Project F80: The 190mph HEX-Tuned M3
Things Done Changed

As a long-time reader of Speedhunters, and rather sporadic contributor to this site I love very much, it feels surreal to be typing up my very first SH Garage project story to share with you.

Before the BMW you see here, I was daily driving a Mercedes-AMG C63, so the M3 is not wildly different from my previous car choice. Eagle-eyed readers will spot that the lead image is shot on the Nürburgring, and I’ll get to that in a bit.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-1

When I bought the AMG, it was the sound of the motor and the exhaust note that had me sold. After driving a saloon version with the traction control turned off at Portimao Circuit in Portugal, I’d wanted one for years. This first proper sports saloon encounter was recently covered within Jason Whipple’s M3 feature, which you can read here. The C63 dream became a reality in 2014 and rear-wheel drive fun commenced.

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The Mercedes purchase was one of pure lust, over having any form of plan in my mind, though. After a Wavetrac diff upgrade, secondary cat delete and an ECU remap, I didn’t feel the need to do a great deal more to the car. I lowered it over a decent set of wheels and drove it quite a lot, but that was about it. Sure, I could have supercharged it, but 540bhp was more than enough for what’s essentially a German muscle car with a gearbox that takes its time to do, well, anything. Honestly, as a daily, I didn’t think my non-MCT C63 needed more power.

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Also back in 2014, I visited Detroit’s NAIAS with Bryn Musselwhite and saw the M3 at the official launch. I absolutely loved the car, and the range of M Performance parts that followed seemed too good to be true. Great looks combined with fancy parts made the want pretty strong.

So, to the M3 you see here. Spec-wise, it’s a carbon copy of the C63: black-on-black-on-black. What can I say? When it comes to choosing car colour combos, I’m predictable. At the time of my search, there was a used F80 finished in British Racing Green Individual paintwork, with a brown interior. It sounds like a bit of a weird colour combo, but I am kicking myself now for not having balls big enough to buy it.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-2-2

Aesthetically, I much prefer the M3 over the M4; I think the F80 looks more bulbous and aggressive. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of people that disagree and hate the idea of having extra doors, but I love being able to get all my stuff in the car easily. When I’m picking up friends the saloon makes life much more simple, too.

Incidentally, after so much talk about buying an F80, I’m lucky to have any friends left. Particularly good ones like Ryan Stewart, pictured above. Thanks for putting up with the endless screenshots of cars for sale, mate!

Everyday Struggle

Choosing a DCT M3 over a manual was an easy decision, for a few reasons. 1.) I live in London, and this means that it often takes over an hour to cover 10 miles or so. 2.) Manual gearbox + London = zero fun, unless it’s 4:00am when there’s almost zero traffic. 3.) BMW’s DCT is light-years ahead of the tech in my old C63’s gearbox. Plus, it’s way faster than I can shift gears using a conventional stick, and I really like going fast.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-2

So there you go, it’s not got a gearstick. When I can find a Phase 2 Peugeot 106 Rallye that isn’t ridiculous money, then I’ll have the best of both worlds: M3 daily and silly French hatchback for weekend blasts. Anyway, I digress.

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Back to tuning, which by the title of this story you may have guessed has already begun. The F80 M3 has been around for three years now and this is a 2014 launch car, which I bought at the back end of March. It was the drive of Jason’s aforementioned M3 that eventually made me want to own one of these cars as soon as possible.

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The car I ended up buying had two previous owners, the first being the dealer I purchased it from. When I got the keys, there was little over 14,000 miles on the clock, it had been well looked after, and a nice gentleman called Paolo at Milton Keynes BMW came down a bit on the price, so a deal was done about 10 minutes after I finished test driving it.

Knowing how much of a BMW fan Paddy is, I immediately sent him a text message to share my new purchase. I won’t tell you what he replied, but it wasn’t pleasant. His hostility became clear when he proceeded to explain that a new M3 in Ireland, with their fierce taxation, is over 100,000 Euros. Madness! So from Paddy’s point of view, I am absolutely balling out of control. But the reality is, I picked Project F80 up for not much more than the cost of a new Volkswagen Golf R.

