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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.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.