For most gear-heads, cars come and go. Many times, these very same cars get boring after a few years of wrenching, and something new and more exciting comes along. Few times in life, is there a car that grabs a stranglehold on your attention, and never lets go.
This is one of those cars.
Maybe this is better described by the owner, than by me: “I eat sleep and breathe cars. My world revolves around cars. I have found parts all over the world. It has taken me 10 years to get my car to where it sits now. There are so many things I love about my car. Utmost I love just how the body lines work together. Such a classic look and timeless design.”
BMW fanatic and longtime owner, Kevin, has been modifying his car for almost a full decade. He bought the car after driving a Pontiac Sunfire all through high school. He bought it in Texas, and negotiated the price to something that he could afford, and had it sent out to Colorado. It was quite a step up in quality, although the previous owner’s Altezza ebay tail lights and chrome rims were the first to go. Kevin started slowly. He swapped the lights and wheels and drove the car, enjoying the unique functionality of a convertible E36. Always wanting to change things up, Kevin sourced and tweaked a few items on the car. He started by changing parts that were damaged or missing such as wheels and interior panels. The interior was in bad shape to begin with; being faded and dry from the Texas weather. The door panels had clips missing and the notorious door panel sagging. So he sourced a black interior to go with the car, as he disliked the original tan interior. He had to add some unique touches to give his convertible some flair, such as angel-eye headlights, some LED tail lights, and a BMW M body kit.
After years of daily use, he had the car repainted (going through a few iterations before he found what he liked).
Little details like shaved washer nozzles, wipers, antenna and shaved gas filler door were additional tweaks he did himself. The coil-overs really gave it a slammed look, something Kevin really enjoyed. As he puts it, “I never wanted to stop at a light and look over and see that the guy next to me has the same car.” The addition of M3 mirrors and trim completed the look, a detail often overlooked by those adding E36 M3 spoiler and side skirts. The rare BMW Traffic Pro radio and navigation system is a rare and unique addition that Kevin is extremely proud of. Most who have these systems speak only good things about the functionality and look. The mod-bug continued biting, and when the opportunity presented itself for a low mileage S52, he jumped. All in all, the M42 was a decent motor, and it never left him stranded, but there was just something about the performance capability of the S52 that he decided to jump right in. So in the summer of 2011, and after more than 5 years of ownership and constant modifying, the car went under the knife for its first heart transplant. The motor going in was to be built up with some minor modifications along the way, of course. Notice the Raceland headers attached to the engine while being prepped for install. Getting the parts together was a tough part of the task, as the entire subframe, suspension and driveline was to be swapped in with the help of his friend. The process took a good 3 months until completion. There were some bumps along the way, but the end result was definitely worth the process. Removing the washer bottle and other under-hood features cleaned up the look of the engine bay, so one can focus on the main attraction– the engine. A 3.38:1 rear-end (instead of a 3.15 or 3.25) and an Autosolutions short shift kit were added while it was torn apart. The Rogue engineering exhaust was just what the doctor ordered to add the perfect soundtrack to the car. With all new E36 M3 suspension bits, matched with the S52 engine, what started out as a somewhat pedestrian performing black 318i, is now something entirely different. Some custom powder coated and polished DS-I wheels created a new look to go with the new M3 performance. Picking wheels from 1995 were a key detail he wanted to include. The car now really stood out on the streets of Colorado. The coveted E36 hard top was at the top of his list for upgrades. It was a piece that he had owned for years prior to the engine transplant, and something that he is still proud of today. Regular maintenance and repair became more important for Kevin and his convertible. A few other minor issues with driveability needed to be ironed out, including a starter issue and clutch problem. Luckily, he had a great place to work on the car and had to get a little dirty to tear it apart for repairs. Kevin also had a great companion to accompany him in the garage, his dog Hiccup. Just getting the car running and driving reliably was feat in itself, so by the time the car was swapped, it was already almost winter and the to do list grew once again. The entire interior was the focus for the next part of the build. Modena interior was at the top of his list, although sourcing custom fabric was the route he ultimately took. His reasoning being that this would add to the character of the car–convertibles were never officially offered with Hurricane/Rain fabric. Getting extra fabric to cover the door-cards was necessary, so with the extra fabric he also wrapped the center console. The Vaders were relatively easy to find, but a separate interior was sourced to upholster the convertible rear seat. BMW “Motorsport Red” seat belts, as found in the 20 produced Jahre Motorsport Edition E34 M5’s of 1992, are another unique item he had to add to the car.
