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    TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED Wild supercharged E90 M3

    Karel Silha’s M3 has been evolving for a few years, getting ever madder and more frightening. As he teeters on the cusp of his next round of innovations, we pin down his green monster to see just how deeply this lunacy has spiraled… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Patrik Karlsson.

    840HP E90 M3 Supercharged wide-arch beast

    The most fun cars are the ones that do surprising things; ones that subvert your expectations and lead your preconceptions down a hitherto uncharted path. We’re not talking about sleepers here – that’s a well-documented area, and a whole textbook in itself. No, what’s flicking our switch today is the idea of using a novel base to build something devastating. Like when Top Gear commissioned Lotus to build a trackslaying Lada, and the Norfolk spannertwiddlers ended up throwing £100k at it. Or when Volvo entered the BTCC in the 1990s with an 850 estate. These are not the logical cars to choose for such endeavours, which is what makes the whole concept so eminently desirable.

    So it is with Karel Silha’s M3. He wanted to build an unstoppable and terrifying car with which to distort reality in the otherworldly and near-mythical amphitheatre of the now-world-renowned Gatebil events, so he chose to go with an M3. Fair play, sound reasoning, we can see why you’d do that But, just for the sake of waving two fingers at the rest of the paddock, he didn’t take the obvious route and buy himself an E92 coupé. He chose the sensible, dad-spec E90 fourdoor saloon.

    Alright, we’ll immediately retract ‘sensible, dad-spec’, that’s a moronic way to describe a machine as formidable as the E90 – but you have to admit that the act of deliberately choosing a car with extra doors you know you’re never going to use is something only a belligerent and confrontational person would do. It’s Touring Car rules; you’ve got four doors so that people spectating can relate your car to their own salesman-spec diesel commuter. Karel’s just cranked things up a notch, simply to be mischievous. Oh, those effervescently zany Swedes…

    “My first car was a Toyota Starlet,” he explains, which is actually something we hear a lot. A surprising number of skilled helmsmen cut their teeth in that balletic Japanese poppet, it must teach its drivers an awful lot about car control. “I’ve been working with BMWs for about 12 or 13 years now though. My first was an E30, which I wanted to turn into a bit of turbocharged weekend fun. Most of my BMWs have been E30s in fact; the most recent one was making 982hp and 887lb ft on an old M20 engine.”

    It’s probably safe to assume that this fella knows what he’s doing when it comes to perving over BMWs then. However, the E90 is a world apart from the E30 (just look at the maths, it’s 60 #BMW Top Trump points adrift), so this little race car project was always going to be something of a challenge, right? No, not a bit of it. Karel’s the sort of chap who just knuckles down and gets on with it and there’s no half-measures here. Allin or nothing.

    “I wanted to do fast lap times and the goal was to be quick,” he says, with hilarious modesty and masterful understatement. “With that in mind, there was only one chassis that was suitable for this: the E90 M3. So I bought the car from a friend – it was in really good condition, aside from the engine, which was trashed. One of the rods had found its way out…” But with the plans that Karel had made, a blown motor was an irrelevance. Stock engines aren’t Gatebil fodder. It was always the gameplan to tear the motor apart and beef everything up like Meat Loaf in an Angus Steakhouse.

    “Yes, the whole build was fully mapped out from the start,” he assures us. “We even drew up 3D renderings of how it would look when it was finished. The plan was always clear.” Oh, and what a plan it was. With ruthless efficiency and the sort of clockwork dominance of the to-do list that you normally find in school staff rooms, Karel and his crew set about ripping the E90 to shreds and building it back up as an apex-humiliating, spectator-arousing beast.

    “In the first year, we dealt with the chassis,” he says. “KW three-way competition suspension, and also a big brake upgrade from Endless, to get the chassis fully dialled-in. We’d initially talked to a local company about our suspension options, and the support was terrible, so we ended up talking to KW suspension in Germany. They answered all of our questions in one email and the support was just above and beyond, so it was a no-brainer to go with KW! They made a custom three-way competition kit for us, and those guys have been a strong partner ever since.”

