The Rocket Bunny Racer

There’s a lot of shade that gets thrown in this car world, but nothing really stings more than the implication that your car has been created purely for the appearance of going fast, rather than the pursuit of actual speed. In some people’s eyes, that means you’re not a real car enthusiast, just an imposter.

The reality is that many staples of the car modification world are race car inspired, but have very limited effectiveness outside a track environment. In the 2000s it was trunk-mounted GT wings that drew the ire of critics, but in 2018 it’s undoubtedly the wide-body craze. Just take a look at your Instagram ‘explore’ feed.

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Rocket Bunny helped create the wide-body wave of popularity and rode it right to the top, and as a result draws disfavour from detractors. But I challenge anyone to look at this Pandem-kitted E36 M3 and tell me that it doesn’t look completely badass. For the critics? Well, the owner, Saito-san will be waiting for you at Fuji Speedway.

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I first met Saito-san the same day that Ichinose-san’s stunning 240Z caught my eye at a Fuji Speedway open track day. The two gents were there with about 30 other cars for one reason only: attacking time. Looking good is just a positive side effect.

A year later, when I’d finally found the time to shoot Ichinose-san’s car for a proper feature, the E36 joined us, and I couldn’t resist taking some time with the car for a spotlight of its own.

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Even ignoring the Rocket Bunny kit for a second, Saito-san’s creation ticks all my boxes for a drool-worthy E36. Techno Violet is simultaneously the best name Munich has ever given a factory colour, and it’s by far the best hue to match the M3’s factory lines. Perhaps in a perfect Germanic world gold-centred BBS LMs would fill the guards, but Work Meisters M1 3Ps provide the inches here. Because Japan.

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The towering rear wing is straight from the BMW history books, being borrowed from the PTG racers that dominated endurance racing in the US during the late 1990s.

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But the traditional approach basically ends there.

From the first render of Pandem’s Rocket Bunny kit for the E36 I was smitten. The original design of the E36 is exceptionally handsome if a little plain, but Kei Miura’s exaggerated front and rear fender extensions give the car a visual aggression it never left the factory with. The effect is not just visual; Saito-san uses every additional inch of width to generate extra grip through Yokohama Advan A050s in 245/40R17 at the front and 255/40R17 out back.

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To make the most of that larger rubber, Saito-san has developed a custom carbon fiber front splitter and rear diffuser to smooth airflow under the car, which helps the car through Fuji’s fast and sweeping middle section.

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The vented carbon bonnet, meanwhile, is from Varis.

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Lurking beneath is indeed still an M3 engine, although keen eyes will identify it as the S54 3.2L engine from the E46. This unit is arguably the ultimate version of BMW’s long lineage of naturally aspirated inline sixes – as any BMW fan will happily tell you. With variable valve timing and individual throttle bodies, all non-American sold models exceeded that magic 100hp/l number.

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Considering even the stock S54 provides over 50hp more than the S50 from the E36, Saito-san has left the engine unopened, just making a few small additions for race track reliability.

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The interior is similarly businesslike. I love how cleanly everything has been done, and how the carpets and trim remain in exceptionally good condition. I’d love to get Project NSX to a similar place someday.

Auxiliary Stack gauges are all in understated black, and an AiM digital dash mounts tidily behind a classic Nardi steering wheel.

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In the passenger footwell you’ll find the brains of the operation, a MoTeC M800 engine management system.

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Here’s Saito-san demonstrating his rear-vision camera. This can run constantly, not just in reverse, so it’s super useful to get a good look at any faster cars approaching from the rear. Although he assures me that doesn’t happen too often.

Saito-san runs comfortably under the 120-second barrier at Fuji, and continues to trim down his personal best lap time with every visit.

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There’s no doubting that what Saito-san has created is a Rocket Bunny racer, and above all a great example of how aesthetics and speed can coexist.

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There’s a great little community of these owners in Japan who manage to find that perfect balance in their builds. It might not win them any trophies or fame, but as long as I’m Speedhunting these are the cars I’ll have a soft spot for.

Blake Jones
Instagram: blaketjones
blake@speedhunters.com

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31 comments

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1

I'm usually not a fan of BMW products, or overfenders...but goddamn this car rocks. Perfect amount of form and function, only thing I'd consider changing would be the addition of a passenger seat...and mayyybe more power (centrifugal supercharger??) Great car, great article!!

2

I have the same feeling for this car as I had for the S15 that Paddy featured a few weeks ago : it's Rocket Bunny done just right, and I absolutely love it. Function and form. Of course both can coexist, but people usually tend toward one or the other rather than trying to find the right balance. I'm not a BMW guy at all,, just personal tastes, but I'm loving this E36. I could go all day long about how, to me, this car is the perfect example of the "just right" idea, but I think you already get my point (and I already explained it in the comments on the post of the S15). Saito-san has my utmost respect and admiration.

(PS : For some reason I couldn't comment with my usual nickname on this thread, maybe a problem somewhere? I'm that Poor French Carguy)

3

Only thing I don't get is running tires that would fit on a stock E36 M3. Especially a staggered set with how much these cars love to understeer in that config.

I think my favorite is the interior retaining so many original pieces with all the race gear in place as well.

4

This ^
How do you run a tire only 10mm wider than stock with gigantic fender flares?

5

I am fairly sure it is more than 10mm wider . . the wheels probably have lower offset too. The wheels fit within the flares so it seems to work.

I think going wider - increasing track width - is a great way to increase handling capabilities without needing to go even wider on the tire. Doesn't seem strange to me, its actually what I am working on with my e36 too. For me its mostly also due to cheaper yet good tires and the "agility" feel a car can have with different width tire setups.

