Modified E46 M3s are a dime a dozen these days. We've seen the same wheels and aerodynamics fitted to Coupes across the internet as well as in our hometowns. In Southern California, it's especially common to find identical aftermarket versions of BMW's flagship 3-Series.
Oddly, we encountered a unique '02 M3 in Los Angeles, built by an out-of-state resident. Jeff Nguyen was raised in Dallas but temporarily resides in California as a dental student. "I basically got involved in the Euro scene once I moved to SoCal for grad school. I told myself, when I could afford an M3 I'd get one. That time came when I was simultaneously introduced to the SoCal scene. I quickly learned there's no end to what you can do to make a car stand out."
Even though it was his first BMW, Jeff was determined to make his M3 a showstopper. He inquired around the local scene and became good friends with tuner shop Carrozzeria Design (CD) in Irvine, CA and the national car show team TWCompetition (TWC). "With the guidance from Eric Szeto from CD and all my TWC teammates who were already into the scene, we formulated a plan to mod the car in the mild sense," Jeff explained. "Mild meant trying to heavily modify the car without appearing over the top with crazy bodywork or bright paint."
Jeff began the project with quality exterior parts from Hamann and AC Schnitzer (ACS). Hamann brake ducts and an ACS carbon lip (with aluminum support struts) were cleverly molded to the front bumper. Since custom work was being done, he shaved the reflectors to smooth the lines.
The paint and bodywork extended to the hood, where Jeff chose a lightwieght carbon GTR race hood from ATR. A custom paint fade was then applied to emphasize the bulge in the center.
The rear received equally outstanding work. It was spruced with an ACS roof spoiler and carbon rear diffuser. A CSL-style trunk lid was also fitted. Imitating the fading paint scheme on the hood, the trunk fades to carbon, highlighting the subtle spoiler.
With the major exterior changes complete, Jeff paid attention to the details with less prominent mods. The chrome kidney grilles were ditched in favor of black ones. The factory headlamps were enriched with Wheel Power Phosphyre halo lights and Hamann eyelids. Finally, the M3 side grilles were replaced with carbon versions.
Suspension was the next component to be improved. Jeff initially utilized H&R springs but switched to KW Variant 2 coilovers for ride height and damper adjustability. An ACS front strut brace and rollcage were fitted to better stabilize the chassis.
Like most enthusiasts, Jeff cycled through a range of wheel designs. The first he tried was the classic five-spoke Hamann HM2. After some time he switched to Kinesis F110 wheels, which he debuted for Kinesis at the '04 SEMA convention.
Jeff strived to make his wheel selection even more exclusive, so replaced the 19" F110s with 20x8.5" front and 20x10" rear Modulare M4 wheels. The powdercoated dubs were color-matched and mounted with Falken FK-452 tires.
Sitting behind the new wheels are enormous 380mm front and 345mm rear Brembo brakes, featuring Ferrari yellow calipers.
Jeff began attending shows with his TWC team and as time passed he was able to assess his M3. "After winning my first trophy at Hot Import Nights LA in '05 I was able to see where the car stood in the scene. After that, we continued to modify the car to stay ahead," he explained.
Jeff proceeded to transform the interior with both luxury and motorsport-inspired changes. Several sections of the interior were reupholstered in grey suede, including the headliner, pillars, door panels, rear seat centers, plus e-brake and shift boots. Jeff's new Recaro Sportline Sport seats also featured grey suede centers, but utilized black vinyl for contrast.
The attention to detail throughout the interior continued with the addition of ACS aluminum pedals, e-brake handle, floor mats and a European center tray.
"The project didn't end there," Jeff continued. "It was necessary to upgrade the stereo to something that not only looked good for show but, more importantly, sounded amazing. It was at this point I sought help from my good friend Lorenzo Dimichili from Quality Mobile Video. There was nobody else I trusted more than Lorenzo to build me a system to catch the crowd's eye and play loud enough to make my hearing worse than it already was!"
Consisting of Diamond Audio components, Lorenzo installed 6.5" front and 5.5" rear speakers with crossovers in the cockpit.Two 12" D6 subwoofers were mounted to the roof of the trunk in a custom baffled box. A floating rack housed three amplifiers just below these subs. Finally, the crossovers were mounted on the floor in a suede enclosure.
Nowadays, a system isn't complete without monitors so an Eclipse double-DIN head unit was custom-fitted in the dash, with a 15" screen in the trunklid as well. All the monitors have the ability to receive feed from the camera in the trunklid keyhole.
