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BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

Effective tuning lets this 135i punch above its weight class

Peter Wu
Aug 17, 2011

Before the father-and-son team behind BR Racing started tuning cars they raced. And, even now, when they’re not tuning cars, they’re either racing or instructing. For them, going to the karting track was an ideal way for father and son to spend quality time together. But it soon turned into an obsession when Robb Todd, the son, showed above average skills and the motivation to get better. Before long, the father, Bruce Todd, and son were spending their weekends towing their karts to races throughout the country.

Epcp 1109 01 o+BR racing BMW 135i+passenger side front view Photo 2/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

Robb would end up being ranked in the top five in the nation as a 16-year-old in 1998, competing against the likes of Scott Speed and A.J. Allmendinger. Bruce, no slouch either, would go on to win or take poles in the Senior Sportsman, KT100 and 80cc Shifter class series. This is before the duo started racing an E36 and winning most of their class events.

They didn’t plan on going into the business of tuning cars; rather, the business came to them. Fellow racers started asking the Todds to set up their cars because word had spread about their prowess with spring and damper rates and camber and caster settings. It got to the point where the neighbors started to complain about all the cars in front of the Todd house, forcing them to rent out a proper garage space.

Epcp 1109 02 o+BR racing BMW 135i+front fascia Photo 3/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

In just a few short years, BR Racing has built a loyal clientele of both street and track enthusiasts in the San Jose/NorCal region, working on all kinds of European marques. We spotted their 135i at the Global Tuner Grand Prix at Laguna Seca last October (Global Tuner Grand Prix, Mar. ’11). It was one of the most complete 1 Series we’d seen and it deserved a closer look.

The smaller, lighter 1 Series, especially the 135i, was supposed to be the second coming of the tii or the E30 M3. Although sales figures haven’t shown that to be the case, they are nonetheless being raced and performing quite well. EAS (European Auto Source) and Evolution Racewerks, both based in SoCal, field competitive 135i’s, with Evolution’s 135i setting the lap record for its class at Willow Springs during the Redline Time Attack in 2010.

Epcp 1109 03 o+BR racing BMW 135i+driver side rear quarter view Photo 4/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

The Todds chose the 135i because it fit within the framework of what they were trying to do: build a daily driven street car that you could take to the track where it could hold its own against, if not beat, cars that cost much more. This, they like to point out, is different from making a track car suitable for the street.

BR Racing used the Global Tuner Grand Prix as a measuring stick, and they were quite satisfied with the results. Robb took the car to Fifth place in the Tuner class, behind the winning Dodge Viper ACR, a 997 GT3, a 996 GT2 and a lightweight 997 C2S, with his fastest lap less than a second off the Viper ACR’s time, 1:37.604 versus Robb’s 1:38.492. It handily outran a Novitec Rosso supercharged F430 Scuderia, a 997 GT3 RS, an EVO X and a Corvette Z06. You could say mission accomplished.

Epcp 1109 04 o+BR racing BMW 135i+apex arc 8 Photo 5/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

To accomplish said mission, they started by addressing some of the car’s weak points. For extra power they gave it a Powerchips ECU tune and installed an ASR closed intake. They chose ASR’s system because it offered the increased airflow and a true closed intake airstream. They also used an ASR-Tial blow-off valve and charge pipe. An Evolution Racewerks intercooler helps cooler air prevail while a BR Racing custom oil cooler, which sits behind the left front fender, helps keep the oil from boiling over. The exhaust system consists of AR Design catted downpipes, a custom center pipe and a Meisterschaft race exhaust. BR Racing said the mods are good for 420 hp to the crank.

One row through the gears is enough to convince you that 420 hp is about right. Like those model rockets you used to build and launch as a kid, this 135i will squirm and wiggle on takeoff before disappearing in the distance. Coupled with a shorter 3.46 rear diff and lighter-than-stock "flow formed" Apex Arc-8 wheels, the throttle response was more immediate than other modded N54 engines I’ve driven. It revved freely and didn’t feel out of breath near redline. The turbo’s torque was always within reach, and it only took a light nudge of the gas pedal to get into a lot of trouble.

