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    Matt Richardson

    Aston Martin Works Trackday Open Event

    Aston Martin Works Trackday / Aston Martin Works is running its annual trackday for Aston owners at Silverstone on June 23. The trackday package, which is priced at £950 per car and driver, plus £80 per guest, includes full hospitality, a pre-circuit... vehicle health check at Works, multiple track driving sessions, and as much or as little track instruction as each driver desires (no previous track experience is required). To find out more or reserve a place on the trackday, email experience@ astonmartinworks.com More

    23rd Jun, 2016 7:00PM - 30th Jun, 2017 10:00PM
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    Tackling the North Coast 500 in an M235i. North by North West The North Coast 500 is reckoned to be the UK’s best road – we tackle it in an M235i. Is the #North-Coast-500 the UK’s best road? Matt Richardson climbed aboard an M235i to find out what it has to offer… Words and photography: Matt Richardson.

    The first shafts of sun are starting to cut through the early morning mist which hangs across the mountains to our right, while on our left the hills are mirrored in the perfectly still loch water. Ahead of us lies a deserted twisting road, disappearing into the horizon. In this incredible landscape it’s hard to focus on the road, but the growl of the M235i brings things sharply back into focus and it’s proving to be the ideal car for this trip on what must be the best set of roads in the UK.

    The story starts two years ago on America’s Main Street, when my best friend from school and I decided to do something big for our 40th birthdays and drove Route 66 across the USA. We loved it so much that we started looking for another road trip, this time closer to home and seeing as the North Coast 500 route is touted as Scotland’s Route 66 we had to take a look – but this time there would be corners, lots of corners. Thus we wanted a lively rear-wheel drive manual car instead of a dull rental. What could be better than a #BMW-M-Performance machine? We had driven to the start point of Inverness the previous day, checking into a motel after midnight.

    Over breakfast it occurred to us the 600 miles we had driven the previous day was actually further than the route of the North Coast 500. Nevertheless we headed west out of Inverness through light drizzle on to the A9, the scenery gradually improving as the city shrank behind us before heading onto the A832 to Muir of Ord and our first distillery stop at The Singleton. Just time to look through the door, sniff the whisky and get a stamp in the Classic Malts distillery pass booklet (an Eye Spy for whisky) before continuing.

    We’d picked our time to drive the route well – later in the summer the roads would be clogged with caravans and motorhomes, and any earlier in the year parts of it would have been closed by snow. We were fortunate to have the highest temperatures in the UK all week, so when we reached Achnasheen the sun was shining and we could bear left to take the seasonal route through Glen Carron along the tiny A890 and deeper into Wester Ross. This is Game of Thrones country and it certainly looked like Winterfell might be nearby.

    As the landscape became more dramatic the road got narrower and twistier. We only got to stretch the car’s legs for moments at a time before slowing for the next blind bend. The road runs around the top corner of Loch Carron’s coast before looping north inland towards Torridan. As our first sight of a big tidal loch, we were stunned by the inland sea and paused a couple of times to walk down to the water.

    Heading along the shore road we stopped for lunch at what would be the start of a recurring theme – amazing food in remote places. The Loch Carron golf club is in an isolated and beautiful spot, and locals immune to the scenery were amused at the two southerners sitting outside with the wind whipping their Tshirts, lifting salad from the plates, but to us it seemed crazy to go inside and not be immersed in the landscape. As we neared Torridon the road started to rise and offered more startling views of the water. Climbing higher the roads stayed single track with rock and scree fields on the side of the mountain but with great sight lines ahead we could press on and enjoy the curves. At the top snow was on the ground so we had to stop in a passing place for a snowball fight and to take in the silence at the top of the world.

