real life. Once again, it’s a masterstroke of considered exaggeration. “Whatever happened to the car, I wanted it to be as clean as possible,” he assures us.
“The small details count to me. So this car was a real labour of love! The bulk of it was actually built by Michael Hockman, who is a legend in the E30 community, and has now become a great friend of mine. But all the fine finishing work was done by me, with great pride, as well as some talented people: Levent from Guten Parts, Andrew from Open Road Tuning, Rich from County Line Auto Body, and of course my fantastic wife Michelle who has the patience of a saint!”
What’s clear as Ernie talks us through the detail points of the car is that this sits somewhere on the mid-point of the scale between evolution and revolution; some of the changes he’s made are pretty extreme, and yet the whole ethos of the thing is to consider a period build and artistically amp it up for a 21st century audience. Take the treatment of the interior: “I wanted the insides to be as stock as possible, but I still wanted the modern amenities,” he says. “So that meant an AV audio receiver, iPod interface, reversing camera, satellite radio, navigation – all of the things that make it more comfortable.” And that’s exactly what we find in there, all subtly and tastefully integrated into the old-skool vibe. It certainly helps that work like this is his bread-and-butter, being a salesman of stereo and security systems for cars as well as all manner of bolt-on performance gizmos, and this E30 ’vert is a solid manifestation of his skills as well as his aspirations.
“It took a good six months to get the car to a quality I was happy with,” Ernie explains. “But there’s always fine-tuning going on – they’re never really finished, are they?” Well, no, he’s hit the nail on the head there. We always find new things to fiddle with. And when you’ve been observing the scene for as long as Ernie has, your mind can’t help but be constantly swimming with fresh ideas and new things to try. So this E30 is bound to change in the near future – possibly unrecognisably – but in this cheery little snapshot of the here-and-now, it’s pretty much perfect. An early-Nineties style convertible, with all the details cleverly exaggerated to turn it into a thoroughly modern creation.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE #BMW-E30-M50 / #BMW-E30 / #BMW-325i-E30 / #BMW-325i-E30-M50 / #BMW-E30-Cabriolet / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E30 / #BMW-3-Series-Cabrio / #BMW-325i-Cabriolet / #BMW-325i-Cabriolet-E30 / #Getrag / #Viair / #BMW-E30-Air-Lift
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.5-litre straight-six #M50B25TU / #M50 / #BMW-M50 / #M50B25 from E36 325i, #Mishimoto radiator, Spal 16” fan, battery relocated to boot, #Raceskids skid plate, 318i harness cover, ceramic-coated headers with heat wrap, custom Y-pipe, #Borla mid-pipe and #Vibrant rear box with 2.5” piping, shaved and wire-tucked bay, #Getrag-260 five-speed conversion, custom transmission brace, Z3 shifter, aluminium shift carrier, 3.73 LSD
CHASSIS 7.5x16” (front) and 8.5x16” (rear) ET14 #BBS-RS / #BBS , 180 slant lip (front) and 247 slant lip (rear), with 195/45 (front) and 215/40 (rear) Yokohama S-Drive tyres, full #Air-Lift suspension system with front rolling sleeves and Slamit Industries rear bags, Autopilot 3P management, dual #Viair-444C compressors
EXTERIOR Smoked projector headlights with integrated indicators, 6k low- and 3k high-beam HID lights, Euro grilles, rear impact strip fitted to front bumper, smoked tails and corner lights, front and rear valances with Ryan G splitter
INTERIOR #M-Tech-II suede steering wheel, suede gaiters, chrome gauge rings with Alpina tach strip and painted needles, #ZHP illuminated gear knob, #BMW pedal set including foot rest, Alpine AV receiver with navigation and reversing camera, JL Audio speakers, subwoofer and amplifier
Gorgeous 16” #BBS RSs boast impressive width and have serious dish going on.
Air Lift 3P #Air-ride setup lets Ernie go as low as he wants to while custom boot build shows off both air components and upgraded audio elements, which include JL Audio speakers, subwoofer and amp.
