- BMW never offered an E46 M3 Touring, that’s just an unfortunate fact of life. But if you saw Marc Norris’s Touring rolling down the road, you might find yourself re-evaluating what you think you know… Words: Daniel Bevis Photography: Darren Maybury.
“When I build something, I want it to look like it just came out of the factory”
Stunning E46 M3 Touring / Estate of the Union BMW never made an E46 M3 Touring but if it had, it should have looked like this one.
If you want to whip 3 Series fans up into a lather, try tossing the phrase ‘M3 Touring’ into the conversation and just standing back to see what happens. It’s a conversational grenade. You see, everyone with more than a passing interest in the Bavarian propeller badge wants a longroof version of the M3 to exist, and to have existed. Everyone. It’s just a fact of nature, as real as the tides and the inevitability of Monday mornings. Watch in amusement as they reel off phrases like ‘missed opportunity’ and ‘the best car that #BMW never built’. This is not without precedent, of course… the money-men at BMW HQ saw fit to greenlight a Touring variant of the M5 back when the E60 was doing the rounds, so what was wrong with the idea of shoehorning an #S54-Dinan motor and some beefed-up chassis componentry into a 3 Series shell that was happy to swallow a wardrobe? Well, it’s just one of life’s mysteries.
Thankfully, for a miniscule but dedicated clique of enthusiasts, the question of ‘what was wrong with the idea?’ can bullishly be answered by the phrase ‘nothing at all, so I’m going to make one’. And that’s exactly what’s happened here: the car you’re looking at may not have rolled off the production line as a bona fide M3 Touring, but it’s about as near as you’re ever going to get to happening across the genuine article. And it’s all down to the skills and dedication of a fella by the name of Marc Norris.
Now, Marc is an interesting guy to know. The powerhouse behind Bavarian Workshop in West Hills, California, what he doesn’t know about enhancing and enjoying BMWs probably isn’t worth knowing. “My friends call me ‘the mad scientist’,” he grins, “so that should give you some idea…”
Seasoned readers may recall the M2 that Marc built a few years back, fusing a 2002 with the running gear from an E30 M3. “I modify everything I own,” he laughs. “I’ve built some fun cars, with that M2 being a prime example. I’ve built turbo cars, engine swaps… an S54 into an E28 M5, an S52 into an E30 sedan with six-speed and five-lug conversion… My big thing is subtlety – when I build something, I want it to look like it just came out of the factory.” Admirable sentiment indeed, and you can see why Marc is the ideal candidate to hand-craft ‘the best car that BMW never built’.
A little background, then, to see where this whole legacy of lunacy stemmed from. Bavarian Workshop, the hub of all of this Teutonic mischief, was founded back in 1978, and Marc purchased the company 21 years ago. It’s primarily a service shop, although his entertaining modifying proclivities are neatly catered for by virtue of it being an official Dinan Engineering dealer too. “Modifications have always been a part of our DNA,” Marc eagerly confirms. “Along the way there have been many projects, big and small, as people found out about our capabilities. And this particular project was started here at the shop with the engine and trans swap, before I took it home and stripped the interior and some other mechanicals. I have a full shop at home, and am trying to expose my nine-year-old son to my madness!”
Okay, so why an E46, why now? “Well, I just love the E46 M3,” he says. “I mean, I love all M3s, as my garage would attest, but I’d sold an E46 a few years ago to get into a new house, and it stuck in my head – along with a comment a friend made years ago about the idea of an M3 Touring. It kept rolling around in the back of my mind. Something made me start doing some research, and then I found the pictures of the BMW Touring in the underground garage,” he says, referring to BMW’s own one-off M3 Touring Concept that lives in the mystery bunker beneath BMW M GmbH at Garching. “My wife’s Touring’s transmission had given up the ghost a couple of years ago, and I got her an X1; I kept the E46, as the idea was there.” And there you have it, the kernel of a project. But it’s one thing to conjure up such a strategy – it’s quite another to spirit it into reality. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of work involved.
Still, Marc’s not afraid of a bit of hard graft. You have probably gathered that. And with the idea blossoming in his mind, he set about finding a donor, which soon arrived in the form of a #2002 M3 Coupé on Craigslist. The car had hit a pole, which took out the radiator and condenser, but on the whole it was in remarkable condition and presented itself as the perfect donor. The cherry on the cake was that its production date was only two months adrift from his Touring; for a man who prizes authenticity, this made it a no-brainer.
“So, the car’s sitting here at the shop, and I decide I’ll stick the drivetrain and suspension in while it’s here and then trailer it home,” Marc recalls, luxuriating in the story with the slippery ease of the seasoned raconteur. “That bit was just a straight parts swap, no biggie. The interesting part came when I got it home and started gutting the inside…”
It’s a truism to say that the M3 is quite a focused machine, with lots of model-specific parts to differentiate itself from lesser 3 Series – that’s why they’re so celebrated, and command the premiums that they do – but if you really want this thrown into sharp focus for you, try stripping down the two cars in parallel and playing a bit of spot-the-difference.
Take the exterior, for example. It’s not just a case of unbolting the Touring wings and whacking the M3 items on there. Marc’s front wings are sectioned together with parts from both cars, to ensure that they mount properly while also having the correct M3 flares and grilles; the coupé items are a good inch longer, and that’s the sort of panel gap disparity that people would probably notice. And the rears? Well, obviously the station-wagon is a bit taller at the back, so the sportier bits have been cut straight out of the M3 and grafted into the Touring to follow its natural lines. The dedication to a factory-quality finish is total.