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Right now there’s an abundance of products available to up the power, better the suspension and increase braking performance of these cars. You can even buy a kidney grille with fancy coloured stripes to show your allegiance to M Power. I don’t think that will be on my to-do list, though.

If you’re familiar with the F8x chassis, you’ll know that the nose sits quite high leaving an unsightly arch gap up front. You might also spot that the chassis isn’t stock on my M3. As soon as I collected the car, I drove straight to R-Tec Auto Design who installed an Eibach Pro-Kit which lowered the car 20mm at the front and just 5mm at the rear. Whilst it still didn’t sit quite right, it did look a lot better than stock. Most importantly though, R-Tec carried out a full alignment, which was much needed before heading to the track.

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With a claimed 425bhp at the flywheel, the S55 twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre motor was never going to feel slow, but despite having more low-down torque than previous M3 models, it definitely lacked the grunt that the C63 delivered.

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Of course, the engines are chalk and cheese, but I knew that I wanted to recalibrate the ECU as soon as possible to make the M3 more exciting.

With one track day under my belt at Rockingham, brake fade had also shown up as an issue. To resolve this, I booked the car in at Regal Autosport who fitted Pagid RS29 pads front and rear, installed Tarox braided brake lines and upgraded the brake fluid. The total for these parts came in at just over a grand.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ryan Stewart-1

Keen to test the new braking setup, I left Regal and headed straight to Brands Hatch for one of their evening track days.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ryan Stewart-4

Ryan met me there in his Cayman which, as we thought, failed the 105dB noise limit by tripping the meter at something silly like 109dB. I knew the Porsche was loud, but that seemed a bit daft. Ry, let it never be said that you do things by halves! Suffice to say, the Cayman sat in the pit garage for the evening.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ryan Stewart-3

A couple of laps saw the fresh pads bedded-in and several 20 to 30-minute sessions out on track confirmed that fade is now a thing of the past. The new Pagid and Tarox combo resulted in braking performance that is much improved over stock; there’s a lot more bite and the brakes now far exceed my ability as a driver. That’s probably the best grand I’ve spent in a while.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-7

Whilst getting the brakes upgraded, I had a proper chat with Ash Stewart at Regal Autosport who ran me through VF Engineering’s HEX tuning options for the M3. Regal has been VF Engineering’s European dealer since the dawn of time and they have recalibrated the software on lots of F8xs, so when it came to cracking open my M3’s ECU I would be in safe hands.

I’d also been following the 80-plus page thread on f80.bimmerpost.com and knew that I didn’t want to run a piggyback ECU tuning system. Having a tuning box installed wasn’t for me, so before you could say ‘Stop-Start delete’ and ‘M4 GTS features’, I was booked in. A couple of weeks later, I left London at 5:00am with a full tank of Shell V-Power, headed down to Southampton for a day of M3 tuning with boss man, Chris Stewart.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-3

First things first, the M3 was put on Regal’s 4WD Mustang dyno to lay down the base figures. BMW claims 425bhp at the flywheel, but I’ve heard owners reporting that their stock cars are making more when dyno tested.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-5

This would be the first time the M3 had been on a dyno, so obviously I was interested to see what figures it was putting out.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-6

Looking at the flashy, light-up M Performance steering wheel do its thing with someone else at the wheel, was also a first. I won’t pretend for a single second that one of the reasons I bought this car wasn’t to have that ritzy thing fitted. It’s functional, though, right?

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-4

A few power runs saw Project F80 consistently put out 421bhp at the flywheel. Regal’s head technician, also called Ben, set to work on the next step, which would involve removing the ECU.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-10

The engine’s electronic control unit is located under the charge-cooler on the F8x and this has to be removed to access the password, Eprom reads, and patch the ECU to allow OBD port writing. Once this is done, the ECU can be flashed simply by using a laptop with Windows, even by an idiot like me, apparently.

