If this headache ever passes, I’ll be thankful.
It was a long time since I’d been harnessed into a bucket seat, and after getting used to the La-Z-Boys in my 740, it was safe to say that my arse had grown accustomed to a certain amount of cushioning.
The seat was far from the worst of my discomfort, though. I’m fairly certain that it’s a war crime to fumigate people, be it with mustard gas or the 99RON Shell V-Power that was filling my lungs. Call me a sadist, but for all of my torture, I couldn’t think of a place I’d have rather been sitting than in Ash Burrows’ E46 BMW M3.
Ash had spent his uni days driving around in a Peugeot 306 Meridian. It was a normal car for any British university student to commute in, but as an enthusiast it certainly left a lot to be desired.
Being friends with a group who loved to do track days, Ash was surrounded by a sea of desirable metal. It was on a ‘Ring trip that he drove his pal’s Mazda MX-5 and decided that he needed a more capable car in his life. It would replace his beloved 306, so it had to be both capable enough on track yet practical enough to drive daily. The top choices around the time were a Renault Sport Mégane, Porsche 911 GT3, or a BMW M3.
Ash’s friends somewhat helped to make his mind up. Al Clarke is a Nürburgring veteran, and the E46 M3 was his choice of car at the time. Phil Morrison is known for having an M3 of his own, albeit M5 V10-powered. Together, they convinced Ash of how capable the M3’s chassis is, and just how much extra power it can handle.
Add to that the fact that Porsche prices had just begun to make their way through the stratosphere and M3 prices had seemingly bottomed out, it was a no-brainer really.
“It just felt like the last pure, light M3. The E92 was too soft and ‘road-car light’ for me,” Ash says. Combined with the timeless good looks and practicality, he was sold. In fact, Ash was so certain that an E46 M3 was the car for him that a full year before he’d found one, he’d purchased a set of Team Schirmer Nürburgring-spec KW V3 coilovers.
After landing his first proper design job in 2014, Ash’s search for the right car was on. When a fairly rare Imola Red over Imola Red manual coupe came up for sale, he didn’t hesitate. It had 120,000 miles on the clock, but that was almost all motorway on business trips. “I don’t think the back seats had ever been sat in”, Ash recalls. “It had lived about the easiest life it could have.”
Ash drove the car as much as he could just to get used to it. It was a big change from his Peugeot, after all, but he felt confident enough to get the KWs fitted and take the car for its first track day at Blyton Park six months later. Fast, balanced and and composed on the V3 coilovers, Ash was smitten.
Yet, as often happens, upgrading one part highlighted weaknesses in the rest of the car. The KWs were therefore soon paired with a set of Enkei NT03+M wheels and Federal 595RS-R tyres, as well as a K-Sport big brake kit. The engine remained stock, but the OEM seats just weren’t going to cut it through the corners and were replaced with a pair of Sparco Pro 2000s.
2015 was the car’s first outing on the Nürburgring and it performed with flying colours. Happy with the car, Ash just spent the year daily driving it, hitting up a track day or two every few months. It was serving its purpose exactly how it was supposed to, so there was no reason to make a big change. That was until Ash took the M3 to Bedford Autodrome in 2016.Risen
Ash was on track with some of his usual mates, including our own Jordan Butters that day. It wasn’t any different to a normal track day and the car had been performing well, when all of a sudden the car stopped performing altogether. “I was chasing a Ferrari 360 Challenge at the top of 4th gear when it happened,” Ash recounted. ‘It’ being catastrophic engine failure. A rod had failed, shattering with enough force to send fragments out of three sides of the block, through the head, and even though the intake manifold. It was a total loss.
Just like that, Ash’s perfect daily was gone. The M3 was recovered home, where it sat on his driveway for months.
Ash wasn’t just sitting around, though. He had toyed with an idea for a couple of years, and the S54’s demise was the perfect opportunity to set a plan in motion.
Some of you may remember Bryn’s article from 2015 about a man called Craig who runs a shop called DynoTorque. Craig specialises in taking small, pretty cars and putting big angry engines in them; his 1,000+hp LS3-swapped Mazda RX-7 is proof of that. Ash had known Craig for a while at this point, which was rather convenient.
After his S54 let go, Ash wasn’t convinced that the same engine would reliably deliver the increased performance that he so desired. Phil’s V10 M3 also showed Ash that an E46 can easily accept a large twin-bank engine in its bay and that the chassis can handle a healthy jump in power.
That’s why he made the decision to swap it out for an LS3 V8.
I don’t think anyone can blame him either. I mean, sure, there are bound to be those of you reading who now want to stab Ash many many times, or some people may even have clicked away. But the truth is, if you want reliable, relatively affordable and consistent power, the LS is a tremendous engine to have. Yes, it may be basic – agricultural even – and it will never be as smooth as an inline six, but the simplicity is part of its charm, and a fresh engine is the best base upon which to build some serious power.
