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    THE ONLY ONE

    Japan definitely does things differently and that most definitely applies to cars, as this Far Eastern 135i illustrates.

    Japan does everything differently, including modifying its cars, and this Far Eastern 135i has a look you won’t find anywhere else… Words and photos: Chris Nicholls.

    The Japanese do ‘unique’ better than most. Anyone who’s ever been to the country or even just watched their TV shows will tell you that. From all sorts of bizarre toys and manga to TV shows where they do things like finding out which type of tyre flies farthest off a ski jump, or testing how long game show contestants can stand being immersed in a pool of eels, Japanese culture is about as far removed from Western norms (even today) as it gets. Their modified vehicles are often similarly ‘out there’. From the extreme wings and exhausts of the kaido racers to the utter insanity that is the decotora scene, you are more likely to find off-the-wall cars, bikes and trucks in Japan than almost anywhere else. Even in the #BMW ranks, you can find stuff that plenty of Western folks would maybe consider weird. Like a brown, camo-wrapped X6 complete with matching camo green AC Schnitzer wheels, or itasha examples of various models.

    Of course, the majority of tuned BMWs, like the majority of other vehicles in Japan, are fairly subdued, but there are ones that tread that fine line between the extreme and the subtle and achieve uniqueness of another kind – instant, eye-popping greatness because they’re tasteful, but in a way no one has managed before. K. Watanabe’s 135i ‘Kai’ (Kai meaning modified in Japanese) is one of those examples. Like many things in life that are more than the sum of their parts, the basic ingredients for this daily driver are nothing new. Unusual paint colour, nice wheels, big brakes, decent drop, and a funky body kit make up the majority of the talking points, but it’s the way they’ve all come together that makes this work.

    Perhaps the fact Watanabe-san is an architect has something to do with this success. Visually-minded and highly trained from the get-go, Watanabe-san is probably less likely than most to turn out an ugly dinger. But, then again, plenty of architects have designed buildings that many hate, so perhaps it’s not that. Maybe it’s just the fact Japan itself, despite the often eye-searing extremes it produces, is generally one of the more educated and aesthetically aware societies out there. Whatever the reasons behind his choices, though, Watanabe-san’s 135i is a stunner.

    Obviously, it’s hard to get past the paint as it’s one of the key focal points here. Possibly the main focal point. Starting out as a black 135i when he bought it, Watanabe-san eventually had the whole car repainted in BMW Individual Atlantis blue, and the effect is remarkable. Deep, shimmering and with metal flake that picks out the light just so, it’s one of the best car colours available, in this writer’s humble opinion, and unsurprisingly, it’s also Watanabe-san’s favourite part of the build. It makes you wonder why more BMW customers don’t order their cars like this from the factory. The next major point is the 1M body kit. Studie AG, the tuning house behind the build, has a history of fitting factory widebody kits to its own demo cars, but its customer cars are often more subtle, so it’s nice to see Watanabe-san err on the more extreme side and go with these excellent genuine body panels on his car.

    Accentuating the ‘big brother’ bodywork are a Varis vented carbon bonnet, carbon mirror covers, carbon front and rear lip spoilers, an AC Schnitzer roof spoiler, a dry carbon wing and a customised rear diffuser, each element carefully selected to make the most of the already muscular 1M shape.

    However, nice paint, a 1M body kit and a few custom touches don’t a unique street car make. Watanabe-san wanted to make one other change so his machine stood out. “Before I purchased this, I wrote-off my E46 M3 on a wet mountain road after being a bit too enthusiastic. At the time, I wanted to replace it with a 1M, but couldn’t quite afford it, so I thought fitting the 1M kit to my 135i was a nice idea. However, I thought that just fitting the kit as-is would make it a 1M clone, nothing more, so I wanted to customise it. Having talked to the guys at Studie, we decided a one-off, centre-exit Arqray muffler coming out through the rear bumper would be the best way to do it.” And so came arguably the most unique part of this 135i. The twin chrome tips draw the eye like little else on the back of the car (some feat considering the wing) and make it go from regular street-racer-style to actual racer-style in one hit.


    The remarkable thing, as no doubt you’ll have noticed, is the fact no paint damage has occurred around the tips. No browning, no blistering, no nothing. This again is down to extensive planning and Studie’s usual high level of workmanship. “I knew having the tips exit the bumper like that would prove a risk in terms of paint damage, so I made it very clear during the design phase that I wanted no damage at all to occur. Thanks to Studie’s expertise and skills, it was able to design and install multiple heat shields to ensure no damage occurred. Despite many spirited drives since, there’s not a single singe or burn mark anywhere.”

