Words & Photos by Henry Phull
If you’re an avid BMW fan, you’ve most probably heard of Nick Sahota, the owner of the bright orange E30 M3 on air that we recently featured. Sure, the M3 is an incredible car, but it’s just one of the many stunning vehicles in his garage, which also includes a brand new X6 M, supercharged Kahn Range Rover, Aston Martin V8 Vantage – plus the recently acquired Ferrari Testarossa and Lamborghini Diablo. So yeah, there’s no hiding that Nick likes to splash the cash on his toys, but he still stays true to his motoring roots, a marque which he can never seem to get away from, BMW. He grew up with these cars, and is still a true enthusiast at heart. He also owns several E30’s to go along with the M3, in addition to an E34 M5 and E34 Alpina B10, which brings us on nicely to today’s feature car, the E34 540i. Unsurprisingly, he actually owned a 540i/6 a few years ago, which became an engine donor for his E30 V8 project car, alas the rest of the car was broken and sold on for parts. In hindsight, I’m sure he somewhat regrets it now. The 540i, and especially manual examples, have become more and more popular over the last couple of years. They used to be sold for peanuts, whereas they’ve now become recognised as one of BMW’s best classic V8 examples. With a manual box, they are now fetching upwards of 5k+, and that usually gets you a dog of a car. With so few left in the UK, Nick had to look further afield when he had his heart set on finding another manual car.
I actually remember when Nick started the hunt for a 540, as I helped him in the search of the UK for a decent example, alas, they all seemed to be autos and had ridiculous price tags attached to them. So, he started looking on some European websites and came across a few examples with much better spec, condition and prices than the ones in the UK at the time. One particular example in Poland caught his eye. After that, everything happened unbelievably quickly. He tracked down a friend that spoke Polish, who sorted out the sale for him, and even flew over and drove the car back to the UK – now that’s dedication!
You’ve got to really want a car to buy it blindly, let alone from another country! I saw the car a few days after it arrived back in the UK… His gamble had paid off. It was in better condition than most 540i’s I’d ever seen in the UK. Evidently, the previous owner in Poland had spent quite a lot of money on the car. It was sat on 18″ RH split rims, had a complete interior re-trim in black leather, including dashboard, extended leather options and black rooflining. If that wasn’t enough, the car came with some incredibly rare Recaro front seats from the E34 M5 ‘Winkelhock’ edition, with just 51 produced. Most importantly, it had a manual box.
However, the more Nick drove the car, he realised that the previous owner cared more about the looks than the way the car drove. An inspection underneath revealed that a lot of maintenance had been forgotten about over the years. Body wise, the car was solid and the paint was in great shape. The bushes, suspension and other steering components would need a complete overhaul, though, which isn’t cheap on these cars.
When you drive faster modern cars every day, you don’t want to get into your classic car and have it feel like a bag of crap. Sure, it will never be the same driving experience as something newer, but when set up correctly the E34 can be a proper drivers car. But first Nick wanted to amplify the sound of the M60B40 V8 engine, which meant a trip to Hard Knocks Speed Shop where Chris ‘Badger’ Bourton built a complete custom stainless system which sounds insane. From my experience with V8’s, a loud exhaust is almost always a necessity – if you’re paying the fuel bills, you might as well have the pleasure of hearing the roar of the engine.
The next port of call was to address the suspension. The car had already been lowered on some home-brew coilovers, which were completely maxed out and drove dreadfully. After seeing how well my own E24 635CSI drove on BC Racing coilovers, Nick made the decision to order a set of ‘Extra Low’ BR Series coilovers for the 540i. With the help of Alex Wright and Nick Hart at SS Autowerks, they supplied and installed the new suspension for him and sorted out a complete 4-wheel alignment. As a result, the car now sits even lower and drives as it should. For the money, it’s hard to find a rival to the BC coilovers, so after experiencing them on my own car and seeing how well Nick’s rides, we now stock them ourselves. (Visit our online store for more info).
With the stance nailed, Nick had to decide what to do about the wheels. As pleasing as the car previously looked on the RH splits, keeping them on the car didn’t seem appropriate, as he wanted to put his own stamp on it. Most wheels have been done on E34’s, so improving on the RH’s was not an easy task. Go for another aftermarket design, or stick to a BMW OEM wheel? Or… build your own?
Coincidently a custom set of M-system Throwing Stars and Turbines were doing the rounds throughout social media at the time. Rimal Chand over in the USA had created his own custom split version of BMW’s M-system wheel, originally found on the E34 M5 and E31 8-series. This involves a custom face which can be used with lips and barrels, turning it into a split rim. For BMW enthusiasts worldwide, this was a god-like achievement. Nick knew he had to have a set on the 540i, as they’d look right at home on an E34.
After a few messages back and forward between Nick and Rimal, a deal was done for him to get the custom faces built and shipped over to the UK. Again, the services of Alex and Nick at SS Autowerks were sought after to get the custom wheels built and fitted on the car. This involved lots of measuring and precision to ensure everything would fit so that they could order the correct barrels and lips.
Luckily Nick already had a genuine set of Throwing Star covers in his parts collection, so these were donated to the project straight away. Unfortunately, some information was lost in translation the first time round, which is easily done when you are dealing with multiple people around the world! At first the wrong barrels and lips were ordered, so it was immediately back to the drawing board with lots of waiting around and customs holding on to shipments.
The new deadline was to have the car ready for our Slam Sanctuary stand at Ultimate Dubs 2016 back in March. They delivered just in time – with the wheels and tyres being fitted only a few hours before the show opened. The wheels were finally built to 18×9.5 fronts and 18×11 rears which fit perfectly inside the E34’s arches with 225/35 and 245/35 tyres. The final result is breathtaking, if I do say so myself.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think this is how they should have left the factory at BMW. It has completely revitalised an old wheel design, which are rare themselves nowadays. This has made them even more unique, and they really do look right at home on Nick’s car. Just like the original M-system wheels, the faces can be easily unbolted so that the ‘Turbine’ covers can also be used with ease, but he decided to stick to the Throwing Star covers as they suit the car much better.
Finished off with genuine smoked Hella headlights and rear lights, plus an E34-specific heckblende surrounding the hilarious private plate (U AS5), Nick’s vision has come to life. Having already dominated the E30 scene, he’s now doing it with the E34 equivalent, albeit on a much more moderate scale. The 540i isn’t over the top – it’s just right. With subtle styling and wheels that only die-hard BMW fans will notice, it’s a definite example of OEM+ done tastefully. Given that custom exhaust system, it looks and sounds the part, and breaks plenty of necks. With most E34 fans actually preferring the 540 over the M5 because of the V8 powerhouse, this is the ultimate dream car. I can’t wait to see what project Nick has up his sleeve next.