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    FIRE LIGHT

    Shafique Bhimani’s E36 M3 has been on an extensive fitness programme, fusing the philosophy of BMW’s fi nest lightweights with properly capable road-and-track ability. This thing is fi t, legit, and fully lit… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Courtney Cutchen.
    S54-swapped E36 M3 wide body bruiser

    The love child of a Euro-spec E46 M3 CSL and a #US-spec E36 M3 Lightweight. That was Shafique Bhimani’s over-arching vision for this Alpine white E36. Sound lofty? Ambitious? Unachievable? On paper, perhaps, but his clarity of perception has led to a unique creation that more than justifies the ‘CSL E36’ license plates.

    “I fell in love with the E36 M3 before I could even drive,” he enthuses. “It’s the car that took me into the deep end, and caused me to waste so much unproductive time learning about cars and modifying them! Something about the boxy, sharp lines that portrayed an aggressive yet elegant look - plus the fact that it punched above its weight and outperformed more powerful cars was hugely appealing. Once I learned of the E36’s DNA and how it came it to be from all of BMW’s motorsport history, I was hooked on the brand. BMW became my team, and you don’t just change teams.”

    Yes, we can fully understand that, and having got a bit of modifying practice in with a variety of other cars, Shafique felt that the time was right in 2009 to take the plunge and buy himself an E36 M3 of his very own. The example in the crosshairs had 54k on the clock and was in pristine condition… Oh, and it just so happened to have 380whp with a Vortech supercharger hanging off it. A quick once-over was all it took to get the grey cells banging together, and the lightweight concept was already forming in his mind – so shortly afterwards Shafique bought an ’07 335i as well, just to use as a daily driver so that there was no doubt as to the E36’s fate. This was going to be done properly, entirely without compromise and so, eyes open, he dove in.

    “For what these cars cost me, I could have easily purchased a heavily modified E46 M3, or even a new E92 M3 at that time,” he points out, “but I wanted to fulfil a dream I had held for so long. When time, money and opportunity presented themselves, all I wanted was a white, straight-six E36 M3.” Heart, we reckon, should always rule head. Life’s too short to let your dreams die.

    Shafique’s shopping list had been quite specific: the additional displacement of the 3.2-litre engine narrowed his search to ’96-’99 cars, and it had to be either Alpine white or Estoril blue – preferably the former, for the BMW Motorsport look. Forced induction was also preferable, whilst still being realistically streetable. This car, located in SoCal rather than his Bay Area hometown, ticked all the boxes. “It quickly became obvious, however, that I wouldn’t be able to exploit all that power on the street without risking either other people or my driving license, so I went on a track day at Sonoma Raceway and I was instantly hooked,” he recalls. “It was an eye-opening experience, and I realised the track was the safe, responsible playground for my car. I also quickly realised the car was not set up for track duty!” Coolant leaks and slipping belts convinced Shafique that his game needed tightening up, and he devoted time to wandering around the paddocks and seeing how the other gearheads approached things. And you know what he discovered? Big boost and stratospheric power levels were nobody’s main angle of attack – it was all about setup, usability, tactility, and durability. He felt very strongly that a naturally aspirated straight-six was the way to go. And what better choice than the E46 M3’s S54?

    With this seismic decision made, the E36 was shipped off to Castro Motorsport in Los Angeles to swap in the later motor, and subsequent setup was taken care of in painstaking increments by Dublin, CA-based Performance Technic. “We methodically upgraded each system of the car over the years, and today she is a fully-prepped track weapon that can be driven to and from the track with A/C and tunes blasting,” Shafique beams. “It’s my definition of an uncorrupted driving experience, front-engine/rear-drive, hydraulic steering, limited-slip diff, and a screaming straight-six.”

    So let’s take a closer look at just how this mighty spec has been achieved. This S54 produces a solid and reliable 341hp at the wheels, its stock internals being complemented by Epic Motorsport race headers and a custom Performance Technic 3.5” exhaust system, along with a Bimmerworld carbon-fibre air box. Thanks to some ones-and-zeroes tickling in the form of an RK-Tunes Alpha-N tune, power and reliability are both baked right in. It’s not scary-fast, it’s useably fast, and a lot of that swiftness is thanks to a favourable power-to- weight ratio. MCS two-way adjustable suspension and big StopTech brakes combine with a welded-in six-point half-cage with rear strut tower braces, while a rear seat delete, grippy Recaros and a tasty Renown USA steering wheel serve to create a fabulously focused office for Shafique.

    “My motto for the build has been to go fast, but look good doing it,” he says. “Function plus form. It was a team member from PTech who introduced me to the Felony Form overfender kit and, well… This is a sensitive subject for me: I love the OEM lines of a stock-body E36, they’re clean and simple, and more often than not aftermarket companies ruin what engineers spent millions to design. Over the years there have been a bunch of wide-body options, but I never loved any of them until I saw the Stanceworks feature on Oli’s yellow E36.

