Awesome modded 350bhp 2004 BMW M3 E46/2S
Pure M-Car Perfection — Combining power, handling and styling upgrades into one perfect package, this stunning E46 M3 is a performance masterpiece.
Words and photos: Barry Sweeney
M IS FOR MASTERCLASS Awesome modded E46 M3
If you’re in the mood for a stop-you-in- your-tracks combination of car and wheels and tasteful modifications, then allow us to introduce you to Claudio Fusco’s Mystic blue 2004 E46 M3.
Spotted at a cars and coffee event tucked between a few other cars, we knew we had to shoot it the second we laid eyes on it. As the years go by and we begin to cross into the realm of E46s becoming sought-after classics, it feels like people are starting to appreciate them even more as a well-designed and well-built machine, especially in M form.
The word classic gets thrown around a lot, so much, in fact, that it feels like it’s lost its meaning at times, but there is absolutely no discounting the E46 M3’s stake to the title. Several years ago, clean examples could be found for under £10k, but now you’d be lucky to find a clean one for twice that figure, and that number is rising every day. People looking for a sports car with an analogue feel that still retains some creature comforts such as air con and cruise control may look no further than the M3, its pace and handling hard to beat at the price point.
With 343hp delivered at a heady 7900rpm courtesy of that 3.2-litre straight-six, the E46 M3 is an intoxicating machine, one that delivers a thrilling driving experience whether equipped with the six-speed manual gearbox or the SMG.
Some people love the latter, some people don’t, and while Claudio’s particular E46 originally began its life as an SMG car, it was converted to manual to unleash the true potential of the chassis. The swap is pretty common nowadays and relatively easy to do, the only downside being the ever-increasing cost of parts. The SMG gearbox can be used, and the pump and solenoids, along with the pedals etc. can all be swapped out, making it a lot simpler than a regular automatic to manual swap.
Having bought it several years ago from County Limerick, Claudio got to work putting his own touches on this fantastic machine. Not wanting to take all the credit for the build, Claudio is quick to point out that the previous owner did a great job in maintaining and tastefully modifying the car, a sentiment he hopes to add to over the coming years. “The E46 M3 was always my dream car,” Claudio enthuses. “After owning three E46s in my past, being a member of numerous BMW forums, I had always followed threads on fellow members’ cars, and I remember out of nowhere a specific E46 M3 I had been following a build thread on came up for sale. After some quick thinking, I sent a message to the owner within a day or so, and he replied saying he was thinking of selling it on as he fancied a change.
“The car was bought without viewing as I knew it was tastefully modified and had been kept in fantastic condition mechanically and cosmetically. The essential maintenance all M3s need, such as rod bearings, the rear subframe reinforcement kit, new driveshafts etc. had all been carried out,” he says. As well as the gearbox conversion, the previous owner also added some tasty mods, like the carbon intake, the KWs, BBK and CSL boot lid. However, it wasn’t long before Claudio got the itch to take things a bit further.
On the day we met up with him and his immaculate E46, we took a rare opportunity to get a ride along on our way to the next location. This car is absolutely spotless inside and is a real credit to him. Beautiful Cinnamon leather adorns the retrimmed M3 seats, and there’s a CarbonTastic flat-bottom carbon fibre steering wheel, retrimmed in fresh black leather. The inside feels like new, and you’d never think it was coming up on being 20 years old now. The Avin Avant 4 head unit with Bavsound speaker upgrade injects some modernity to the interior and brings helpful additions like Spotify to the elderly E46 tech. The dash and door trims have also been dipped in carbon fibre, and they really modernise the look of the cabin. Other little additions like the weighted F10 M5 gear knob along with the pedal trims really help elevate the experience of being sat inside this fantastic machine.
