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Fire Orange 2008 BMW M3 Coupe - Branching Out

After building several Japanese project cars, Archie Santos decided to branch out in search of a little Euro flavor.

David Pratte
Jan 30, 2013 SHARE
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There’s something to be said for a change of pace or a change of scenery. Either can be revitalizing, which is exactly why we’ve decided to bring you a few European feature cars. As the magazine’s name suggests, we love modified cars, and although we got our start featuring classic Japanese sports cars like Supras, RX-7s and NSXs, like many of you we’ve come to appreciate and admire a wide variety of motorized machinery, especially ones that have been modified with performance in mind along with a little JDM-inspired style.

Archie Santos is no stranger to JDM tuning, having built several magazine-quality projects including a Mitsubishi Evo X that featured standout Japanese brands like Volk Racing, Bride, ARC, Do-Luck, and Varis. But as Archie explained, “I chose a German sports car this time because I wanted to try modifying a different platform. I have been modifying Japanese cars for the past 10 years now, so I wanted to see for myself if I could build a proper, clean-looking M3. Plus, I wanted a car that would fit my lifestyle, and the M3 is an all-around car that does all the things I need it to, from driving to work, going out of town, picking up the kids, getting groceries, and tracking it on the weekends.”

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Hard to argue with Archie’s logic, and if you’re going to explore the Pepe Jeans–wearing world of Euro tuning, why not start with one of the best sports coupes money can buy—BMW’s V8-powered E92 M3. As Archie told us, “After sitting inside the M3 for the first time, I immediately noticed the awesome interior, the look of the gauges, and the build quality of the parts and leather. The M3 is the definition of a high-quality sports car, and I really felt at home in it.”

The interior is stock because there’s no need to change anything from the factory. It’s perfect the way it is.

Clearly this SoCal native has developed a taste for Bavarian motoring of the M-badge variety, but that doesn’t mean our man Archie has completely lost touch with his tuning background. “I wanted to set up the car with a JDM flavor but still keep it really clean and simple. A set of Volks, Varis rear diffuser, and a JDM Amuse trunk were first on my list of must-do mods, and I have to say they really distinguish the car from the crowd and give it exactly the look I was going for.”

As for the Volks, Archie found these aggressively offset TE37 Super Laps from a local seller just days after buying his M3, which he then wrapped in brand-new Nitto Invo rubber and back-filled with Rotora big brakes. He also dropped the ride height by about an inch by installing RD Sport springs, a popular German brand of lowering springs used widely among BMW and Audi enthusiasts.

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Archie had to be a little more patient on the Varis and Amuse parts, as those had to cross the Pacific, but that just meant he had time to map out the rest of the exterior package, which includes an M3/1M front bumper and Slek carbon-fiber lip, Gintani side skirt diffusers, ’12 LCI upgraded taillights, and an ARKYM rear diffuser. Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the paint, it’s not paint at all, it’s a Fire Orange glossy vinyl wrap by Oracal, an addition he had made to the car just three months into the ownership experience. As Archie put it, “The wrap completely changed the look of the car, and it left me feeling like I was driving a brand-new car because of how it transformed its appearance.”

Although Archie’s E92 has a decidedly JDM flavor to its exterior treatment, the power upgrades have an American and European origin. The Macht Schnell intake system and pulley set are produced right here in the U.S. of A., despite the company’s very German-sounding name. The Powerchip ECU reflash is also of American origin, but the Akrapovic titanium exhaust system is a genuine piece of Euro unobtanium, thanks to the shocking price tag and equally shocking build quality. If you think JDM exhausts are meticulously built, you should take a close look at an Akrapovic system; these things are tubular works of art. If it weren’t for their insanely sweet sound quality, it’d be a shame to bolt them to the underside of a car.

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You may be thinking this is a rather restrained collection of power-adders, but when you start with a 12:1-compression-ratio 4.0L V8 that makes 414 bhp at 8,300 rpm, you don’t need a heavy-handed approach to tuning. And even though this is a highly optimized engine straight from the M-Technik factory in Munich, the high-quality bolt-ons and ECU reflash Archie opted for netted a 22-whp gain on the dyno. Not too shabby!

On the inside, Archie left his M3 100 percent stock. As he put it, “The interior is stock because there’s no need to change anything from the factory. It’s perfect the way it is.” If you’ve ever plunked your posterior down in an E92 M3, then you’ll know it’s hard to disagree, though for track day use we think a driver-side racing bucket would connect the driver’s butt dyno to the chassis in a much more direct way and create some much needed headroom (a lot of E92 owners complain that the stock seat is too high, especially when wearing a helmet at the racetrack). But then a racing bucket would also make it less comfortable for Archie during his daily commute, so we certainly can’t blame him for leaving the leather-wrapped, heated, memory, and power-everything seat in place.

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If we know anything about enthusiasts like Archie, it’s that they love to continuously find ways to personalize their rides while improving their performance and style. So although Archie’s ’08 M3 coupe may look like the perfect daily driver/weekend track toy as it sits, we’re pretty sure that if we check back in six months, there will be some new parts onboard, because that’s more than half the fun when branching out into a new brand of vehicle to tune.

Specs & Details

Fire Orange ’08 BMW M3 Coupe

Engine S6540A 4L DOHC Double Vanos V8

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Engine Modifications Macht Schnell air intake and pulleys; Akrapovic Evolution titanium exhaust system

Engine Management Powerchip ECU reflash

Wheels, Tires & Brakes Volk Racing 19x9.5 +21 (f) and 19x10.5 +22 (r) TE37 Super Lap wheels; Nitto Invo 255/35R19 (f) and 275/35R19 (r) tires; Rotora 6-piston (f) and 4-piston (r) BBKs w/ 355mm slotted and drilled rotors

Suspension RD Sport lowering springs

Exterior Oracal Fire Orange glossy vinyl wrap; M3/1M front bumper; Slek carbon-fiber front lip; Gintani side skirt diffusers; Amuse trunk; Varis rear diffuser; ARKYM Aerosport rear diffuser lip; ’12 LCI taillight upgrade

Interior Stock

Numbers 356 whp and 263 wtq on a Dynojet w/ 91-octane fuel

Special Thanks I would like to thank Loren at Rotora, Harry at Nitto Tires, my son, Angelo Santos, and my devoted wife, Marigil Santos, for supporting me on this project.

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By David Pratte
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