    After spending days staring at this kit, I was in love with the E30 M3-esque box flares in the rear, and the OEM-looking front flares. It’s exactly what I was waiting for, OEM on steroids! PTech handled the delicate task of cutting up and re-welding the factory arches to accommodate the flares and big wheels, and RJ’s Paint Shop in Pleasanton, CA did a fantastic job of paint-matching the factory Alpine White.”

    The form-and-function approach is very much in evidence from the outside, the Felony Form extensions blending in harmony with the M3 Lightweight aero addenda. The Lightweight, if you’re not familiar, was a limited-run E36 distinguishable by its tall rear spoiler, modified and lightened for motorsport purposes; the door skins were aluminium, there was no radio, carpets were thinner, speed limiter removed, revised axle ratios, forged wheels… It was as much of a legend Stateside as the iconic E46 M3 CSL was in Europe, and it’s the ethos of these two superlightweight factory-modded offerings that Shafique’s sought to emulate. This M3 now weighs 1440kg wet, and that includes the 40kg roll cage. This offers a power-to-weight ratio akin to a Lotus Elise, and remember that it still has a stereo and air con for the journey home.

    “The interior is a driver-centred style,” Shafique says. “‘Track setup’ was the priority, then adding what flair I could with the Alcantara steering wheel, armrest, and handbrake. There’s a #BMW Nav Pro head unit by Becker which offers the OEM navigation system only available in the Euro market, Bavsound speaker upgrade, and useful mods like a shift-light from MSD to help keep things in check; the car uses the factory E36 gauge cluster, the redline beginning at 6500rpm and going to 8000rpm, which has effectively become my power band - so having a light flash you in the face is very helpful during hot laps! And the CAE shifter from Hard Motorsport is epic – it transforms the shift feel to something very firm and notchy with zero slop, and the tall knob becomes especially fun on track when you are grabbing the wheel and gears back and forth.”

    It’s taken seven years for the car to get to this point, through its various stages of evolution, from schoolboy dream to hardcore track beast, and Shafique’s still making plenty of plans for it. Once you get this deep into a project, there’s just no pulling yourself out, even if you wanted to. Which, of course, he doesn’t, as he’s fully living the dream with this considered approach to road-and-track fireworks.

    With so much altered on the car, what do you suppose is his favourite element of the build so far, then? The S54 swap? Those wide three-piece Livery wheels? The unique arches, slathered in Alpine White? “No, I think the party piece is the induction roar,” Shafique smiles. “The S54 loves to rev, and combined with the carbon-fibre air box creates a deep roar that turns into a scream from 7-8k rpm, and no other engine on the planet sounds anything like it!” You see, this is a driver’s car. That’s the point of it. And when it enraptures all of the senses at once like this, you know the job’s been done right.

    DATA FILE #S54-swapped / #BMW-E36 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-E36 / #BMW-M3-Performance-Technic / #BMW-M3-Performance-Technic-E36 / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-Coupe / #BMW-3-Series-M3

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six #S54B32 / #S54 / #BMW-S54 , stock internals, Bimmerworld carbonfibre air box, #Epic-Motorsports race exhaust manifolds, custom #Performance-Technic 3.5” exhaust system, #RK-Tunes #Alpha-N tune. #ZF five-speed manual gearbox rebuilt by #Bimmerworld , rebuilt OEM diff with 80% lock and 3.64 final drive, #Rogue finned diff cover

    POWER & TORQUE 341whp and 268lb ft wtq @ 8,200rpm redline (on 91RON fuel)

    EXTERIOR Alpine white, Felony Form wide-arch kit, M3 Lightweight front splitter, DTM #BMW-M3-FiberWerkz carbon fibre side skirt extensions, #Mateo-Motorsports rear diffuser, carbon fibre replica M3 Lightweight rear wing, roof vinyl-wrapped flat black, fog lamp delete

    INTERIOR #Recaro-SPG driver seat, Recaro PP passenger seat, Schroth sixpoint harnesses, Renown USA Alcantara and M-stitched steering wheel with quick-release, custom PTech rear seat delete, custom weld-in six-point half-cage painted flat black with subframe and strut tower reinforcements, sunroof cassette removed, custom black cloth headlining, MSD shift light, CAE shifter, RallyRoad.net Alcantara armrest and handbrake, custom PTech carbon-fibre shift plate

    THANKS Special thanks to Performance Technic, the team there has been so integral in bringing my build to where it is today
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    EASTERN PROMISE Japanese wide-body Z8

    THE BODY BEAUTIFUL

    Japan loves BMWs and isn’t afraid to do things a bit differently when it comes to modifying them, like turning a Z8 into a wide-body masterpiece, for example… Considering less than 6000 Z8s were ever made, would you have the confidence to chop one up? Fortunately for us Yasuaki ‘Bob’ Suzuki did, thus creating something rather special… Words and photos: Chris Nicholls.

