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More Than a Dream – Lee Curtis' 1987 BMW E24 635CSI

Words & Photos by Henry Phull

 

The 635CSI has always been one of our all-time favourite classic BMW’s here at Slam Sanctuary. I had an Alpine White example myself during the early days, until I decided to sell it in order to invest further into the business - this actually allowed me to start building the apparel side of Slam Sanctuary which, over time, has become our primary focus. Even though I don’t regret selling it, I’ve still never missed a car as much as that one. There’s something about the E24, it’s just a ‘cool’ car. I mean, all you have to do is look at it. Stock or modified, It’s a car that anyone will appreciate, even if they’re not interested in cars - the big sharknose coupe will always get a thumbs up wherever it goes. So, let’s rewind to September 2017, when I received a text message from Lee, the other half of Slam Sanctuary… I believe his words were “Guess what I’ve bought?”. “Oh dear” was my initial reaction, as, knowing him, it could’ve been absolutely anything. But when he continued to tell me it was a 635CSI, my jaw dropped. A particular car sprung to mind, as we’d recently been made aware of an E24 sitting around at our local BMW specialist’s shop.

It was indeed that same car, a 1987 build in Diamantschwarz Metallic, with this particular model being produced during the E24’s ‘switchover’ period, when BMW changed their chrome bumper design to the later ‘Highline’ plastic bumper cars. It’s also a Shadow Line spec’d car, which means all the chrome bumpers and surrounds are blacked from factory, making this shark rather unusual from the norm (not that these cars are common, anyway!). This was a definite selling point for Lee. However, the state of the car was another story. Our local BMW mechanic bought the car a few years ago (this was actually whilst I owned my Alpine White car), drove it from Brighton to Poole, once, and parked it up in his unit. During this time, the car was pretty much stripped apart with the aim of fully restoring it, which he never got round to doing. So, Lee did a deal and ended up taking on the huge project. Oh, and it didn’t even run. Getting to grips with someone else’s project is never an easy task, so a stressful Winter was on the cards…

Lee’s vision for the big coupe was to put together the cleanest 635CSI he could, keeping the majority of the car as stock as possible, apart from the suspension, wheels, and a couple of interior upgrades. He knew that a car like this didn’t need to be over-the-top, and the results prove that. But if you think this is merely a ‘bags and wheels’ build, you’d be wrong. The further and further Lee investigated, the worse the condition of the car became. It was clearly a lot more than he had planned to take on, but it didn’t stop him, he was wholeheartedly determined to save the car… It was time to call in the assistance of our friends at Kustom Kolors, our go-to bodyshop, who know a thing or two about restoration. It was decided that the car would get a full respray, and no shortcuts would be made to make the car look as good as possible. Lee was clear about wanting to keep the car black, but Colin at Kustom Kolors suggested going for something a bit special, finally deciding on BMW Rubinschwarz Metallic for the new colour, which has a lovely ruby red sparkle to it under sunlight. A deadline was set to drive the car to Wörthersee 2018 to make its debut - which, at the time, seemed like wishful thinking.

The car spent the Winter months at Kustom Kolors, with work taking place whenever they had a spare minute. As time went by, more and more issues appeared. Major welding to the roof/sunroof, rear arches, notorious front wings, and the front clip took place in-house to get the car back to factory spec. It was also decided that the car would be taken back to bare metal to allow for the best possible paint job, as multiple layers of paint were discovered during the tear-down process. The project turned into an extensive group effort, with Kustom Kolors, ourselves, and a few good friends getting involved and getting their hands dirty to ensure we made our deadline. As the car wasn’t running, various electrical faults were found and rectified. Plus, unsure of when the car was last driven properly, the M30B35 motor was given a complete service with new belts, the cooling system was overhauled, along with a brake fluid flush and new lines. Remember that the car purchased as a non-runner, so Lee wanted to make sure the car would be as reliable as possible on it’s maiden voyage to Wörthersee… only a 2000+ mile round trip, no biggie!

Whilst the car was undergoing extensive surgery at Kustom Kolors, meanwhile me and Lee had moved the interior into my garage ready to undergo a refresh. Luckily the car came with a Sport interior from factory, and although the leather was in really good condition for its age, it was full beige, which Lee absolutely hated. With little funds left for a re-trim, we decided to try our hands at dying the original leather. Choosing the colour wasn’t a straightforward task, we looked at several variants of red, but Lee eventually decided on a chocolate brown, and ordered a colour-change kit from Furniture Clinic. This ended up taking far, far, longer than we had anticipated, and I’ll say that, if you’re thinking of dying yours, you need to be 100% dedicated! It really was a labour of love... there is a ton of prep work involved and the seats had to be completely dissembled. The dye kit allowed us to change the colour of all the leather seats, as well as the door cards and plastic trims. The results are pretty phenomenal for not much money, even if we did sacrifice a lifetime in labour.

