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    BODY DROP E30 Air-ride 325i hits all time low

    BODY DROP TOP / Anyone can bag their car to get it low, but hitting the ultimate low takes dedication, as this E30 Cab ably demonstrates.

    If you’re truly dedicated to the pursuit of lows then you need to go beyond basic air-ride, as this Northern Irish E30 Cab demonstrates. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Steve McCann.

    Air-ride is a wonderful thing. It might still have its naysayers, but almost everyone else on the modified #BMW scene has welcomed it with open arms and it almost feels like there are more bagged BMs about these days than static ones. It’s practical when driving out and about, and then when you park up you simply hit a button and boom instant lows. But for some people, that’s not quite enough, and one of those people is John Peden, owner of this E30 Cab and MD of Peden Conceptz, which specialises in bodywork, air-ride and hydraulic suspension.

    “It sounds daft now but when I started the company years ago, we were building fibreglass monstrosities and putting a ‘z’ on your business name was all the rage,” he laughs. Running such a company puts John on the frontline of the air suspension (and juice) scene, so it makes sense that he’s got a few examples of his own that utilises it: “I’ve got a Porsche 964 on hydraulic suspension and as well as the E30 I’ve got an E21 316; that was my first BMW and I bought it 12 years ago specifically with the aim of fitting air suspension on it. I spotted this 325i for sale and was interested as I like older cars, plus it had a good spec, black with black leather, manual and with the factory LSD. It was advertised locally but the guy selling it was a bit dodgy – after I bought the car he did a runner on his missus and made off with her money, cars and my tax book…” Oh. Thankfully that dramatic start to his E30 ownership experience hasn’t extended any further and John wasted no time in getting stuck in with the mods.

    That the car was going to end up on airride was a given but the suspension here goes beyond your plain old, off-the-shelf airride setup. For starters, John actually built his own air suspension and we don’t mean he used universal components and adapted them to fit the E30, he started from scratch and made the kit. “I started with Bilstein monotube shocks, because they are the best in my opinion, and added Firestone bags. I made spherical top mounts and modified most components and finished it off with AutoPilot V2 management.”

    But that was just for starters, the next stage involved cutting the front end of the car apart and body dropping it. “The car is lowered 20mm over the running gear,” explains John. “It’s further than any other air kit. I took 10mm off the chassis legs, then I cut the sump in half and removed 20mm from it and shortened the oil pump in order to get more ground clearance.” The results speak for themselves because this car is low.

    At the front, it’s about as low as it can go, the forward edges of the sills sitting on the ground and you’d struggle to slip a Rizla between the air dam that sits under the front bumper and the Tarmac. The rear sits barely any higher, the Sebring exhaust’s back box given hardly any breathing space. The car looks awesome with the wheels stuffed way up into the arches. “I wanted 15” wheels because I favour the undersized look,” he explains, “and it made it more of a challenge to get them to fill the arches. I was told by a lot of people that they would be too small to be able to get the arch to touch the rim…” An inspection of the wheels clearly shows that the naysayers have been proven wrong.

    The wheels themselves are HTN Rennsport splits. They look fantastic and are a nice change from the classic cross-spokes we often see. Interestingly, John explains, the 15s actually have the same size centres as the 13” wheels, with some serious lip action going on to bring the overall diameter up by two inches. “It exaggerates how small they look, which I think really suits the classic appearance of the car,” he says and we are inclined to agree. The 195/45 Nankang Ultra Sport NS-II tyres also deliver the perfect amount of stretch to get them tucked up past the rolled arches.

    As far as styling goes, John has left everything well alone and we don’t blame him. “For the outside, I just focused on the way the wheels and tyres sat. I resprayed the car myself in 2k direct gloss black. As for the interior, I didn’t do anything with it as I like the classic appearance of it – what’s to improve in that respect?” He’s got a point. Inside, there’s an aftermarket head unit, a wooden gear knob and the AutoPilot V2 controller has been custom-mounted in the driver’s side air vent, which not only looks great but also puts it within easy reach.

    A few months of work have resulted in a lot of visual drama for this E30 and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what John loves most about his car. “It’s the suspension, because it’s just so low. The pinch weld of the sill touches the floor,” he grins. “I set out to build the lowest E30 and I really haven’t seen any lower… yet.” Best of all, despite being so crazy low, the beauty of air-ride means John is able drive his E30 daily. It’s nice to see someone building car like this and then actually using it rather than just tucking it away and only bringing it out on sunny days.

    While he’s not got any more plans for this particular car, he has got another project on the go: “I’m building the E21 I bought years ago. It’s nearly finished. It has hydraulic suspension, custom one-off Peden Conceptz wheels, a Saab 9000 engine and a Holset turbo off a digger,” he says matter-of-factly. Well, that sounds suitably mental, and as John is a clearly a man who knows his way around a modified BMW, we can’t wait to see how that one turns out.

