Wild wide-body S50-swapped BMW M3 E36/2S
The plan for this car was that there was no plan. Sometimes the results are all the sweeter when left in the hands of fate…
PROGRESSION NATURAL PROGRESSION
Wild wide-body S50-swapped BMW M3 E36/2S
WIDEBODY S50 E36
Words: Daniel Bevis
Photos: Chris Smith
What do you get if you cross a two-stroke bike, a tuna sandwich (no crust), a healthy programme of weapons-training and a Vauxhall Corsa? The answer is sitting right here before you, its number plates hinting not-so-subtly at the chunky levels of horsepower residing within. How did this all come about?
“A written-off M3 became available for very cheap. So I jumped at the chance – I removed all the running gear from it and swapped it into my BMW”
Well, let’s ask Ben Swaine (@benvswaine), proud member of the British Army and mastermind behind this rather spectacular E36. “It all started off with bikes for me,” he explains. “Aged 16 and getting that first taste of being on the road, I started to tinker with two-strokes, making them as fast as I could until they needed rebuilding a week later. Then eventually, after a few cold winters of kick-starting a little bike in the snow, I got my first car – a Vauxhall Corsa Limited Edition! Looking back, I used this car very much as a learning experience; it was standard for around a month before I bought a set of alloys, and it spiralled from there. By the end of the year, it was on air-ride with Recaro wingbacks and a straight pipe. By no means do I regret having that car, even though they’re very much frowned upon.”
Ah, we’ve all got to start somewhere. And to be fair, you could probably fit the entire number of people in the world whose first car had air-ride into a moderately sized football stadium and still have plenty of seats left over.
“I’ve always been a fan of cars in general, and mostly when I was younger, it was around the JDM scene,” he continues, “probably influenced by The Fast and the Furious.” Yep, again, many of us have been there, it’s a moment in time that carries a lot of cultural weight. The sort of legacy that endures over time, and makes us feel a bit old when we realise that Ben wasn’t actually born yet when the first F&F movie came out. Best not to think about that, to be honest.
Ben’s affections shifted in time toward the sporting machines of Bavaria, specifically, those of a more old-school flavour. The cars that have enough of a classic feel to be totally distinct from what’s on sale in the showrooms today, and yet are still fully catered for by the main dealer service departments when it comes to the nitty-gritty bits like control arm bolts or gauge cluster bulbs. You can see why the ’90s chic of the E36 appealed, can’t you?
And so, knowing that this flavour of 3er was what he was after, our man set about searching. Now, these things may still be reasonably abundant, but there’s a distinct split between the cheap ones (knackered) and the solid ones (expensive). Thankfully, he managed to find an example of the latter priced like the former. “I wanted something clean, something that was not really messed with – that way I wouldn’t have to fix anyone else’s bodged-up mess,” Ben reasons. “I found this car on Facebook Marketplace a few years back, looking relatively clean and with only 87k miles; it was up for £1800 in Kings Lynn. So a mate and I hired a trailer and made the journey down. It had a few red flags… the car was being used as a daily by a guy who owned a Supra and a few other RWD builds he drifted, so I was a bit worried that it had been thrashed. We checked for rust and whatnot, but it was fairly decent for an old motor and pretty much standard too. It was black and had coilovers, that was about it! He intended to make a build from it, although, ultimately, he thought it was too clean to ruin. We got him down to £1400 and loaded it up.”
The over-arching plan from the off was that, er, there was no plan as such beyond making it a bit cooler. Ben was 18 at the time, so he was already swaggering like a boss (how many people of that age do you see in an E36, after all?). The evolution of the build really happened organically – although we suspect his teenage self would be somewhat surprised to know just how far things had gone a few years down the line. “I started by scanning through Facebook Marketplace to have a look at what was available in terms of parts near my local area; as I say, there was no solid plan of what I was going to do,” he explains. “First of all, I bought a wide-body kit and sent that to get painted and fitted. While it was away, I collected lots of parts ready for when the kit came back – wheels, seats, brakes, steering wheel and so on. I put it all together, realised it wasn’t actually what I wanted, then took the wide-body kit back off and put overfenders on instead! I then added the Air Lift suspension, and it was around this time that a written-off M3 became available for very cheap. So I jumped at the chance – I removed all the running gear from it and swapped it into my BMW. And once it was up and running, I targeted a piece of the car at a time and completely restored it.”