    Having been privileged to sit alongside Watanabe-san as he pushed the N54 hard, I can report the new exhaust sounds pretty nice, too. A burbling thrum builds to a raspy howl as he moves through the rev range, the AFE pod filters adding some lovely intake noise to the mix as well. When he lifts, the Active Autowerke blow-off valve adds that wonderful trademark ‘chuff-chuff’ for maximum turbo enjoyment.

    Given there’s only a small number of other engine mods (Okada Projects’ Plasma Ground secondary spark control and Plasma Direct coils, plus an Active Autowerke AP2 tune), the grunt itself is not ‘smash your head into the seat’ huge but with the N54 in factory spec managing sub-five second 0-60mph times in the right conditions, the extra few horses mean you’re still easily looking at ’90s supercar levels of acceleration in low gears. Perfect, really, given Watanabe-san says a love for supercars is what got him into tuning in the first place. On the handling side are a set of JDM-only 3D Design coilovers and an ARC rear stabiliser bar. While the drive to and from the shoot location didn’t really give us a chance to enjoy any nice corners, it quickly became clear from the few bumps we encountered that the 3D Design coilovers and their relatively soft (especially by Japanese standards) 8kg/mm front and 12kg/mm rear spring rates at least did a pretty decent job of masking any minor road imperfections. Clearly designed for road use more than anything else, that hasn’t stopped Watanabe-san from dreaming about hitting the track, though, even if it’s not something he’s quite got around to. “I have all the gear – spares, helmet, clothing and everything else – but I’ve never actually got around to hitting the track. At least my equipment preparation is perfect!” he laughs.


    When Watanabe-san finally does find the time for some circuit fun at least his brakes will also be up to the task. The six-pot front and four-pot rear Brembos, hiding behind Advan RZ-DF wheels, clamp down on twopiece slotted rotors (355mm front and 345mm rear) and will happily slow the 135i down from even Fuji Speedway front straight speeds. Fine for the street as they may be, Watanabe-san may want to think about upgrading his current Advan V105 rubber if he ever wants to attack his local tracks in earnest, though.

    Inside, the 135i remains largely stock apart from a driver’s side Recaro RS-G CL seat and a Sportster CL 100H seat for the passenger. These look almost factory, such is the serendipitous colour matching. For those wondering about the things hanging from the wiper stalk, they’re omamori or good luck charms. Available from pretty much any Shinto shrine, they’re a staple of Japanese life and can be bought with prayers inside for various specific purposes. From good study results to an incident-free pregnancy, you can ask the local gods for pretty much anything. Unsurprisingly, given Watanabe-san’s lust for speed and previous accident history, these omamori contain prayers for a safe drive.

    Having already had plenty of safe fun in this 135i, though, Watanabe-san’s next step is to give all the mechanical parts a bit of a freshen-up. From the engine to driveline, brakes to the suspension, it’s time to treat this unique machine to a bit of all-round TLC. No doubt that this (together with the omamori) will help him enjoy this very Japanese #BMW for many years to come.

    DATA FILE Japanese #BMW-135i / #BMW / #BMW-135i-E82 / #BMW-E82 / #BMW-135i-Active-Autowerke / #BMW-135i-Active-Autowerke-E82 / #Okada-Projects-Plasma / #Advan

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.0-litre straight-six twin-turbo #N54B30 / #N54 / #BMW-N54 , #AFE pod air filters, #Active-Autowerke-AP2 tune, #Active-Autowerke blow-off valve, one-off #Arqray centre-exit muffler, #Okada-Projects-Plasma-Ground -Plasma-Ground secondary spark enhancer, #Okada-Projects-Plasma-Direct coils, stock six-speed manual gearbox

    CHASSIS 8.5x19” (front) and 9.5x19” (rear) #Advan-RZ-DF wheels with 245/35 (front) and 265/30 (rear) Yokoham Advan V105 tyres, JDM-only 3D Design coilovers front and rear, #ARC rear stabliser bar, #Brembo six-piston brake calipers (front), Brembo four-piston calipers (rear), two-piece Brembo discs front and rear

    EXTERIOR Full factory 1M Coupé body kit, Studie customised rear diffuser section, Varis vented carbon bonnet, dry carbon rear wing, wet carbon front and rear lip spoilers, AC Schnitzer roof spoiler, carbon mirror covers

    INTERIOR #Recaro RS-G CL driver’s seat, #Recaro-Sportster-CL100H passenger seat, omamori
    Fitting the kit as-is would make it a 1M clone so I wanted to customise it.
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