Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

The owner of this gorgeous air-ride E21 has spent 12 years transforming it into the absolutely immaculate build you see before you here. The end result is a testament to his passion for this classic Z Series, and it’s simply wonderful to behold.


Words: Elizabeth de Latour

Photos: Wookshot Media

STUNNING E21 CLASSIC PERFECTION

The Commitment Buying a classic BMW is not a casual purchase, and the owner of this E21 has spent 12 years turning it into a slice of sheer modified perfection.


BMW E21


We hate to start another feature by sounding like a stuck record, but here is once again a car that we feel is seriously under- represented on the modified BMW scene. The E21 does get love — you just need to look at the attention a really tidy example receives at any show — but it’s just not a car that is as well-catered for by the aftermarket as its E30 counterpart. If you see a modded E21, then you know its owner is really committed to their car. They’ve deliberately chosen an older model, even knowing the likely extra problems they’ll have to deal with when looking after it, and the extra lengths they’ll have to go to when modifying it. And none of that put them off. We like that, we respect the grind and the passion, and it’s worth it when you create something that looks like this E21.

I took it to TFI Motor Trimmers in Exeter, where they totally transformed the car from what was a really lovely classic into the stunner it is now. I still can’t believe how good it looks

Owning any classic car is something you have to commit to, and Benny Mansi (@bennymansi) understands that. His E21 has been a part of his life for the past 12 years, and after that sort of period, a car becomes like a family member, really. It’s something you care for and are deeply passionate about, and for Benny, the E21 is a car he’s always had his eye on.


Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

“I grew up in London from 1982 and left in 2001; when I was a kid, there were classic BMWs everywhere, but there was an orange E21 I saw every day on my way to school, and I loved it,” Benny tells us as we chat. “The way the bonnet overhangs the wings and creates the line down the whole car is one part I’ve always loved,” he enthuses, but it would be a while before he got his hands on one. “I didn’t start driving until I was 24, as, back in the day, I rode my BMX everywhere. I then moved to Bristol and was on my BMX there most days,” he explains. “I never really needed to drive and couldn’t afford to run a car anyway until I moved back to London. I bought a classic Mini and started to modify it almost the day I got it,” he says, and you can certainly see where his love of modding manifested. “The late Darryl Cripps put a Suzuki Swift Mk2 GTI engine and ’box in it for me. It was an incredible car,” he enthuses. Mini life was good, and Benny was happy, but life moves on, things change, and change can be good. “Fastforward to when I was 29 and my wife’s and my first child was due. With the proceeds of the Mini sale, we bought a Passat estate, and I bought the E21,” he grins, and a new chapter in Benny’s motoring life began.


Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

“I found it in Wellington,” he tells us. “A young lad with a young family was reluctant to let it go, but it was a terrible daily. It was as low as possible on Gaz coilovers, had a major oil leak and had a 2.3 M20 in it, but instead of injection, it had a massive DGAS carb on it that drank fuel. I fell in love with it the moment I saw it and knew I was in for the long haul,” he grins, but things didn’t get off to the best of starts. “I smashed the sump on the way home from buying it, so it was off the road for a couple of weeks,” he winces, but the course of modded car ownership never did run smooth.

“I properly cleaned the car inside and out, shoved some BBS reps on it and drove it like that for ages,” says Benny, but the E21 had so much more to give. “As time went on, I realised the car had so much potential, so got saving. I took the car to a place in Exeter to have the bodywork done as Reece Parr, who has just recently started out on his own, was the painter there, and I knew it was in good hands,” Benny explains.


Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

“By the time it was stripped and all the bits of surface rust and dents etc. had been sorted, virtually every panel needed painting, so I decided on a colour change. I wanted a new colour but wanted it to still look like it came from the factory, so Porsche Sport Classic Grey fitted the bill perfectly,” he smiles, and we couldn’t agree more. We’re not big fans of the recent trend for solid grey paint jobs, but Benny’s choice is inspired and works so well on the E21. The pale grey has almost a blue tint to it in certain light, and it does a wonderful job of accentuating all of the E21’s lines, while also having that period look about it, and it suits the car perfectly. “I chucked some Revolution RFX wheels on it for a while but had air-ride in the back of my mind,” says Benny, and fate decided to step in and lend a helping hand with the project.

properly cleaned the car inside and out, shoved some BBS reps on it and drove it like that for ages. As time went on, I realised the car had so much potential, so got saving

“Munich Icons posted up a second-hand air-ride setup at a really decent price, and after begging my wife, I snapped it up,” he grins. “It’s a very basic manual AccuAir SwitchSpeed setup but hasn’t missed a beat since I had it fitted. I wired it all up and did a very basic boot build, then Nick Smith at Kingsdown Garage fitted the struts,” Benny explains. There are plenty of people who still get hung up about BMWs, especially classics, sitting on air, but we defy anyone to look at this E21, tyres tucked up into its arches, belly a hair’s breadth from the ground and confidently claim it doesn’t look good.


Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

Naturally, air-ride demands a very correct choice of wheels to serve up the perfect combo of absolutely killer looks, and it’s safe to say that Benny has absolutely nailed it. “The Rotiforms on it now came from a local lad who had bought them for his Corrado, but they didn’t fit, so I nabbed them off him as the widths and ETs were near perfect. The faces were chrome, so I had them refurbed by Dan at Wheel Unique, and they still look fresh three years on,” he says with a smile. You’re looking at 16” TMBs, which measure 8.5” across up front and 9”-wide at the rear, and the fitment is just perfect. The combo of grey centres, gold hardware and polished lips is no less perfect, and these wheels work so well on the E21.


Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

With aesthetics coming along nicely, Benny now turned his attention to what was going on under the bonnet because up until now, he’d still been having to make do with that carb’d M20, and the E21 deserved something better. “It spent a while off the road getting the Astbury Motorworks treatment, getting an M20B25 conversion done by Dave Astbury in Devon. It drove like a new car afterwards, and while it isn’t the quickest, it’s not missed a beat in the four years since it was fitted,” enthuses Benny, and this has given the E21 the engine it deserved. It’s a step up from the B23 that it had before, with a nice boost in performance, but it’s still a classic BM engine that suits the car perfectly and enhances the whole driving experience perfectly. Sadly, time and life moving on are not always good, and Benny experienced a heartbreaking loss. “A massive shock and devastating time was when my dad passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly,” he says. “I inherited a bit of money, so I took it to TFI Motor Trimmers in Exeter, where they totally transformed the car from what was a really lovely classic into the stunner it is now. I still can’t believe how good it looks, and the extra expense of having the dash done was well worth it,” he says, and the interior is absolutely awesome. We’re really not big fans of drab, dark, black and grey cabins, so show us an interior with some colour, some flair and uniqueness, and we come alive, and Benny’s E21 interior is really hitting the spot for us. He’s opted for a rich caramel shade, and that warm leather is everywhere you look – on the door cards, the centre console, and the whole dash is wrapped in it. It offers the perfect striking contrast to the subtle, understated exterior, and we love the wooden Momo steering wheel and wooden gear knob that tie in perfectly with the leather colour and work so well with the whole retro vibe.


Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

12 years is a long time to commit to a car, but after so long, it’s almost impossible to think of selling it, and a project becomes an extension of your very self, a projection of you, what you love, what you’re all about, in car form. It’s not always been smooth sailing for Benny and his E21, but he loves this car, it means so much to him, and you can tell that by how much he’s put into it. This E21 has been transformed during its time with Benny, and it’s simply magnificent now, a perfect example of a classic modified 3 Series, and it’s absolutely gorgeous.


Modified perfection BMW 316 E21 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25 engined

In fact, Benny hasn’t done a single thing to it for the past three years, which lets you know that he’s really hit the sweet spot with it. Well, we say that, but there’s always one thing that we, as modified enthusiasts, have on our mind… «I’ve just listed my wheels for sale as I fancy a change, so if anyone is interested, hit me up on 10,” he grins, and the spectre of wheel addiction looms large in all our lives. But aside from some fresh wheels to switch up the styling and a visit to Reece to get the engine bay painted, what you’re looking at is the finished article. An E21 is not a casual purchase; it’s a car you commit to and have to put in the work with, but it’s so worth it, and Benny’s stunning build is all the proof you need.

Munich Icons posted up a second-hand air-ride setup at a really decent price, and after begging my wife, I snapped it up. It’s a very basic manual AccuAir SwitchSpeed setup but hasn’t missed a beat since I had it fitted

TEHICAL DATA BMW E21 3 Series

  • ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION: 2.5-litre straight-six M20B25, custom stainless steel backbox. Five-speed manual gearbox
  • CHASSIS: 8.5x16” (front) and 9x16” (rear) Rotiform TMB wheels with grey centres, gold hardware and polished lips, Roamair (front) and Bags by OCD (rear) air suspension, AccuAir SwitchSpeed management
  • EXTERIOR: Full bare-metal respray in Porsche Sport Classic Grey
  • INTERIOR: Full leather retrim including dash, carpets retrimmed, Momo wood-rimmed steering wheel, wooden gear knob, custom-mounted air pressure gauges
  • THANKS Massive thanks to my wife, who lets me enjoy my car even though she hates cars, my mum for bailing me out too many times over the years, @astburymotorworks, @parrs_paint, @milltopmotorsport, @dzfabrications for the superb exhaust work, @tfi_motor_trimmers, @munichicons, @tomturner275, Nick Smith at Kingsdown Garage Devon, and, lastly, my late dad for instilling the love of cars in me from a very early age, gutted he couldn’t see it as it is now as he’d have loved it

The gorgeous caramel leather interior is absolutely stunning

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