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    This E36 M3 R is one of the rarest of the rare, but that didn’t stop one owner beefing it up to be a full-on track terror. Words and photos: Chris Nicholls.

    FULL-ON BMW-E36 / BMW-M3 R Hardcore Australian special

    GYM JUNKIE UNICORN Ultra-rare E36 M3 R from Oz

    Just 12 E36 M3 Rs were made available to the public back in the mid ’90s by #BMW Australia. Built, as some of you may know, to be the ultimate non-GTR E36, the cars were basically Group N racers for the road. They came with full Motorsport Group N suspension, a tweaked engine putting out 325hp (more than any E36 M3 other than the GTR), AP Racing four-piston brakes all-round, the full M3 GT bodykit, plus Super Tourer wing and extendable splitter, and almost all creature comforts, such as rear seats, air-conditioning and fog lights, removed. Developed by the legendary Paul Rosche, then M GmbH’s head of motorsport, and team members from the famous Australian Frank Gardner’s outfit, including Ralph Bellamy - former F1 engineer and one of the men responsible for inventing ground effects at Lotus - the M3 R remains to this day arguably the greatest E36 variant you can actually buy, albeit one that required a racing license when purchasing it new and one that is, unsurprisingly, also climbing in value today.

    Which makes it all the more bizarre that this M3 R’s previous owner, Alan Palser, decided to tune it so much there’s basically nothing left of the original car bar the little silver build plate on the centre console. To whit, there’s the DTM Fiber Werkz widebody kit, JRZ dampers with Eibach springs, Turner front and SM Motorsport custom rear anti-roll bars, SM Motorsport custom control arms, Alcon monobloc front and AP Racing rear calipers and two-piece slotted discs, AP racing twin-plate clutch, boot-mounted Speed Master fuel cell with Bosch 044 pump and swirl pot and a range of engine mods, including a very sexy CSL-style carbon airbox, which bring the power up to around 370rwhp. In a car running Hankook slicks on its 11x18” Apex EC-7 wheels, and weighing only 1220kg thanks to being completely stripped and caged, that makes this is one rapid racer indeed. But one that isn’t really much of an M3 R anymore.

    So why did Alan do it? Well, there were two main reasons. The first is an all-too familiar story. Having fallen in love with BMWs as a lad growing up in the Group A era, Alan decided he had to have one, and eventually managed to fund the purchase of his third-hand M3 R ten years ago when it had just 40,000km on the clock. However, as one does, he started to chat more and more to people in the club scene and eventually got talked into attending a few track days. And that’s when the bug bit, hard.

    “At the time I bought it, I would say the plan was to have it as a road car, but having started to talk to some people in car clubs, they said, ‘Oh, you should come down and join the club and have a go on the track on a club day’. Then once I’d done that a couple of times, I thought, ‘Oh yeah, I think I’m going to enjoy this’. So I once I’d done a couple of those, I started orienting the E36 more towards that and less as a car to drive on the road.”

    And once Alan started, he found it hard to stop, spiralling down that route we all know of upgrading ever more bits and pieces. “Once I was on that path, it was easier to continue on it, rather than scrap it and go back to a start point again,” he says. Eventually, after entering a couple of tarmac rallies, Alan decided it was time to develop it fully and, having sent it off to BMW whiz Sam Markov at SM Motorsport in Wodonga on the Victoria/New South Wales state border, things just got even more extreme, eventually leading to a wilder state than it is in now (this engine is its second after the previous fully-built and E85-tuned beast blew prior to the sale to its current owner). As for the second reason, that was more to do with the used car market at the time. Although it might seem silly in today’s climate, despite its rarity, engineering pedigree and extremely finely-honed nature out of the box, the M3 R wasn’t actually all that valuable ten years ago. You could pick one up for less than AU$50,000 (around £25,000) and there wasn’t a sense that they would be a future collectible. Hence why Alan says “I didn’t feel like I was totally killing something that was worth a lot of money at the time.” Of course, thinking about it now, he agrees that were he to do it all again, he would have started with a basic 3 Series shell, but such is life.

    Eventually, having arrived at a development crossroads, Alan was unsure whether to replace the engine with an S85 V10 or the like, or sell it to fund something like a Z4 GT3. In the end he decided to part with it, which is where current owner and Avis franchise holder (hence the stickers) Les Sears comes into the picture. A Holden man for much of his time in motorsport, one drive of an E46 back when it was new changed his life forever and after that, Les became a devoted BMW fan, building up quite an impressive collection that currently includes a stock E36 M3, three E46 M3s (one road car, one complete racer and another in the build) and an F82 435i daily. Hence why, when he found out this car was up for sale about a year and a half ago, knowing how rare it was and how much effort had gone into it, he pounced on it.

