Conor Auld’s 1995 BMW 525i is a car I can stand and stare at for hours. It’s been this way since I first laid eyes on it four years ago, and in the time since the E34 has only gotten better.
Despite having seen the bagged BMW at numerous shows in its various evolutionary stages, I had never managed to arrange a proper shoot. Plans were made to meet up with Conor and his creation immediately after Eurotreffen this year but, surprise surprise, the weather didn’t play ball. However, I recently travelled back to Northern Ireland, and this time I wasn’t leaving without a spotlight.
Like so many projects we feature, Conor’s E34 wasn’t originally destined for any real modifications.
“The car was bought as a daily driver for my first ‘proper’ job [in England] starting in January 2016,” he says. “I had the air setup sitting waiting for my E28 [one of many long-term project car that Connor and his father Clifford have on the go] as well as a set of AC Schnitzer Type 2 three-piece splits, which I had inadvertently made too wide for the E28 after rebuilding them with Radinox dishes.”
I’m sure you can all see where this is going…
“Before I moved to England, I couldn’t resist trying one of the wheels on it [the E34] and, well, fitting air was instantly added to the ‘to-do’ list.
After the suspension and wheel upgrade, Conor drove the car this way in the UK for around three months, but having to leave it parked on the street at night ultimately saw him bring it back to Northern Ireland – coinciding with Dubshed – and the safety of his parents’ garage. Of course, on Conor’s return to England he needed a daily to replace the daily-turned-project, and a Suzuki Ignis Sport filled that slot nicely.
When I met Conor and his E34 for the very first time at Mondello Park in 2017, the car was still only lightly customised. But the following winter things moved up a gear; the Players Classic invitational at Goodwood Circuit became Conor’s goal.
To achieve that, Conor knew what he needed to do – all aspects of the BMW required a custom touch.
Let’s start under the bonnet, where a complete shave and wire tuck sees the M50B25 sitting beautifully within the bay. Part of this required the ECU to be relocated to inside the car, washer bottles to the boot, and the fluid reservoirs to be hidden underneath a custom BrookFab scuttle plate.
While the engine itself is the E34’s original factory-fitted unit, it’s been upgraded with a custom Potatobread Engineering (a tight group of friends who really like potato bread!) setup, while a Schmeidmann exhaust manifold feeds a full stainless system. Elsewhere, VAC Motorsport billet underdrive pulleys and a KED billet oil filter housing cover add to the sense of occasion.
As other cars that have developed over time in an organic way, it’s at time difficult to spot the smaller details that have been so wonderfully thought out and executed. From my time getting to know Conor, I’ve become aware just how much automotive cultural knowledge and style he has, so it was no surprise to find that on a Euro car with JDM wheels the bumper rub strips are USDM items.
Repainted in late 2017, the deep San Marino Blue seems to hide the Germanic lines of the E34-era 5 Series BMW. The factory ‘Sports Kit’ has such a timeless design that Conor saw no need to remove or replace it, but the addition of AC Schnitzer mirrors and boot lid – the latter complete with an E30 M3 Evo Gurney flap – give the car a distinct 90’s flavour, something only enhanced by the smoked Hella lights and BMW Heckblende rear garnish.
For all the incredible attention to detail and well-executed exterior tweaks, it’s the stance and wheels that truly make Conor’s BMW.
The suspension is built around an Air Lift Performance Universal Kit with AutoPilot V2 management, along with BMW E21 lower control arms, and bushings from Moosehead Engineering and Powerflex. A low ride height was required, but not at the expense of functionality.
Sitting perfectly within the arches are the crowning glory for me – a set of JDM wheels in the shape of Work Meister S1s. The staggered setup measures 18×9.5-inch up front and 18×11-inch at the rear, which mated to some carefully selected spacers and tyre sizing pulls the whole look together when the Air Lift system is aired out.
The interior, which was all leather from factory, has been completely worked through with a custom re-trim by Optimus Trimmers. A combination of Harris Tweed cloth and leather is lavished throughout, with stitching to match the exterior paint. The Coolworx short-throw shifter is a neat addition, as is the old school Philips car phone.
The real highlight of any interior is a perfect seat and steering wheel combo, and Conor has done a nice job of this in his classy yet purposeful build. The front seats are a pair of custom tweed and leather-trimmed Cobra Nogaro buckets, while the wheel is a Nardi item lifted straight from the GC8 Subaru Impreza Type RA project in the Auld shed.
Conor and his father are lifelong petrol-heads with a love of building and fiddling on all manner of machinery. Bar a few bigger jobs like the paint and interior, nearly everything on this car has been completed in the family’s yard with the help of a few mates.
To some, this build might scream ‘show pony’ but it’s anything but. As lockdowns and the new normal continue to become a part of life, Conor is back living at home with the E34 as his daily driver.
Since being built the BMW has racked up thousands of miles, and Conor says there’s still more in store for it. “I’m fitting BMW F30 4-pot front Brembo callipers and 340mm front discs as soon as I get the callipers back from paint. I also have a Holset HX35 turbo, manifold, and a few other bits sitting for it.”
As it stands though, the E34 is impeccably finished. It’s blatantly obvious how Conor has managed to take home countless show prizes, including twice making the top 10 at Players Classic. That’s impressive given his initial goal of just getting an invite.
Of late, Conor’s attention has been slightly diverted by yet another build that’s quickly developing into something major. This time around a 3.2L VR6 engine with ITBs is making its way into a VW Golf Mk2. If the E34 is anything to go by, it’ll will undoubtably be incredible when it’s complete, just as the E28 will be, and the Impreza, and even a little Peugeot 205 Rallye that’s also currently under the knife in the Auld shed.