For a very long time, I’ve had a lot of love for sports saloon cars. The swollen looks, borderline stupid power-plants often delivering licence-losing performance, all wrapped up in a practical package that can be used on a daily basis. Sports saloons have always had my attention.
But despite the lust, it took me a while to actually drive one.
My first proper sports saloon encounter was on a Continental tyre launch in 2009 at the Autódromo do Algarve, which is a posh, purpose-built circuit known as Portimao, in Portugal. To be honest, at the time I didn’t fully appreciate how special the track was.
What I did know, though, was that I desperately wanted to turn the traction control off in the W204 Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Estate that I’d just been handed the keys to. But no matter how long or hard I pressed that button in the middle of the dash, the TC would not deactivate. I felt cheated, but took it for a few laps, anyway. The noise was amazing; the crackles, pops and bangs the exhaust made all seemed too good to be true for a stock standard production car.
As I pulled back into the pit lane, there was another Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG – albeit with one less door – sat waiting for someone to ‘test’ the tyres. It had the optional 19-inch wheels and looked absolutely perfect. I parked up next to it and quickly jumped into the driver’s seat. As luck would have it, the illuminated yellow light on the dash signified that the ESP was off. Result.
Now, I don’t proclaim to be a future FD star in the making, but even a stock C63 wants to spin the wheels inappropriately at pretty much all times, and for the next 10 minutes I felt like I was taking part in a Best Motoring battle! Suffice to say, I returned to the pit lane and wanted to own a C63 with immediate effect.
So what the heck has this got to do with Jason Whipple from Rotiform’s M3? Well, fast-forward just shy of eight years, and I found myself in the driver’s seat of the F80 you see here, in Compton, Los Angeles, over 5,000 miles from home.
A lot happened in the time between; I left my job at Fast Car magazine, watched the cost of fuel in the UK soar and the values of 6.2-litre V8-powered saloon cars with an AMG badge on the back fall. These changes meant I could buy my dream car. Affording to run it would be a different matter, but like all good plans I would worry about that later.
It turns out that running costs of a C63 aren’t actually that bad, and as such the car became my daily vehicle. As I gripped the steering wheel of Jason’s BMW, the AMG was parked at Heathrow airport either gathering dust or getting covered in rain. Probably the latter.
I didn’t give it much thought because the dash in the F80 was lit up like a Christmas tree and this meant that traction control was well and truly off. This did give me a flashback to that time in Portugal, but on this occasion there would be no private race circuit to enjoy the rear-wheel drive performance, just the streets of LA.
Those with eagle eyes will have spotted the lack of DCT paddles on the steering wheel and will likely celebrate that Jason opted for manual transmission. Heading out onto the freeway, the GIAC-tuned 3.0-litre twin-turbo motor wanted to spin the wheels in second and third gears.
I’m not a massive fan of the noise that F8x models make from the outside, especially with an open exhaust system. But this car, with its howling Injen intake and Magnaflow cat-back valved exhaust combo, sounds like some sort of NASA science experiment. And, lord have mercy, it’s fast.
It’s almost five years to the day since I first shot a car with Larry for Speedhunters. For that story, we drove a beautiful 964 Turbo to the Edition 38 show held in the UK.
This time, we had Louis along with us which allowed Larry to capture these killer tracking shots.
This rear image is my favourite; the white body colour shows off the M3’s design well and you get a good view of the carbon fibre roof. I always think it’s crazy how close you have to get when capturing rolling shots. Looking in the rear-view mirror for this shot it felt like Louis was about half a meter behind in the chase car, whereas the photo itself makes it seem like the M3 is quite a long way in front.
The IDL Design carbon front lip looks great scooping up the road ahead, and the red wheel centres key in with the interior pretty well, too.
Oh, and the brakes. Jason fitted Brembo’s new 6-piston/405mm front kit and 4-piston/380mm rear kit in time for the SEMA Show last year and has been daily driving his M car ever since. Stopping power, as you can imagine, is significantly improved over stock. Plus, the centre caps match the caliper colour nicely. It’s like Jason’s thought this through!
