Less is More – Carlos Gomez' 1997 BMW E36 323i

Words & Photos by Henry Phull


The E36 3-series market has recently shifted, with resale values shooting upwards (a great thing for owners, but disheartening if you’re still looking to buy one). They’re now becoming more difficult to find, with no “middle ground” cars available. You’ll either encounter the battered drift-spec examples which are far from perfect or the near-mint cars which will be selling for strong money. Hell, I remember when you could pick up a 328i Sport for less than £1500, and that was only a couple of years ago. It seems to be impossible to find a decent one at that money now! These days, it’s all about finding a good shell and building from there. Can’t find a genuine Sport? No problem.. all it takes is bumpers and an interior. Want a 328i lump? The M50 engine can be uprated relatively easily. Stuck with a 318i? Hell, you can still swap the engine cheaply enough. Anyway, finding an E36 that remains OEM+, with the correct stance of course, is a rare thing. Bring on Carlos Gomez’ coupe, the perfect example of how less is definitely more. An original Alpine White car, his E36 is finished with a set of gold-faced BBS… A match made in heaven. Still, Carlos has had to put in a lot of hard work to get the car looking as good as it does today, which is easier said than done when it’s also his daily driver.



Carlos’ affection for BMWs came to fruition back in 2007, thanks to his friend Dave who owned a couple of E30’s and an E36. Although the E30’s would usually be in the spotlight, it was the E36 that completely mesmerized him, even if it was in a complete state. From then on, Carlos knew that he had to own one. But it didn’t start with BMWs… At 28, he’s owned a few interesting cars over the years since his first car (a Renault Clio 1.9 diesel), including a Mk3 Capri 2.8 Injection, which he recalls as being a “deathtrap”. He then moved up to his first BMW, a stock E36, which of course only stayed that way for a week or so before catching the modifying bug – lowering it, installing a new exhaust and rebuilding the engine. Some time later, he was in the position to upgrade to something a bit more powerful, an E46 M3, but amazingly Carlos left this one stock as he felt the car was “perfect” as it was.



After owning the M3 for a while, unfortunately, the time came for something that was cheaper to run, so Carlos found himself in a B5 VW Passat – a bit of a downgrade from M-Power! However, this was swiftly handed over to his other half, as he had to get himself back into a BMW as soon as possible. Next on the list was an E46 330ci Clubsport which he owned for just 6 months, as he felt it was nowhere near as good as the M3 was. Eventually, he found someone to swap it with a convertible E36, which in his opinion is more of a drivers car. This was where he took his modifications to the next level and really got stuck in – before the car we’re featuring today of course.



Carlos originally found out about this E36 as it was owned by a guy named Mike, who he’d actually met years ago through BMX (another of Carlos’ passions). He arranged to go and have a look. It was an Alpine White 323i, and the first time he’d seen a white one in person… It was love at first sight. It didn’t seem to bother him that the car was actually in a right state. Firstly it was an automatic, had tired bodywork, different coloured panels, the incorrect facelift wings and the bonnet wasn’t aligned correctly. Some time passed, and Mike eventually got the car running and basically kick started the project, swapping it to a manual gearbox, adding a welded diff, lightened flywheel with 328i injectors and exhaust system. He also fitted some coilovers and installed an LTW wing along with front and rear Sport bumpers. It then made an appearance at a local Southampton meet, which is where Carlos eventually saw it on the road. Even though he was in his convertible at the time, he still wanted the white coupe more than ever.



In December 2015, Carlos’ convertible was devastatingly written off, but perhaps for the better, as Mike knew how badly he wanted the coupe and finally caved in, selling it to Carlos. Although the car had no history whatsoever and was still pretty rough around the edges, he knew it was worth building on what Mike had started. All he had to do was tidy it up, but you know how these things often get out of hand…



The first port of call was to remove the “stupid welded diff” as Carlos called it. This was certainly not going to be a drift car – it was Carlos’ only car so it would need to be driven to and from work every day in whatever sort of comfort available. He firstly went for the cheaper option of a medium case diff… but cheaper is not always the best as he consequently discovered, snapping three diff bolts in just a month. Another £90 later it was poly-bushed and worry-free.