    Modifying a low-volume car is always a scary proposition. After all, if you mess it up it’s not like you can simply go to online and find replacement parts easily. It may take weeks, months or even years to source the right components and restore things to their former glory. Such is the case with the Z8, as only 5703 were produced over its four-year life span. Okay, it may not be an E46 GTR but it’s still a low-volume car by most people’s standards. It’s also arguably among the most beautiful BMWs ever made. With its flowing compound curves and classic roadster proportions, the Henrik Fisker-designed exterior is a future classic. Which makes it all the more nerve-wracking to think about altering those lines.

    Thankfully, the confidence and skill to do that is not something Yasuaki ‘Bob’ Suzuki has ever really lacked. The founder of Japan’s largest BMW tuning chain – Studie AG – and creator of a string of high-profile cars that act as both his personal vehicles and demo cars for his business, Suzuki-san has seemingly never had an issue altering cars (some in quite extreme ways) to suit his needs.

    Take, for example, the cars Suzuki-san built after selling the Z8 to its current owner. First there was a bright blue E87 130i complete with factory Motorsport wide-body kit. Then there was a neon pink wide-body E46 M3. Then a bright green Z4 M Coupé with another genuine Motorsport wide-body kit. Currently, Suzuki-san drives a bright orange i8, with a matching i3 for city duties and while they’re not wide-body cars, there’s no guarantee it’s off the cards.

    So it’s clear, Suzuki-san likes the wide-body look; in fact, you could say he really, really likes them. However, the issue with making one of the world’s only wide-body Z8s was that, unlike Suzuki-san’s future creations, there wasn’t a factory kit available to do so. This meant that he and his team had to make it themselves.

    They started by designing a kit that would add width but look factory. After all, while Suzuki-san clearly has a penchant for loud colours, judging by his later cars, the body panels themselves were almost always OEM. That level of integration was the goal. Next, they made the one-off moulds, then laid up all the fibreglass and painted it white.

    It’s hard to argue with the results. Those guards draw your eye initially, of course, adding real muscularity to the Z8’s clean lines. Next, your gaze is drawn down to the flowing side skirts and towards the widened and tweaked front and rear bumpers, complete with aero additions. If you linger long enough you might also notice the stock bonnet has gained some added raciness via custom vents.

    The design’s crowning achievement, though, is that level of seamlessness. If you had never seen a Z8 before, you’d never think it wasn’t factory. Yes, the 19” BBS LMs, Brembo six-pots up front (four-pots out the back) and lowered stance on one-off Studie coilovers are a dead giveaway the car’s been tuned but the unsuspecting might only think Suzuki-san had dropped it and added some extra grip and braking. The kit is that natural.

    Inside, though, things are a little less discrete. The red leather trim is all stock, but the custom-trimmed Recaro SPG buckets certainly aren’t. Neither are the Atiwe wheel and Schnitzer shift knob. And that completely unique silver carbon dash trim? Yeah, that’s pretty obvious, too. It also highlights a specific need for navigational assistance when driving in Tokyo – something the Z8 never came with from the factory. Again demonstrating the skill and care with which the car was built, though, the Pioneer Carrozzeria headunit looks stock. If the dash was the regular silver plastic, the average Joe would probably think it had been installed in Munich prior to Suzuki-san’s purchase.


    Under the bonnet we see a return to the exterior’s integrated theme. The S62 V8 never lacked power but the Okada Projects Plasma Ground secondary spark enhancer and Plasma Direct coils ensure the driver gets the most out of the air/fuel mix, while also remaining invisible to the casual observer. The near factory-looking AFE intake kit and well-hidden Hamann exhaust manifolds, which eventually connect to a one-off Studie silencer, ensure the engine now breathes a little easier and makes a much nicer noise, too. There’s the mandatory performance car bark at start-up and a well-controlled rumble at idle, followed by a lovely smooth roar as the revs rise. It reminds you there’s a reason why so many small performance car makers have used this engine over the years.

    Essentially, looking at the car as a whole, it’s clear that what Suzuki-san and the Studie team have done is to take everything that made the Z8 great and made it better. That’s some skill.

    Sadly, though, in space-poor Japan, Suzuki-san had to sell the Z8 in 2005 in order to move onto his aforementioned later projects, so this is where current owner Kohama-san comes in.

    Kohama-san initially got into the scene after being taken to watch street drag racing many years back, when these things were still a relatively common sight on Japanese roads. He decided then and there that he wanted to drive fast cars. Initially, he started out with classic JDM metal, like an SA22C RX-7 (which apparently burnt to the ground after an engine fire on the Wangan post-sale) and a 3.1 litre ‘full-tune’ L28-engined S130 Z, but soon moved onto BMWs. “They’re just really well-balanced, well-rounded cars,” he says.