Stalking through the project with ruthless efficiency, Ben paid incredible attention to the details to ensure that the quality, fit and finish, structural integrity and longevity were every bit the equal of the super-cool aesthetic vibe. In fitting the air-ride, the rear half was stripped back to bare metal and freshly seam-sealed and undercoated with POR-15, along with all components being powder-coated black – plus a few in Midnight Purple to match the chassis. All of the bushes were upgraded to Ultraflex poly bushes in purple, the bolts throughout being cleaned up or replaced with factory BMW items.
“Initially, I had my heart set on some new Work Meister S1R splits,” says Ben as we chat wheels. “I was waiting for Driftworks’ big sale when Dan from Wheel Unique posted about some Gotti G1001s he had for sale, and I instantly fell in love! I can’t recommend Dan’s service highly enough – he refurbed the wheels in a matter of days and delivered them to my door, and the way the bronze hits the chrome lips in the light is just spot-on.” It’s the focus on the details that really shines through with this car, some of it picked up along the way and some of it running like a thread through Ben’s lifelong automotive affections. Being a fan of a black leather interior, that’s what he’s swapped in here, and it’s pleasing to note that the Recaro wingbacks are the same ones he had in his Corsa back in those early days.
“I’d say I probably enjoy working on it more than I do driving it,” he laughs. “The car’s spent more time on jack stands since I bought it than it has on the floor. No matter what I do, I’d never really say it’s done, there will always be something on it I’d want to change or improve, which is why I love it so much. In the coming months, I intend to overhaul the front subframe like I have the rear,” he says. “I’ll powder-coat and reinforce everything I can, poly bush the engine mounts, rebuild the power steering, and obviously take it back to bare metal and seal it.” The engine will also be heading off for a rebuild to make sure the VANOS and the big-end bearings are OK; the loose plan is to rebuild it to standard specs, as Ben’s more than happy with the brutal performance of the M3 motor…
Then again, the temptation to bolt on a dirty-great turbo may prove too much to resist. That’s just the way this project has always developed, gently evolving day-today and year-to-year, always improving, always finessing, pulling together those diverse influences to create something unique. A two-stroke Corsa, no crusts. It’s a winning formula.
Custom three-piece Gotti 17s look stunning Fitment is, naturally, perfect. Aired-out, this E36 is simply epic.
The massive overfenders give this E36 some serious presence Simple air setup. Eye-catching Vertex steering wheel. GTR front splitter has been added. S50 has given this E36 some serious performance
Being a fan of a black leather interior, that’s what he’s swapped in here, and it’s pleasing to note that the Recaro wingbacks are the same ones he had in his Corsa back in those early days”
TECHNICAL DATA S50 E36
- ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six S50B32, Roose Motorsport silicone pipe kit, K&N panel filter, Supersprint exhaust system. E36 M3 Evo Getrag six-speed manual gearbox, Born2Drift short-shift
- CHASSIS 10.5x17” (front) and 12.5x17” (rear) Gotti G1001 three-piece split-rims with 235/40 (front) and 275/45 (rear) Nankang NS2 tyres, Air Lift Performance 3P air suspension, purple braided brake lines, ABS delete, M3 calipers rebuilt and powder-coated purple, EBC grooved discs and Redstuff pads
- EXTERIOR Fibre Factory overfenders (rear quarters cut out and rebuilt to allow for clearance and fitment), side trims and rear badge smoothed, gloss black GTR front splitter, WDS side skirt trims, Fancywide diffuser, seals and trims replaced
- INTERIOR Black leather interior with modified Recaro wingbacks, Vertex steering wheel, Air Lift 3P controller in centre console ashtray, double-DIN head unit and upgraded speakers
- THANKS Big thanks to Tom and Jamie at Modern Classics for the paintwork, Dan at Wheel Unique for doing what he does best, Proline Braided Lines for the custom work, and most of all my close friends, Mattie, Jack, Nathan and James for the countless late nights at our garage