It has become such a regular occurrence, that I sometimes think we either don’t notice it any more or purposely choose to overlook it.
I’m talking about cars that suffer from identity crisis; cars that really don’t know what they’re trying to be. Show cars pretending to be track cars, or track cars built to such a high standard that their owners are frightened to take them out on track. Often this comes about due to improper planning and foresight; when we don’t look far enough down the road to try and see what we really want to build for ourselves.
What normally happens is that we start out excited and eager to put our mark on a new project. Our intentions are always good, but somewhere along the way we get distracted. Sometimes, we do things because we just fancy a change. Other times, we’re sold on a new product, which although may not actually suit the build does give us an endorphin kick when we purchase it.
I think we would struggle to find anyone who hasn’t been guilty of this at some stage – present company included. None of this is particularly bad in the grand scale of things, but it’s a defining factor in what separates a good build from a great one.
That ability to know from the very start what the longterm plan is – and to stick with it religiously until it’s achieved – takes real discipline. You also need a lot of self-restraint to ensure that you don’t veer off course. Knowing when to stop is another underrated skill.
I don’t think any of this is a problem that Darren Coleman has ever had. He’s a man with a history of great builds behind him, and always knows exactly what he wants to achieve, often before he has even taken ownership of his next project.
BMW’s E93 3 Series convertible might not be the obvious choice in a model range which offers every variant you could ever want; be it a coupe, convertible, saloon or estate. It was, however, the perfect base for what Darren had in mind.
You see, Darren gets his car joy not just from attending and displaying his builds at shows, but the road trips to and from with friends and family. It doesn’t matter if it’s a show in his home country of Ireland, or if he has to take a ferry across to the UK; half the fun is the drive.
Ultimately, this was a car that couldn’t just look the part; it had to be fun to drive along with being usable on long journeys. Further to all of this, it had to be uniquely Darren’s as well. It’s a pretty long list of requirements, which I think only served to sharpen his focus.
Your first thought might be that this BMW has a heavy JDM influence, and you would be correct. Darren’s previous project was a Toyota Supra, and he’s surrounded by the Japanese cars of his friends and family. By integrating Japanese touches onto a German car, he’s already taken this build in a different direction to most.
To best appreciate this car I think we should start from the ground up with its Work VSXX wheels that measure 19×12.5-inches in the front and 19×14.5-inches at the rear. The satin black centres with gloss lips almost disguise their incredible width. Almost. Still, I wouldn’t exactly call them subtle.
There would be zero hope of tucking the wheels and tyres under the car’s factory bodywork, so a full Pandem kit from Japanese legend Kei Miura (AKA Mr. Rocket Bunny) was fitted. This kit features exaggerated box arches, which perfectly complement the E93’s factory lines, as opposed to the more typical rounded arch extensions. To add further aggression to the exterior, an M3 bonnet and rear bumper have been used. The paint is a custom shade of blue.
Even with the right wheels and bodywork in place, ride height is key to pulling these elements together. As someone who wants to regularly drive his car to obscure places, a static setup would never have worked for Darren. Never mind the poor roads around these parts, but best of luck trying to crab your way onto a ferry at low-tide without removing your entire bodykit beforehand.
Thankfully, it’s 2021 (words I don’t believe anyone has written so far this year) and we have been blessed with companies like Air Lift Performance, who will allow you to have your cake and eat it too. In other words, an air suspension system which offers the perfect static height for shows, a usable driving height for getting there, and even the option to raise the car further to clear obstacles or board a ferry – all at the press of a button. What a time to be alive.
On the subject of driving, you might have noticed this isn’t an M3. There’s a good reason for that, which I’ll explain shortly, but this 335i isn’t lacking in the power department. Some mild upgrades see the 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine producing 450hp, including the subtle addition of twin HKS Super Power Flow filters. Most impressive is that this car was originally automatic, but has been converted to a 6-speed manual.
While the V8-powered M3 is top of BMW’s performance 3 Series range, the ‘lesser’ 335i shouldn’t be overlooked. It might not have the widened stance of the bonafide M car, but it has a few tricks of its own up its sleeve. For starters, the N54 power plant is more easily tuned thanks to its twin-turbo setup. Even just mild upgrades on Darren’s have seen his 335i comfortably sail past the stock M3’s power figure, despite being two cylinders and up to 1.4-litres of capacity shy of its more athletic sibling.
It doesn’t hurt that used 335i examples are much cheaper these days as well.
Inside, things remain deceptively subtle. The standard BMW front seats have been swapped for a pair of Recaros sourced from a Honda and appropriately re-trimmed to match the interior.
There’s a Nardi steering wheel, some custom carbon fibre trim and a not-so-subtle yellow half cage.
This last piece is purely functional and not a ‘show cage’. Otherwise, the first thing to meet the road in case of a rollover with the roof down would be the top of Darren’s head. Let’s be honest, that doesn’t sound like a good time.
It’s not a huge spec list, but it’s a perfect example that more isn’t always better. The car features absolutely everything it needs to make it special, and not a nut or bolt more. It’s a car which is as comfortable aired-out centre stage at any show, as it is on a casual Sunday drive.
While I’m sure that there are BMW enthusiasts who believe it’s sacrilege to go down the JDM route, and Japanese car fans who are probably wondering why Darren didn’t just start with a Japanese car in the first place, I think that bringing these two worlds together has produced a much more interesting result.
It’s not the first time this has been done, but it’s something I hope we see more of in the future.
Above all else, this is car which is the result of having a vision. I’m certain that before Darren even drove the BMW for the first time, he knew that at some stage it would look exactly like this. It didn’t happen overnight – it took him a couple of years – but by plugging away at it and resisting the temptation to veer off course, he has produced something truly memorable.
The best part of it all? A good idea is completely free.