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1997 BMW M3 - Open Wide

With A Giant Top-Mounted Turbo And The Potential For Over 750whp, Cameron Richmond's Widebody M3 Isn't For The Faint-Hearted.

Paul Piola
Jul 1, 2008

When BMW released the E30 M3 over 20 years ago, the world saw what BMW's Motorsport division was capable of. Compared to the standard 3-Series, the M3 was faster and more nimble. And it got a widebody and aerodynamic treatment so that anybody could spot one.

Eurp_0807_01_z+1997_bmw_m3+front_view Photo 1/18   |   1997 BMW M3 - Open Wide

This wasn't the case in 1994 when BMW released the E36 M3. Sure, it got better brakes and a stiffer suspension than regular models, but there was no widebody to keep costs down. Even worse, US versions didn't get the unique engine. In fact, BMW essentially bored out the 325i motor to 3.0 liters (and later bored the 328i to 3.2-liter for '96-on M3s). For Cameron Richmond, this didn't go over too well.

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After BMW Motorsport changed its approach to the E46 and E92 M3s, which shared the same engines as the European M3s, Cameron sought to give his E36 M3 the character and performance it deserved. He started with a widebody conversion. "Like most BMW Motorsport enthusiasts, I always admired the E30 M3 widebody," Cameron said. "I feel the E36 M3 got the short end of the stick because the only aesthetic differences were the bumpers, moldings, skirts and mirrors. So unless somebody knew their BMWs, many couldn't even tell the difference [between the E36s]."

When asked about aftermarket widebody kits, Cameron told us, "Compared to the E30 M3, most kits for the E36 soften the lines instead of bring the flare out to the swage line down the side of the car. I feel the E36 M3 deserves to stand out like an E30 M3, so I decided to build my own version, albeit quite a bit wider."

Eurp_0807_03_z+1997_bmw_m3+widebody Photo 2/18   |   Custom widebody allows owner to run huge tires to cope with 750whp

Widebody
To transfer the ideas in his head onto paper, Cameron hired Jon Sibal for an artistic rendition (you will have seen Jon's work in our "Photochop Challenge" features). With a Zeemax widebody kit already installed, the four fenders were chopped in order to start over. The front bumper was redesigned to accommodate the stealth-black intercooler, and the foglights were deleted since they never worked for him anyway. At the rear, the bumper was smoothed, even removing the cutouts for exhaust tips.

The beauty of this fiberglass widebody is the potential for limitless mechanical grip. Where other kits allow between 265-295mm rear tire width, Cameron's custom setup fits earth-moving 315s in the rear and 265s up front. With so much tire, 14" StopTech brakes were installed to handle the stress of braking. Even so, the ABS system only seems to awaken if it rains.

To maximize the endless lateral g-forces, Cameron installed H&R coilovers and Eibach anti-roll bars. The chassis was further stiffened with a strut tower bar and OEM X-brace up front, while Ground Control rear shock mounts and camber-correcting trailing arms were fitted in the rear.

Although costs were starting to add up, Cameron spared no expense to give his M3 the performance it richly deserved, enlisting the assistance of Tim Richards at Speed Force Racing in Santee, CA.

Eurp_0807_06_z+1997_bmw_m3+sfr_block Photo 3/18   |   SFR built this 325i block to 2.9 liters for greater durability under high boost

Motor
The stock 3.2 liter S52 engine was ripped out and SFR started work on a 2.5 liter M50 block from a '92 325i, using the crank from a '96 328i 2.8 liter M52 motor. With a slightly smaller bore than the M3 block, the M50 has more meat between each cylinder, allowing the use of a thicker head gasket to withstand the extreme cylinder pressures. Overbored to 84mm for 8.5:1 compression JE pistons, the displacement jumped to 2.9 liters.

Pauter forged rods were used for durability, while ARP main and head studs keep the head from lifting and the engine from flying apart.

Up top, a non-Vanos M50 cylinder head accepted a heavy-duty Ferrea valvetrain, including dual springs, titanium retainers and 1mm oversized wheels, while stock 325i M50 cams were also employed. The intake and exhaust ports were ported and polished, along with a multi-angle valve job, to optimize air flow.

