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    Exceedingly clean and exceptionally well-modified, this supercharged BMW 325Ci E46 on BBS LMs is doing it right. Modifying is one thing, but bringing a car to a better than factory standard is something else; Darren Fennelly’s supercharged E46 proves beauty is more than skin deep. Words: Ben Koflach // Photos: Drive-My.

    This Irish E46 started life as a standard silver 323Ci but in less than a year owner Darren Fennelly transformed it into one of the most extensively workedover E46s out there.

    This wasn’t a cheque book build either. Oh no, much of the work was done by Darren and his close friends. “The build took nine months and nearly killed me and my friends,” Darren explains. “It’s one of the biggest things I have done in my life, but definitely one of the best and most enjoyable, even with all the late nights and hardships along the way.”

    So where do we begin? Well, first things first, it’s clearly no longer silver. The 323’s change to its glorious white hue wasn’t a quick and easy one, either. Darren wanted a really thorough spray over and so the 2.5- litre M52TU, along with its five-cog gearbox, was hauled out of the engine bay, thus giving the painter an easier job when it came to making sure the paint coverage was as complete as possible.

    The engine wasn’t simply put to one side, mind you. Darren had been speaking with Simpson Motorsport in England about getting more ponies out of it. “Simpson put me in touch with European Supercharger Systems (ESS) in Norway, from whom I bought the supercharger brand-new,” he says. “A genius friend of mine and myself installed it in around five hours without any real problems.”

    It’s an impressive bit of kit that uses a twin-screw compressor rather than the more traditionally used centrifugal configuration. Twin-screw superchargers have been used by American hot rods and drag racers for decades and this method really suits Darren’s E46 as it provides more low down torque; peak boost is delivered from around 2200rpm – perfect for his daily driver.

    Using a custom ESS-spec Lysholm 1.6-litre blower and an aluminium-alloy intake manifold, the ESS Stage 1 kit provides some healthy power figures. Larger Bosch injectors, CNC mounting brackets, additional idler pulleys and a heavy-duty drive belt all come as part of the kit, too, and it all works together to provide 7psi of boost along with quick throttle response.

    Although the ESS system is designed to fit with the factory air box, Darren has swapped that out for a Powertec cone filter and once the engine was back in the car, also fitted a manifold-back Supersprint exhaust system. “ESS claimed the supercharger would add another 110bhp and after mapping at Simpson Motorsport it put down 276bhp,” Darren reveals. “It is fast, not M3 fast, but not a million miles off either. The acceleration is very clean and it pulls real nice with the supercharger. And there’s a nice little whistle too, just enough so that you know it’s got a little something extra hidden away!”

    Before the engine was put back in, mind you, Darren cleaned it right up, and did the same with the gearbox, while also renewing the oil filter, rocker cover gasket, spark plugs, belt tensioner and sub-engine protection unit, as well as the clutch.

    Various components, from the washer bottle top to the ECU cover were then painted gloss black, and that’s before we even get to the carbon fibre that’s been added. Darren really has been thorough and the result is a truly stunning-looking engine bay.

    Coming back to the body, you’ll probably have spotted that the colour isn’t the only thing that changed. Darren also purchased a #Reiger M3-style front bumper and side skirts, as well as an M Tech rear bumper which he modified to sit level with the Reiger bits – a subtle touch that makes a world of difference. A CSL-style addition to the bootlid looks spot-on, as do the partsmoked LED rear tail-lights and smoked indicators all-round. More carbon fibre additions come in the form of a rear diffuser and kidney grilles, while a similar level of attention to detail has gone in to the exterior as the engine.

    Every clip, bracket, mount or fastener has been replaced with items from the dealer, as have many other items of trim, including the under arch liners and also the brake lines. The underside was also extensively cleaned and repainted. “We started off with a simple plan but got carried away!” laughs Darren.

    You name it, it’s been either replaced, renewed or repainted. The entire rear subframe was dropped out of the car, for example, enabling it and the area from which it was removed to be lovingly rubbed down and repainted. All the bushes were replaced, including the four subframe bushes, and Turner Motorsport limiters were fitted to the rear trailing arm bush carriers. The springs and shocks were binned in favour of #KW Variant 2 coilovers, offering Darren the adjustability he was after without being a harsh full-on race setup.