    With the chassis tested and thoroughly proven, the second year of the E90 build threw up some proper mischief. “In year two we did the forged engine,” says Karel, “and then we supercharged it – and this was no off-the-shelf kit, it was the biggest setup ESS could make for us. We ended up with 840hp, and we also upgraded the ECU to a full Motec setup, with PDM [Power Distribution Module], dash and ECU. We fitted a Samsonas sequential gearbox with paddleshift too.” Phew. Time to take a breath, drink in the magnificence of the spec, and just have a little think about our own life choices. Stick the kettle on for some pondering time, we’ll see you at the next paragraph.

    Better? We know, it’s a lot to take in. But brace yourselves, as there’s a little more to come. You see, it would have been amusingly stealthy to jam all of this sweaty grunt into a stock-looking four-door shell, but stealth has never been the Swedish forced induction enthusiasts’ watchword. So what you’re seeing here is a searing vision in Snakeskin Green, a Dodge Viper colour no less, and to prove that this build isn’t just about dumb horsepower there’s a frankly staggering aero setup. Just look at the frickin’ size of that rear diffuser, for goodness’ sake! And the front splitter’s big enough to stand a family of six upon, let alone allowing them all to have a little nap on the rear wing. This thing may have enough horsepower to make a Bugatti owner think twice, but it’s also glued to the track by the crushing inevitability of downforce. It’s actually kinda frightening. Another hugely impressive element of this build is just how stock that S65 motor is, aside from the comically large blower. It’s got forged pistons and rods from Pure Performance Motorsport in Australia, and a suitably juiced-up fuelling system feeding through a Weldon 2345 pump (which is good for 1300hp!), but aside from that it’s pretty much as the M Division intended. Talk about over-engineering, eh?


    Still, there was a global vibe developing in this Swedish-honed, German-built car with Australian engine upgrades and Japanese interior addenda, so it only made sense for the rolling stock to come from somewhere unexpected too. That’s why you’ll find a set of Work VS-XX wheels under those widened carbon fibre arches – custom-built wheels from Japan. And the rears are a spanking 12.5” wide, which allows for some seriously dirty contact patch. “We wanted a wheel that could match the rest of the car,” Karel reasons, “and Work Wheels were the only choice for a quality wide wheel.” Having hand-crafted his own bruising arches, we’ll happily take his word for that.

    “Function over form was the overarching idea,” he continues. “The look has always been secondary to the act of going fast. The chassis’s actually being modified for a Version 3 that we’ll be debuting soon, but yes – the capability has always been more important than the look.” This statement, of course, writes a very large cheque, as the car looks absolutely phenomenal. Thankfully, we know that the setup can cash it with ease. “I’d say my favourite element of the build is all the carbon fibre,” Karel grins. “When you start with carbon, you kinda get the fever and it’s hard to stop! For 2017 most of the car will be in carbon fibre, and for 2018 a new chassis is being built with even more mods and 100% carbon.” Blimey. 100% is a big percentage. We’ll report back as the news filters in.


    “It took some five-to-six months to build the first version of the car,” he says, “then it evolved over the off-season; 2015 Version 1, 2016 Version 2, and 2017 is Version 2.1. Just wait – 2018 will bring it up to Version Badass.” We can’t wait to see that. But for now, let’s just bask in the unutterable lunacy of Version 2.1 – the as-yet ultimate evolution of your neighbour’s four-door 3 Series, built to tear up Gatebil and atomise any rubber that may stray into its workshop. The fact that it’s not a coupé just makes the flawless victories all the sweeter. ¬

    TECHNICAL DATA FILE #Supercharged / #BMW-E90 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-E90 / #BMW-M3-Supercharged / #BMW-M3-Supercharged-E90 / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E90 / #BMW-3-Series-M3-E90 / #BMW-3-Series-M3 / #ESS-supercharger / #ESS / #BMW / #Work / #MoTeC-ECU

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 4.0-litre #V8 #S65B40 / #BMW-S65 / #S65 , fully-forged, custom #ESS-supercharger-kit , 1000cc injectors and uprated fuelling with #Weldon 2345 pump, #Motec engine management. #Samsonas six-speed sequential gearbox