“The small details count to me. So this car was a real labour of love!”Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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PERFECT EXAMPLE #BMW-E36 / #BMW-328i / #BMW-328i-E36 / #BMW-328Ci / #BMW-328Ci-E36 / #BMW-E36-Coupe / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-Coupe /
This full-on E36 328i combines aggressive styling with serious turbocharged performance. Many have tried, and many have failed. The quest for the perfect modified #BMW is an arduous one, but our US contributor thinks he may just have found it. Words & Photos: Eric Eikenberry.
In the days of yore, men of differing opinions used to gather in remote locations to shout vociferously at one another, clash shield upon shield, sword upon sword, all in the name of settling the score. In today’s infinitely more modern arenas, the shields and swords have been discarded in favour of wings and air dams, ICE and carbon fibre. The battle cry is far different too. ‘JDM’ or ‘DTM’. Where do your allegiances lie? If you’ve picked up this magazine, that choice is pretty clear. As such, we present to you your champion, Ryan Castro’s #1997 E36 328i. All hail your king!
At a recent JDM-DTM shootout held in California, Ryan not only laid to rest the JDM dragon, he also captured an overall show trophy for Best Modified. With his comprehensive and well thought out modifications, not only is this ride an incredible showpiece, it packs the punch necessary to decimate its rivals on the strip or track.
Ryan has a dream job that allows him a great deal of leeway in his choice of transportation. Sure, it’s not as grand as what us motoring journalists do for a living – testing cars for you, our readers – but still it’s the tops. Ryan is one-third owner of DP Engineering (www.dpengineering.cc). This means he gets to play with forged wheels all day long – just like the wheels you see here on this car.
These gorgeous 8.5x19” and 10x19” two-piece, fully-forged R06VS beauties are produced by DP Engineering, and are wearing 235/35 and 275/35 Falken Azenis rubber. The black anodised centres are polished to a high gloss. Since he prefers the deep-dish look, the fronts feature a 3” lip, while the rears sprout a staggering 5” shelf.
Tucked away inside are front and rear Brembos, silver-painted and the size of dinner plates. 15” cross-drilled front rotors ride on floating pins, while 11.6” rear rotors are gripped by two-pot, lightweight calipers; fronts by four-pot F50 units. Looking a bit further under the car reveals a KW Variant II coilover suspension setup and Racing Dynamics roll-bars. These six-way adjustable suspenders, with ride comfort adjustment, ensure that Ryan gets the look he wants without the need to keep his chiropractor’s number on speed-dial.
Helping him achieve that look is the überrare (here in the US) Esquiss’ Rafale Widebody kit with carbon fibre inserts. Very subtle E30 M3-style flares are combined seamlessly with wild arches to cover the massive wheel/tyre combo. Over the top of that Ryan laid the BMW Chrome Shadow concept paint. This trick paint is composed of a base layer which is black, while the top layer is ultra-smooth silver. In full sunlight, the finish is like a pewter-coloured mirror.
At night, it becomes a dark grey. “I wanted the car to have a clean, classic look that would always be in fashion,” he explained. “Kind of like an Armani suit, it will always look good.”
But what would any good suit be without the additional accessories to top it off? Browsing through the supplied spec sheet, we wondered if it would be easier to just list the items Ryan didn’t modify! The emblems have all been shaved and there are carbon fibre mirrors, side skirt inserts, front splitter and rear wing. There’s a custom roof spoiler, bonnet vents, E46 headlight eyebrows and an aviation-style fuel filler cap. A set of Kool Kustoms E46 M3 painted mouldings and M-Tech side mouldings complete the look, while Euro Clear’s custom smoked clear marker lights fill the corners. On top of all of this, there are no windscreen wipers! Clearly, this is a testament to the car’s enviable Southern California residence.
Ducking one’s head inside provides a plethora of extravagant eye candy in every direction. We particularly liked the Blitz DC turbo, oil pressure, and temperature gauges mounted directly to the windshield and cabled to a Blitz Live Unit controller. Just like on the outside of the car, if you can find an original part here, we’ll give you a big pat on the back.
Like the rest of the interior, the front Cobra Sidewinder fully adjustable seats have been retrimmed in grey and black with red trim by Kreative Interiors. Wedge Engineering seat rails ensure a safe place to park one’s bum while Sabelt three-point safety harnesses keep you there during even the most hair-brained manoeuvres.