The photos make this process look daunting, but Ben worked his way through this task methodically. It does help that Regal has carried out this procedure on a lot of F8x cars, so they’re very familiar with the work required to remove the ECU for reads.

Although I don’t think I’d attempt it myself, if you wanted to do it there are plenty of guides on YouTube showing how to remove the ECU in under half an hour using simple tools. This allows you to send off your ECU to Regal or VF Engineering for the updates that effectively allow you to tune your M3 yourself using the HEX Tuning online portal.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-17

As has been said many times before, refitting is the reverse of removal. Of course, I left that to the professionals, too. With the ECU work carried out I could now ‘flash’ my M3 via the OBD port.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-16

There’s a trio of upgrade paths on offer with the HEX Tuning system and I opted to tick a box from all three of these. At the time, I wasn’t fitting downpipes to the M3, so I had to start out with a Stage 1 tune which promised a fairly decent power increase and an even more hefty improvement of torque. The 3.0-litre twin-turbo S55 is not short on power in stock form, but the way it’s delivered isn’t what I would describe as exciting.

HEX Tuning is an ECU recalibration that works in conjunction with the OEM diagnostic and safety features, so this should result in more consistent and reliable power than a piggyback tune. I’ve driven cars with tuning boxes installed and there’s this lack of finesse which makes the throttle feel distinctly unoriginal. I was hoping the M3 would still feel, well, like an M3 but just better.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-1-3

On top of the ECU upgrade, I also opted for the TCU tune, which would deliver a higher clamping force for improved torque delivery. Alongside this, the HEX engineers have increased shift speeds and improved the rev matching making going up and down the gears quicker. To be honest, I was almost more into the idea of having the transmission tuned simply because, in stock form, the M3’s shifts are pretty fierce. Although HEX doesn’t shout about it, Ash and Chris at Regal said that the DCT would be faster and smoother.

Perhaps the most exciting of the three upgrades on offer is the part HEX call ‘Features’. With this option box ticked on your HEX booking form you gain a whole bunch of features that are inspired by the M4 GTS. Read that as a new top speed limit set to a fairly rowdy 192mph (309km/h), GTS start-up sequence complete with exhaust ‘roar’, and there’s a lovely throttle overrun that delivers an exhaust burble, too. There’s also a clever GTS ‘Sport Display’ upgrade, which shows the power and torque readings in the GTS format. I’ll capture a video of all this in my next update.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-1-4

With all these upgrades taken care of, the M3 was back on the Regal dyno. It’s always cool watching your car being tested and I was excited to see what the results were.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-2-3

What power would it make? What would the drive home be like? And how many beers would I need to buy the guys at Regal for all their hard work? Many questions were soon about to be answered.

2017 Project F80 BMW M3 Tuning Speedhunters Ben Chandler-20

In stock form Project F80 made 421.7bhp at 6,875rpm, whilst torque was 399.1lb-ft at 5,026rpm. You can see from the print out above the HEX Stage 1 tune delivered 504.1bhp at 6,228rpm and 469.8lb-ft of torque at 5,149rpm. As a daily driver, the increase in torque is almost more important than the power, and the Stage 1 tune makes the same amount of torque at around 3,250rpm as the stock car did at its peak near 5,000rpm.

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The absolute numbers don’t really matter, unless you want to brag to your mates that you have a 500 horsepower car, of course. What’s important is the relative difference. What Project F80 drove like in the real world would be the most telling test.

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So what’s it like with an extra 82bhp and 70lb-ft, along with this newfound power and torque coming in much sooner through the rev range? It’s outstanding. After the short 100-mile-or-so drive home from Regal, I made some notes. As previously mentioned, on their website HEX don’t really shout about how much smoother the shifts will become, but the difference is huge. Even in mode 3, the most aggressive shifting option, gear changes are fast and super-smooth.