What started out as a fairly basic 6.2-litre LS3 was soon upgraded with a very potent combination of upgrades.
For me, the highlight is the Texas Speed ‘Stage 4′ camshaft. You can both hear and feel the camshaft through the chassis of the car. I wouldn’t describe it as lumpy, I’d describe it as rhythmic sledgehammers hitting the car. “It’s the most aggressive cam I could get before I’d have to start notching pistons or ‘owt,” Ash says. Truth be told, I can’t comprehend how much more savage the car would be with an even higher rated camshaft.
Ash looked to Comp Cams for a set of titanium springs and retainers, plus high performance pushrods. To make sure that the engine stays in one piece this time, ARP hardware was used throughout, a custom baffled sump was made to prevent oil surge at the cornering speeds the M3 could achieve, and a combination of Setrab and Mishimoto oil coolers and radiator were installed to keep the high-powered V8 cool on track.
A Tremec T6060 gearbox was decided to be the perfect partner for the LS3, but it wasn’t left at that. Ash is quite proud to say that he believes it’s the only LS and T6060 combo paired with a CAE short shifter, and it took a fair amount of trial and error and a set of custom linkages to make it work.
Not one to do things in half measures, an Emerald ECU was sourced and Ash sent the car to Emerald themselves for tuning. Almost all the original switches in the M3 work flawlessly with the standalone ECU. Even the OEM block temperature ‘countdown’ lights in the rev counter work with the LS3.
The M3 had reached a point where it could not only perform as well in turns as it did before, but with a healthy power increase it was much faster too. Ash went out with the newly V8-powered BMW and hit as many track days as he could over the next couple of years, even taking it on a tour of the North Coast 500 in Scotland. The only thing that stopped him daily driving it was the prohibitive fuel cost with the aggressive setup the engine was running.
I don’t blame him either. Like I said, being sat in the M3 is like being waterboarded with a fuel nozzle. I’m fairly certain Ash’s gallon-per-mile intake is the same as the M3’s mile-per-gallon.Taking Flight
If you were expecting a ‘happily forever after’ moment after the previous chapter then I’ve got some bad news. For as much time, effort and practise you put into something there’s no guarantee that things will work out.
It was in an afternoon session at the Nürburgring. After a morning of tuition and hard laps, Ash decided to pull in and call it a day. One of his friends however, asked if he could go out for one more lap, and Ash, being the lovely person he is, agreed for one final round of the day. Unfortunately that was one lap too many. In Ash’s own words: “You know what it’s like. You gained a little too much confidence, you just wanted to show off to your mate and you put it into the wall.”
Ash and his friends scrambled to get the M3 put back together to drive it home, but that was easier said than done. The the radiator was bent and the fans were toast. “Everything was smashed to hell,” Ash said.
A lot of duct tape and a lot of prayers somehow got the E46 back to England in one piece, albeit a misshapen one. Fortunately, Phil managed to source Ash a new cooling setup very quickly through Driftworks, and a lightweight fibreglass front end was thrown together too.
This was around the end of 2018, and Ash had the car back rolling with its new unpainted front end. Not one to be kept down, early 2019 was filled with as many track days and driver training courses as he could get booked onto, including a CAT Advanced Driver’s course at the Millbrook Proving Ground.
The following January, Ash wanted the car to finally be properly painted and reassembled after the Nürburgring crash, and to make sure that he would be safe if it were to happen again. That’s when the car went to The Motorworks in Gloucester to be fully stripped, ready to be sent up to SS Autowerks. There, the M3 was outfitted with a full Safety Devices FIA/MSA-approved roll cage, and it had the spare wheel well removed and replaced with a flat floor. The installation of the cage and floor was superb; the welds on the roll cage are all even and smooth and the boot floor could have been there from factory, even having a strengthening rib to prevent flexing.
At this point the car was supposed to return to Tom and Luke at The Motorworks for bodywork and paint, however the world had different plans. COVID led to a full shutdown of the country and the M3 was stranded with Dan at SS for the foreseeable future. Only after three months did Prime Minister Boris declare that Ash could transport the M3 back down for bodywork and paint, and work resumed on getting the outside of the car better than ever before.
The most prominent change from the outside is the carbon fibre roof. Not just a skin, the OEM roof panel was completely replaced and the carbon piece was bonded to the shell. The gloss carbon fibre weave straddled by black rails harks back to the legendary M3 CSL, and the roof is the only piece of exposed carbon fibre outside of the car.
Take the carbon CSL diffuser, for example. Most leave it exposed, however in the interest of design, Ash opted for it to be painted in order to preserve the shape of the rear bumper.
