- LIGHT SPEED
The US never received the #E46 #BMW-M3-CSL-E46 , so if you want one, you’ve got to build it yourself. And then make it even better. In a market where the CSL was nothing but a dream, this US owner has built his own take on the ultimate all-out #BMW-M3 . Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Sam Dobbins.
The M3 represents different things in its various generations, depending on the cultural mores that surrounded them at launch as well as the technological variations within. The E30 was all about purity, focus, race-bred aggression and a refusal to compromise. The E36 signalled evolution, reworking the DNA of its predecessor to create a furious and unbeatable racer-for-the-road that also spoke of BMW’s over-arching ethos of luxury and premium accoutrements. And the E46? Well, when that arrived, all bets were off.
When the #BMW-M3-E46 roared on to the scene in 2000, it boasted an engine of such aweinspiring firepower, it provided the highest specific output of any mainstream BMW engine thus far. Throwing out 343hp from its 3.2-litre lump in a hellstorm of gravelgargling fury, it went like stink and had muscle in spades, adding a whole lot of pumped-up aggression to the standard coupé’s sober lines. But the real watershed was the advent of the Coupé Sport Leichtbau, or CSL, in 2003. It may have only appeared for a brief snippet in time, it may have been limited to just 1383 examples, it may have pushed the boundaries of what a road car could achieve just a little too far into the realm of discomfort for some, but there’s no arguing that it was an instant legend. It was the gold standard, the pinnacle toward which all other E46 M3s would surely thereafter tremulously aspire.
Now, given the low production run, these things are pretty obscure. And given their desirability, finding one for sale is unlikely – particularly if you live in the USA as the entire CSL allocation went to Europe. But let’s not underestimate the power of the aftermarket and the ingenuity of the enthusiast. All of the aforementioned kudos relates to the factory CSL, with its unique sticky tyres and fibreboard boot floor. But it’s not beyond the wit of man to procure all of these parts – or, where appropriate, remove them – and build a functionally accurate CSL replica, right? Or even make something, dare we say, better? Most enthusiasts have little choice in the matter, being unable to find genuine CSLs. So yes, that’s exactly what happens…
Although I’ve slightly sold you a dummy there. The M3 you’re looking at here was never meant to be an overt CSL replica. But with that ducktail and those lightweight BBS rims, it wears its influences on its sleeve. And of course, coming from a market where the CSL is little more than a phantom, the freedom exists to cherrypick, hone, refine, and build something that doesn’t spiral into cloning pastiche. What we’re looking at here then, in the pastel vibrancy of Laguna Seca blue, is the sort of M3 that one might build if one wanted to go a little further than a CSL.
“I used to have an E30 M3, and it was all downhill from there!” laughs Chris Jacovini, owner of this bright blue brute. “Selling that car was the biggest mistake of my life…” So where do you go after owning one of the world’s most iconic homologation specials? Well, Chris isn’t one to tread the beaten track. “I got into VWs after that,” he recalls. “I got a Mk2 Cabrio and did that up, got some coverage in a few magazines. After that I bought a yellow Mk3 VR6 and all hell broke loose; I supercharged it, fitted a suede Recaro interior, full ABT body kit… of course, body kits ruled back then.” The pieces are beginning to fall into place in Chris’ modifying puzzle now – a diverse range of influences and experiences have coalesced to provide inspiration for the build of his E46.
After so much wandering in the Wolfsburg wilderness, it was time to return to the warm, cosseting embrace of Bavaria. “The E46 M3 is my favourite M car after the E30,” says Chris, “and when I saw this car, I had to have it. I wasn’t even looking for an M3, but this one caught my eye and all the elements were perfect: the colour, the sunroof delete, the Xenons, the 19s. The paintwork was in great shape, I was shocked at how clean the engine bay was, there were no holes in the front bumper for the license plate… a couple of days later, the car was mine.”
With such an enthusiastic history of fettling and honing cars to his own taste, it was inevitable that the modifying stick was brandished with full force in no time. “The direction for this car is totally different to my VW days,” Chris is keen to point out. “It’s all smooth, clean and simple – no lips or skirts, no crazy body kits, just additions that complement BMW’s own design. My buddy Dave Pastor at SLAWbuilt talked me into the CSL trunk, which was a good decision.” You can see from the photos that there’s a sweet line of exposed carbon fibre along the edge of the ducktail – a neat touch. “The diffuser, though, is a G-Power item rather than a CSL one. Everyone’s got a CSL diffuser!”
Dave’s skills were drafted in for a spot of colour-coding of the diffuser and bootlid, while the backs of the sought-after Recaro A8 seats were coated in Diamond Schwartz, ensuring a consistent flow of that eyepopping Laguna Seca hue throughout the car alongside that classic, sinister black. And at this point, Chris rolled up his sleeves and got himself elbows-deep into the engine bay.