    With the extra power under the bonnet, you won’t be surprised to hear that the brakes have seen quite a substantial upgrade. Up front, 330mm grooved discs are clamped by AP Racing four-pot calipers, while the standard rear discs have been renewed and are accompanied by M3 calipers, which have had new pads fitted and been painted red to match the APs. Feeding these with the necessary fluid they need to operate is a set of braided hoses. The rolling stock is one of those additions that just seem to make this car, and rightly so. Many E46s sport replica BBS LMs, and in some ways we can understand why – they look good and go well with the E46 shape.

    However, any kind of replica wheel just wasn’t going to cut it for Darren’s project, and he managed to source a set of genuine staggered 19” LMs. Darren wanted them to be absolutely perfect, so they were sent to Nu-Luk Wheels in Carrickfergus. Every single nut and bolt was removed, with the dishes, barrels and faces coming apart for attention. The dishes were stripped of the lacquer they’d previously worn by a machine lathe, following which they were polished to an extremely high standard. The centres were then taken right back before being powdercoated gold, lacquered and built back up.

    Measuring 8.5” wide up front and a chunky 10” out back, the wheels not only look the business but mean that Darren is able to get a much bigger rubber footprint down for more grip at both ends. To that end, he’s fitted grippy 235/35 front and 265/30 rear Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres, which look absolutely perfect.

    Our final stop on our tour of Darren’s E46 is the interior – and what an interior it is. Much like the rest of the project, Darren’s approach is far from shy. The whole lot was essentially gutted, making things a little easier for the retrimmers, who were tasked with covering the lot in sumptuous red Nappa leather – not before Darren had added an OEM black carpet in place of the original grey one, mind you. The parcel shelf was also given a covering of black alcantara, while much of the plastic trim was replaced with black parts from the OEM catalogue, or repainted black. OEM mats and a selection of M goodies almost complete the spec, and it’s worth noting that Darren also renewed every single nut, bolt, washer, clip and bracket in the process. The cherry on the top of the awesome interior is the dash, which has been flocked for a motorsport feel and has benefited from a trio of gauges monitoring the boost, oil pressure and voltage. The factory dials have also been changed to white to match this trio, which is a neat touch.

    Truly unrecognisable as an early E46, Darren’s 323Ci is a real stunner. So thorough is his reworking that his Three looks and feels like something that’s just left the factory. Attention to detail like this is not seen often – no stone has been left unturned, and we’d happily go as far as saying it’s one of the best E46s in Ireland – or at least from what we’ve seen. Considering the enormous makeover the car’s had, to do it all in just nine months is amazing and just goes to show that you can do whatever you like with a bit of help from your friends.

    DATA FILE #BMW-323Ci-E46 / #BMW-323Ci / #BMW-E46 / #BMW / #BMW-323Ci-Supercharged-E46 / #BMW-323Ci-Supercharged / #M52/ #BMW-M52 / #M52-Supercharged / #BMW-3-Series-Coupe / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E46 / #BMW-3-Series-Coupe-E46 / #ESS / #BMW-325Ci / #BMW-325Ci-E46 / #BBS-LM / #BBS /

    ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 2.5-litre straight-six #M52TUB25 , #ESS-TS1 supercharger kit including inlet manifold and larger injectors, #Powertec air filter with custom heat shield and air intake hose, #Supersprint manifold-back exhaust system, ECU remap by #Simpson-Motorsport , carbon fibre rocker cover and fuel rail cover, custom ESS decal for rocker cover, chrome oil filler cap, new OEM: fuel filter, oil filter, rocker cover gasket, spark plugs, belt tensioner, sub-engine protection unit. Black painted: front air intake unit, ECU cover, expansion tank cover, battery unit box and more. Standard five-speed manual gearbox, ST1 short shifter, new OEM: clutch, flex disc, gearbox mounts.