Whilst we’re on the subject of wheels, Rotiform RSE forged Mono2 concave in 20×10-inch and 20×12-inch are fitted at the front and rear, respectively, for a fairly aggressive setup. Cleverly, Jason opted to create a set of forged wheels that would look similar to Rotiform’s recently launched RSE cast wheel. The design of this wheel pays homage to the 1990s DTM era, and in its white hue Jason’s F80 reminds me of Steve Soper’s E36 Super Touring. To save you Googling what I’m on about, Andy Blackmore put together this this retrospective story back when we were still cooking by candlelight and Wings West was a thing. Incidentally, by reading that story, I just learned that Andy’s first ever livery design was made famous by a collision of Toyotas. I was also reminded how much I want to own a Volvo 850 Estate. Anyway, we digress. Back to sports saloons.
In Europe, ’90s race cars made more doors cool. The DTM and BTCC race series – with its aggressive, splitter-hugging body styling, huge wheel and brake combos and bumper-to-bumper racing action – captured the hearts and minds of car lovers across the planet. My dad took me to a few rounds of the BTCC and I was one of the many kids that fell in love with this rowdy race series.
In the ’90s, Europe got cars like Audi’s 2.7 Bi-turbo B5 S4, the Volvo T5R and, of course, the M3. BMW’s version of the sports saloon has evolved significantly over the last three decades. Now the model is only available with four doors, comes with a carbon fibre roof as standard, and most dramatically, a 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged motor. The boost-fed engine is the least likely thing you could predict to come out of the M department when natural aspiration was, once-upon-a-time, life.
A lot has changed in the world of sports saloons over the years and the same can be said for our friends at Rotiform. Jason co-founded the company with Brian Henderson back in 2009 and it has gone from strength to strength in the time since.
You can read the full story here, as penned by our favourite Irish person, Mr. Paddy McGrath. Much like you or I, the guys at Rotiform simply love all things automotive. Jason’s put his heart and soul into what’s affectionately known as the Million Dollar Scirocco, which hopefully we’ll bring to you in the future. He’s joking about the million dollars, of course. At last count it was only half that.
As cool as the money pit Scirocco may well be, from a practicality point of view, the VW has nothing on Jason’s M3. If you’re looking at that front lip and thinking, how on earth is that car a useable daily driver, well you’d have a point. The M3 runs super-low on Bilstein Clubsport coilovers, which could make it a real hassle to get over speed bumps and the ramps of Los Angeles. This kit has been cleverly modified to use a front lift bag system.
At the touch of a button, just under 2-inches of lift is delivered in a split second by an Air Lift Performance 3H controller. Bumps in the road are no longer an issue.
As we headed back to Rotiform’s HQ in Compton, it struck me that I’d found an almost perfect sports saloon, albeit a far from stock one. With over 520hp, a tendency to spin the wheels and killer looks, Jason has brought a bit of ’90s DTM to the streets of SoCal. If only it had the C63’s V8 soundtrack it would be absolutely perfect. The thing I really love about sports saloons is their do-everything abilities. You can get your friends in the back, pack loads in for a week’s road tripping and still hit the track when you fancy it. For me, they’re the perfect daily.
That’s it, then! I’m moving to LA and I’ll have an F80 M3 with a W204 C63 motor, complete with manual transmission and the Rotiform treatment, please! What would be your ultimate sports saloon?
Photos by Larry Chen
Jason Whipple’s F80 BMW M3
BMW M 3.0-litre inline-six twin-turbo, Status Gruppe downpipes, Magnaflow cat-back valved exhaust, GIAC Tuning reflashed ECU, Injen Evolution Roto-Molded Air Intake System, Injen itercooler charge pipes
6-speed manual transmission
HP Drivetech Static Bilstein Clubsports with front lift bag system, Air Lift Performance 3H management to run the lift bags, Brembo 6-piston/405mm front kit, 4-piston/380mm rear kit
Rotiform RSE forged Mono2 concave 20×10-inch (front) and 20×12-inch (rear), Toyo Proxes T1 Sport 255/30R20 (front) and 305/25R20 (rear)
IDL Design carbon front splitter, Status Gruppe rear carbon spoiler, Lightwurkz blacked-out headlights
Jason thanks: Boden Autohaus and BenzworksCutting Room Floor