    CHASSIS 11x18” (front) and 12.5x18” (rear) #Work-VS-XX wheels with 305/35 (front) and 335/35 (rear) tyres, #KW three-way competition suspension, #Endless race brake setup with six-pot calipers (front and rear) with 355mm (front) and 345mm (rear) discs

    EXTERIOR Dodge Viper Snakeskin Green, wide steel rear wings and plastic-welded M3 front wings – now remoulded in carbon fibre, Gatebil-sized custom wing, splitter and diffuser

    INTERIOR Sparco seats, Takata harnesses, OMP steering wheel, custom cluster by Karel S Motorsport, paddle shifters, full painted FIA rollcage

    THANKS All of my friends who helped, especially to Tim and Jens, and also all of my sponsors last year and also the new ones for 2017 – it would not have been possible without them

    No air-ride here, just air jacks.
    The rear view is dominated by that custom diffuser.
    Fully-painted FIA roll-cage.

    “Function over form was the overarching idea, the look has always been secondary to the act of going fast”

    MOTEC engine management keeps things running right.
    Sparco seats with Takata harnesses up front.
    MoTeC C127 Race Display behind OMP steering wheel.
    Custom ESS supercharger kit makes 840hp.


    “In year two we did the forged engine and then we supercharged it [with] the biggest setup ESS could make for us. We ended up with 840hp”
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    HIDDEN TALENT
    This unassuming E34 hides a supercharged secret… What might appear to be nothing more than a rather smart-looking BMW E34 540i is actually packing 430hp beneath its unassuming exterior, courtesy of an #ESS-supercharger kit. Words: Louise Woodhams. Photos: Andy Tipping.

    When I was 15, my mum asked me to choose a car for her from our local used car dealer. He had four cars for sale and the only two worth looking at were a Mk2 Golf GTI 16v and an E36 325i. I was sold on the BMW as soon as the salesman started it up,” recalls 25-yearold Fred with a big grin across his face. The car was eventually passed down to his brother and in the four years that it was in the Marsh-Allen household, Fred formed fond memories of it. In fact, it was the car that ignited his love affair with BMW and when it came to his first car he didn’t consider any other marque.

    His first choice of weapon was a 318ti – an immaculate, one-owner example – but, as a professional drummer, he needed something bigger and faster and it was not long before he started thinking about his next acquisition. To help fund the purchase, Fred got a job with a local car insurance company and with the added advantage of a discounted policy he was able to step up to an E39 540i. “I really liked that car and it sparked my love affair with V8s,” explains Fred. “The surprise on the faces of young lads in their Vauxhall Corsas as I tanked it past them with the back crammed full of drums was absolutely priceless.”

    Sadly, a failed cooling system left him totally bereft of any spare cash and he eventually got rid of it. He then seemingly worked his way through the entire #BMW line-up of models, including an E28 525e, an E31 840Ci, an E34 525i, various E39 Tourings, an Alpina B10 3.5, a couple of E36 328s, an E46 330i, and an Alpina B3 3.3.

    It was around this time that Fred got the bug for modifying. He kick-started his newfound addiction with the E28, which received a full respray in the car’s original Alpine white hue, H&R lowering springs and a set of BBS Style 5 RC090s. “It looked mental and was the perfect retro daily. I then had the insane idea of converting the E34 525i that I had bought (for the bargain sum of £400) into a 540i,” Fred explains.

    Many of us have at least one friend in our life that likes to play the little devil on our shoulder and for Fred it’s a certain buddy named Kevin. Kevin suggested that the engine swap wouldn’t be that difficult, offering the use of his axle stands and a hammer to boot! Kevin’s comment changed the direction of Fred’s project and he started the search for a donor engine.

    He soon found someone who was willing to sell him a 540i Touring for £700. The previous owner was a keen angler and the car was his main means of transportation. This meant it carried all of the related paraphernalia, towed his boat, and was even used to launch the boat into the water.


    Because of this the underside and bodywork of the Touring was rotten. That did not matter, however, as the engine had only covered 130k and was in great working order. Fred and Kevin set about swapping over the engine and transmission during the summer of 2012. Fred gained invaluable knowledge and skills from the experience, which he was able to put to extremely good use when it came to the car you see pictured here, which leads us nicely onto the topic.

