- Post is under moderationBe it road or track, Thorney Motorsport’s well-sorted and utterly furious E92 M3 will crush all-comers and all corners. Words: Elizabeth de Latour Photos: Matt Richardson.
THORNEY E92 M3 Ferocious 455hp track beast.
TARMAC TERRORIST Track-honed E92 M3
Never pass up the opportunity to drive an E9x M3. Of course, we can’t imagine you would because when you’re presented with the keys to arguably one of BMW’s finest-ever M creations, you’d have to be silly not to. And in the case of Thorney Motorsport’s M3 it wasn’t a suggestion but rather an insistence that I see what the car is capable of and it would be downright rude to refuse such a generous offer. I return a little while later, slightly weak at the knees and feeling like I need a cigarette after the experience I just had. I don’t even smoke…
Thorney Motorsport has been around for 16 years and eponymous owner John Thorne has been involved in the BMW game for as long as anyone can remember. The company did briefly take a hiatus to go racing and add fettling Vauxhalls to the its many talents before returning to its roots a few years ago and taking up the #BMW tuning mantle once more. Its certainly been busy since then as, aside from working on countless customer cars, it has produced a number of awesome demonstrators including a monstrous X5 M, F82 M4 that you’ll be able to read about in a future issue and the car we’re about to get under the skin of today, this magnificent E92 M3.
This is Thorney’s second E92 M3 and represents the final stage of the company’s tried and tested development programme. When a new car is welcomed into the Thorney fold it first spends some time being driven so John and the team are able to really get to know it before stage one can begin. This is the road car development phase which can take up to two years, with numerous modifications and combinations of components being tested, refined and developed in-house in order to get the car and the modifications up to Thorney’s standards. The company’s previous car had undergone the fast road development process before it was sold and when John acquired this 2008 M3 it was specifically to develop and build it up into a track car.
“There’s a big difference between a racing car and a track car,” he explains, “this specific car needs to be comfortable, road legal with an MoT and fun on the road but also track-focused, so it’s a more challenging build. Our principle is to take the best bits of the standard car and make them better, and make the bad bits less bad.”
The end product is a car that, while still trackbiased, you can comfortably drive on the road. It excels in both disciplines. “The whole car,” John continues, “has been inspired by the E92 M3 GTS but we’ve made it better.” That might seem like a bold statement, but having the GTS as a template meant that the Thorney team knew what it needed to do to surpass the BMW-built track special and that’s exactly what it’s done.
Obviously, if you’re building a track car it’s got to have plenty of power, and the M3 certainly isn’t short on that front. On a high compression, naturally aspirated engine you’re always going to struggle to get big gains but, where the GTS had an engine capacity increase up to 4.4-litres to make 450hp, the Thorney M3 makes a dynoproven 455hp from the stock displacement. It also develops 40lb ft more torque than stock with 360lb ft on tap, a significant gain and Thorney has worked to overcome the S65’s lack of low-end torque. The secret to its success is a custom, larger capacity carbon fibre intake plenum, a custom map designed for low-end gains and a Thorney 3” bore exhaust, designed in-house, which John says is perfect for the rev-hungry V8, with one set of silencers and repeaters, enough to pass all track noise tests with minimal exhaust flow restriction, finished off with carbon tips.
“When it comes to building a track car the three most important areas are handling, brakes and seats,” explains John and as a result of that everything on board this M3 has been fitted to make it stop harder and handle better. Nothing fitted to this car is a frivolity and nothing has been left to chance, these mods have been carried out because they work. The wheels are Team Dynamics Pro Race 1.2s: “Bulletproof,” says John, “very light and very strong. We run 18s as the E9x handles much better on smaller wheels and it’s the same size that the GT4 uses. We generally prefer to run a square setup but the car is currently on 10s and 11s front and rear with Toyo R888 RR tyres.” That wide rubber means monster grip and traction but that’s not all, it’s backed up by a race-proven aerodynamic package. “The front splitter and adjustable rear wing are both from the GT4; we found that these consistently work well and are genuine motorsport parts. The only difference here is that the GT4 spoiler uses thinner steel upright and this version has thicker alloy ones.”
When it came to suspension, there was only one option as far as John was concerned: “We always work with Bilstein. It’s the most consistent, the best on warranty, it offers excellent support and the R&D process is open enough to listen to suggestions and work with us. We developed the Bilstein Club Sport kit in conjunction with Bilstein, and the one fitted to this car was the first kit in the UK. What sets it apart is that it’s been tuned for UK roads and circuits, which are smoother than the ’Ring, so we can run a stiffer setup, and the dampers are matched to H&R springs.
“For the brakes,” he continues, “we went for Performance Friction discs, bells and pads with our own in-house braided hoses with race fluid. This setup performs very well. It’s 85% of a big brake kit for a third of the cost, with everything coming to £1800 fitted. So far we’ve not found anyone who can out-brake us on track with a BBK.”