    Of course there was still the matter of the blown engine to take care of before he could enjoy it at his local motorkhanas and track days, and given the previous highly-strung motor’s issues, and the fact the chassis set-up was good enough to ensure speed without huge power, Les decided to tone down the new power plant a little in order to keep it reliable. Thus, right now, it runs a completely stock 3.2-litre bottom end, and only the aforementioned carbon airbox with custom trumpets (on stock runners), K&N pod filter, ARP rod bolts, 296º Schrick cams, Vanos delete and Motec M600 ECU as mods. Despite this, thanks to Sam Markov’s nous (Les kept him on as the car’s mechanic, as unlike for Alan, Sam was local), the car puts down 367hp at the wheels, which as we said is still plenty in a circa-1200kg car, and easily enough to keep Les at the top of the time sheets at whatever event he enters. “Everywhere you take it, if it doesn’t win, it’s always second or third. It’s a quick little car. It’s very, very well balanced, and it doesn’t do it with horsepower, it does it with cornering speed,” he says.

    Despite its pace and the fact it’s no longer much of an M3 R though, Les has no desire to risk such a rare car (even in its current state) in actual racing, saying “I’m a little reluctant [to race it]. I don’t mind doing the sprints in it, but once you get into a race meeting, I’d hate to damage it. I’ve got an E46 [an ex-Targa Tasmania machine, no less] which can take a bit of a hit and it’s easy to panel beat, but this thing with that body kit on it, it’s quite hard to start rebuilding that. I’ve got a new E46 being built as we speak too, and when that’s finished I’ll put this car up on blocks and leave it there and won’t race it at all”.

    Now, given he’s only had the car for less than two years, such a plan might sound impossibly sad, but it’s actually part of a grander scheme to leave it in as good a condition as he can for his son, who also races. Essentially, Les says that he’ll take the M3 R out every so often just to keep it running until his son takes it over, and continue racing in the new E46 once that’s built. “It’s a new shell that we’ve got in another shed with a new cage through it and I’ve bought all the parts for it. I’ve just got to assemble it, basically,” he says. “I’ll do that the same way - it’ll have a 3.2-litre in it, but the bottom end won’t be stressed out and we’ll just get it to breathe.”

    Hopefully both cars can see the use they deserve for many years to come, as although Les is now 69, he has no plans to stop racing anytime soon, and that’s the sort of thing we love to hear. If, however, he does eventually decide to give the game away, not only will he have his son to look after the cars, he’ll also still be able to enjoy them in other ways, saying that “I just get a kick of out of being in the shed and having a cup of coffee with the cars… And they’re not as noisy as the wife!”

    S50B32 straight-six has been fitted with #VAC Vanos delete kit, among many other mods, and now makes 367whp.

    Carbon blanking plates are most definitely at home in the stripped-out interior.

    “Everywhere you take it, if it doesn’t win, it’s always second or third. It’s a quick little car”

    DATA FILE / #BMW / #BMW-E36 / #BMW-M3-R / #Apex / #BMW-M3-R-E36 / #BMW-M3-E36 / #Motec-M600 / #Motec / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E36 / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-M3 / #BMW-3-Series-M3-E36

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2 litre straight-six #S50B32 / #BMW-S50 / #S50 , #K&N pod filter, custom carbon airbox with OEM runners and custom trumpets, #Schrick 296º cams (inlet and exhaust), #VAC-Motorsports Vanos delete kit, #ARP rod bolts, #NGK spark plugs, #Bosch-440cc /min injectors, Bosch-044 fuel pump, custom swirl pot, #Speed-master fuel cell, Evosport underdrive pulley, Turner Motorsport solid engine mounts, SM Motorsport stepped headers, custom 2.5” stainless steel exhaust and silencer, #Motec-M600-ECU . Five-speed manual gearbox, #AP-Racing twin-plate 7.25” clutch, stock M3 R flywheel, #OS-Giken-LSD