Eurp_0807_04_z+1997_bmw_m3+ar_turbo Photo 11/18   |   Top-mounted turbo is an enormous PT67 P-trim .68 AR turbo - and this is his smaller, street turbo!

Cameron had experimented with two different turbo systems. After owning a single-turbo Supra he decided to turbocharge the M3 with a basic, bottom-mount turbo kit in '01. Stuck at around 300whp, he yanked it off in '04 and decided to build a custom system using a GT3082R turbo mounted on the top on the passenger side - one of the first in the world to attempt this. However, this conversion was limited to 416whp and wasn't going to be enough for this project.

Mounting the turbo at the top means its huge circumference is visible to all and negates the need for a scavenge pump to drain the oil from the turbo since gravity plays its part. It would also allow him to swap turbos more easily for street and track use. Therefore, SFR utilized its skills to fabricate an intricate equal-length, tubular 321 stainless steel exhaust manifold that accepts either Cameron's choice of street-use PT67 P-trim (.68 AR) turbo or a PT76-GTS (.81 AR) for his visits to the strip.

To regulate boost, they chose a GReddy controller matched to an exhaust-routed 60mm Turbonetics NewGen wastegate. The turbo breathes through a V-band-clamped 3" downpipe that dumps to a 3.5" stainless system using a Magnaflow muffler with stealthy turn-down tips.

On the intake side, 3" aluminum piping passes the compressed air through a black Spearco intercooler core with SFR end tanks. The chilled air makes its way through a 80mm Accufab throttle body (64mm stock) and into SFR's aluminum intake manifold that sports internal velocity stacks. A large 50mm Turbonetics Godzilla blow-off valve vents to atmosphere when the throttle closes.

Eurp_0807_26_z+1997_bmw_m3+front_view Photo 12/18   |   1997 BMW M3 - Open Wide

Driving
Not able to stare at the engine any longer, I strapped myself in, anxious to feel the delivery of the smaller 67mm turbo, even though it was set to its lower 15psi setting (about 500whp). Cruising at low RPM, the car seemed relatively docile and was easy to drive. The sound at part-throttle was akin to an E36 M3 with a loud aftermarket exhaust, so you could take your grandma out in this car. However, floor it past 4500rpm and you'll have her screaming, looking for an ejection seat.

Having driven several boosted M3s (and owning a T66-powered one myself), I was prepared to counter steer the inevitable torque-induced wheelspin through the first three gears in such a car. But when I turned onto a freeway onramp and floored it, the massive 315mm BFG Drag Radials hooked up in first gear with neck-snapping authority. As I raced through second and third gears, triple-digit speeds came up in a hurry, thanks to a top end that felt like we were about to take flight. I can't imagine what Cameron's "strip" setup with the PT76 turbo would be like.

Eurp_0807_13_z+1997_bmw_m3+rock_damage Photo 13/18   |   During our photo shoot, a large rock fell onto the road, narrowly missing the M3 but hitting our camera car

My favorite part of the day was at the end, when we followed the M3 in our camera car - a 340bhp Audi S4. Even in its quiet cabin, with the windows rolled up, I could clearly hear the M3 making boost. The sound of so much air pushing its way through the SFR exhaust system was something I wish you could all hear. With a raw, menacing growl, it excites the senses in a way most people only expect to hear at the races.

When the M3 floored it, the S4 didn't stand a chance. And seeing that shiny widebody disappear into the distance, this has to be the sweetest E36 to date in my book.

Eurp_0807_11_z+1997_bmw_m3+front_view Photo 15/18   |   1997 BMW M3 - Open Wide

Tech Spec
1997 BMW M3
Owner: Cameron Richmond
Location: Del Mar, CA
Occupation: Real Estate Investment/Sales

Engine:2.9 liter non-Vanos M50 block, O-ringed, knife-edged M52 crank, 84mm 8.5:1 forged JE pistons, forged Pauter rods, ARP mains and head studs, Total Seal rings, .070" MLS head gasket, BMW engine bearings, '92 M50 non-Vanos ported/polished cylinder head, 1mm ovesized Ferrea valves, titanium retainers and dual valve springs, BMW M50 cams, 2000F ceramic seal (pistons, valves and combustion chambers), Sias Tuning Electromotive TEC3R standalone ECU

