• RELUCTANT HERO Stripped-out, hardcore Rocket Bunny E36

    This Rocket Bunny E36 has it all – the looks, the poise, the power, the high-end motorsport parts. Must be the product of a full-on E36 obsessive, right? Er, no, not really… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photots: Sebas Mol.

    “I didn’t really like E36s much until recently,” says Selo Bilgic, in perhaps the most unexpected and unsettling opener we’ve heard in a while. Think about it – how do you go from not liking a certain car to building one of the coolest examples out there? It defies logic. Ah, but then much of Selo’s thought processes seem to follow this serpentine path. “I only got into BMWs in 2014,” he shrugs. “My first car was a Mk3 Golf GTI, and before this car I’ve always driven VWs and Audis.” For the sake of scene-setting, you’ll have to bear with us for a moment as we sidle over to the corner of the office occupied by sister-title Performance VW magazine to see what’s what.

    “Yup,” drawls PVW man David Kennedy, adjusting his snapback with a flourish, “this guy had a Mk4 R32 on Porsche centre-locks, a Mk5 R32 with R8 carbon-ceramics and more Porsche centre-locks, an S4-ified A4 Avant, a Mk3 VR6, and a bagged ’78 Passat.” Well, that’s cleared that up. Selo’s a guy who likes a lot of VAG. So what changed his mind?

    “My parents bought a brand-new E39 back in 2003, and I loved that car,” Selo admits, the mask falling as the Bavarian truth begins to escape from its Wolfsburg shackles. “The lines of it were so simple and clean, I guess that was ultimately my inspiration to start a BMW project one day.” Aha. The pieces of the jigsaw begin to shuffle themselves into place. But an E39 is not an E36. There must have been some other persuading factor?

    “Not really,” he smirks, enigmatically. “Like I say, I never liked the E36, but somehow over the years they started to win me over, and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to build a custom one.” We can all be glad that this fractured decisionmaking process, however faltering, was allowed to run its course, as Selo’s experience in modding Dubs has certainly stood him in good stead this time around. It also helps that he works for H&R Suspension, and finds himself surrounded by and working on hot lowered cars all the time; his various Golf projects all ran custom H&R setups, and this E36 follows the pattern. But we’ll get to that later…

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s no great and protracted story about scouring the globe for the perfect 3 Series. “I had the idea, and a couple of weeks later I bought the car,” Selo says, with admirable nonchalance. “My friend Dima wanted to build an E36 stance project, but he lost motivation and sold me the car.”

    Okay, so perhaps we’re framing this all a little unfairly. Selo is not an indifferent sort of guy; in fact, as his history of modifying clearly demonstrates, he goes all-in with everything he does. The results here speak for themselves – this isn’t a case of simply bolting on some off-the-shelf parts and rolling up to a few low-rent show ’n’shines; no, this is a detailed and fastidious effort that’s resulted in a sort of caricature of a 1990s Touring Car. It’s magnificent to behold.

    “The plan came about by chance in early 2015 while I was sharing a hookah with my friend Göksu,” he explains. “It was a picture of a Rocket Bunny E36 that got me thinking; owned by Brian Henderson from Rotiform, I’d first seen that car at Wörthersee in 2013 and I decided that I wanted to build a race car with that body kit.”

    So that’s exactly what happened. With the donor acquired from Dima, Selo set about tearing the thing down to first principles like some kind of furious Tasmanian Devil, bits of trim flying all over the workshop as he single-mindedly reduced the E36 to a bare shell. And from that point, it was time to perfect the base – after all, there’s no point starting a race car project with a frilly shell.

    Every iota of imperfect metal was hunted down and either straightened or strengthened – or, if need be, cut out entirely and replaced. So with a freshly renewed starting point, it could all be sprayed in a shimmering, dazzling coat of purest white. The Rocket Bunny kit for the E36 comprises a number of pieces, with the most obvious being the vastly protruding arches. The fact that Selo’s slathered his car in racer livery actually reduces their imposing impact at first glance, as you expect a Touring Car to have bullish width, but it’s in viewing the car in profile that you realise just how much surface area these arch extensions cover.