    CHASSIS 11x18” ET25 (front and rear) #Apex-EC-7 wheels in Anthracite with 20mm spacers (front and rear) and 280/650 - 18 Hankook slicks (front and rear), #JRZ-RS dampers with #Eibach springs, #Turner-Motorsport (front) and SM Motorsport (rear) anti-roll bars, SM Motorsport custom front suspension arms to increase track by 100mm, #SM-Motorsport custom rear trailing arms, SM Motorsport custom bearings and rod-ends, Whiteline front strut bar, Alcon monobloc four-pot calipers with 355x32mm two-piece slotted rotors and Ferodo DS1.11 pads (front), AP Racing four-pot calipers with 330x28mm two-piece slotted rotors and Ferodo DS2500 pads (rear), AP Racing fluid, SM Motorsport custom braided lines and custom pedal box

    EXTERIOR DTM Fiber Werkz wide-body kit (customised by SM Motorsport), custom Topstage Composites front bumper and carbon splitter, #APR-Performance rear wing

    INTERIOR Brown Davis roll-cage, short-shift kit, RPM SL S/W Comfort suede steering wheel with quick-release hub, Velo Apex-XL seat, Sparco harnesses, carbon blanking plates for centre console and gauge pod, Racepak display
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    NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE 720hp turbo #BMW-E36 hardcore British built M3. We revisit an insane turbo E36, now pushing 720hp. Ignoring conventional routes, Steve Will has created a turbocharged E36 M3 that performs like no other… Words: Stav Neophytou. Photos: Andy Starkey.


    While turbocharging in-line six #BMW engines has been the norm in Europe and the USA for decades, until recent years it’s been a rarity in the UK due to our cars being righthand drive. BMW sixes are canted towards the exhaust side, which also happens to be the driver’s side on right-hand drive cars. This means a severe lack of room for not only the turbo and manifold but getting a suitably large exhaust downpipe past the steering column is a real nightmare, too. However, despite these fitment headaches, turbocharging is finally taking off in the UK BMW scene.

    A man clearly ahead of the times, though, is UK resident Steve Will. This incredible E36 M3 is his, and it’s been turbocharged for the best part of a decade now! While it’s been a long road, full of pitfalls and learning experiences, the end result is jaw-dropping.

    Steve bought this car back in 2005 and turbocharging it was always on his mind since driving a turbocharged 635CSi many years previous. Despite the perceived impossibility of a RHD Turbo E36 M3 back then, it was barely two years later before it had its first incarnation as a turbocharged engine. This first setup used a cast log manifold by South African BMW expert Savspeed, a Turbonetics T70 turbo, and a fully-forged engine with a compression ratio of 9.5:1. Unfortunately, while clearly incredibly powerful, the combination of the high compression ratio, pump fuel and suspect mapping meant the engine expired due to severe detonation while still being tested and mapped at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground.

    Thankfully this initial disaster was covered under the tuner’s warranty, so the engine was rebuilt with a more pump-fuel friendly 8.5:1 compression ratio.

    Sophisticated Motec engine management was fitted and the car was finally dyno’d at a ballistic 670hp and 500lb ft of torque. While we really don’t need to tell you how incredibly fast a 670hp E36 is, due to the big turbo and basic log manifold it wasn’t the most efficient setup in the world. In fact, even Steve will be the first to tell you it was actually very laggy. While it hit the 350hp mark at 5500rpm the power then literally jumped up 100hp every 500rpm from then onwards, pulling hard until over 7500rpm. It was an absolute animal; insanely fast but far from controllable!

    The engine stayed in the above spec for a number of years but as the car was primarily used as a drift car, both for fun and competition, outright power became less important than response and drivability. So, when the engine finally failed in 2011, plans were made for a more user-friendly engine spec. While the cast log manifold was still seen as the only option, Steve increased the compression ratio to 9:1 and fitted a smaller PT5862 turbo – Precision’s equivalent of the popular Garrett GT35R.


    After some expert mapping from Greg at Protuner the way the car drove was transformed, with 350hp now coming at just 3500rpm. At the same rpm the engine was also making well over 500lb ft of tyredestroying torque. Peak torque was incredible, 650lb ft, and response was instant, too. Compared to the original larger turbo, however, peak power was down over 100hp at 560hp, and peak rpm was much lower, too, with the graph flat-lining from 5000rpm until just over 6000 when it started to drop.