    CHASSIS: 8.5x19” (front) and 10x19” (rear) #BBS LMs fully rebuilt with powdercoated gold centres and polished dishes, shod in 235/35 and 265/30 Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres respectively. #KW-Variant-2 coilovers, new OEM: wishbones, bushes, track rod ends and all nuts, bolts and washers. #Turner-Motorsport RTAB limiter kit fitted, all components cleaned and repainted including underside of shell, new jacking rubbers. #AP-Racing front brake kit using four-pot calipers and 330mm grooved discs, new OEM rear discs and M3 calipers painted red, new brake lines with braided flexi-hoses, new OEM handbrake shoes, Ferodo brake fluid.

    EXTERIOR: Full respray in white with a black roof, #Reiger M3-style front bumper and side skirts, Reiger front splitter, CSL-style rear spoiler, customised M Sport rear bumper, carbon fibre kidney grilles, carbon fibre diffuser, carbon fibre badges, smoked front and side indicators, LED rear light units with smoked indicators and reverse lights, new OEM foglights and surrounding M-tech mouldings, new OEM arch liners, new OEM brackets and clips throughout, new factory stickers throughout.

    INTERIOR: Full retrim in red Nappa leather, parcel shelf retrimmed in black alcantara, full black OEM carpet, most of remaining trim replaced with new black components or new grey components sprayed black, ST1 footrest and pedals, new OEM door and boot rubbers, M Sport gear knob and handbrake handle, new OEM floor mats, flocked dashboard, custom gauge pod (also flocked) holding Stuart Warner 52mm boost, oil pressure and volt gauges, white Lockwood dials, new OEM speakers all-round
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    The Charge of the Light Brigade #E46 M3 CSL. Simpson Motorsport are arguably the UK masters of supercharging BMW’s lightweight #M3 CSL. When 500+bhp wasn’t enough, Simpson created its first 700bhp monster.

    There’s a whole world of difference between building a powerful road car and an all-out, high-power track machine,” points out Anthony Mott of Simpson Motorsport. His quiet and modest character belies the incredible amount of development time, engineering and experience that’s gone into creating this car. “With track cars you don’t have to worry about manners, rock solid suspension, unforgiving clutch and drivetrain and an engine built to only really excel at one thing.” What Anthony won’t say, but we will, is building a truly fast road car involves more skills than most tuners have, and proving the results on the dyno is another thing altogether.

    The Simpson team has both covered in abundance and it’s because they build all manner of incredible race cars that they know what it takes to build something powerful, yet refined for the road. You’ll recognise the car from our August 2007 issue, belonging to Manchester father and son team: Stephen Hulme Snr and Jnr. Last summer, when we first brought you the car, it had just undergone an ESS supercharger conversion, resulting in a true dyno-proven output of around 510bhp. What we didn’t tell you was, even back then, the Hulmes only saw that stage of tuning as step one, and even back then had eyes on the big power leagues, as Stephen Jnr explains: “We had about a year of using that power and very quickly became used to it. It’s a true testament to both the quality and development of the kit, along with Simpson Motorsport’s experience that it was so usable. We had uprated the suspension and the brakes (check out those huge AP stoppers) and the whole package was just so capable. It flatters the driver and gives the confidence to go very, very fast.” When you say fast, everyone has their own definition. But to put it into perspective Stephen told us: “My dad took a friend of ours for a quick spin. The guy is an adrenalin junkie: he jumps off anything and everything for a rush. He loves a bit of danger. Yet after only two corners in the CSL, he grabbed my dad’s leg and pleaded with him to stop!” Most #BMW fans would be chuffed to have the ability to scare passengers, but not Stephen Snr. He wanted more and Julian Simpson-Smith and Anthony Mott, who run Simpson, were soon about to be busy doing what they do best: bespoke engineering. Anthony explains: “We’ve done a few supercharger conversions and now we swear by the quality, back-up and performance of the ESS kits. We work so closely with the guys, we’re on the phone to each other every day.”

    The Stephens had found inspiration in a race car developed by ESS in Sweden, running 640bhp, as Jnr explains: “That car had been built to set the new standard at the Nürburgring and clocked it at an incredible 7m22sec, and that was in traffic! To put that into perspective, the Zonda F was six seconds slower…”

    But the biggest challenge for the Simpson team was to create more power than the Swedish car, but in a road car with number plates and something that looked, sounded and drove like a factory BMW should. Road manners and reliability was paramount, after all, plenty of people claim to be able to build a fast car but it’s likely to need a pit crew and a monthly rebuild.

