What do I know about BMWs? As editor of a sister publication at Primedia, I've tinkered with nothing but Japanese platforms for the past 15 years. And, for various reasons, never wavered. Call it loyalty, stubbornness, making a living, whatever.
That said, I had always admired the E46 M3. Even in my circles, it had a reputation for being the ultimate driving experience. Whenever I came to terms with my narrow-minded automotive issues and got in touch my inner being, driving an M3 was actually something of a fantasy. My colleagues at european car became my in-house counselors. I'd sneak down the hall and bend their ears about what they were up to, in particular Bidrawn's recently acquired Laguna Seca Blue M3. "You bastard. Is it really that good? I knew it. I want one."
Thank God for the used market. I fished around online and it began to seem the dream might be a feasible reality. Or maybe when irresponsible and stubborn guys like me want something bad enough, they find a way to get it. I drove the ec staff crazy with non-stop M3 harassment. What years? Any problems? Pricing? Places? Colors? You name it. They started hiding when they saw me coming.
It didn't take long. After serious research and a few slightly overrated versions, I finally found it. A low-mileage, Carbon Black six-speed with not a ding in it and certified pre-owned. I battled through the price war and signed my life away. One of the biggest reasons to justify my purchase was that, with such an awesome car, I could finally enjoy driving something that wasn't modified, because it simply didn't need to be.
Sadly, those justifications went out the window. I'm an enthusiast-it's either in my blood or a defunct part of the brain. My M3 quickly became an obsession. It was perfect, but at the same time, not quite. Simple stuff, such as clear lenses with egg yolk-like bulbs behind them, the orange reflectors in the bumper, the chrome grille and even how the corner lenses didn't have the same color backing to them as the headlights. DOT regulations, but such imperfections are like a big ass on a pretty girl, they're a shame. Some Invisilight bulbs, a matte-black grille, color-matched reflectors and revised DOT-approved lenses quickly gave the M a sharper, more aggressive appearance.
It wasn't long before the factory wheels and tires didn't quite fill the ambitious fenders, or maybe the car just didn't sit low enough. I had to check myself. This wasn't the kind of car to mess with just for the sake of it. If I were to surrender to my inclinations, any changes had to represent the quality and function this car deserved.
HRE Wheels is a top player in the European tuning arena. The company's Competition wheels got me thinking. If the M was to get new shoes, then several factors were of high priority for this to make sense: weight, strength and performance for both street and track. HRE's extensive engineering is even more obvious in the metal.
This particular line incorporates weight reduction beyond the 6061-T6 centers and 6061-T2 rims through machined areas in the center and outer portions of the wheel, which is individually designed and engineered according to the appropriate platform. HRE even went as far as tracking down titanium fasteners in Germany, the same as those used in the Airbus A380. Good enough for that thing, good enough for my M. I chose split-spoke HRE C20s, 9x19 in front and 10.5x19 rear. Amazingly, the monstrous rear wheels weigh only 20 pounds each.
As for rubber, I've become a huge fan of Toyo's Proxes T1R tires. After equipping previous projects with them, I picked them again, 245/30s up front and 285/30s rear. With new shoes in place, it was time to address the factory suspension, or rather its replacement.
The same rules applied: quality and function. I wanted the car to sit lower but was determined not to sacrifice ride quality. Replacement parts had to offer substantial performance gains. I turned to H&R Springs, whose coilover suspension is designed for both street and track use. The system features a fully threaded shock body for adjustable height and corner balancing. The coilovers were paired with front and rear anti-roll bars. We've yet to balance the car properly for optimum performance, but the new set-up already seems to have significantly reduced body roll. And while the ride quality has tightened up a touch, it still remains comfortable. With plans in place for adjustments and correct weight balancing, track days are going to be a blast.
In truth, there were two things about the M3 I initially found disappointing. The factory brakes, while better than many, definitely had room for improvement, especially with track days on the agenda. And the stock shifter-in my opinion-resembled a truck's more than a sports car's: long and sloppy. A street-version short shift kit from B&M Racing provides a much shorter throw and tighter feel, while retaining the factory shift knob and illumination.
Brembo had recently announced the release of a monobloc caliper system for its GT brake upgrades. The one-piece aluminum-bodied calipers are specifically designed and engineered for aftermarket applications. Several new features abound, such as an integral stiffening bridge, differential piston bores and larger pad volume. Plus, the system was fully compatible with the M3's factory ABS and traction control programs.
The M was fitted with huge six-piston calipers in the classic Brembo red finish and 14-inch cross-drilled rotors. The beauty of this system, at least from the driver's seat, is how subtly it operates under normal driving conditions. Unlike some systems that tend to be grabby, this set-up eases the car into stops much like the stock units. When you really call on the additional braking power, it's immediately evident that there are monsters bolted behind the front rims. With the main reason for the upgrade being future track time, knowing such stopping power will be there consistently, with repeated hard braking, is an exciting proposition.
The M is now impeccable to drive and, with its lower, more aggressive stance and minor facelift, looks even more menacing. Additional styling parts are generally non-functional on street cars, but anyone who has upgraded an E46 M3 knows there's a line of aftermarket aesthetics that put the physique of the M3 even closer to perfection. Vorsteiner's CSL-Style and recently released GTS3 aero components are cloned from the infamous but elusive M3 CSL. To make my dilemma worse, Vorsteiner products have an unsurpassable reputation for quality and precision fit. I started contemplating a full-blown makeover. A CSL-Style trunk lid and rear diffuser, plus a GTS3 front lip and side skirts were soon grafted onto the car and sent to Wet Works Garage in Costa Mesa, California. With the Vorsteiner look so popular among the M3 crowd, I consulted the crew at Wet Works about providing mine with some sort of subtle trickery for an individual look. The result is a flawless color-matched paint job with carbon fiber inserts on all four lower pieces, coated in a one-off and understated candy finish which is cleverly evident only when viewed from certain angles.
My inclinations have gotten the better of me. Too bad. Every time I walk into my garage I wouldn't have it any other way. My dream car is a reality and now the reality is a dream to drive. With a proper suspension set-up and the possibility of even more horsepower, it seems I'm going to be stuck in fantasyland for some time to come.