    There’s no doubt 560hp and 650lb ft are supercar-smashing numbers in most people’s eyes, and if Steve knew no differently he’d no doubt be over the moon with the performance but despite the amazing torque and response, his previous experience of having a huge 670hp and a screaming high rpm performance was impossible to forget. In fact, he was so used to the insanity of the old setup he called this one “boring”, which leads us to where we are today…

    What Steve ideally wanted was the best of both engines: the insane power of the big turbo engine but with the torque and response of the small turbo engine. Pretty much everyone he spoke to said that was impossible. Undeterred Steve employed the services of someone who sees the word ‘impossible’ as a challenge: Thomas Zurawski of Zurawski Motorsport in Ledbury, Herefordshire.

    While the engine itself was bulletproof, and it’s hard to beat a #Motec-M800 ECU, Zurawski Motorsport is an expert in custom turbo setups and could see the existing design left a lot to be desired. Not only was the cast log turbo manifold considered a poor design but the inlet plenum, intercooler, exhaust system, and air filter setup were all on the list for improvement. Tubular twin scroll turbo manifolds didn’t previously exist for RHD BMWs due to the lack of room but the Zurawski design fits perfectly. And not only does it flow far better than a restrictive log manifold but the twin-scroll design drastically improves turbo spool up, allowing a bigger turbo to be used without losing drivability.

    To further aid spool and throttle response, twin WRC anti-lag valves have been fitted, allowing huge amounts of airflow to go direct from the compressor to the exhaust manifold which, along with fuel and ignition adjustments from the Motec ECU, give the engine the ability to stay at full boost even when the throttle is closed, not to mention the rapid-fire bangs and huge flames from the side exit exhaust!

    The other big change to the engine is certainly the most controversial: the inlet plenum. The shape and design of it is certainly a world away from typical designs and, due to this, many naysayers claimed it would be restrictive or simply not work. The reality is, however, it’s actually a commonly-used design in turbocharged race engines, as found in WRC, RallyCross, and LeMans. The unusual design gives equal airflow to each cylinder, something that’s a big problem on turbocharged cars, especially on in-line six engines, and by allowing the cylinders to receive equal amounts of airflow improvements are seen in power, spool up, reliability, and to safe boost limits.

    In addition to the manifolds, the entire turbo system – from air filter to exhaust tailpipes – was custom-made from scratch by Zurawski Motorsport for maximum flow and efficiency. It includes a huge grillemounted air filter, an enormous intercooler that necessitated the rear mounted radiator conversion, twin external wastegates, and a full custom exhaust system, with a very cleverly designed downpipe that somehow manages to snake past the dreaded RHD steering column!

    Of course, the most important part of any turbo system is the turbocharger itself, which is a BorgWarner S300SX 9180 turbo, with a twin scroll T4 turbine and billet compressor. This turbo is actually bigger than the previous original laggy unit, so surely this new engine can’t be very responsive? Think again…

    With the car once again in the expert hands of Greg at ProTuner, the new setup made a touch over 600hp at just 1bar boost, and 700hp at 1.5bar, 30hp more than the traditional-style turbo setup using the log manifold. While the power is impressive, what really makes it special is this time he also had an insane 730lb ft of torque, with over 500lb ft of that by just 3700rpm. Yes, it spools as fast and makes even more torque than the small turbo did but makes more power than the big laggy turbo! The currentspec engine actually makes more power and torque than the original engine right across the rev range, from 2500rpm until over 7000rpm. In fact, at 4000rpm it now has 375hp and 490lb ft more!

    Buoyed on by these incredible results, the car recently returned to the dyno with 109 Octane race fuel where it made 720hp and over 800lbft at 1.4bar boost. The new fuel gave such incredible response and torque that, by the time of writing at least, Steve’s been unable to get traction at any higher boost than that. Once he finds a traction solution, though, he’s hoping for 800hp plus. Considering the current results, even over 1000hp looks to be easily achievable with only a slight increase in turbo size.

    While we make no apologies for concentrating so much on Steve’s groundbreaking engine, the rest of the car is no less wild, both in looks (thanks to the M3 GTR wide bodywork and Team Dynamics motorsport wheels) and in performance (thanks to a spec that is truly world class).

    On the inside there’s a comprehensive custom roll-cage that ties in to the diff mounts, a sophisticated rear mounted radiator setup that draws air through the side window ducts and exits via the rear diffuser, while underneath there’s a drift- specific front suspension design with incredible amounts of steering angle.