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The car is also a lot more fun to drive in manual mode now. Shortly after the tune at Regal, I headed to Destination Nürburgring, which, as you can guess, is held at some famous place in Germany.

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The increase in torque allows you to leave the car in 7th gear on the motorway for most of the time. In manual mode, opening the throttle sees the speed build rapidly as you pass other cars without the need to shift down. This now makes Project F80 feel extra smooth to drive on long journeys.

Then there’s the noise. The S55 is not known for being the sweetest sounding motor, but the HEX tuning system changes this. Turbos spool up angrily and deliver a lovely noise into the cabin as they suck in extra air. With the new GTS features, the exhaust pops and burbles without being intrusive. Now when I get into the city and encounter traffic, I simply select ‘Efficiency’ mode to gain a smooth and easy-to-manage throttle, along with less ‘roar’ from the exhaust. You really can have the best of both with this Stage 1 system.

It’s All I Had

Is the speed limiter really set to 192mph? Well, I wanted this software upgrade to be a comprehensive long-term test. You might have spotted that the date on the dyno print out is showing April 27th, so over the past five months I’ve driven Project F80 as much as possible. I can’t tell you if the top speed limit of 192mph that HEX has set is real. But what I can tell you, after over 10,000 miles, 190mph (306km/h) and two sets of tyres, is this: HEX, VF Engineering and Regal Autosport have taken the best car I have ever owned and made it twice as exciting.

I can also tell you that impromptu video making on Das Autobahn, with a GoPro Hero Session in your mouth, doesn’t make for particularly great footage. Hopefully you get the idea, though. 190mph comes with ease and cars disappear in your mirrors very swiftly. Next time, I promise to do better with the camera work, and if I don’t run out of road, I’ll go faster!

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As I look at the shots above it’s hard to believe that we were lucky enough to be allowed onto a closed Nürburgring to capture them. Special thanks to Darren at DN, Aaron at Bilstein and Jens Kaub for arranging access to the Nordschleife early one morning in May. About an hour after this shot was taken the weather changed and it rained for most of the day. Nevertheless, a few wet laps were still accomplished. Hopefully I’ll get to enjoy the Eifel region again in the M3 next year, perhaps with even more power. Thanks also to Mark for these killer photos.

So what’s next? I’ve got some updates to share with you over the next month or two. The car now has CSF’s 3-piece cooling package installed and a few other changes. I’m also looking into upgrading the intake, downpipes and the exhaust at some point soon, and when that happens HEX Stage 2 will be on the cards.

In the meantime, if you’re an F8x owner, I’d be interested to hear about the tuning parts you’ve installed.

Ben Chandler
Instagram: ben_scenemedia
ben@speedhunters.com

Additional photos by Mark Riccioni
Instagram: mark_scenemedia
mark@speedhunters.com

Additional photos by Ryan Stewart
Instagram: 7th.seal

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53 comments

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1

Psh, without the lights, you'd never know what direction you're turning the wheel. It's probably the most functional thing on the car next to those colored grille slats THAT YOU DON'T HAVE!
lol jk. M cars are awesome always.

Author2

Haha. I've heard the grille slats add another 20bhp!

3

Loving your work on this one Ben. Mega cool car and can't wait to see it on track again. TrackAddict Rockingham day is scheduled for end of March 2018.

Author4

Thanks, Jay. Glad you like the car. It was great to get some time in at the TrackAddict Rockingham event. Let us know dates for the next one and we can get Paddy along for a race!

5

Just confirmed it with Rockingham - 24th March. Put it in your diary!

Author6

Challenge accepted, Jay. Thanks! Paddy McMc, are you in?

7

M Performance steering wheel is life <3

Author8

When you buy a car just to have 'that' steering wheel!

9

Surely with all the money spent you could have removed the rediculous pops and crackles...... most horrible sounding M car in history!