A custom chrome, four-point roll-cage helps to stiffen the already rigid BMW coupé’s chassis. Carbon fibre again abounds, noticeable in the dash, gauge surrounds, gauge rings, airbag lid, centre console, door inserts and rear panels. Not to be outdone, aluminium puts on a good show as the BMW gear knob, UUC pedals and left footrest, UUC handbrake handle, and custom diamond-plate Legend 5 floor mats are all made of the polished metal. Ryan’s hands grip a Momo Champion steering wheel during the rare occasions he actually gets to drive this stunning ride to the local McDonald’s.
Where a rear seat once resided, there’s a chromed Nitrous Oxide bottle and two 12” Massive Audio subs. Naturally, they’re mounted in a carbon fibre enclosure. In fact, there’s so much of the stuff in this one car we’re afraid Ryan’s driven the price of the world’s supply to a new peak!
The centre console is home to a 7” NESA screen, and there are even Game Port plug-ins for Ryan’s favourite video games. A Pioneer DEH-840MP DVD/VCD/MP3 head unit drives the tunes to the three 600W Massive Amps amplifiers and the Diamond HEX 500 S components.
Hidden somewhere are two Optima Blue Top batteries and two 1.5-farad Massive capacitors. Ryan’s also installed a High Tech RV Isolator to keep the current clean and noise-free. In the boot, his carbon fibre (yes, still more) amp rack is topped by custom Plexiglass amp surrounds lit by glowing blue neon.
Of course, all of this show gear would barely be enough to turn heads here in the States if there was no power backing it up. A wise man would think twice before picking on this car in a drag race. A polished Turbonetics 60-1 T3/T4 Turbocharger boosts the 328’s engine into orbit, placing 430hp on the tarmac at the rear wheels.
Carbon fibre and polished aluminium again rule supreme, providing a wicked silver/black appearance throughout the compartment. The fully custom Stage 2 turbo setup utilises an Aquamist water/alcohol injection system, a Blitz SBC-iD sequential boost controller, along with an HKS Super-Sequential blow-off valve and a Turbonetics Deltagate external wastegate to keep the hyped-up airflow under tight control.
The Nitrous Express Stage 2 kit purges the intercooler while a high flow fuel pump, boostsensitive fuel pressure regulator and RC Engineering 35lb injectors feed the beast.
Billetwerks black anodised engine caps keep all fluids in their intended locations. The DME is reprogrammed and there’s a Euro mass airflow meter, and yet, surprisingly, the car remains emissions-legal as far as expelling gases is concerned.
Speaking of exhaust, Ryan had a custom 3” piping system constructed with a custom race muffler and Borla carbon fibre tips. It seems that he has a CF fetish (Nothing to be ashamed of ~ Ed): Vortiel CF engine cover and fuel rail cover, CF fusebox cover, and a CF radiator cover ensure that the entire compartment is appropriately dressed. Sun Auto supplied its Hyper Ground and Hyper Voltage systems, keeping the current flow more than adequate. Ryan is even planning a Standalone ECU upgrade in just the next few days.
The car’s original five-speed transmission (one of the few non-modified items on the car) is in fact surrounded by helpful bits. A UUC short-shifter keeps the gears on target while Delrin bushing hold it securely in place. Redline synthetic lube swishes around inside, keeping the gears happy under the abuse dished out by the motor. The rear differential has been upgraded to a limited-slip item with 3.15:1 ring and pinion. A UUC aluminium 8.5lb racing flywheel and a 1993-95 M5 clutch ensure that horsepower isn’t needlessly wasted.
In the end, is it indeed a rolling Armani suit? Let’s crunch the facts and see. Classic pre-Bangle Germanic good looks? Check. Tasteful accessories integrated flawlessly into the package? Check. Outrageously good-looking black shoes? Check. An ICE system so intense it could host movie premieres? Check. Rocket-ship acceleration and ‘hand of God’ braking? Check. Yep, it’s the real deal. If Armani made clothing for Robocop, this is probably what it would look like, and that has Ryan’s JDM competition running scared.