    After a day of driving we’d covered only 100 miles on small, slow-going roads in a large loop, ending back at Achnasheen, but our night stop delivered an unexpected treat. To reach our hotel at Ledgowan we took a spectacular section of the A832 past Loch a’Croisg – the road rose and dipped across sweeping curves, and the BMW came alive on this gentle roller coaster. After a day of swapping turns at the wheel I was the lucky driver on this section, Barry consoled knowing he would be at the wheel the other way the next morning. We stopped for the night at Ledgowan Lodge, a grand Victorian hunting lodge of dark timber and mounted trophies at the foot of a heather-covered mountain. Before the light fell we headed out to hike to the top and try to see the loch behind before heading back for dinner.

    When we set out early the next morning the mist was hanging heavy across the hills again. In the morning light it looked like a different landscape and in the still air the loch water became a vast mirror, the mountains stretching above and below. I annoyed Barry by insisting we stop and take pictures, and could have shot hundreds more. However, the road was calling and we pushed on the other way along the A832 towards the west coast and further into the Highlands. With Loch Maree on our right we blasted though the national nature reserve, enjoying the deserted roads, quiet apart from occasional tractors and water-board 4x4s, which seemed to be everywhere. The M235i was proving to be the perfect car for these roads – small enough to squeeze down tight lanes but with plenty of power and control for the faster sections. We were both relieved to have a car with such a good manual gearbox to enjoy through the endless bends and hills.


    By the time we reached Gairloch on the coast we were ready for a break, so we pulled over for coffee and cake with another stunning view of the water before filling up and heading on the Aultbea where we thought we could kayak out into Loch Ewe, but alas we couldn’t – the downside of coming early in the season is that many attractions are not yet open.

    Stopping to take pictures at Aultbea a lady told us about an incredible beach she had just come from, so we turned back and took little more than a dirt track to Mellon Charles, a perfect sandy beach surrounded by rocks, where we had a picnic of our leftover motorway snacks from the drive up and discussed how this would be a great spot to bring our families back to.

    The road turns back inland along Little Loch Broom at this point and although the backdrop was still breathtaking, we were starting to become a little ‘landscape fatigued’ as each bend brought another amazing vista, so Corrieshalloch Gorge was a welcome change. The 60 meter deep gorge is narrow and has a suspension foot bridge so you can properly enjoy the waterfall and sheer drop below.

    We stopped for the night at Ullapool, one of the biggest towns on the west coast where large ferries sail for Stornaway. As evening came, we sat with a pint of the local beer (and later the local single malt) and Loch Broom could easily have passed for the Italian lakes.

    Next morning was again still and bright with mist hanging over the water. Driving north on the A835 the world was a green and brown mix of gorse and heather over rugged hills which the road snakes through. Again we were alone on the road and could make the most of the BMW’s handling. Over dinner we talked about whether a more hardcore M2 would have been more fun, but decided the M235i was the ideal combination of power and composure as we were tackling such a mix of roads.

    I had been concerned that finding the route would be tricky, but as it turned out there were almost no other roads to take. However, on this particular morning we took the route into our own hands and stopped at a scenic spot I had wanted to see. We stopped to shoot some pictures of the car with water behind it before I climbed a high bank and there it was, the ruins of Ardvreck Castle mirrored in the water of Loch Assynt. I didn’t have long to look as a moment later a blood red BMW was screaming past for photos but we were soon parked up to go all Scooby Doo over the spooky wreck. Once home to the Clan MacLeod (lots of Highlander jokes and movie lines shouted here) the castle is still claimed to have two ghosts lurking. We didn’t see them but Barry’s phone started behaving oddly.


    Here we had the choice of turning left towards Lochinver down a tiny single track loop (marked ‘drive with caution’ on the map) or go straight on towards the top of mainland Britain. Barry was driving so got the deciding vote and settled on the single track loop. The 15 mile section was undoubtedly beautiful, a barren landscape of muted colours, big rocks and deep pools of water and narrow Tarmac with endless blind crests and tight turns. A buttock-clenching 45 minutes later we emerged unscathed back on the main road – though we were not far past where we had started at Ardveck! This route was probably a mistake as we still had the longest leg of the route to drive and a distillery tour booked at 4pm that night in Wick. With the entire north coast of Scotland ahead of us, we needed sustenance and found it at Cocoa Mountain in Durness. From an ex-cold war RAF lookout station it serves ‘the best hot chocolate in the world’ and it certainly set us up for the short drive east from Durness to Smoo Cave – yes really – once home to smugglers. It is also a spot where a pirate lord threw his enemies to their death. The perfect spot for sandwiches.