    So where do you start? Well, by pulling the engine out and putting it to one side, according to Anthony. “The CSL engine was very healthy and low mileage, so we pulled it out and put it in a crate. It was too good to use as a ‘development’ engine and we wanted to give the guys the ability to put the car back to standard if they wanted to. With the engine out, we called upon local BMW breakers, FAB Direct. Those guys always have good stock of used BMW spares and they had a low mileage E46 M3 engine on the shelf. That would be the start of our mission to get 700bhp,” smiles Anthony. He made it very clear from the start, this was never going to be an open cheque book car and in fact, he went to great lengths to tell us that it could have been all too easy to build a no-limits engine on a crazy budget.

    But this is the real world and what Simpson has done is build an engine for a sensible sum and only engineered the engine and car to a level that’s needed. Anthony said: “The less we do, the less there is to replace if the development engine should encounter a problem. Customers need to get the best performance but not pay a fortune.”

    As we tell you in our tuning guides each month, you must start with a healthy engine and the first job in the Simpson workshop was to strip the engine and ensure everything was as it should be and within acceptable tolerances. At this point many less reputable tuners could have built in a huge amount of over-engineered strength to protect their reputation. But as Anthony told us: “We wanted to try tuning for big power in development stages and see what happens.” The work started with a honing of the cylinder bores. This is a simple process that effectively takes the tiniest skim of metal from the cylinder bore walls just to ensure they’re perfectly true. The surface is barely touched but it removes any glazing from piston rings and keys the surface if it’s become polished from piston strokes. A polished surface isn’t the best for oil to cling to, so this surface reconditioning is essential. With that sorted, a set of coated motorsport crank bearings were used along with what Simpson call secret spec development con rods. Bolted to these were forged low compression pistons, for safety and to handle the higher loads about to be placed on the engine. Previously, the car was running around 8psi of boost pressure, which is fine on a standard compression engine. But, any higher, as Simpson was planning, and a lowering of the compression ratio is essential to prevent catastrophic detonation. After an uprated head gasket, the head was bolted down and even the variable valve control VANOS system was retained. Larger fuel injectors were used on a new fuel system. Anthony told us: “We’re now essentially running two fuel systems acting as one. There is two of everything: dual fuel pumps in the tank, two fuel lines and filters and they meet at the fuel rail that’s fed pressure from each end. When you are running big injectors a fuel rail can run dry at the end farthest from the fuel inlet and when you’re running big boost, a leaning off in fuel supply can kill an engine in seconds.”

    Next up was the source of the extra boost: the incredible Vortech T Trim supercharger, capable of around 700-800bhp. The unit uses bigger compressor housing and gearing for big power applications. Simpson has fitted a different front pulley on the engine crank to get the ’charger to run at the correct ratio, proportional to engine speed. Traditionally the Vortech runs quite a small pulley and so to get enough belt wrap around the pulley (so it doesn’t slip under the heavy load of compressing air,) the larger size was needed. As you can see from our photos, the machined alloy mounting hardware Simpson has done inhouse is the stuff of engineering wet dreams. Not surprising from a company with it’s own engineering department.
    The compressed air from the supercharger runs into the existing bespoke water-cooled manifold Simpson had developed for the CSL in stage one and it keeps the air tracts short and neat. Longer airways only attract heat soak from the surrounding engine temperature, creating power-sapping warm air. This manifold was created in-house by Simpson and while it looks incredible, Anthony openly admits it’s not cost effective for most customers as it’s all hand-built from scratch. The beauty of this CSL is in its innocent appearance and that’s not changed since last time. With the bonnet dropped, the only clues to its supercar-killing performance are the Supersprint exhaust pipes (on a system that still runs cats!), that even keeps the MoT man happy.

    The biggest job of the build was to come though, and that was from Anthony on the dyno as he tells us: “We spent days and weeks mapping the ECU. It’s way more powerful than most factory management systems and even compared to the best aftermarket systems, it’s so impressive. We worked very closely with ESS throughout the mapping process.”