“I wanted to keep it naturally aspirated,” he assures us, which is something you often find as a polarising issue with M enthusiasts: some wish to explore the outlandish badlands of horsepower that forced induction can invite you into, while others prefer to maintain the integrity of BMW’s naturally aspirated intentions, keeping the power delivery smooth and robust rather than peaky and spiky. “The S54’s got a set of Turner Motorsport power pulleys, as well as a little ECU tuning from VAC Motorsports and the full Eisenmann race exhaust,” says Chris. “Then I set about putting as much carbon fibre under the hood as I could find!
The Delage air box was a must so that got fitted first, followed soon after by the Benfer carbon strut brace. Then there was the front air intake, the carbon valve cover, the pollen cover, the battery terminal cover, the engine cover…” Peering under the bonnet, you can see just how carried away Chris got, and that’s no bad thing; he’s even lined up the weave of the engine cover and the strut brace, while those machined brackets on the strut tops are little works of triangular art. “I fitted a set of Brembo brakes too,” says Chris. “The stock brakes are ugly! And they were really visible behind the BBS CHs.”
We’re returning to the CSL aesthetic here – the stock CSL came with staggered M rims that were manufactured by BBS, and Chris’ CHs take that look to a darker, more menacing place – they have 14 spokes to the CSL’s 16, but a similar look which Chris has sharpened up by finishing them in satin black – all the better for showcasing those vast Brembo stoppers. “I’ve got a set of Kinesis F110s for the car too,” Chris mentions, “but the CH is just such a classic look for the E46. I much prefer them.” And tucking those rims into the muscular arches is a set of KW V2 coilovers. “Bags are for groceries,” he smirks.
Now, if you thought his keenness for carbon fibre was obsessive, wait till you see what he’s been up to with the Alcantara. “It’s one of my favourite things,” Chris enthuses. “I built the interior around the Recaro A8s, and it’s all Alcantara, carbon fibre and leather. I got a dash from a buddy of mine, took the door panels off, and sent everything down to Kip Love at Love’s Trim Shop in Georgia. He covered everything in Alcantara, and did a beautiful job too!” The use of this glare-free material really infuses a sense of motorsport purpose to the interior, making it feel at once focused and serious, and luxuriously extravagant. That’s not an easy look to pull off! So you can see how Chris has crafted something unique here – a tribute to a halo model that’s transmuted into something far greater than the sum of its parts. His M3 pays homage to the iconic CSL with its prodigious use of lightweight carbon fibre trinkets, its ballsy BBS rims, beefier brakes, track-focused suspension and, of course, that cheeky lightweight ducktail. But make no mistake, this is no simple CSL replica.
Rather, this is one man’s vision for the ultimate #E46 M3: he’s taken an already phenomenal car as a base and tweaked a bit here, lightened a touch there and thought laterally in order to tick every box for the consummate all-rounder: it’s light, fast, well-spec’d and impeccably finished. It wears its motorsport heritage proudly, something that Chris is keen to represent.
In many ways, this car showcases the culmination of a lifetime of dabbling in a variety of automotive subcultures. “When the E46 M3 came out, I was hooked,” remembers Chris. “The aggressive look, the wide fender flares, the race heritage. I think the body is a classic.” By keeping that body pure, resplendent in OEM chic, and building his project around that undiluted base, he’s created something genuinely special. A CSL+, if you will.
When the E46 M3 came out I think the body is a classic I was hooked!
Interior is a riot of Alcantara, with virtually every surface covered in the material.
Engine bay is dominated by stunning Delage carbon air box.
DATA FILE #S54B32 #BMW
ENGINE: 3.2-litre #S54 , #Turner-Motorsport power pulleys, #Eisenmann race exhaust, VAC Motorsports ECU tuning, Delage carbon fibre air box, #VAC-Motorsport sensor port oil filter lid, Benfer carbon fibre strut brace, carbon fibre pollen cover, carbon fibre battery terminal cover, carbon fibre engine cover.
TRANSMISSION: BMW Motorsport 3.91 diff, AC Schnitzer short-shifter.
CHASSIS: 8.5x19” (front) and 10x19” (rear) #BBS-CH wheels with 235/30 R19 (front) and 245/30 R19 (rear) Continental ContiSportContact tyres, Brembo four-pot calipers with 355mm (front) and 345mm (rear) drilled and slotted discs, KW Variant 2 coilover kit.
EXTERIOR: Vorsteiner CSL carbon fibre bootlid, #G-Power diffuser, black grille, badges and kidneys.
INTERIOR: #AC-Schnitzer pedals, handbrake and gear knob, Alcantara dash, Alcantara steering wheel with carbon fibre bottom, Alcantara gaiters, Alcantara door panels and armrests, carbon fibre centre console, carbon fibre sills, Recaro A8 seats trimmed in Alcantara and leather with rears painted Diamond Schwartz.