Another area that you might not necessarily think of is the boot floor – in this instance it’s been entirely removed and replaced with the M3 Coupé’s panel, which is rather flatter and thus allows the quad-tail M3/Dinan exhaust system to exit beneath. You see, once you start digging into a non-M3 E46, it’s surprising just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
For the sake of completeness, the roof rails were removed and factory delete covers colour-matched and installed, while all of the exterior trim was reworked in BMW Glanschwarz (Gloss black) to reflect the OEM appearance of the M3. And to top it all off, the finished shell’s been blasted in a fresh coat of metallic Stahlblau (Steel blue).
Naturally an M3 is more than just a mighty engine and some pumped up arches. There’s quite a lot going on under the skin. “I’d totally gutted the shell in the knowledge that I wanted to fit the #BMW Professional Navigation, Harman Kardon stereo and, most importantly, my wife’s favourite – heated seats!”
Marc explains. So the car now features E91 Touring seats with functional active bolsters and heaters (because you have to do what the boss says sometimes), which are neatly complemented by the ‘Silver Cube’ trim from the Competition package and, rather brilliantly, a nav screen that’s been specially programmed to display the M logo when you get in. The devil, as they say, is in the detail.
“I also wanted to convert it from auto to manual,” he continues, to the great satisfaction of driving enthusiasts everywhere, “as well as add the parts from the M3 running gear into the harness… so I had both cars at home and I stripped the harness out of the M3 and laid it out next to the Touring, taking out all the sections I needed to add those accessories.”
And when he uses terms like ‘parts’ and ‘accessories’, don’t take these words euphemistically – we’re talking about a full-on chassis conversion, with the M3 front and rear subframes swapped over complete with brakes and suspension, the latter of which was then upgraded to Dinan/Koni Stage 3 spec. When Marc says he wanted to build a factory-quality M3 Touring, he went all-in. “For all intents and purposes, this is an M3,” he says, and it would surely be churlish to disagree.
It really does sound as if this radical yet subtle custom is having the desired effect too. “I use the car as a daily driver to work, and it’s funny seeing people react, as most don’t know a car like this never existed,” Marc smirks, mischievously. “When I go to car shows, a lot of times people walk by just thinking it’s a standard car, but the people in the know – they freak out! It’s so funny! And there have been more than a few times when someone will walk up and go ‘nice M3’… and then realise it’s a Touring. And then just have a cow! It really is amazing to hear how many people dig wagons.”
And that, of course, is all part of the fun. The original brief was to make the M3 Touring that BMW never did, and along the way he’s managed to interweave a certain frisson of specialness that’s endeared it to both his wife and the Californian BMW community at large. As his own State of the Union address, this M3 makes a pretty clear statement for Marc: sure, something may not exist, but that doesn’t mean it never can. The proof, in Steel blue, sits right before you.
CONTACT Bavarian Workshop / Web: www.bavarianworkshop.com
“It really is amazing to hear how many people dig wagons”
TECHNICAL DATA FILE E46 M3 Touring / #BMW-M3-Touring-E46 / #BMW-M3-CS-Touring-E46 / #BMW-M3-Touring / #BMW-M3-E46 / #BMW-E46 / #BMW / #BMW-E46-Touring / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E46 / #BMW-3-Series-Touring / #BMW-3-Series-Touring-E46 / #BMW-3-Series-Touring-E46/3 / #BMW-E46/3 / #BMW-M3-E46/3
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION: #S54B32 / #BMW-S54 / #S54 3.2-litre straight-six, #Dinan-high-flow-air-intake , Dinan free-flow exhaust system, #Dinan software, M3 ducting, trim and radiator/condenser cooling package, M3 oil cooler and ducting, six-speed manual, #M-differential
CHASSIS: 19-inch #Apex wheels with 245/35 (front) and 265/35 (rear) Michelin Pilot Super Sports, Motorsport Hardware competition wheel studs, full M3 front and rear subframes including suspension and brake setup; Dinan / #Koni Stage 3 suspension kit, reinforced rear subframe mounts
EXTERIOR: Custom front wings sectioned together from Coupé and Touring items, LCI bi-xenon headlights, M3 CSL front bumper cover with carbon fibre winglets, coupé rear wings sectioned into Touring quarters, boot floor swapped for flatter M3 Coupé version, allowing fitment of Dinan/M3 quad exhaust, roof rails removed and factory delete covers installed and colour-matched, all exterior trim swapped to BMW Glanschwarz enamel, full repaint in Stahlblau (Steel blue Metallic)
INTERIOR: Heated E91 Touring seats with functional active bolsters, M3 dials, BMW Professional Navigation, Harman Kardon stereo system, Bavsound complete speaker upgrade, BMW Bluetooth telephone integration, ‘Silver Cube’ trim from Competition package, M Performance gear knob, gaiter and handbrake handle, M3 steering wheel, BMW M door sill trim (front and rear), custom programming to show M logo on nav when entering car
THANKS TO: World Class Paint and Body for the amazing factory-like work, Dinan Engineering, BavSound for the killer sounds, Motorsport Hardware, Chase, for all the help, and my wife Suzin for supporting my long hours in the garage
“People walk by thinking it’s a standard car, but people in the know freak out!”