While the interior has been lightened to a degree, it’s not the bare, barren, stripped-out environment you might be expecting. “We have stripped some weight out; the rear seats have been removed and the area has been custom-trimmed but it’s not been stripped and gutted because while it is a fun car that’s been designed for the track it can still go on the road so we wanted to retain a degree of comfort. In a track car, harnesses will save your life and decent seats mean you won’t be holding on for dear life when you’re cornering. We went with Cobra for both of these, with an Ultralite motorsport seat for the driver and a Nogaro sport seat for the passenger. We had to re-engineer the whole seats to make them fit and designed our own mounts. We also fitted our own design of half cage, which was inspired by the GTS, but where the GTS cage weighs 70kg, ours is custommade from T45 steel and weighs just 21kg.”
It’s an insanely comprehensive build and while we don’t have a track to hand, I still can’t wait to see how this build feels out on the road. The serious-looking Cobra Ultralite driver’s seat is a little snug for a slightly broader-hipped lady such as myself but hey, at least it means I won’t be going anywhere through the corners. Mercifully there are no harnesses to faff about with for the road either, and the view from where I’m sitting is ordinary, with the stock M3 steering wheel and gear knob having been retained.
The V8 fires with a brrraap and settles into that familiar, busy idle, but with the volume turned up a few notches. It’s loud, and sounds lush, but even with this minimally silenced track arrangement it’s not obnoxious. These first few minutes of normality do lull you into a false sense of security, though, because the minute I get out onto the road and go for the throttle, all hell breaks loose. The Thorney M3 feels apocalyptically fast and while the on-paper figures might not seem all that impressive, it’s the combination of that huge gain in torque and low-end response along with the improved top-end breathing that makes it so much faster. The mid-range performance is now utterly explosive and, where you’d normally find yourself wringing the V8 out all the way to the redline to eke out every last drop of performance, I actually find myself short shifting well before the redline a couple of times as the newfound response and sheer punch of the engine lower down the rev range means that you can make indecently rapid progress without even having to try. Wind the engine all the way out, though, and the relentless acceleration is astonishing. The S65 is doing its exponential power delivery party trick but now there’s a whole lot more fireworks involved and the top end is, frankly, just a little obscene.
The brakes are phenomenal and I can’t imagine a BBK delivering significantly better braking performance than this setup does, the pedal remaining firm and the brakes biting hard corner after corner. But, more impressive than any of that, is the way this M3 changes direction and the way it rides. John said that on a track with warm tyres this car would not understeer, but out on the road and pushing hard it absolutely refuses to let go from either end. Turn-in is instant, there’s no pause as the chassis catches up with your steering input. It responds immediately to every single adjustment you make and its cornering performance and ability are mesmerising. I’m instantly grateful for the snug-fitting seat as it makes such a difference to how hard you can push. The ride is also sublime, with the 18s soaking up the worst of the road surface through those generously-sized sidewalls, while the suspension keeps the car so incredibly planted it’s breathtaking. It feels like it’s physically attached to the road surface and is so incredibly controlled over every dip and undulation. I’ve driven a lot of different E9x M3s on a lot of different roads but this might just be one of the best driving experiences I’ve ever had and having to stop and hand back the keys was genuinely upsetting.
Considering just how much equipment this car boasts the price is possibly the most impressive thing about it; John says that to do everything on this car would cost about £12,000 – that’s the lightweight cage, the full exhaust system, the Bilstein Clubsports, the seats, everything. Cherry pick only what you really want and you could come away with a very capable track car that’s still happy on the road for less than that and, with E9x M3 prices continuing to fall, if you’re serious about track driving then it would be a tempting prospect.
It’s relatively easy to make the E9x M3 go faster, stop harder or handle better but to elevate an already capable car to another level of ability and to make such huge improvements across the board, to hone every aspect of the car’s character to the Nth degree, is impressive and exactly what Thorney has achieved.
“So far we’ve not found anyone who can out-break us on track with a BBK”
TECHNICAL DATA FILE #Thorney-Motorsport / #BMW-E92 / #BMW-M3 / #Team-Dynamics / #BMW-M3-E92 / #BMW-M3-Team-Dynamics / #BMW-M3-Team-Dynamics-E92 / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E92 / #BMW-3-Series-M3 / #BMW-3-Series-M3-E92
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 4.0-litre #V8 / #S65B40 / #S65 / #BMW-S65 / , #TMS carbon induction kit, TMS stage three ECU custom map, TMS 3” custom built mandrel bent full exhaust system, FIA race cats, carbon fibre quad tail trims. Six-speed manual gearbox
CHASSIS 10x18” (front) and 11x18” (rear) #Team-Dynamics-Pro-Race-1.2 wheels with 265/35 (front) and 295/30 (rear) Toyo R888 RR tyres, #Bilstein Clubsport kit with #H&R springs, #Performance-Friction discs and bells (front), Performance Friction PF11 pads (front and rear), TMS braided brake lines (front and rear)
EXTERIOR BMW GT4 rear wing, BMW GT4 front splitter
INTERIOR TMS GTS custom built bolt-in rear cage, TMS front race seats, TMS five-point harness, rear seats removed and interior retrimmed
“Our principle is to take the best bits of the standard car and make them better”Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.