“not only is this ride an incredible showpiece, it packs the punch to decimate its rivals on the strip or track”
DATA FILE / #Turbonetics / #Turbonetics-60-1-T3 / #Turbonetics-Deltagate / #Apexi-GTR / #M52B28 / #BMW-M52 / #M52 / #M52-Turbonetics / #DP-Engineering /
ENGINE: 2.8-litre six-cylinder with polished #Turbonetics 60-1 T3/T4 turbocharger, Turbonetics Deltagate external wastegate, #HKS super sequential blow-off valve, HKS Type I turbo timer, #Blitz SBC-iD sequential boost controller, polished AA intake elbow, custom turbo manifold, chromed downpipe and intercooler piping, polished #Apexi GTR intercooler, Turbonetics custom end tanks, #RC-Engineering 35lb injectors, custom #K&N turbo intake. Custom Aquamist water-alcohol injection kit, #Nitrous-Express-Stage-2 kit for custom intercooler purge, NX bottle warmer. NGK race plugs, high flow fuel pump, boost sensitive fuel pressure regulator, HKS air/fuel ratio control, Vortiel carbon engine cover and fuel rail cover, carbon fusebox and radiator cover, Euro mass airflow meter, BMP oil filter cooling fins, reprogrammed DME, custom race exhaust with carbon fibre #Borla tips, 3” racing exhaust piping, Billetwerks black anodised engine caps, Sun Auto hyper ground system and hyper voltage system. Standard five-speed manual with UUC short-shifter, Delrin bushings, Redline fluids. Upgraded LSD to 3.15, UUC aluminium 8.5lb lightweight flywheel, E34 M5 clutch, custom tranny mounts
PERFORMANCE: 430bhp at the rear wheels
CHASSIS: 8.5x19” (front) and 10x19” (rear) #DP-Engineering-R06VS alloys with 3” lip (front) and 5” lip (rear) shod in 235/35 and 275/30 Falken Azenis tyres respectively. #KW-Variant-II coilovers with ride comfort adjustment and six-way height adjustment, Racing Dynamics sway bars and strut tower bar. 15” #Brembo four-pot brakes (front) and 11.5” two-pot brakes (rear) with silver calipers all-round, cross-drilled rotors, stainless steel brake lines, Brembo pads, racing DOT 5 brake fluid
EXTERIOR: Full Esquiss’ Rafale Widebody kit with carbon fibre pieces painted in Chrome Shadow #BMW concept paint, carbon fibre mirrors, side skirt inserts, front splitter, roof spoiler and bonnet vents. Fibreglass inner wheel wells, E46-style headlight eyebrows, de-badged, aviation-style fuel filler cap, Kool Kustoms E46 M3-style painted mouldings, M-Tech side mouldings, de-wipered. Euro front clear lights and side repeaters, custom smoked rear lights, 4300K HID low beams, custom H7 foglights, angel eyes with fibre-optic lighting, Showoff Krypton bulbs, H1 high beams
INTERIOR: Full Kreative Interiors interior retrim in grey/black with red trim, two Cobra Sidewinder fully adjustable seats, Wedge Engineering seat rails, #MOMO Champion steering wheel, custom four-point roll-cage, Sabelt three-point safety harnesses. Carbon fibre dash, gauge surround, airbag lid, centre console, door inserts and rear panels, silver gauges, chrome gauge rings, custom painted centre console, BMW OEM aluminium gear knob, UUC pedals, clutch stop and handbrake handle, Legend 5 aluminium chequerplating floor mats, Blitz DC turbo, pressure and temperature gauges, Blitz live unit
ICE: 7” Nesa monitor, Pioneer DEH840MP, DVD/VCD/MP3 player, pair of Massive Audio 12” subs, 3x600W Massive amps, Diamond mid-bass, Diamond HEX 500S components, pair of Massive farad capacitors, pair of Optima Blue-Top batteries, High Tech RV isolator, game port plug-ins, custom carbon fibre box enclosure and amp rack, custom Plexiglass amp surrounds, blue neon lighting, Accessories 12V transformer, sandblasted ‘Kinetix’ sign-board
“I wanted the car to have a classic look that would always be in fashion; like an Armani suit, it will always look good”Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.