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BMW E36 M3 Performance BMW 11/8/10


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Saloon Sports Light

If BMW had ever made a CSL (or should that be SSL) version of the E36 M3 Saloon, then it might have looked a lot like this. Words: Luke Wood Photos: Jamie Lipman


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SL. Three letters made famous by the accomplishments of a ’70s icon and worn by just one other car since, this is the badge that hardcore BMW speed merchants lust over the most. A CSL moniker means that you’ve deliberately sacrificed comfort in search of outright performance and if that means you’re going to get a bit hot under the collar or suffer from ringing in the ears after a long trip, then so be it. Air-con and sound deadening are for wimps after all, and soft suspension is most definitely for girls (not this one sunshine ~ Ed). If you own a CSL you mean business. It’s not so much that you want to be faster than the rest, it’s more a case of you have to be faster. BMW didn’t make an official CSL version of the E36 M3, the Lightweight being the closest offering, but even this was only made in very limited numbers, and for the US market only. A cruel blow for European enthusiasts, as we’re sure that had such a focused model been available this side of the pond, then it would have sold like hotcakes. Of the 114 that were built between August and October 1995, along with seven pre-production cars made earlier that same year, all featured a raft of identical track-worthy modifications to the chassis, drivetrain and bodywork. In-car entertainment, sound insulation and air conditioning were out, while aluminium doors, BMW Sport seats and a carbon fibre dash were in. In addition, for customers that really wanted to go to town, there were optional extras that included an adjustable rear spoiler, upper and lower strut braces, height adjustable suspension, drilled brake discs and even adjustable camber plates. The engines remained as per standard 240bhp North American spec, albeit with a derestricted limiter and an assurance from BMW that each unit was tested prior to fitting to ensure that it performed to its full potential. Last, but not least, were the addition of bold BMW Motorsport decals, a chequered flag that was draped across the exclusively Alpine White flanks to mark the Lightweight out as something a little bit special. Perhaps, if the Lightweight had been made available over here, BMW may have seen fit to attach a CSL badge to the E36’s well honed rump but sadly, the badge of honour was destined to skip a generation. A shame, because as it turns out this would have been an absolute belter of a car, or at least it would have been if BMW had managed to make it look or feel anything like this particular M3, a one-off hybrid that takes all the best bits of a CSL and re-packages them into a four-door bodyshell. A Saloon Sports Light, if you will – we can hear the cogs turning at BMW’s ‘new niche model’ department already… This car is, as you’ve probably guessed, of a one-off. The product of one man’s desire to have something different, it bears the hallmarks of several of the UK’s top independent BMW specialists, although what makes it doubly intriguing is that it actually started life as a lowly 323i SE. The proud owner, a certain Osman ‘Ozzie’ Hodja, bought the original car nearly eight years

C


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“I took the car to Santa Pod a few times... people were pulling their hair out, they couldn’t figure out why it was so fast!”

ago as a present to himself for passing his driving test, and by all accounts the 170bhp 2.5-litre machine performed admirably. Nothing too surprising there. However, when it came to trade-up time Ozzie was presented with a difficult decision. Swap the 323i for something different, the easy route, or take a deep breath and plunge into the world of modifying what he already had – the much harder, more expensive, but arguably more rewarding option. If the resulting transformation to E36 M3 Evo proved one thing, it’s that Ozzie is not a person who believes in doing things by halves. A replacement S50 B32 engine was sourced and part funded by the trade-in value of his now defunct six-cylinder S50, while the remainder of the E36 M parts were supplied by BMW specialist FAB Direct, which offers a range of Motorsport upgrade kits for anyone interested in replacing or improving their E36. Kit One is the most comprehensive, and includes the complete engine, should you need it, gearbox, suspension, drivetrain, exhaust system, wiring loom – in fact every conceivable ancillary that you would need to build a fresh M3, and all delivered on a pallet at a location of your choice. Which in this case was CPC Performance, home of BMW guru Phil Crouch, who had been tasked with reducing Ozzie’s car to a bare shell and then re-building it with the go-faster bits. An unenviable job if you’re a spanner-phobe, and a fair bit of work even for a maestro such as Phil, but the results most definitely speak for themselves. Stripped back to a bare shell, every single piece of 323 has been replaced with E36 M3 Evo running gear, from the differential to the steering rack, and with such painstaking precision and attention to detail that it’s virtually impossible to identify this as a conversion. There is one big clue however, and that’s the colour. E36 M3s never came in Morea green, something that very much played to Ozzie’s advantage in the early stages of this project. “I took the car to Santa Pod a few times,” he revealed. “If anyone asked, I’d tell them that it was a standard 318i. I ran a 13.2 second quarter-mile with a 105.5mph terminal speed. People were pulling their hair out, they couldn’t figure out why it was so fast!” We mentioned early stages, as once the M3 Evo metomorphosis had been completed, work then began on fine tuning the package for track days, and for this, Ozzie turned to Luton-based firm Evolve Automotive, a company that has been working wonders with MPower machinery of late, and which promised to unleash even more potential from the newly born M3. According to Evolve’s Imran Arshad, one of the big problems with E36 Evo engines is that they very rarely produce the 321bhp that they are supposed to, a claim that will be supported by anyone in the business with an honest rolling road. “The best I’ve ever seen is 300bhp,” he says, “and the ones that seem to consistently make decent power are engines that have had a few miles put on the clock.”

Behind the wheel, it is everything you’d ever want from an M3, and more


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With that in mind, the 360.8bhp that this car now produces would suggest that Ozzie has plenty of power at his disposal, a figure that has been achieved thanks to the addition of an Evolve carbon induction system, a set of Schrick 284 cams, a decat exhaust, a Uni-q ECU and an Evolve live remap, which has also allowed the rev limit to be raised to 8000rpm. In addition to the engine work Evolve also made sure that the rest of the car was optimised for circuit use with the addition of Variant 3 KW coilovers, Powerflex bushes, adjustable Whiteline anti-roll bars and drop links front and rear, a Wiechers carbon strut brace, AP Racing four-piston calipers and a carbon spoiler. There’s also extra bracing under the engine bay but for this, Ozzie didn’t need to spend huge money on aftermarket kit. “The lower front crossbrace is actually a BMW part,” he revealed. “It cost about £90 and it’s normally found on E36 Cabrios as they come with extra rigidity as standard.” Not content with just having the right parts, Ozzie then took the unprecedented, yet informed decision, to tackle the issue of ensuring everything was set up properly for track use. Conveniently, he happens to work next door to Frost Motorsport, a firm that specialises in setting up cars for exactly that purpose and which not only advised Ozzie on the correct bump and re-bound settings on the adjustable KWs, but suggested that he swap the standard 3.23:1 differential for a 3.64:1 JC Racing item. “The shorter ratio is much better for when I’m on track,” explains

E36 M3 - Performance BMW  

E36 M3 - Performance BMW

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