The chocolate interior looks right at home amidst the black paint work, and blissfully period-correct. If you didn’t know it was dyed, you’d think it was original, and that’s exactly what Lee was going for. A light brown Nardi Classic steering wheel was added (along with genuine Nardi boss) to further contrast everything, and the headlining & parcel shelf were transformed from the original beige to black alcantara (thanks to Rawhide Upholstery). The grubby beige carpets were also dyed black to finish off the cockpit renewal. A new Bluetooth/DAB headunit along with new OE-spec speakers were then added to make the upcoming road trip to Wörthersee more enjoyable.

After we featured Jan-Eric Géugis’ stunning 635CSI last year, Lee knew that he wanted his car sitting fairly similarly… bagged and with perfect fitment. So, having recently installed an Only Charged Dubs ‘BAGS by OCD’ BC Racing conversion pack on my E38 740i, we opted to go down the same route with the 635CSI. Lee purchased a brand new set of E24-specific BC Racing coilovers which fit directly to the car (after some basic cutting and welding to the original McPherson struts). The BAGS by OCD air bags were then ordered to replace the BC springs, turning the coilovers into fully adjustable air struts, with minimal effort. Once installed by Kustom Kolors, the appropriate time was spent to adjust the height of these, allowing a perfect arch-to lip fitment on ‘air-out’ as well as a comfortable driving height. We wanted the air ride to be as reliable as possible, so, of course, Lee opted for an Air Lift Performance 3P management system, with dual black VIAIR 444c compressors and a 4-gallon tank.

Moving on to possibly the most important part of the build, the wheels… They say ‘wheels make the car’, a statement we fully agree with. Unfortunately, with the deadline for Wörthersee getting ever closer, and Lee’s wallet becoming lighter and lighter thanks to all the unexpected issues the car was throwing at him, he was left with no wheels to complete the project. His initial idea was to get some custom one-off wheels produced, but having now completely ran out of time and budget, he had to re-think the situation. This is where our longtime friend, Joey Hazell, came to the rescue. Having previously built a set of 17-18” stepped-up BBS RS 302’s for his E36, he very kindly loaned Lee the wheels for the majority of the 2018 show season. Find yourself a mate that will let you drive his RS’ to Wörthersee and back… what a guy! The specs are 18x9.5j ET22 up front and 18x10.5j ET10 at the rear, although ideal for an E36, they were a little off for the E24, but Lee rectified this with spacers all round (25mm fronts, 15mm rears). New Nankang NS20 rubber was fitted too, with 225/35/18’s up front and 245/35/18’s on the rear, offering just enough stretch for perfect fitment, without being over-the-top.

Let’s get back to the bodywork. Kustom Kolors worked their magic restoring the 635CSI to its factory condition, so, next it was time for Lee to decide on several finishing touches. Luckily a few spares, including some new trim pieces, came with the car when it was purchased, but there were still plenty of parts to either buy brand new from BMW that had been lost or not included, and other parts which were no longer available new. This resulted in numerous trips to classic BMW breakers, hunting for all sorts. As a result, Lee spent a small fortune collecting new and old trim pieces - if you’ve ever restored a classic car before, you’ll understand! Lee made the wise decision of keeping the car Shadow Line, but decided to add chrome front grill surrounds and kidneys, which completely make the front end of the car pop, and show-off that iconic sharknose shape. Brand new amber indicator lenses were also installed to bring this together.

With just a couple of days left to spare before our road trip to Wörthersee, everyone involved worked their butts off to get the car done. Lee barely had a chance to drive the car around locally before he found himself on the first real test for the previously non-running car, a 2000+ mile road trip. Amazingly, the car made it there and back with no hiccups and gave us the road trip of a lifetime. Naturally, it made perfect sense to shoot the feature along the iconic alpine road, Villacher Alpenstraße, just outside of Velden.

After plenty of nerve-racking moments, Lee’s vision ultimately turned into a car that is even better than what he was hoping for. There’s no doubt, that this is one of the coolest cars of 2018, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to promote Slam Sanctuary with such a badass project. Nonetheless, like any modified car, the build hasn’t ended here… there’s still plenty left to do this Winter to get ready for 2019, including a new set of wheels. Unsurprisingly, Lee is now 100% set on sticking to BBS RS’. Like everyone said, once you fit them, you won’t want anything else - they just work on everything. Rather than building another set of 17-18” wheels, he wants to go for a 16-18” setup using slant lips, which should look even more impressive! Furthermore, there’s still plenty of work to do behind the scenes, including a new exhaust system and a few maintenance issues. We can’t wait to get it back out.

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