Eurp_0807_15_z+1997_bmw_m3+photo Photo 16/18   |   1997 BMW M3 - Open Wide

Turbo System: PT67 P-trim .68 AR turbo (street), PT76-GTS .81 AR (strip) with SFR water-cooling lines, SFR intercooler with 3" aluminum piping, SFR 1 5/8" 321 Burns tubular stainless steel exhaust manifold, polished aluminum SFR intake plenum with internal velocity stacks, 80mm Accufab throttle body, Lokar throttle cable, 3" downpipe, 3.5" Burns 304 stainless steel exhaust with Magnaflow muffler, Turbonetics NewGen wastegate, Turbonetics Godzilla blow-off valve, Greddy Profec B boost controller

Fuel System: dual in-tank Walbro 255 lph fuel pumps, AN -10 fuel lines with AN fittings, SFR billet fuel rail, 1200cc injectors, Weldon fuel pressure regulator with water-filled gauge, SFR hard lines to A/C

Cooling:Griffin radiator with SFR end tanks and billet reservoir tank, SFR billet power steering reservoir and polished fan shroud, VPD oil cooler kit with Setrab core

Drivetrain:Driveshaft Shop 1000hp half-shafts and 1000hp driveshaft with aluminum guibo, TIG-enforced tranny ear and subframe, Mike Radowski reinforced tranny brace, AA differential bracket, Diffsonline 2.79:1 LSD with polished gears, Rogue Engineering finned diff cover, RE short shift kit, Clutch Masters FX700 twin-disc clutch

Suspension:H&R coilovers, Eibach sway bars, carbon fiber front strut bar, Powerflex rear trailing arm and control arm bushings, OEM X-brace, Vorshlag engine mounts, UUC red-top tranny mounts, Ground Control rear shock mounts and rear camber-correction arms

Eurp_0807_20_z+1997_bmw_m3+wheel Photo 17/18   |   1997 BMW M3 - Open Wide

Brakes:StopTech four-piston front calipers with 14" two-piece cross-drilled rotors, 13" rear rotors, braided lines

Wheels & Tires:18x10" front and 18x12" rear CCW SP500 wheels with 265/35-18 BFGoodrich g-Force T/A KDW-2 front tires and 315/35-18 BFGoodrich g-Force Drag Radial rear tires

Exterior:custom fiberglass widebody kit, color-matched handles, ZKW headlight housings with 6000k HID xenons and DDE angel eyes, Euro clear corners, custom hood scoops, deleted side moldings and windshield squirters

Eurp_0807_12_z+1997_bmw_m3+interior Photo 18/18   |   1997 BMW M3 - Open Wide

Interior:Momo steering wheel, Vader-style M3 seats, AC Schnitzer pedals, Defi display for oil/water temps and fuel/oil pressures, Defi datalogger for gauges, Zender aluminum e-brake handle, AEM AFR gauge in SFR steering column pod, SFR carbon panel with relocated headlight control, Defi controller and EBC, Defi BF boost gauge replaces headlight switch

Audio/Visual:Kenwood touchscreen DVD head unit, BMW GPS navigation system, Kenwood ten-disc CD Changer, six Boston Acoustic mid- and high-range speakers, Fusion four-Channel Amp, two Fusion amps and caps, four JL Audio 10w3v2 subs in molded and color-matched fiberglass enclosure, Sony PS2

Thanks:Jon Sibal, Tim Richards at Speed Force Racing (www.speedforceracing.com)

Update
After our photo shoot, SFR swapped in the fire breathing 76-GTS turbo and ran the car to 30psi on race fuel without any problems. However, having spent so much time away from the car, Cameron's unfamiliarity led to an unfortunate missed shift, sidelining the car before it could be dyno-tested.

Having tuned several high horsepower cars, SFR was certain the M3 was easily exceeding 750whp at this boost, an estimate we find believable given the massive GTS wheel and.81 AR housing on the back end.

By Paul Piola
12 Articles

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