10

Does the F80 have the active sound system? if so can you just put a different cassette in and make it a V8 again? :D

Author11

Hahahaha. I think we should have a race!

12

Beating me in a race won’t make your car sound any better.

Better yet - let’s wait for winter and then do it

Author13

I had to do a Google to understand your comment:
TOP DEFINITION
Rediculous:
The alarmingly common misspelling of ridiculous.
David: Your M car's pop and crackles are rediculous!
Me: Err... Your spelling is ridiculous.

Ha! I actually opted to have the M4 GTS-style pops and crackles included in the 'features' tuning that HEX offers. Like I said in the copy above, the F80 is not the best sounding M car, but the new software definitely brings the car to life. It's a personal thing, of course. And I can understand why you might not like the noise F8x's make in stock form. I'm loving this thing now, though.

14

Thanks for the correction ;) pops and crackles when genuine are totally fine but this new trend of fake noises just doesnt sit right with me... perhaps I am showing my age (34)....

Author15

I'm 36, so I'll be collecting my pension (just) before you! I doubt cars making pops and crackles will ever get old. I get what you're saying and I was sceptical, however, the sound the M3 makes feels really natural and it's much improved over stock. The 500 horsepower and 190mph is genuine, though!

Do you have an old school carb'd car or something else that gives that authentic pop and crackle experience? Always interested to hear what readers of the site drive.

16

I actually own a 20 year old E36 328 Sport... wish it was carb'd but totally standard and in fantastic condition. I don't really need it as live in central London but it came up for sale and I had to have it. No pops and crackles from me and if there were it would be cause for concern haha

Author17

Enjoy those London night drives mate. The city is a fun place to be in a car when the streets are empty.

18

Ridiculous pops and crackles? Surely, you mean the awesome pops and crackles? Who doesn't want a little bit of rowdy on overrun, especially in a turbocharged car.

19
Chris Colouryum

The good old double clutch queef.

20

M3 daily and silly French hatchback for weekend blasts


C63 as daily ?!!! at first I thought you have Ferrari for weekends ! :D

Author21

Today's ideal garage (it changes often), would be an E63 wagon and a 991 GT3. Not a Ferrari in sight! What about you?

22

my today's ideal garage would be a C63 and an F430

Author23

C63 wagon, right? And F430 hardtop. Not about the Spider life.

24

Congratulations on getting a new car, also nice writing and photos, Ben. With the ECU flash, does the car need additional modification to maintain reliability and durability?

Author25

White 86, thanks for checking out the story. The M3 doesn't need any additional modifications for this stage one tune. It's like a factory car, just better! The only thing Regal asks is that you use the best pump fuel available and here that is Shell V-Power. It's available at pretty much all Shell fuel stations. Occasionally, if I can't get Shell I'll use BP Ultimate. In Germany you can get Shell V-Power Racing! This not only sounds better, but it's also 100 RON. There are also places on mainland Europe where you can buy BP102, which again, is better than the fuel we have offered by BP here in the U.K. But running the car with 500hp daily in the UK is as simple as getting in it and driving the thing.

26

Thank you for replying, Ben.

Wow, that sound really nice, different, but better, but still same. Since I came from Indonesia, good fuel is very hard to access. The best that we have is RON 98 with kinda questionable quality. But from your story, it points out that your car run so much better with just simple improvement and made an awful lot of power too with . I'm looking forward to hear future stories from you.

cheers.

Author27

Thanks White 86. Yah the software has made a huge difference and I don't know whether I'll be upgrading the turbos just yet, or at all. I've been to Indonesia and lets just say that some of the 'gas stations' are very 'inventive!'

Author28

Ps. That was supposed to be a 'yeah', and not a 'yah'. I am not that posh! ha.

29

I hope you enjoyed your stay in Indonesia, I think there are many materials in Indonesia that are worthy of speedhunters feature for your next visit. Yeah, recent trend in Indonesia seems to be playing around with the software to extract more power from engines (especially diesels and turbocharged petrols), which is why I was curious on your ECU flash story.