While Lorenzo was doing the audio/visual work, Jeff persuaded him to install new gauges. His excellent molding skills were applied to a gauge pod on the A-pillar with Defi Imperial BF gauges. Surprisingly, the entire stereo and gauge project was finished in one week: just in time for the next show.
By now the M3 looked immaculate inside and out. Rolling to shows, the M3 would break necks with its aggressive bodywork, loud music, flashy wheels and enormous brakes. Yet the performance aspect was missing and prevented it from being a complete car. "It became obvious the car seriously lacked something under the hood," Jeff admitted. "I knew I needed to step up to the next level but it was a scary thought to have forced induction for the first time, especially with the lack of turbocharged and supercharged E46 M3s on the road. It was at that point I sought the help of Active Autowerke (AA) in Miami. Jean, Omar, Mike and Sandra from AA made it clear why they were the first to have a proven kit for the E46 M3. After answering countless questions and settling my nerves, they helped me see the car's potential and assured me I needn't worry about drivability issues or blowing up the engine. So I opted for the Level 1 kit and was satisfied with the power. But the need grew and AA again helped satisfy my needs with their Level 3 kit, which included water/alcohol injection and headers. For the first time I was able to comfortably say my car wasn't all show and no go."
With the 3.2 liter engine and AA's Level 3 supercharger kit, the M3 now pushes around 530hp at 9psi. In addition, an Eisenmann muffler helps expel spent gases and produce a deep rumble.
Inevitably the driveline needed an upgrade in order to handle the extra power. So Jeff installed a UUC stage 2 clutch with lightened flywheel. A Rogue Engineering short shift kit, weighted selector rod and transmission mounts finalized this round of mods.
Finally, Jeff had accomplished his goal by building one of the best mildly-modified BMWs on the West Coast. "It sports many mainstream parts, but was built with a twist to make it a little more unique," he concluded. "Whether it be the custom paint scheme, or that I was the first person to have a particular part, it makes the car so much more special to me."
Tech SpecJeff NguyenLocation: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: Dental Student
2002 BMW M3Engine: 3.2 liter straight six 24v with Active Autowerke Level 3 supercharger kit including front-mount intercooler, front-mount oil cooler, water/alcohol injection kit, eight-rib pulley, custom software, polished blower and piping, fan clutch and headers, Eisenmann Race muffler with quad 83mm exhaust tips
Driveline: UUC stage 2 organic clutch and 8.5 lb lightweight flywheel, Rogue Engineering short shift kit, weighted selector rod and transmission mounts
Suspension: KW Variant 2 coilovers, AC Schnitzer rollcage and front strut brace
Wheels & Tires: 20x8.5" front and 20x10" rear Modulare M4 wheels powdercoated anthracite, 245/30-20 front, 285/25-20 rear Falken FK-452 tires
Brakes: Brembo Gran Turismo 380mm front, 345mm rear big brake kit with Ferrari yellow calipers
Exterior: AC Schnitzer carbon front lip molded and painted to front bumper, AC Schnitzer aluminum support struts, roof spoiler and carbon rear diffuser, shaved front bumper reflectors, OE BMW rear diffuser with carbon overlay, black kidney grilles, Wheel Power Phosphyre halo lights, Hamann brake ducts molded into front bumper, Hamann eyelids, ATR carbon GTR race hood and CSL-style trunklid with fading paint scheme, carbon side grilles
Interior: Recaro Sportline seats with grey suede centers and black vinyl sides, carbon dash trim,AC Schnitzer aluminum pedal set, aluminum e-brake handle and floor mats, Schroth Rallye 4 harnesses with shoulder pads, custom suede headliner, pillars, door panels, rear seat center panels, e-brake and shift boot, OE BMW European center tray, Defi Imperial BF Series 60mm exhaust temperature, boost and oil pressure gauges mounted in a custom A-pillar pod, Defi gauge control module, Innovate Motorsports wideband gauge
Audio/Visual: Eclipse AVN-5435 double-DIN CD/DVD/nav head unit, Diamond Audio D6 6.5" front and 5.5" rear components with crossovers, two 12" D6 subwoofers mounted on fabricated rear baffle, two D6 1000.1 sub amps and one D6 600.4 amp on floating rack, 15" monitor mounted to trunklid in suede enclosure, trunk keyhole rearview camera, iPod integration unit, Scosche wiring, custom trunk lighting
Thanks: Falken Tires, Meguiar's, Shell V-Power, Active Autowerke, Lorenzo Dimichili, Jim, Eric, Andy, Mike, Darrick, Robert, all my friends and family, Carrozzeria Design and fiance Caroline