    Body-drop involved taking 10mm off the chassis legs, 20mm off the sump and shortening the oil pump for maximum ground clearance.

    “set out to build the lowest E30 and I haven’t seen any lower…”

    DATA FILE Body-dropped #BMW-E30 / #BMW-325i-Convertible / #BMW-325i-Convertible-E30 / #BMW-E30-Convertible / #BMW-325i-Cabrio / #BMW-325i-Cabrio-E30 / #BMW-325i-E30 / #BMW-325i / #AutoPilot / #Sebring /

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.5-litre straight-six #M20B25 / #M20 / #BMW-M20 , #Sebring back box, shortened sump, shortened oil pump, five-speed manual gearbox
    CHASSIS 8x15” (front and rear) #HTN-Rennsport multi-piece wheels with gold centres and staggered offsets with 195/45 (front and rear) Nankang Ultra Sport NS-II tyres, custom #Bilstein air struts, #Firestone bags, custom top mounts, raised turrets, #AutoPilot-V2 management, body dropped 20mm
    EXTERIOR 2k direct gloss black respray, rolled arches
    INTERIOR #Wooden gear knob, custom mounted air-ride controller

    “wanted 15” wheels because it was more of a challenge to get them to fill the arches.”
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    Jochen Mass’ career spanned two turbulent decades, an elusive win at Le Mans in 1989 being the crowning achievement for this determined survivor.

    Man #Jochen-Mass #F1
    Born 30 September #1946
    From Dorfen, Germany
    Career highlights Winner of 1972 Spa 24 Hours, #1989 #Le-Mans 24 Hours, 1987 #Sebring 12 Hours and #1975 Spanish Grand Prix; 114 Grands Prix from 1973-1982.

    The first time I saw this month’s Hero was at Le Mans in #1972 . He was three-wheeling a Ford Capri round the infield and waggling the front end to keep it on the road. This was Jochen Mass’ first taste of Le Mans and of driving for a big factory team. He’d been paired with the irrepressible Hans Stuck and, though they wouldn’t finish, Jochen’s career had at least been kickstarted, giving him a feel for a race that he was determined one day to win.

    Born in Dorfen, Bavaria, his life very nearly ended when, at three years old, he fell into a lake at the English Garden in Munich. He recalled a warm and contented feeling just as he was plucked out of the water, and perhaps this is why he decided to go to sea after finishing school.

    After three years in the merchant navy providence provided a solution to what he might do next with his life, a girlfriend inviting him to a hillclimb where she was marshalling. He liked what he saw and so, determined to succeed, Mass went to work in a Manheim garage as a mechanic – where I’m pleased to say he had a particular bent for Alfa Romeo. This soon led to him racing and hillclimbing Giuliettas and Giulias, and discovering that he was quick. Very quick. That, plus his gritty determination, is how he got onto Ford’s radar.

    Getting back to 1972, in spite of the failure at Le Mans, Mass recorded wins at the Spa 24 Hours, the TT at Silverstone and the Jarama 4 Hours, plus he was crowned European Touring Car Champion. #Formula-2 beckoned for 1973 with a Surtees TS15, and Mass notched up a couple of wins and enough finishes to be runner-up in the championship. It also produced his first F1 outing for Surtees (not counting the infamous pile-up at Silverstone during the British GP), finishing seventh at the Nürburgring. Mass’ career had its ups and downs, but for 1975 he was paired with Emerson Fittipaldi at #McLaren in an M23, and then with James Hunt for the legendary 1976 season.

    But if by 1975 Jochen had peaked in F1, his endurance racing career was still in full flow. Porsche paired him with Jacky Ickx in the late ’70s and the two of them were unstoppable, winning at Mugello, Vallelunga, Monza, Imola, Dijon, Silverstone, Watkins Glen and Brands Hatch – but never at Le Mans.

    It took a change to the Sauber-Mercedes team to finally give Mass a well-deserved win at La Sarthe. That was in 1989, by which time Jochen was the elder statesman in the team, not slowing down in the slightest but passing on his wealth of experience to younger drivers – one of whom famously headed for Formula One after sharing a couple of second places and a win with him in a C9. Let’s all hope that Michael Schumacher is soon well enough to tell us about that period in his remarkable career.

    I would never argue that F1 isn’t the pinnacle of outright speed in circuit racing, but everything has to be in your favour if on that day, at that track, in that car, you are to be the quickest. More so if you are to be the winner. The history books don’t accept ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ and so it is for Jochen’s exceptional endurance racing successes that he sits among the greatest drivers of all time in that discipline.

    Today, Mass is a member of the #Mercedes-Benz Classic team, driving its competition cars from the 1930s and ’50s. I have worked alongside him at many an event over the years, and can’t tell you how much I enjoy his company. What an exuberant and philosophical survivor, whose hallmarks are priceless stories, great mirth and fun.

    Mass’ sole F1 victory came at the Spanish GP at Montjuïc in 1975.
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