    What’s perhaps most impressive is the thought put in to all the various parts fitted to this car. While you will no doubt have read the comprehensive spec list and recognised most of the parts’ manufacturer names, Steve has built this car more like a Works race car than a typical privatelyowned car, with the reliability and strength of all components being the primary consideration. This doesn’t just mean strong and effective parts but even things like the fuel and oil pressures are continuously logged by the ECU, which shuts down the engine if something deviates from the specified parameters.

    So now the car is complete, what does Steve want to do with it? Well, despite being used for competition drifting for some time now, he’s more interested in just having fun in it without the stresses of trying to win trophies. On the rare occasions this car isn’t on masses of opposite lock, Steve’s actually very keen to take it back to where the original turbo engine expired, Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, this time to break the 200mph mark – something it should do with ease.

    For a car built with nothing but Steve’s own enjoyment in mind, the progress of this build over the years, and especially the final result, is a lesson for all of us. Not only is this sort of unbelievable, best-of-all-worlds, engine performance perfectly possible (and reliable if done correctly) but putting true thought in to what you are doing, taking influence from world-class race cars rather than simply following the crowd, really pays off in the long run.

    The rest of the car is no less wild, both in looks and performance.

    DATA FILE Turbo #BMW-E36 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-E36 / #Motec / #BorgWarner /

    ENGINE 3.2-litre straight-six #S50B32 / #S50 / #BMW-S50 , standard crank, #Pauter steel rods, 9:1 JE forged pistons, Cometic multi-layer head gasket, ARP head and rod bolts, standard head and cams with #Vanos enabled, #Motec-M600-ECU with an E888 expander, #Zurawski-Motorsport twin scroll tubular manifold, twin Turbosmart external wastegates, #BorgWarner-S300SX-9180 twin scroll T4 turbo with uprated billet wheel, full turbo-back Zurawski Motorsport exhaust system with side skirt exit tailpipe, twin WRC-style anti-lag valves, heat wrapped turbine housing and downpipe, #Zurawski-Motorsport equal flow inlet plenum, custom boost pipes and front mount intercooler, Zurawski Motorsport grille mounted air filter, high flow fuel lines, high flow alloy fuel filter, twin #Bosch-044 fuel pumps, 25ltr ProAlloy fuel cell, uprated fuel pressure regulator, Titanium oil catch tank, switchable ECU maps for Shell V-Power and Sunoco race fuel, switchable anti-lag and launch control systems, #Mocal oil cooler, uprated engine mounts, custom rear mounted radiator system, additional electric water pump, full fire extinguisher system, interior and exterior emergency cut-off switches, Petronas 10W60 oil. 720hp and 800lb ft

    TRANSMISSION #ZF five-speed gearbox, #Helix twin-plate paddle clutch, custom lightweight steel flywheel, M3 Evo rear diff with shimmed LSD plates for 70% lock, E46 M3 crownwheel and pinion, uprated gearbox mounts, #ATF Racing gearbox, diff mounts integrated into roll-cage

    CHASSIS 9x17” (front) and 10x18” (rear) #Team-Dynamics 1.2 wheels with 225/45 (front) and 265/35 (rear) Pirelli PZero tyres, BC coilovers, IRP drift front suspension setup, lightweight alloy adjustable lower arms, rosejointed lower arm bushes, custom adjustable top mounts, Mocal power steering cooler, polybushes, standard M3 brakes, hydraulic handbrake, Wilwood incar brake bias adjuster

    EXTERIOR #BMW-M3-GTR front bumper, front wings and rear spoiler, E46 M3 GTR-style vented bonnet, custom rear arches, custom alloy rear diffuser, roof vent, rear window ducts, #Plastics4Performance lightweight windows

    INTERIOR Full custom FIA-approved multi-point cage, Motordrive bucket seats, TRS harnesses, OMP steering wheel, Stack AFR, EGT and oil pressure gauges, Autometer boost gauge, carbon doorcards, custom ducting and shrouding for the rear mounted radiator

    THANKS A-Frame Engineering (www.aframeengineering.co.uk), County Alarms (www.countyalarms.co.uk), ProTuner (www.protuner.co.uk), Zurawski Motorsport (www.zurawskimotorsport.com)

    Steve wanted the power of his big turbo engine but with the torque and response of his small turbo engine.

    Everything about this extreme E36 M3 means business. Side-exit exhausts look and sound awesome. Custom alloy rear diffuser allows hot air to be pulled away from the boot-mounted radiator, itself fed by pipes attached to side window intakes.
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