Epcp 1109 05 o+BR racing BMW 135i+interior Photo 6/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

Understeer was the other area the Todds felt needed to be corrected before the car would be competitive. They started by stuffing the widest front tires that would fit without rubbing the fenders. For the street they use Yokohoma S Drives, (245/40 front, 255/35 rear). And on the track they use two different sets, Dunlop Direzzas (225/40 front, 265/35 rear) and Hoosier R6 (225/40 front, 255/35 rear). When I drove it, the car was still on its Dunlops and the shocks were set for the track. In addition to wider tires, they installed front lower control arms and rear control arms from the M3, and also used M3 rear subframe bushings. The M3 front lower control arms gave it some needed negative camber but it still wasn’t enough so they installed Vorshlag adjustable camber plates.

For the rest of the suspension, they chose AST’s inverted-strut, coilovers up front and conventional coilovers in back. Three-way adjustable (two for compression, one for rebound) with external reservoirs, Bruce likes the AST system because it allows for a wider range of damping force through varying the amount of pressure in the external canisters. The car sat on Swift springs when I drove it but the Todds also use Hypercoil springs for other setups. UUC sway bars are connected to Ground Control adjustable endlinks. Although the shocks were set at 9 out of a scale of 12, the ride didn’t rattle your teeth. It was undeniably firm but still daily drivable.

Epcp 1109 06 o+BR racing BMW 135i+driver side front view Photo 7/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

On the outside, the car uses a Vorsteiner vented carbon-fiber hood and a prototype Vorsteiner carbon-fiber front lip spoiler. That hood is kept tight by a pair of Aerocatch hood latches. BMW Performance carbon front grilles and trunk lip spoiler round out the subtle mods.

This 135i’s combination of being small, light, firm and fast made it ideal for the B-roads outside of San Jose. It was quick to turn in, held its line tenaciously and never lacked for power out of the corners or down the straights, and it only felt like I was scratching the surface. If you were over-enthusiastic, the StopTech ST60 six-piston calipers and 355mm rotors in front and factory brakes in back easily got you out of trouble. Tightened up with a bolt-in rollcage, all of its movements were slack-free and instantaneous. Without question, BR Racing’s objective of building a road car that can compete on the track was met. With the right changes, they managed to unleash the potential and slay some giants along the way. Their 135i straddles that fine line between road and race, and for many, that’s exactly where they want to be.

Epcp 1109 07 o+BR racing BMW 135i+AST external reservoir Photo 8/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

BMW 135i

Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive

Epcp 1109 08 o+BR racing BMW 135i+coilover reservoir battery Photo 9/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

3.0-liter I6, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged. ASR closed intake and BOV, Evolution Racewerks intercooler, BR Racing oil cooler, AR Design downpipe/catalysts, custom center pipe, Meisterschaft race exhaust, Powerchips ECU software

Six-speed manual, 3.46 rear differential

E92 M3 front lower control arms and rear control arms, Vorshlag camber plates, E92 M3 rear subframe bushings, AST coilovers, UUC antiroll bars, Ground Control adjustable endlinks

StopTech ST60 six-piston calipers, 355mm rotors

Epcp 1109 09 o+BR racing BMW 135i+rollcage Photo 10/12   |   BR Racing BMW 135i - The Upstart

Wheels and Tires
Apex Arc-8, 18-inch, Dunlop Direzza, 225/40 (f), 265/35 (r)

Vorsteiner vented carbon-hood and carbon front lip spoiler, BMW Performance carbon grilles and trunk spoiler

Peak Power: 420 hp (BR Racing est.)


BR Racing
Los Gatos, CA 95032
By Peter Wu
45 Articles



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