    As we sped along the sweeping A road past Loch Eriboll we noticed a strange old fort-like building on an outcrop far below… so we had to go down to investigate. The structure turned out to be four peat kilns, and the 60 meter deep loch had been used as safe harbour for Royal Navy ships who’s crews spelt their ships names on the shore in white rocks. Interesting.

    We had definitively reached the North Coast part of the route by this point and the coastal scenery was rugged and weather-worn. The weather was becoming greyer by the minute but the roads were still clear and we could see miles in both directions. As we passed through Strathy and Srcabster we caught up with a Ford S Max. We had a brief moment where we thought about passing the car but the clearly local driver knew the line through every corner so we followed in his tracks.


    By the time we reached Thurso and passed the Dounreay nuclear plant the fog had fallen and before long we were at John o’Groats, almost the most north eastern spot on the mainland. Certainly it’s the most far flung cafe, but the true honour belongs to Duncansby Head. We stop and walk out to the lighthouse, and mid-boast about how good my boots are I slip and go trouser first down a muddy slope.

    Happily, the heated driver’s seat dried my jeans on the A99 towards Wick, where a side of our hotel occupies Ebenezer Place, the shortest street in the world – a fact we knew in advance and so had planned a photo stop… which we unfortunately forgot. We ended up arriving after 4pm and so missed our tour of the Old Pulteney distillery and whisky spotter’s stamp, so made do with a pizza in town. But it was a novelty to see a town with multiple streets after a few days in the wilderness. We left Wick on a sunny morning and drove south on the A9 into a very different landscape to the west coast. Rugged cliffs, blasted landscape and sheer drops gave way to rolling hills and open farmland but there were still cliffs hugging the coast and the road still entertained.

    We called in to the Clynelish distillery but the visitor centre wasn’t open yet so we drove on. Off shore they build oil rigs here and I’d happily stop to look at that but we had another distillery tour booked at Dalwhinnie south of Inverness so yet again we plugged on, reaching the coldest spot in the UK mid-afternoon. We drove past the official end of the NC500 route in Inverness and carried on towards Loch Ness. I wasn’t coming all this way and missing the monster. Needless to say, despite lingering over a cup of tea, Nessie didn’t put in an appearance.

    Our NC500 road trip was finished, but as we stood in the snowy car park at Dalwhinnie we tossed a coin – stay on another night or press on for home. Heads won which meant we were destined to head for home. We left at 3pm and were home by midnight – not bad going for a nigh-on 600-mile trek. The M235i ably demonstrated the other side of its character going from determined B-road blaster in sport mode to relaxing cruiser in eco mode eating up the miles back to Kent in what seemed like no time.

    Overall it was an amazing trip – perhaps not quite as epic as Route 66, but it’s a hell of a lot closer and the roads are a lot more interesting, especially if your weapon of choice is an M235i. I can’t think of anything that would have supplied the same blend of abilities as the M Performance pocket rocket for the trip.