Well, I'll wait and see your future exploration of the car then, many people say that there would never be an end for power lust, and it must be very tempting with a car such as the M3.

30

I have the same opinion about M3 vs M4 look.Your car is amazing and the mods on it are awsome.I only dream one day to get hands on one of this.

GL!

Author31

Hello Andy, thanks for the note. The M4 has never done it for me, but I can see why people like them. Particularly the GTS. The M3 was a dream of mine for quite a while, I hope you get the car you want as soon as possible!

32

Great!! Just when I thought I was over my obsession with these cars and had decided that I wouldn't get one simply because of the noises it makes, you go and write/post this article.. Good sales pitch!!! Now I find myself considering the sale of my E38 supercharged S62 "M7" in order to buy and build one.

Jerk!! ;)

Author33

Haha! Sounds like a cool car. Do you have any photos?

34

"But the reality is, I picked Project F80 up for not much more than the cost of a new Volkswagen Golf R."
I don't know how much that is in the UK, but here in Holland a Golf R's starting price is nearly 60k euro's.

Author35

Starting price for the Golf 7R here in the UK is around £33k, so that's about 37,000 Euros. Once you add some options like sunroof, metallic paint, leather and tick a few other boxes and 7R can be £40k. I paid just under £44k for the M3. There was a Competition Pack in the showroom which was the same colour combo, albeit with the nicer seats and that was £70k. Used F80 M3s here in the UK start at around £40k from BMW Approved Used. I don't know how much a Golf R is in Ireland, but I am sure Paddy will share with us the figure. Probably similar to that of the pricing you have in the Netherlands.

36

Ever since 2014 when I went with my girlfriend to the Nürburgring and saw the F80 M3 I wanted one. It was the new baby blue color. A practical four-door with an automatic, who doesn't want that? Bad news, they cost a lot of money. Almost the same car you bought with same year and miles, around €70.000,- here in the Netherlands. Guess I need to save up a lot more money then.

37

Golf R starts at ~€45k in Ireland, F80 M3 at €105,000.

38

That's insane!

Author39

The M2 in Ireland is about €85k as far as I know. Crazy money!

40

I look forward to the next update in 2036.

Author41

Imagine how many sets of wheels you will have kerbed by then!

42

It'll probably still be the same wheel, just 98% new material from constant repairs.

43

A few power runs saw Project F80 consistently put out 421bhp at the flywheel.



How is a chassis dyno measuring flywheel horsepower?

-Alex

44

Regal's Mustang dyno has software which calculates estimated flywheel horsepower on the rundown.

45

Nice purchase! Surprising the gains you can get from just a tune these days, manufacturers are really pushing for that non-real-world-achievable fuel economy.
Long live the sedan (they should make an M3 wagon/estate).

Author46

I would have loved at W205 C63S wagon, but they are still quite a bit more than an F80 M3, here in the UK. I would like to run an E63 wagon as a daily at some point next year. And yes, you're right, it's quite mad the gains to be had from a stage 1 ecu tune.

47

Come to think of it, in Malaysia, back in 2014, a brand new M3 cost RM 738,800 which is roughly 150,000 euro.
Presently, second hand ones come in at close to RM 500,000~ or 100,000 euro.
That's one hell of a bargain to get one at Golf R price.

Author48

That's absolutely mind bending! 991 GT3 money, including the waiting list tax!

49

A S2 Rallye with £300 satchell engineering shifter upgrade (satchshift) will really really scratch your itch on the weekend. Come and have a go in mine anytime you like.

Author50

Sounds like a great offer. Have you got a photo you can share, Luke?

51

It has the carpet back in now aha.

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52

Good read Ben, you forgot the one weakness of the car though - the inability to do big smokey burnouts at will. I cant either though, maybe its a bmw thing?

Author53

Rya, I am committed to overcoming this issue! hahaha. It's certainly no C63 smoke machine.

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