Outside, the car looks OEM but has loads of small details that make all the difference to the eagle-eyed enthusiast. The wheels are the first obvious addition and the one detail that really made it stand out to us initially. The polished dishes and gold recessed hardware topped off with the absolutely insane concave faces on those huge 9.5x19” and 11x19” BBS RSIIs just draw your eye to them the second you see the car. The wheels were shipped to Ireland from the UK after Claudio contacted a fellow E46 owner about parting with them. In his eyes, they’re the perfect E46 wheel, and we’d have to agree. Finished off in metallic silver, the centres sparkle in the midsummer sun.
The carbon rear diffuser juts out above the Eisenmann sport exhaust with the larger 83mm Le Mans tips, framing the iconic quad tailpipes beautifully. And then there’s the CSL-style boot lid with the integrated spoiler, hard to spot at first, but once you do, it really adds to the aggressive look of the car.
Visual modifications aside, this car really gets exciting when it comes to the performance side of things and the driving experience it delivers. Huge BMW Performance calipers and CSL discs are tucked behind the BBS wheels, painted in a gold reminiscent of the Phoenix yellow E46 M3 colour. Claudio points out that while the brakes are a great upgrade over the standard car’s lacklustre effort, he plans to swap them out for a Brembo GT kit at some stage in the near future. Pop the bonnet, and you’re greeted with that sublime S54 with an Evolve Automotive carbon airbox strapped to the throttle bodies. The carbon airbox combined with a remap unleashes a few extra horsepower while also unlocking the sound of the straight-six at full chat, giving it an intoxicating CSL-esque induction noise. Meanwhile, a Supersprint resonated centre section and an Eisenmann back box combine to serve up an awesome exhaust note.
Handling is taken care of by the KW V2 coilovers that have been fitted, and the car rides almost as comfortably as stock, but with reduced body roll and the ability to fine-tune the ride to the desired height and stiffness. Millway pillow ball adjustable top mounts add another level of adjustability to the already impressive handling setup. On our ride along, it was evident just how well the car had been set up, the cornering was sharp and direct, yet the ride wasn’t stiff or bouncy, a valiant effort on roads as bad as the ones we have in Ireland.
Claudio rarely finds time to spend on cars due to work, but when he does find a small window to himself, he takes the M3 out any chance he gets. His build is proof that the E46 can be subtly improved to emphasise the most special aspects of what makes this chassis one of the true greats. The late ’90s and early ’00s gave birth to some of the most iconic cars of our time. Looking at the example before us and having had the pleasure to ride along in it, we can absolutely see why owners like Claudio say there aren’t many cars left that even come close to the experience of owning and driving an E46 M3.
Stunning BBS RSII 19s and BMW Performance brakes Pedal Haus pedals F10 M5 gear knob. Seats have been retrimmed in Cinnamon leather. CSL-style boot lid and carbon diffuser enhance the rear. CarbonTastic steering wheel has been fitted. Carbon airbox sounds incredible. Performance upgrades ensure this S54 is very healthy
DATA FILE E46 BMW M3
- ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight six S54B32, Evolve carbon airbox, Status Gruppe carbon fibre engine cover, Supersprint resonated centre section, Eisenmann Sport back box with 83mm Le Man tips, custom remap. Six-speed manual gearbox conversion
- POWER AND TORQUE 350hp and 280lb ft
- CHASSIS 9.5x19” (front) and 11x19” (rear) BBS RSII custom three-piece wheels with gold hardware, KW V2 coilovers, Millway Motorsport adjustable top mounts, AC Schnitzer strut brace, BMW Performance six-piston calipers with M3 CSL discs (front), Porsche 996 911 calipers (rear)
- EXTERIOR Mystic blue, carbon fibre rear diffuser, CSL-style boot lid
- INTERIOR Full Cinnamon Nappa leather retrim, CarbonTastic carbon flat-bottom steering wheel, carbondipped interior trim, Pedal Haus pedals, F10 M5 weighted gear knob, Avin Avant 4 head unit, Bavsound speaker upgrade Pop the bonnet, and you’re greeted with that sublime S54 with an Evolve Automotive carbon airbox strapped to the throttle bodies