On the subject of the rear bumper, vents have been cut and crafted behind the rear wheels to allow for the escape of airflow. Most people assume it’s a replacement bumper and are shocked to discover that they’re hand-made from the OEM piece.
At the front of the car, a ‘double CSL’ style bumper has been fitted for ducting, whilst the front lip is moulded into the bumper to promote airflow around the front bumper and over the chassis-mounted splitter. The M3 has also been treated to a fresh coat of Imola Red. With such an incredible finish, it’s almost a shame to be on a track car. The inside however is no longer red, having been painted in VW Urano Grey for contrast.
Every unused bracket, clip, trim and mounting point has been shaved in the pursuit of lightness and simplicity. The doors have also been hollowed out and skinned in carbon fibre panels, trimmed in Alcantara. Porsche GT-style door pulls in red contrast the dark interior, as do the concrete trim pieces in the dash. Yes, I’m being serious. Concrete trim pieces in place of the OEM plastic in the dash lift the cabin, providing both a textural and colour highlight.
The dashboard itself has been cut and shaped into a single ‘floating’ unit, suspended by a custom dash bar. This tidies up the interior, as opposed to having the centre console section awkwardly straddling the transmission tunnel. Even small touches like the OEM window switchgear being retained and mounted where the radio used to be keep the overall appearance sleeker than an assortment of toggle switches in their place.
Whilst the M3 left The Motorworks ‘complete’, there was another part of the car Ash felt was due time to upgrade before he hit the track again. The day after collecting it, he took the car to Omnium Racing for another brake upgrade.
A pair of ex-touring car AP Racing Pro 5000R BTCC calipers were fitted, paired with 368mm AP discs and Raybestos ST45 pads. They’re held to the M3 using bespoke Omnium Racing bells and brackets, with Ash’s parts being number 001 of however many madmen decide to undertake the upgrade.
With no exaggeration, these are the most powerful brakes I have ever experienced in a car. Without a harness I almost certainly would have been thrown from my seat at only half pedal travel. It’s absolutely ridiculous how quickly the M3 stops. Whilst at Omnium the car also received a new track geometry setup and corner balancing, ready for a track day the very next day.
The future of the car lies in a lot of seat time for Ash. He’s covered over 60,000 miles in it already, many of them on track, and wants to drive as many more as he can. A Drexler limited slip diff and some rear aero are the only things Ash feels the M3 is missing, but he’s in no rush yet. “I just want to improve my skills now, have a good time on track with the boys and get better at driving,” he says.
Some will argue that it’s a waste to paint a track car to such a high standard, but it’s hardly surprising in Ash’s case. Being a car designer after all, there’s always going to be a balance between performance and aesthetics, and to me this M3 straddles that line perfectly.
On paper, Ash Burrows’ M3 is a car at odds with itself. It sounds like Detroit in the ’60s, looks like a GT3-lite, yet has a fit and finish that would put most show cars to shame.
I, however, would not describe this car’s character as a fusion of styles. Fusing something together feels forced, unnatural, painful. Instead, seven years of ownership and development have led to a cohesive mix of function and form perfectly blended together. This is a beautiful, terrifying, hilarious car. Jack of all trades, master of them too.
Photos by Saj Selva
Ash Burrows’ BMW M3 (E46)
6.2L Chevrolet LS3 crate motor, Texas Speed Stage 4 cam, Comp Cams titanium springs & retainers, Comp Cam pushrods, custom F-Body baffled sump, ARP hardware, SPA Design pressure & temp monitors, custom exhaust manifolds, Emerald ECU, Setrab oil coolers, Mishimoto radiator, custom exhaust into Scorpion M3 back box, Vibra-Technics engine mounts
Tremec 6060 6-speed manual gearbox, CAE short shifter, custom driveshaft, LS7 clutch & flywheel
Suspension & Brakes:
KW V3 coilover shocks, Ground Control adjustable top mounts, Tom Schirmer springs & helpers, Driftworks adjustable control arms, Powerflex polyurethane bushes, solid rear subframe bushes, BMW ‘Purple Tag’ steering rack, AP Racing Pro 5000R BTCC calipers, AP 368mm J-hook disks, Raybestos ST45 pads, Cupronickel hard lines, braided hoses
Wheels & Tyres:
18×10-inch Enkei NT03+M wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 265/35R18 tyres
Carbon roof, GRP bumper, boot & vented bonnet, BritCar carbon honeycomb splitter, Depo lenses, facelift grilles
Sparco Evo seats, Momo 07 steering wheel, Rico 6-point FIA harnesses, Safety Devices FIA/MSA cage, floating dash, EngineeredByDan LED light, Carbontec floor panel, T7Design lightweight heater setup, custom door cards, custom switch panel, wiring loom stripped & rerouted