    When such a huge amount of inlet pressure is being rammed into the engine, mapping is so much more complicated than just winding the fuel and ignition timing to suit, as Anthony explains: “Imagine if you run a 3.0-litre normally aspirated engine at atmospheric pressure (i.e the air around us), it will make a standard power figure. If we force a bar of boost into that engine with a supercharger, we’re effectively expecting the engine to take in double the air, develop double the power and use twice the fuel and ignition. Now that’s only adding one atmosphere (which equates to 14.7psi). While Anthony won’t let slip the final boost pressure, he did tell us the Vortech supercharger is running flat out! “We started by running the car on a base map,” said Anthony. “That gave us basic figures to get started with. From there we add fuel and ignition proportionally to the boost pressure produced until we get close to what we need for a perfect combustion mixture. But you have to remember we’re dealing with VANOS here so that needs to be accounted for too.”

    In a normally aspirated engine, the VANOS system alters the valve timing in the head to give a smooth and instant power delivery at any revs by adjusting how long for, and how high, the valves open, all controlled by the ECU. You get a phenomenon called overlap which means as the piston’s going back down on it’s last stroke of the cycle, it is creating suction that pulls in more oxygen ready for the next upwards compression stroke.

    “When we force the oxygen into the engine with a supercharger, that effect isn’t needed so we alter the #VANOS to almost work the other way and make the most of the compressed oxygen from the blower,” explains Anthony.

    Stephen chips in: “The car must have done hundreds of miles in dyno time to get it right and it has all been worthwhile. We’ve not done many road miles yet but the way the car runs is just like a factory car. It starts on the button, idles impeccably and you’d never know until you put your foot down. I reckon the traction control isn’t going to know what’s hit it on damp days!”

    On a normal day, as we finished our time with what has to be headline news for any E46 fan, we’d have normally strapped ourselves in for the drive of our lives. But the typical British weather put pay to that plan. Running the factory Michelin Pilot semi-cut 265 section rubber, the damp roads would be useless to show what the car’s like. Hiding my disappointment I had to settle for asking Anthony what the road testing revealed about his creation. The grin said it all: “It’s a million miles from the ‘normal’ 500-550bhp conversion; the difference is incomprehensible. Have I driven anything quicker? Yeah sure, but only our stripped out, race-prepared Ferrari F40 with 680bhp and that weighs 400kilos less than this CSL. What we’ve created is something as fast as the F40, that pulls all the way to the redline in top (well over 200mph) so quickly you won’t believe it, yet can be driven by the missus to shops.”

    Simpson’s modesty prevails again as I ask one last question: “Is this the most powerful #CSL or #M3 in the UK?” Anthony looks at Stephen and they both smile. I change tack and try asking instead: “Is there anything that can touch this?” The guys are still smiling as Anthony simply says: “There may be people who are claiming they have the fastest in the country. We don’t claim anything, the dyno figures do that for us…”


    ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 3.2-litre straight-six engine, forged low compression pistons, development con rods, coated motorsport bottom-end bearings, uprated head gasket, large high-flow fuel injectors, dual fuel system from tank to fuel rail, remapped ECU by Simpson/ESS, #Vortech T Trim supercharger with custom compressor housing with larger crank pulley, custom high capacity LiquaFlowwater-cooled inlet manifold cooled by external radiator, CNC machined supercharger mounting hardware, Supersprint lightweight race exhaust utilising two 100-cell race cats, standard six-speed #SMG gearbox with UUC lightweight flywheel and Sachs uprated clutch, SMG II computer upgrade.

    CHASSIS: 8.5x19” (front) and 9.5x19” (rear) M3 CSL alloys with 235/35 and 265/30 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres, Intrax 1k2 coilover suspension (lowers – 25mm front and – 30mm rear), Turner Motorsport bush limiting kit with #Simpson-Motorsport front and rear arm bushes, carbon strut brace, AP Racing 356x32mm discs with six-piston calipers (front) and 328x20mm rear discs and four-piston calipers (rear), Pagid RS29 pads and stainless braided brake lines.

    THANKS: Simpson Motorsport (01594 841299 / simpsonmotorsport. Co .uk).

    FAB Direct BMW used parts (01594 827333 / fabdirect. com). ESS Tuning (esstuning. com)
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