Not exactly the greeting I expected from my beloved sister. With a trembling upper lip she tells how I ruined yet another family get-together.
The "plan" to spoil my nieces' birthday party hatched nearly three years ago, spawned by an old issue of european car. My brother-in-law and I were gushing over a 1970 BMW 3.0 CS in Alpina gear, commenting on how the car's overall design was a true classic. We started wondering which modern cars are destined to become future classics. It's a great question and although I don't have the answer, I love discussing it.
Like me, my brother-in-law loves European cars, loves their unique exclusivity, loves their looks and performance. A few years ago, he asked what I thought about the Porsche 911 Turbo. I said they were great, he bought one. Last March he asked what I thought about the Mercedes E55. I said they were great, he bought one. Six months ago he asked what I thought about the new BMW 6 Series. I said they were great... and you guessed it. He bought one.
While it would be easy to hate a guy with this kind of financial ability, I can't. He's a genuinely good guy who hasn't always been on the top of the monetary barrel; in fact, he's been at the very bottom. I remember a desperate call from Las Vegas: "Dude, could you wire me a hundred bucks to get home?"
That was then, this is now.
So we were speaking of future classics. Could the BMW 6 be one of them? Who knows? It certainly seems to have the right stuff: great engine, handsome styling, classic BMW handling. But, as a few of Jerry's partners pointed out (and I agree), it lacks the "edge" that makes it exceptional when parked among a Porsche GT3, Jaguar XKR, Audi S6 and Mercedes E55. I bet these guys I could transform the 6 Series in less than a week. I could give it the edge that made it truly stand out from a distinguished crowd. Challenge accepted, terms agreed, I left in Jerry's car and headed off.
They say it's immoral to bet on what you know is certain. If that's the case, I'm going to hell, right after I visit the CEC Showroom in Beverly Hills. I knew CEC was the North American connection for AC Schnitzer hardware and I knew its program for BMW's 6 Series was stunning. So yes, this was an immoral bet. I knew I'd win. Crank up the heat boys, I'll be heading South soon.
I've known Claus Ettensberger of CEC for 15 years. Claus has a knack for finding quality brands and bringing them to market. In addition to AC Schnitzer, CEC is the distributor of TechArt, Novitec, Antera, AZEV and Oettinger. It's all high-end, quality stuff that has passed the rigorous European TÜV certification process. That means it's capable of withstanding autobahn use where speeds routinely exceed 130 mph. While few North American cars will see that type of use, it's important to remember most European cars are build to exacting specifications. Start changing things and it's possible to throw the entire car out of balance. It happens, we've seen it, it's not pretty. TÜV ensures European O.E. quality, a standard domestic manufacturers are not compelled to follow.
We've been a fan of AC Schnitzer for nearly two decades, not so much for its European racing involvement (and there's lots of it) but more the cars CEC brought to America. Astute readers will remember the ACS CLS II M3, a lightweight variant of BMW's own factory version. Then there was the ACS 3.0 318ti, a car that redefined what a hot hatch could be. We remember those cars because we spent considerable time in them and left with the impression that this was the type of thing BMW's own skunkworks might create. Factory correct, powerful, fun-perfect. We wanted the same thing for our BMW.
AC Schnitzer is the product of Willi Kohl, one of Germany's largest BMW dealers, and Herbert Schnitzer, a hardcore racer. In the mid '80s, they decided to utilize Schnitzer's technical know-how for more than racing victories. The concept was straightforward: Let's bring some of our race technology to the street.
The terms "racecar" and "street car" have a fairly broad gap. We like performance as much as the next guy but not at the expense of daily drivability. Luckily, ACS offers levels of tune to fit our style. As much as we love looking at the ACS Tension, we wouldn't want to live with it.
The ACS program for the E63 6 Series coupe touches on every aspect of the car's systems: aerodynamics, handling, interior and performance. Normally, finding all four requires driving all over hell. We found them under one roof.
