How often do you venture onto Google and daydream about different wheels, hard-to-get parts, or a special version of the car you own?
The ability to daydream keeps me going. It definitely also hampers progress with other tasks, but it’s good for the soul. If you own an BMW E36, chances are you’ll have spent more than a few moments looking up STW (Super Tourenwagen Cup) race cars.
There’s something about the way the wheels fill the pumped-up arches – it looks incredible. Of course, this is required out of performance necessity rather than aesthetics, but that’s often the way things work. Form follows function. Name a race car that looks less cool than its road-going counterpart…
‘But you’ve not built a race car,’ I hear you scream. And you’re absolutely right. But put the pitchfork down and remember, just because you like something, it doesn’t mean you have to copy it like-for-like. It’s possible to draw small influences and drop them into your work, to pay homage without creating a replica.
BMW’s 1998 N24-winning 320d is peak E36 for me. It represents the highest evolution of the form raced at my favourite track, and just looks so good going around the Karussell. But to drive it on the road? That would be torture for any length of time.
For this reason, my E36 remains with a full leather Vader interior, complete with electric windows, mirrors and a stereo.
It does however feature those iconic radius’d arches, the inner arches clearances, and the front upper frame rail sculpted to allow the 18×8.5-inch front wheels to still roll at full drop.
The wheels themselves are Hard Motorsport ‘STW’ centre-locks. They were made in a very short run around 2012, and there aren’t too many sets about now, let alone with all of the fitting hardware. Without finding these wheels the project would probably have taken a very different turn.
I often think that these cars ‘build themselves’. Sometimes it’s a chance part that finds you, or by images or inspiration you find along the way. So often car builds are triggered by the idea of mating a part with a car and the rest seems to follow. It’s also a constant battle to work out what is right for the project. Sometimes doing what seems like an obvious mod isn’t actually the right thing and detracts from the impact of the car.
I’ve mentioned before in Part 1 and Part 2 that this was something of a cathartic process, and keeping a sense of purity to it was a constant struggle. A lot of you will be thinking why I didn’t have Alex at Vivid Vinyl apply a livery to the fresh white wrap, or why I didn’t go for a wild colour.
The answer is simple: because this car isn’t built to appease a crowd. It’s not here to gain traction on Instagram or beat the algorithm in a rush to the explore page. Yes, I could have put bucket seats inside, a cage, and slapped a FINA livery on. I could have made it bright pink with chrome wheels too, but I didn’t. That’s not me.
Sometimes what you omit says more than what is there. I’ve done my time loading cars up like buckaroo, thinking more is more, but often it looks worse. Knowing when to stop can be a powerful thing.
I could have added fibreglass STW bumpers or a wing. But I didn’t because this is, ultimately, a road car. One that’s built to be driven on the street, down country lanes, though city centres and anywhere the journey takes me.
All too often modified cars can be restrictive. Bucket seats reduce comfort and visibility, fibreglass panels don’t share the same longevity as OEM items and, honestly, is driving around with advertising down the side of your car really that cool?
My last comment may be a tough one to swallow for those of you who decide to run liveries, but here’s a thought: we don’t all have to agree. We don’t have to have the same taste. I’m not saying I am right and you are wrong, I just accept that we are different.
After all, modified cars are all about self expression. If we were all the same the scene wouldn’t be as diverse as it is.
What started out as a simple homage to a race car spiralled into a bit of an experiment in my own head. Maybe it was the isolation of lockdown, I don’t know, but I found myself asking ‘why’ a lot more. This allowed me to question myself and work out why I wanted to do certain things to the car.
Take, for example, the absence of rear wing on the car. You’d think it would be a no-brainer to fit a slab of STW fibreglass or even a Class II high-rise wing. But why? What is the reason? Is it to conform to a ‘look’? Is it to check a box on an imaginary ruleset? Do people expect it? Perhaps it’s all of those things, but I decided that the E36’s shape is much sleeker and well proportioned without it.
One thing that I was very keen to do from the outset was to maximise the use of the Air Lift Performance suspension. My personal taste is to see a car low at all times, to drive low and park lower. Over the years I’ve seen beautifully fitted show cars jacked up on tiptoes travelling home from shows, and that’s just not my style.
I appreciate the owners do it to protect their arches and investment in the bodywork and wheels. But again, that’s a personal thing for me; you may also disagree and that’s cool too.
But in ‘saying less’ with the bodywork I felt like I had to say more with the attitude of the car. The stance is the personality of the whole thing; it’s what makes everything make sense and come together as an ‘STW’ look. Without it the car is, quite frankly, a white BMW on fancy wheels. STW is about that hunkered-down, wheel-tucking stance, and nothing should break that illusion. Especially not the drive height.
That’s why this car uses minimal camber, deeper rear tubs, and radius’d arches. By stretching and shaping the standard bodywork by hand it’s been possible to allow full articulation of the wheels in bump and retain full steering lock. Nothing has been compromised, except perhaps the proximity of the centre box to the floor.
By some strange consequence of building this car I think I’ve reminded myself that it’s OK to see people doing things to cars on the internet that I don’t like. It doesn’t have to ruin your day and not everyone has to confirm to your viewpoint.
Likewise, not everyone has to listen to your opinion either. We’re all just moving forwards through time, absorbing influences along the way, and trying to make sense of it all. The car community is fantastic. Keep creating and keep doing you, you might just make someone else smile along the way.
This story was brought to you in association with Air Lift Performance, an official Speedhunters Supplier