I really like the build - 1. Looks cool (even if fender flares are overused), 2. Swap to a more modern/reliable higher powered motor without many mods to keep that reliability and still enjoy the power boost over stock and really get to drive it and push it. 3. Balance it out with suspension/brakes/chassis and stockish interior. Great combo!

6

96+ E36 M3s ran 225s up front and 245s in the rear. Running 245s square is a very popular setup, and depending on wheel offset and whether or not you're willing to rub the fenders or rub the risk of damage you can run 255s square. I don't see the point in running these sizes on a widebody since there are no advantages over the larger tires.

7

The advantages are track width. If you are running 245 all around vs running 245 all around but a inch or two further out it will help handling without needing as wide tires.

In my case lets say I prefer to run 235's since my E36 is a daily mostly with some canyon fun time, and buying 235's are cheaper than 245's,255's etc. Stock E36 offset is roughly in the low mid 40's but it is also easy to find wheels in the 10's or low 20's from 5-series or e30 m3's, if I have a basic 17x8 wheel with like et23 having 235's on the wheel will not work under stock wheel arches, then lets say using e46 LCA and some work in the rear I can extend each side a 1.5" - all of those things will run way out of the stock fender but will increase my track width and if done properly will also increase handling limits compared to the same 235 tires on stock offset wheels.

8

Telling differences in culture on display here.

For example, one thing I've noticed repeatedly on Speedhunters is this:

"I'm here with Mike in Los Angeles. I've known Mike for all of two seconds and until today, wasn't aware that he even existed, but Mike and I are on a first name basis and he's got the coolest Civic in California."

...versus...

"I'm at Ito-san's shop in Chiba. I've known Ito-san for 15 years and this is my hundredth visit to his garage. But even though we're best friends and I'd trust him to babysit my kids, I still have to call him -san."

9

What an odd observation.

10

Blake calls him "Ito-san" as opposed to simply just, "Ito"...as a sign of respect and politeness. You refer to a Japanese person as (Insert name here) -san, as a way of showing them that you respect them as a person, even if you have known them for a long period of time and is something that is a cultural/societal tradition in Japan. It's not like he's under duress to say it or as you phrase it, "I still have to call him "-san". I have every reason to believe, that Blake is a mature and respectful adult and simply wants to respect the Japanese culture as a whole and the people that he comes in comes in contract with.

I mean.. people like Ito-san are how Blake has a job. If Blake didn't have folks like Ito-san, wanting to have their car photographed and an article written about themselves and their car..what use would he be to Speedhunters? Heck, the least he can do, is show a sign of respect to the people that provide him a way to stay employed.

And as a sort of side note, there's a traditional-style Sushi restaurant near where I live, ran/operated by a talented chef from Tokyo. Any time I've been there, I try to make sure I say to him, before I leave, "Arigatou gozaimashita Nabe-san". I'm not doing that because I'm some sort of weeaboo, but because it's a way to thank him and show that I respect him and his craft.

11
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Yup. Pretty much like how people calls RWB's Akira Nakai as "Nakai-san" and even LB's Wataru Kato as "Kato-san". It's a customary sign of respect.

12

You nailed it. Even if Saito-san and I were close enough to drop 'san' when talking to each other (and replace it with another, more casual suffix), when I'm writing about someone Japanese it's customary/mandatory to use 'san'.

If he'd asked me to just call him by his first name (as lots of fluent English speakers do), I guess that would be fine though.

IMO these cultural differences are what make us interesting!

13

Jeez, you don't bow to him too, do you?

14

I really don't see what the issue is, just because I know someone for a long time doesn't mean I don't say "please" or something. Its just being polite. The difference between meeting someone in the U.S. and calling them by their first name doesn't mean anything about how close you are. Like you said yourself, just different culture - not necessarily good or bad, just different than what you are used to.

15
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Never in a million years would I imagine a BMW in purple would look so good with Pandem flares and gold BBS wheels!

16

I'm glad to know somewhere out there, there are a Rocket Bunny kitted car that actually use as track tools.

17
Jay Soh Tsu Chung

Are you saying those drift cars with Rocket Bunny flares are not track tool? XD

18

Pfft, sideway drags

19
Frederico Estermann

"(...) As long as I’m Speedhunting these are the cars I’ll have a soft spot for."

Please continue to do so. It's not that often that cars like these, and especially their owners, get a place under the spotlight. Im sure there's many of us that enjoy features like the one above. Thanks for sharing!

20

Thanks Frederico!

21

Sounds glorious!
No mention on brakes or suspension?

22

As this was just a quick spotlight I didn't have time to explore the whole car - but both components were upgraded, I'm not 100% sure on the details however.

23

I like everything about this car save one item. All of the bolts used in that cage make me sad.

24

I must've been in Japan too long, because this cage looked pretty good to me! But yes, agreed, cages like this do have limited effectiveness when compared to something properly welded into place.

25

Even that i read all kind of articles here, this is the style i seek for: Hunting power in style.
The problem is that i can't tell if i have to thank you for this great article (and car for sure) or curse you for adding another car my list.

26

In this case, I'm happy for you to curse me.

27

is that a dummy intercooler?

28

Heat exchanger for oil.

29
Brennan McKissick

These are the builds I come to Speedhunters for. Rounded out builds that both look and function together well.

30

what are those exhaust inserts called ive always wondered what they do, as i see them on race cars all the time

31
Matthew Burgess

Could be wrong but might be a decibel killer

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