Arrived at the CEC showroom around 10 a.m. and immediately headed over to the cappuccino bar for a double espresso. Caffeine fix sated, we watched a good hour's worth of F1 racing on the plasma screen before actually doing anything resembling work. Leafing through the ACS literature, we found the aerodynamic kit, wheels, suspension and exhaust and ordered it through CEC's computerized system. CEC's gigantic warehouse in Gardena (40 minutes away) ensured the parts we wanted were in stock. No word is more painful than "back order," especially when you've got a deadline.
We had lunch at Houstons and by 2 p.m., George Friederici had sent the aerodynamic pieces to our people at WetWorks Garage in Newport Beach. We watched another hour's worth of F1 and left around 3 p.m. The first day is always the hardest.
Joe Delio at WetWorks cleaned, prepped and painted the parts before we arrived at 10 a.m. There are reasons we insist on using WetWorks and this is one of them. When you say you need it by a certain date, it is done before said date. Moreover, the workmanship of the WetWorks crew is exceptional. Although Joe prefers to test-fit aerodynamic bits, ACS product is different.
"The Schnitzer stuff is very good," he said. "I don't need to do anything to ensure a clean fit. It bolts right on, just like it should."
That Joe was satisfied was good news, and by 4:30 p.m. the parts were their way to the CEC Showroom.
Called in sick and played Forza and World of Warcraft all day. Advised my colleagues to do the same.
Arrived at the CEC Showroom (or Haus of Claus) around 9:30 a.m. and George had already begun fitting the parts to the body. The front and rear spoilers, rear deck wing and side vents are all bonded to the body with a special adhesive, no screws, no rivets. Although a person of moderate skill could most likely install this kit (me, for example), I'd hire a pro. That way if something goes wrong I can blame him. In any case, George is a pro and everything went well. To ensure the parts remained in position while the adhesive set, George used a series of suction cups and tape for positioning. During this time, he removed the factory springs and installed the struts and shocks (this is something I would not attempt). In a nutshell, the ACS sport suspension for the E63 is some 15% firmer than factory and nearly an inch lower. The best analogy is that of a bed: We went from a fairly compliant mattress to one a bit firmer.
By 4:40 p.m. I had to make perhaps the toughest call of the whole project: choosing the wheels. ACS has several models to choose from, and the problem is they all look great. However, I was drawn to the Type IV Racing for its solid build and two-piece design. Given this car was originally equipped with 19-inch rims, a plus-one fitment was in order. The fronts measure 9Jx20 and the rears 10Jx20. OK, that part was easy, but choosing a wheel finish was troublesome. I typically lean towards understatement and while I don't want to describe myself as conventional, I suppose in some ways I am. That said, a silver wheel is usually a safe bet. Except here. Both Claus and George placed me in front a monitor and showed me the 6 Series configured with black wheels. It looked so right on the black body it became difficult to imagine it in silver. So black it was.
By 6 p.m. we headed back out to Houstons (I could get used to this job).
The aerodynamics were firmly set in place so George began removing the supports. It was beginning to take shape. The ACS sport exhaust had arrived from warehouse as did the Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires. In terms of street performance, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better tire then the Michelin Pilot Sports. They do everything well and do it quietly (it's rare to find a tire that does both). Michelin Pilots have extremely high limits, both in the wet and dry and if you do manage to breach them, you have plenty of prior warning. Both predictable and communicative, the Pilot Sport ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Yes, they are a bit pricey but they are worth it.
One of the CEC crew began mounting the tires with a high-tech Corghi tire-mounter and balancer while George began measuring for the exhaust. George removed the factory cans by cutting 75mm from the bracket and installed the new, stainless-steel ACS unit using the factory hangers and mounting points. The sizable dual chromed tips required some minor clearancing of the rear valance but nothing major.
By 2 p.m. the BMW was finished and there was much rejoicing. That the car looked incredible was obvious-the CEC crew and I just sorta stood there and stared at it. The trance abruptly ended when George turned the key. Where was this delicious sound coming from? The best way to describe the ACS sport exhaust tone is that of an offshore boat and Norton motorcycle. Whatever engineer developed this exhaust deserves an entire truckload of Spaten.