    TECHNICAL DATA #BMW-M235i / #BMW / #2016 / #BMW-F22 / #BMW-2-Series-Coupe-F22 / #BMW-2-Series / #BMW-M235i-F22 / #BMW-2-Series-Coupe


    ENGINE: Straight-six, 24-valve, #TwinPower turbo
    CAPACITY: 2979cc
    MAX POWER: 326hp @ 5800rpm
    MAX TORQUE: 332lb ft @ 1300-4500rpm
    0-62MPH: 5.0 seconds
    TOP SPEED: 155mph
    ECONOMY: 34.9mpg
    EMISSIONS: 189g/km
    WEIGHT (EU): 1530kg
    PRICE (OTR): £35,225
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    Matt Richardson
    Matt Richardson joined the group BMW 2 Series Coupe F22 Club
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    Fully Converted #Alpina-B3 3.3

    The story behind one man’s love affair with his delightful Alpina B3 3.3 Convertible. Alpina’s E46 B3 was an excellent alternative to BMW’s M3 and the owner of this example was so smitten by the car that he changed jobs to become even closer to the brand. Words and photography: Matt Richardson.

    A buyer of a BMW convertible has already made the decision that they don’t want a run-of-the-mill car but to step up to something better. Then there are those like Dan Edwards who just want something with a touch more exclusivity.

    Not to be confused with an aftermarket tuning or styling house, Bavaria-based Alpina has come a long way since its start as a typewriter builder. The company’s first involvement with BMW was in 1962 developing Weber carburettors for the then-new 1500. It has since evolved and expanded and today is a bespoke car builder that works so closely with BMW that since 1983 has been recognised as a manufacturer in its own right. Its cars are now sold alongside the machines they are based on in BMW dealerships.

    Alpina offers an alternative to BMW’s M Performance division with the emphasis on luxury and exclusivity rather than speed, not that performance or handling are neglected. With a highly tuned hand-built engine up front, power is dispensed very differently to the more aggressive delivery of an M car.

    The son of a serial BMW owner (his father John has had 16 3 Series and more than 25 BMWs in total over the years), it’s no surprise that Dan’s first car was a BMW – a red E36 316i which soon wore a set of Alpina wheels, or so he thought until he discovered only the badges were real. Ten more BMWs followed, the latter being performance models and convertibles, often tweaked to make them a little more special. A Phoenix yellow E46 M3 Coupé became a CSL replica, which he made the mistake of swapping for an AMG SL55 which proved so unreliable it was sold for another BMW very quickly.


    Eventually a similar but less well spec’d Mystic blue Alpina E46 B3 came on to the scene. Driving this 3.3-litre machine he found exactly what he’d been looking for in all the cars he’d been through. He’d already fallen for the looks of the E46 3 Series and with Alpina’s additional styling cues and the different power delivery, the overall feel of the car took hold and Dan started to form a bond with the brand, so much so that he took a job with Sytner BMW to work more closely with the cars. Another unexpected bonus Dan found was that it was cheaper to insure than an M3 or a modified car. However, he foolishly sold the blue B3 and immediately regretted it, so the hunt was on for another.

    With nothing on the horizon, and a BMW-shaped hole in his life, Dan told his dad he “might just pick up another old M3 and do it up”. However, in July 2015, before finding an M car, he chanced upon this 2002 B3 3.3 at a sports car specialist near Birmingham who had taken it in part exchange.


    This car couldn’t have been better; in Japan red with a perfect black hood and a removable hard-top the car looked stunning and had a good history. The last owner had owned it for seven years, and being the sort of car that attracts an enthusiastic owner, it was easy to track it down on web forums and get a good idea of the B3’s history. It looked like it had been a second car used by the owner’s wife and had needed little more than regular maintenance and a repainted bumper and bonnet to tidy up stone chips.

    The basis of the B3 was BMW’s 328i, but that was just the starting point. The original chassis number was scribed through and a new Alpina number was stamped beneath it on the suspension turret. This may lead the uninitiated to think something untoward has gone on, but the new number is on the V5. Other underbonnet changes were more significant.

    The M52 from the 328i was replaced with Alpina’s own motor, based on the BMW #S52B32 which in turn started life in the US-spec E36 M3. This USmarket engine was developed after the European M3’s #S50 engine failed to meet American emissions tests and where it made 240hp, it had in turn been developed from a standard 328 unit.