With Mike having done most of the engine upgrades, it was already pushing a bit more power than a normal 323i (Carlos still has an M50 manifold to fit to it also). However, he couldn’t put up with the stock exhaust for long, so a custom 3″ shotgun was fabricated, which didn’t last long either due to it making the car far too antisocial. The perfect Scorpion exhaust system then finally came up online, so he made a trip to Essex to pick it up. At last, Carlos was happy with the sound and so were his neighbours!



He then turned his attention to tidying up the bodywork, firstly by fitting another set of pre-facelift front wings and even replacing the rear arches (which were then rolled, too). Along with the LTW rear wing and Sport side skirts, Carlos ended up having a lot of the car resprayed including both front doors, as the car was “more like fifty shades of Alpine White” at the time, he laughs. He’s also fitted a front BMW number plate delete plate and fog blanks, as one of the original fogs was destroyed in an encounter with a deer.



“The interior was easy” Carlos explains… “BMW know what’s up”. Another reason he fell in love with the car is due to the fact that it had a super-clean set of M3 Vaders already fitted. He did have to spend some time sorting out the speaker, clock and horn wiring, and secure the notorious E36 interior panels, though. He also found some leather door cards and a new roof lining and pillars locally, to complete the M3 Evo-inspired interior. Carlos has also installed a wooden Nardi steering wheel and gear knob which works as a nice contrast to the Alpine White paintwork, and hints that the car is just that little bit different to a regular E36.



Carlos still had a set of wheels from his previous convertible E36, a set of BBS RTs. These are an OEM 2-piece BMW wheel option, although they have been taken a step further by splitting and rebuilding them using RC090 (BMW Style 5) barrels, which are much wider than the original RT ones. “That changed the look of them completely in my opinion” he explains. The RT faces were powder-coated in ‘Arizona Sun’ (a BMW colour) and the barrels fully polished, resulting in the perfect combination for any white car. Finally, they’ve been wrapped in 195/40 tyres up front and 205/40 on the rears, allowing for that much needed extra clearance when driving low.



“Having a decent suspension setup is the key to running the car this low, and taking my time setting it up has been crucial” Carlos explains. That said, both of his chassis rails are split and have large flat edges, but this is the downside to running a static low car every day, and thanks to the notorious Southampton roads. “I’ve spent a lot of time adjusting heights, dampening, playing with different tyre sizes and adjusting the camber all round” he continues. The car sits on HSD Dual Tech coilovers, with uprated 6″ 18k front and 4″ 22k rear springs, as the original 8/9k setup was far too soft. Overall, and after constant trial and error, it took him about six months to get the car sitting how he wanted, as you see it today.



With so many people turning to air ride these days, Carlos has mixed feelings about driving his car this low on coilovers. “Looks, excitement, stress… I actually enjoy the challenge of getting from A to B (when things go to plan), and the fact that I have a valid excuse when it comes down to giving people lifts!” he laughs. “To me being static makes driving that little more exciting”, although he admits it can be a headache too, and he’s become rather fed up of doing damage to his arches and chassis rails. Could air be on the cards soon?



Other than the wheels and coilovers, the car is relatively standard, which is the best way to keep an E36 in my opinion, unless you’re going balls-out low (like Alex Wright’s E36 we featured last year). Carlos’ coupe works for him as a slammed daily driver… it’s a thing of beauty, perfected with a Bolts Bolts USDM sidelight kit, and most recently a Fancy Wide rear diffuser to make the rear end more aggressive. Along with the LTW rear wing, the car has an appropriate number of subtle mods, without taking it too far and looking silly. Nobody likes a try-hard, right?



Thanks to his E36, the car community has started to play a much bigger part in Carlos’ life than he had ever imagined it would. “I feel lucky to have met so many genuine people in these last couple of years. The car community has made me feel at home.” Originally, and still very much, a BMX guy, Carlos started to find the BMX scene that he once loved, become dull over recent years. “The car scene took me in. I don’t know if that’s down to luck or if that’s the way it has been but I’m grateful either way.” Working as a stevedore at Southampton docks, with 50-70 hour weeks, days and nights and with a family at home, Carlos doesn’t get much time to do what he loves, but when the gets any free time, he still tries to get out on his BMX or work on the car with his friends. “My car wouldn’t be where it’s at without the help of my friends. Thanks boys!” I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes the car next, but it’s always refreshing to see such a clean example being driven daily. Keep it up, Carlos!


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