I left the CEC showroom after another espresso shot and hit the freeway. Triple digits came up fast, probably because I was trying to enjoy the car's newfound voice and feel out the suspension. Although the 645i felt grounded before, it felt even better now. The previous tires tended to squirm on the grooved freeway pavement-the Michelins don't. Long, fast sweepers were taken with huge confidence. The entire car felt more alive, more sensitive and yet still comfortable. In general, driving the 6 Series feels different than driving other BMWs, largely because of its rather lengthy nose. There's an air of regality to the vehicle in general. I guess that's why previous BMW coupes have always been special. In any case, I arrived home, parked, and coned the car off in my driveway for fear of children crashing into it.
The Party (or, why Les is a bastard)
I arrive at my niece's birthday party on time and even manage to have a present tucked under my arm. So far so good. Jerry must have heard me pull up; the tone is so distinctive one cannot help but look. Pushing children and old ladies aside, he bursts out of the house and begins to dance around the BMW. I rev the engine a few times, setting off car alarms and neighborhood dogs. Although Jerry is squealing like a little boy, I hear louder screams coming from inside the house. In all the commotion, the birthday cake got thrown to the floor and grandma slipped on it, injuring her back. Meanwhile, the dog jumped on the grill and ate $100 worth of carne asada. Jerry takes off in a blaze of tire smoke and disappears for the remainder of the party. As I enter the house, I notice a few presents floating in the pool covered with dog hurl. Fire is coming out of my sister's eyes and I make sure she's not armed. She says... well, you know what she said.
The general consensus was I did in fact make the BMW 645i a more exciting car. Although one person stated it was largely because of the striking running gear, another said the car sounded spectacular. Ultimately, it was not one single thing but the combined effect that made the project successful. And to do such a thing in less than a week's time is remarkable. Part of me wants to put this vehicle in the "done" file (it is, in fact, complete in every respect). And yet I cannot help but think a few more ponies would be nice, maybe more brakes too. That said, we've embarked on a power program and begun to investigate several binder options.
2005 BMW 645i
Engine:4.4-liter, dohc, 32-valve V8
Power: 325 bhp @ 6100 rpm
Torque: 330 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm
Weight: 3,792 lb
Wheelbase: 108.4 in.
Track front/rear (in.): 61.3/62.7
0-60 mph: 5.8 sec.
1/4-mile e.t.: 13.8 sec.
AC Schnitzer Program
Body: ACS aerodynamic package (front lip spoiler, side skirt insets, rear lip spoiler/valance), $3,597
Wheels: ACS Type IV Racing (front 9x20, rear 10x20), $6,996
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport 2 245/35-20 (f), 275/30-20 (r) (est. $1,400 by The Tire Rack)
ACS sport exhaust: $4,350
ACS sport suspension: $3,292
Getting it Together How to install an AC Schnitzer body kit.
The Haus of Claus
The automotive aftermarket industry has historically had a certain danger to it. People selling go-fast parts of dubious origin, "shop owners" working from single cell phones, parts that are paid for but never arrive. If the term "buyer beware" needed a poster child, this was it. Personally, if I'm going to spend a significant amount of cash, I want to be coddled, pampered even. If I have a problem, I want it rectified, like now. And I want the money exchanged in a place I know is going to be there tomorrow. That said, it was no wonder I found myself at CEC.
The CEC showroom broke ground some seven years ago. Strategically positioned on the edges of L.A. and Beverly Hills, it's something of a health spa for cars. You drive in, have a little work done, and leave the same day. CEC crew members are well versed in the products they carry and most work can be done in house.
Don't be misled into thinking this is a rich-guy-only club. Prices are actually reasonable given the quality and exclusivity. Moreover, CEC's solid connection with its European suppliers means what you want is in stock, right now.
I was once asked to describe what the typical european car reader wants from his car. It was an easy question to answer, as I am the demographic. I want my car to be unique, singular, understated, capable, powerful, and, most importantly, fun to drive.
I found all that at CEC.