In addition to the seats, items like a custom tri-stitched shift boot, Alcantara wrapped M tech II steering wheel, and Alcantara center arm rest were added to pull everything together.
These little touches that have all been accounted for all add up to a fantastic cockpit. Not only is it unique, something that Kevin strives for, but the end result is a great tribute to the thought and planning that went into the entire package. Interior mood lighting, along with puddle lighting and an E46 ZHP lighted shift knob were key items lacking from the original design. An E39 auto-dimming mirror is another useful feature that makes this interior a bit more luxurious. Getting the interior lighting right was a key point that Kevin targeted. With the addition of puddle lights, additional floor lights, and amber mood lighting, this car has the perfect feel at night. Items like a BMW key-fob were little BMW factory items that he had to get to go along with the car, all while maintaining an “OEM Plus” type of feel. Personal touches were also added to the outside of the car. BMW Motorsport door handles, as seen on the E31 850CSi, and 1995 E36 M3 LTW, and E34 M5 are key details Kevin wanted to include in his 1995 build. During the same time period, projector headlights were added and Kevin got away from the Angel Eye/LED look in favor of going back to the OEM (euro) style head lights and taillights. After getting ahold of some thrashed BMW RC090 “Style 5” mesh wheels, Kevin commenced a refinish process. He elected to go with a polished lip, polished center cap, new wheel bolts, and Rootbeer Brown finished center, in tribute to his dad, who was so supportive in his constant build process, and ultimately Kevin’s inspiration to continue building and modifying his E36. Since the car was apart anyway, he figured there was no better time to turn some wrenches and take the plunge into Forced Induction. Getting more power by installing a VF supercharger was the only logical next step. The custom BMW Motorsport engine stripes were something Kevin had made, and now sells for those E36 M3 owners who feel something is lacking from their valve cover. With the removed items from the engine bay, now the engine itself is the focal point when the hood is up. The early E36 BMW Motorsport strut bar completes the “shaved” engine bay. The fact that a non-BMW enthisuast may not be able to instantly identify that this car has a supercharger, is something that Kevin enjoys. Plus “the kick in the pants is phenomenal when matched with the backfire from the Rouge exhaust.” Add all these little tweaks and upgrades together and what do you get? One of the most unique E36 318i convetibles you will ever find. A fire-breathing barbarian whose BMW factory color is appropriate: Hell-rot. As Kevin’s Fiancé describes, “the car has a personality. It is known as the ‘stripper car’ –she takes her top off and looks flashy. Plus, Kevin’s always throwing money at her…“ The personal touches and meticulous details have created an awesome E36 with its’ own personality and flair. Another small anecdote to the story of Kevin’s ownership of the car: During the Summer of 2013 the car was apart undergoing some additional tweaks. Well, it just so happened that Colorado Wild fires ran rabid through the state that summer. The Black Forest Fire made its’ way just down the street from Kevin’s garage and home, and was nearing ever closer during a mandatory evacuation. With the neighborhood under mandatory evac, there was no way that Kevin was leaving his car to be burned to the ground (like some Stanceworks E28’s–that’s a different story altogether). The suspension was half apart and the car was up on blocks, so he threw some wheels back on the car and drove out of the neighborhood without a clutch. He was able to get the car out of the burn zone just in time, but the car didn’t exactly escape unharmed. A raccoon happened to run out in front of the car and damage the front spoiler. During the process, a driveway step down got his front fender in the haste of escaping the area (and lack of clutch operation).
After the fire was contained, he took a visit to the burn areas just up the street: So Kevin took the opportunity to do some needed fender widening– after all, it was the perfect excuse to be able to run wider wheels. With all the hard work completed, it was possible for Kevin to make it to Drive 4 Corners 2013 and have a great time at the gathering. He enjoyed the drive up and over the Continental Divide with over 20 other BMW’s. Being able to run his car at the Continental Divide at 10,000 ft, he was glad that he elected to add the supercharger the previous winter. Kevin has really enjoyed his E36 ownership, as evidenced by his photography and story until this point. All we know is that there’s more tweaking and modifying still in store.