    While carrying out the conversion, Fred bought an LSD which he never got round to fitting and he ended up selling it to a bloke who wanted one for his E34. “When Dave turned up we got on really well and have remained friends since,” says Fred. “I fell in love with his E34 540i at first sight and vowed that one day I would get him to sell it to me. I badgered him for over a year until one day in late 2014 he finally relented as he needed the funds to buy a 2002.”

    Dave sold it to him for £4000 on the condition that Fred would supercharge it. This was something Dave himself had wanted to do but never got round to doing! The car was very clean, and Dave, along with other previous owners, including one who worked for a Bentley and Rolls-Royce specialist, had carried out a few modifications. As such, the cabin is a very luxurious place with mats, doorcards and various bits of interior trim made up from Bentley materials, along with a set of custom clocks to match. It had also benefitted from a UUC short-shift kit, AC Schnitzer pedals, M5 3.8 brakes and BC Racing coilovers – which Fred has since adjusted, raising the rear ride height by 10mm to clear the wider tyres and increasing the stiffness.

    When it came to exterior styling, Fred wanted a smooth and understated style so he removed all of the window tints and the M5 spoiler (but kept the E36 M3 mirrors that had been previously fitted). The car was then resprayed in the original Oxford green. Simple but effective; the E34 has such strong lines and this particular model is so rare it does not necessitate much else. “Unfortunately where so much silicone was used to attach the spoiler it reacted with the new paint, so I had to source a new bootlid for it,” Fred tells us. The finishing exterior touch is a set of staggered Rondell 0058 wheels.

    Next up was the main job: installing the supercharger kit. This was not without its problems. Unfortunately, the induction pipework did not fit, which meant the air con had to be deleted in order to route it under the ’charger instead. Following the photoshoot, this setup was reconstructed from aluminium due to the original supplied pipework collapsing at high revs. “It was very frustrating when I think it wouldn’t have been any more hassle to have turbocharged the car,” says Fred.

    In addition, Fred decided to bin the original ECU and ESS chip and fit an Emerald K6 ECU, map sensor, and a bypass valve. With three different engine maps – all selectable from a switch hidden in the driver’s cubby hole – he can chose whether he wants to opt for a TVR-esque ‘pop and bang’ map or be a little more sensible and dial-in power or economy. Of course, the best part of the conversion, which provides this E34 with 430hp, is seeing off new hot hatches. It’s the last thing people come to expect from a 20-year-old saloon!

    So, what is next for Fred? Well, other than a sound system (given the current setup only does justice to Radio 4), Fred is planning simply to enjoy the car this season. After all his hard work, he deserves it.

    DATA FILE #Supercharged-BMW-E34 / #BMW-540i / #BMW-540i-E34 / #BMW-540i-ESS-supercharger-kit / #BMW-540i-ESS-supercharger-kit-E34 / #1994 / #1995 / #BMW-E34

    ENGINE 4.0-litre V8 M60B40 / BMW-M60 / M60 , #ESS-supercharger-kit / #ESS-Supercharger / #ESS / #M60-ESS-supercharger-kit , #Emerald-K6-ECU / #Emerald-ECU and map sensor, bypass valve, custom exhaust system, six-speed manual transmission with UUC short-shift kit.

    CHASSIS 8.5x17” (front) and 10x17” (rear) #Rondell 0058 wheels with 235/45 (front) and 275/40 (rear) tyres, M5 3.8 brakes all-round, #BC-Racing coilovers.

    EXTERIOR E36 M3 mirrors, full respray in Oxford green.

    INTERIOR Bentley mats, doorcards and trim, custom clocks, AC Schnitzer pedals.

    THANKS Kev, Rob and Donnie, Dave Moore for selling me the car, Hans at ESS, John at Emerald M3D LTD for mapping and RPM Littleport for transportation and ECU fitting, Richi’s Cars Kings Lynn for the bodywork.

    I fell in love with his E34 540i on first sight and vowed that one day I would get him to sell it to me.
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