    They’re not the only part of the body kit, of course; bridging them fore and aft are a pair of broad side skirts, while there’s also a front splitter and ducktail spoiler. The latter, however, isn’t present here, as you’ve probably noticed. “I decided to go with an M3 GT wing instead,” Selo reasons. “I just love the elevated look of the Class 2 spoiler.” Fair enough. You’ll notice as well that the bumpers have been replaced with M3 items, as their aggression sits more neatly with the comically fat Rocket Bunny addenda.

    This theme, understandably for a trackoriented project, blows through to the interior with gusto. “A Rocket Bunny E36 can’t be comfortable,” he says, matter-of-factly. “It must have the spirit of a race car, which is why it’s got the Cobra race seats, plumbed-in extinguisher and the full Pleie Sport roll-cage.” And ‘the spirit of a race car’ very much informed the choice of wheels too: “At first I wanted to fit a set of BBS E88 Motorsport wheels – in fact, I have a set of staggered 18s,” says Selo. “But I just love the OZ Challenge HLTs, they’re so light and the car really looks like a badass racer with the these.” What he’s modestly neglecting to mention here is that the rims in question were actually sourced from a Porsche GT2 race car, which is a pretty cool boast.

    “Under the body kit, everything is adapted for the big wheels,” he grins. Yeah, we’re not surprised. Just look at the rears, they’ve got 295-section tyres! And we love the massive BMW M Performance six-pots peeping out from behind the fronts. Very cheeky.


    A car with such racy focus must have a fairly fiery motor under the bonnet, then? “Yeah, kinda,” he smiles. “It’s a 2.5-litre with the M50 intake upgrade, which has been remapped, plus I’ve lightened the flywheel. But I’ve got big plans for this very soon, as that motor was only for shakedown in the 2016 season. For 2017, the car’s going to have a turbocharged M50 with around 800hp.” Crikey. This guy really doesn’t mess about, does he?

    One area that we have to talk about, for obvious reasons, is the suspension. You don’t work at H&R without picking up a few tricks for your own projects, after all. “The car’s running custom H&R race suspension,” he says, entirely out of pride and clearly not just toeing the company line. “It’s got adjustable aluminium shocks at the front with 50mm-diameter springs; same at the rear but with coilover shocks.” And the infinite adjustability is exactly what you need in a race car project. “My daily driver is an F30 BMW with H&R Deep suspension, which is amazing for how I use that car, but this track setup up really takes it up a level. This is my fun car.”

    You can see what’s happened here, can’t you? Selo’s been indoctrinated. This isn’t just an E36 to get out of his system before he dives back into VWs; he’s having so much fun with it that he’s paired it with an F30, just to ensure a creamy 3 Series hit every single day. And after eight months of serious effort on the Rocket Bunny racer, the results are shouting for themselves. “Its first show was the Essen Motor Show,” he casually throws out there, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. “I hope they liked it…”

    We can assume that they probably did. And the rumblings from this corner of Westfalia, and the promise of a new livery for 2017 – along with that colossal power hike and, yes, perhaps those BBS E88s – suggest that this car will be winning over new fans for some time to come. It’s not bad for someone who didn’t really like E36s, is it?

    DATA FILE Rocket-Bunny / #BMW-E36 / #BMW / #BMW-E36-Rocket-Bunny / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E36 / #BMW-3-Series-Coupe / #BMW-3-Series-Coupe-E36

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.5-litre straight-six #M52B25 / #BMW-M52 / #M52 / , M50 intake, remapped, lightened flywheel, five-speed manual gearbox

    CHASSIS 11x18” (front) and 12x18” (rear) #OZ / #OZ-Challenge-HLT wheels from Porsche 911 GT2 with 265/35 (f) and 295/30 (r) tyres, #BMW-M-Performance six-pot calipers (front), E36 M3 brakes (rear), #H&R custom race suspension with 50mm-diameter springs with adjustable aluminium shocks (front), adjustable coilovers with 50mm-diameter springs (rear)

    EXTERIOR Restored shell, bare-shell respray, Rocket Bunny kit, M3 bumpers, M3 GT rear spoiler
    INTERIOR Stripped, Pleie Sport roll-cage, plumbed-in extinguisher system, Cobra Imola race seats, OMP deep-dish steering wheel, carbon fibre doorcards