    With a slight increase in capacity over the previous E36 generation’s 3.2-litre engine, Alpina continued to develop the straight-six to the 3.3-litre as found in this car and as a 3.4-litre incarnation later in the B3’s life thanks to an increase in bore. In this latter guise the B3 had an ‘S’ moniker to denote its additional power. The grey cast iron block gave excellent rigidity and retained the standard 86.4mm cylinder bore. Thanks to Alpina’s own crankshaft, the stroke was increased to 93.8mm which gave a total capacity of 3300cc.

    With the goal of achieving a high-revving and very smooth motor, lightweight pistons reduced movement of free mass and a new camshaft helped the motor to rev cleanly to 7200rpm.



    Alpina’s own air box, intake and performance exhaust system completed the package which now developed 280hp at 6200rpm. Even more impressively, the torque figure rose to 247lb ft at 4500rpm. This was ideally suited to the five-speed ZF Switch-Tronic automatic gearbox, with which the driver can either shift gears using buttons mounted on the steering wheel or let the gearbox do all the work. This combination gives effortless cruising, riding on that wave of torque its acceleration feels effortless and the car can manage 0-62mph in only 6.9 seconds, and charge on to 158mph.



    Alpina also lowered the suspension, allowing the 18-inch 20-spoke wheels to fill the arches more fully. After 13 years of use, however, the distinctive trademark alloys were starting to show some wear, so Dan had them refurbished in-house at Sytner where he works, and they look brand-new again.

    Alpina interiors offer more options for personalisation than the standard BMW brochure. When this B3 first drove off BMW dealership Blue Bell Wilmslow of Cheshire’s forecourt in March 2002 the new buyer had opted for Anthracite Buffalo leather seats at £3325. They also chose to have matching Buffalo leather covering on the centre console and transmission tunnel for a further £680.

    Something Dan was particularly pleased with were the Alpina roundels in all four seat backs, a nice touch which was only available with the Buffalo hide which added £150 to the invoice. The on-the-road price totalled £45,810 – significantly more than a standard M3 Convertible.

    Red rhomboids were embroidered in the doorcards and on the steering wheel which had matching red hand-stitching, all coordinating with the paintwork and the red piping on the seats. Dan hasn’t had to do much to the car since buying it, but the driver’s seat piping and bolster were worn, so vehicle trimmer Trim Tech repaired the piping and recoloured the driver’s seat, matching it to the rest of the interior.

    In case the rumble of the larger exhaust was not enough company on a long drive, a Harman Kardon hi-fi system upgrade was specified, along with a #BMW six-CD auto changer, an accessory that has gone from being highly desirable to interestingly retro in a remarkably short space of time.

    A final touch inside the car, a silver-plated production plaque mounted on the dashboard above the glovebox showed this car to be B3 cabriolet number 234, making it very exclusive with production ending later that year in 2002.

    Now he has the car to how he wants it, will serial car flipper Dan be swapping his B3 for something else? “No, this is a long-term keeper,” he laughs, and although he might not be parting with this car, it’s unlikely to be his last Alpina.

    TECHNICAL DATA #2002 / #Alpina-B3-3.3-Convertible-E46 / #Alpina-B3-3.3-Convertible / #Alpina-B3-3.3-E46 / #Alpina-B3-E46 / #Alpina-B3 / #Alpina / #BMW-E46 / #BMW-E46-Alpina / #BMW-E46-Convertible /


    ENGINE: Straight-six, 24-valve
    CAPACITY: 3300cc
    MAX POWER: 280hp @ 6200rpm
    MAX TORQUE: 247lb ft @ 4500rpm
    0-62MPH: 6.9 seconds
    TOP SPEED: 158mph
    ECONOMY: 25.8mpg
    PRICE (NEW): £45,810


    With a highly tuned hand-built engine, power is dispensed differently to the more aggressive delivery of an M car.
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    Matt Richardson
    Matt Richardson joined the group BMW E46 3-series Club
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