Words & Photos by Henry Phull
OK, I admit it… I’ve featured my fair share of E36’s on Slam Sanctuary over the years, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop any time soon. Unsurprisingly, the E36 still remains a hugely popular choice in the world of car modification, purely because it’s such a great looking car that handles and drives amazingly, too. Of course, being so common, there are all sorts of examples out in the wild right now… some good, some damn right awful. Sean’s 328i cabriolet is one of the better ones, and I’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to get it in front of the lens at a proper location (I’ve photographed the car countless times at events over the past year). What intrigues most people about Sean’s E36 is that it’s static. We’re now living in a time where air suspension is commonplace, with it being more affordable and more advanced than ever. I’m guessing the question that Sean gets asked the most is “Why are you still static?”… I know his answer all too well, “Why not?”. Other than Alex Wright’s 328i coupe that we featured a couple of year’s back, in my opinion this is the only other real candidate for the best “stupidly low” static E36 in the UK. Sean has executed this perfectly.
Sean, a 25 year old CNC turner from the Southampton area, has always been a car guy, but the E36 has actually been his first experience with the BMW marque. His first car was in fact a Polo 6N2 GTI – and the VAG love followed with a Mk1 Audi TT Quattro which he lowered on coilovers and Porsche Twist alloys, although, unfortunately it later came to light that the car had been previously written off twice, so it was swiftly sold on! This meant that it was time for something new. At the time, his friend Mike had just bought an E36 which Sean had grown fond of, and after some internet searching he stumbled across the convertible. Being the top of the range 328i model with the desired 18-button OBC, dual climate control, and cruise control, Sean was super keen on car. The fact that it was finished in Techno-Violet was the icing on the cake.
“The car was local to Southampton, without much knowledge of them and looking past the rattle-canned front bumper, bent nose cone, damaged skirts and faded interior, I knew this was for me.” Sean explains… In fact he was so eager to take it home, he did so without even test driving it. “If I had done, it may have put me off as I was used to the tight gearbox of the TT.” he laughs. Sean planned to simply tidy the car up and enjoy it, but, as we all know, these things can quickly get out of hand. Straight away, some cheap coilovers were installed whilst he saved up enough money for premium HSD components.
Next, an E36 M3 Vader black leather interior popped up for sale locally, which Sean scooped up immediately. He then set about sourcing plain black leather items to replace the back bench, as the rear M3 Vader bench only fits coupes. To follow, he picked up a set of BBS RC 041/042 wheels for just £120 (although they were in a terrible state) and spent the next few weeks sandblasting the faces, painting them white, and then working through the wet and dry grades until he could eventually polish the lips. By this time Sean had purchased the uprated HSD DualTech coilovers and was gradually getting the car lower, whilst trying different tyre sizes and rolling arches… However, as usual with low static cars, the underside was starting to take a beating.
To improve the clearance, Sean removed the X-brace and machined up his own engine raisers at work which he installed to avoid smashing the sump. He then relocated the fuel filter to get some piece of mind that it wouldn’t get torn off! Upgraded brakes in the form of E46 330i components were also fitted with new braided & copper lines, and various bushes were upgraded to poly items for a stiffer ride. As time went by, he then upgraded the HSD coilover springs to stiffer 30kg ones and added adjustable rear control arms, which both massively reduced rubbing from the back tyres. With precautions and maintenance taken care of, Sean decided to switch up the wheels again with a set of wider Borbet A’s, but they didn’t last long…
He soon saw a set of 17″ Carline CM6 3 piece wheels come up for sale on a Facebook classifieds page in decent specs of 9.5j et14 with a 3” lip (fronts) and 11j et7 4” lip (rears). “I hadn’t really seen a set before but I had to have them, so the Borbet’s went straight on ebay and I drove to Leicester to collect the Carlines.” To get them to fit the car correctly, the rears had to be reduced to a 3.5” lip, and later on the front barrel was dropped half an inch to gain some more room for camber. After some trial and error, he married the wheels to 195/40 tyres up front and 225/35 rears. It wasn’t until after the introduction of the Carlines, that Sean’s real love for stance and fitment started.
“After running the Carlines for a while I got the bug for more camber!” he chuckles, but with his HSD top mounts already maxed out, Sean started to look online for information on how to gain a few more degrees of camber on the front setup. “I found that people were fitting E46 lower arms when drifting so I got a hold of a set and some E90 inner rods…” These were sourced and installed, although it did bring his barrel far too close to the spring (which is why he dropped the front barrel sizes). Sean is currently running a healthy -9 degrees on the front and -8 at the rear, which looks incredible.
With the exterior looking spot on, it was time to go back to the interior. “One of the things I love about the E36 is all the old orange back-lighting on the clocks, headunit, climate control and OBC. So I really didn’t want to remove the OEM headunit” he explains, so he wired new speakers, subwoofer and AUX cable into the original stereo to keep the OEM+ vibe.
Sean also spent a while searching for the right steering wheel… Although he originally wanted a Nardi, he couldn’t find the combination he wanted. “I’d have ended up with perforated leather which I’m really not into or red stitching which just wouldn’t work”. Eventually he came across the Renown USA 100 which features genuine leather, white stitching and brushed spokes. He knew it would look perfect and had it shipped over from the States.
All in all, Sean has built one hell of an E36. Personally, I don’t know how he puts up with driving it this low – I’ve been in it and it scrapes on just about everything, but for Sean, that’s what it’s all about. “Air ride doesn’t seem necessary to me on this sort of car – if something breaks, second hand parts are everywhere. Maybe if I had something older that I wanted to preserve I’d consider air, but certainly not on this, it’s too much fun!”… he laughs… “Figuring out how to get the car lower or to stop the rubbing… Even just getting somewhere with the guys is all part of the experience for me.” You can’t really argue with that. So what’s next for Sean and the E36? Well he’s mentioned the idea of smoothing Felony Form over-fenders into the rear quarters and building the wheels back to 11j’s, so keep an eye out, things are about to be turned up a notch!