    Despite his sports car roots, Kohama-san’s first BMW was actually rather sedate, even if it didn’t stay that way for long. An E39 530i Touring, he modified it so it sported Alpina suspension, a Supersprint silencer, #BBS RGRs and M5 body parts. After that came an E61 530i Touring, this time with ACS body parts, ARC suspension, Arqray muffler, 20-inch BBS LM-R wheels and enormous eight-pot Brembos. He did head back to his sports car roots eventually, though, with a Z3 and E85 Z4, both modified with Bilstein suspension, Recaro seats, Schnitzer aero etc. before shifting back again to practicality with his current ACS F31 320i Touring.


    All this BMW history meant he spent a lot of time at Studie’s Tokyo HQ, and not just as a customer. Like many of Studie’s clients, Kohama-san spends a lot of spare time there just hanging out and chatting with the staff (when they’re not busy with other work), as Studie stores tend to be more like car culture centres rather than just dreary retail and tuning outlets. Because of all this time spent at Studie, Kohama-san was among the first to know that Suzuki-san was selling his pride and joy. And as soon as he heard about it, he was off to the bank. “It was love at first sight,” he says.

    Even better, the car’s timeless beauty and evocative driving experience means he falls “more in love with it every passing year”. “My favourite thing about the car is how exhilarating it feels when you drive it,” Kohama-san says. “It blows away the cobwebs so, of course, I drive it whenever I can.” That means the Z8 is more of a daily driver than a garage queen. Cruising through the city or blasting up mountain roads, this is one #Z8 that gets used. In a world where more and more high-end sports cars are squirreled away for investment rather than enjoyment, it’s refreshing to hear.

    Further proving just how special this Z8 is, it’s worth noting that out of all his other BMWs we mentioned earlier this is the only one Kohama-san has held onto over the last ten years. Of course, it’s easily the most unique and rare, but uniqueness and starvalue haven’t stopped others around the world from selling amazing cars after only short periods of time, so it suggests there really is something special about this particular car.


    Sadly, not everyone seems to agree, though, as the one negative experience Kohama-san has had over his ten-year ownership period is that the paint ended up being deliberately damaged by some low-life a few years back. Thankfully, Kohama-san got it fixed and, as mentioned, isn’t any more cautious about driving it. He has, however, “become obsessed with applying protective coatings to it” ever since. Of course, this unfortunate event does suggest the ‘lucky’ numberplates Kohama-san has on there (which have been blanked out for privacy purposes), and that he religiously puts on every car he owns can’t protect him from all calamities; but then, what can?

    As for the future, the car is now 15 years old so some parts are due for replacement. Specifically, Kohama-san is thinking about refreshing the suspension components, although given the car runs custom coilovers right now, finding off-the-shelf replacements might be difficult. He might just have to go back to Studie Tokyo and ask the helpful staff there if they can make him some new ones. No doubt they’d be happy to oblige, especially as it will mean keeping this unique stunner on the roads for a few more years.

    DATA FILE #Studie-AG wide-body #BMW-Z8 / #BMW-Z8-E52 / #BMW-E52 / #BMW-Z8-Studie-AG / #BBS-LM / #Getrag / #BBS /

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 4.9-litre #V8 #S62B50 / #S62 / #BMW-S62 / #BMW / , #AFE intake kit, #Hamann exhaust manifolds, Studie one-off silencer, #Okada-Projects-Plasma-Ground secondary spark enhancer, #Okada Projects Plasma Direct coils. Stock #Getrag-420G six-speed manual, short-shift kit.

    CHASSIS 9.5x19” (front) and 11x19” (rear) #BBS LM wheels with 255/35 (front) and 305/30 (rear) Continental ContiSportContact 5P tyres, Studie custom coilovers front and rear with Studie custom springs, Brembo six-piston brake calipers (front), Brembo fourpiston calipers (rear), two-piece #Brembo discs front and rear.

    EXTERIOR Studie one-off wide-body front and rear arches, wide-body side skirts, front and rear bumpers with front splitter and rear diffuser, bonnet ducts in stock bonnet

    INTERIOR Custom retrimmed #Recaro-SPG one-piece bucket seats, Atiwe steering wheel, OEM aluminium pedals, AC Schnitzer shift knob, #Studie one-off silver carbon interior trim panels, #Pioneer-Carrozzeria navigation headunit

    My favourite thing about the car is how exhilarating it feels when you drive it.
    • Z8s are rare enough but this Japanese custom wide-body beast is a true one-off. With its massively pumped-up arches, 19” BBS LMs and stunning interio Z8s are rare enough but this Japanese custom wide-body beast is a true one-off. With its massively pumped-up arches, 19” BBS LMs and stunning interior, it was an incredible machine.  More ...
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