Words & Photos by Henry Phull
Having featured a selection of stunning examples already, the BMW E36 is undoubtedly one of our favourite cars here at Slam Sanctuary. However, you could argue that they’ve somewhat over-populated the modified car scene as of late, but we’re continuing to sift through them and still finding notable builds that we feel are worth highlighting – if they’re done right, they are still one of the best looking BMWs, ever. Today, the spotlight is on Barry Smith’s E36, which has been re-built from the ground up. Thinking about it, it’d be hard to find a cleaner example in the UK that looks like it’s just been delivered from the factory – well, at least one that features a few improvements over OEM. Notably, a healthy drop on Air Lift Performance bags and a set of 18″ 3SDM forged wheels. But don’t worry, this isn’t just another “air and wheels” build… Barry’s car has undergone some extensive refreshing, including a full respray in the gorgeous BMW ‘Santorini Blue’.
Aged 45, Barry has had his fair share of projects over the years. “I’ve always had a massive interest in cars, mainly subtly modified cars, and I particularly enjoyed attending GTI international – especially when it was based at Crowthorne” he explains. As we’ve seen with a lot of newcomers to the BMW marque, Barry has only recently made the switch from Volkswagen, having owned 2 Mk2 Jetta GTI’s, 2 Mk3 Golf GTI’s, a Mk4 Golf V5, a Mk1 Golf with G40 swap, and a Mk2 Golf with an Audi S3 engine swap! He’s even owned a Porsche 964 which he now regrets letting go, big time, as their values have shot up in recent years.
With a BMW E90 as his daily driver, Barry became more interested in BMWs and the way they drove. In March 2016 he fancied a new project car… “I was originally looking for an older model… an E28 or E21, but I got frustrated waiting to source a good one” he explains. Around the same time that he was on the hunt for a car, an E36 popped up for sale which had been kept by the same previous owner for the past 18 years – a solid car which hadn’t been messed around with. For a project car, this is exactly the right sort of base to start with.
The car in question was a 1998 328i auto, finished in Montreal Blue and generally in great shape. Plus, it had Sport bumpers and sideskirts spec’d from the factory, which made it an even more attractive purchase. Naturally a deal was done on the E36 and Barry took delivery. His first port of call was to spruce up the mechanical side of things, which meant a trip to his friend Colin at Kustom Kolors, where the team added an M50 inlet manifold (the easiest way to get more power from a 328i lump). Plus, an uprated throttle body, Active Autowerke Cold Air induction system and an Eisenmann race-diameter 70mm exhaust & de-cat were installed for a fruitier sound. The dated OEM brakes were also upgraded to Stoptech units for extra stopping power.
Barry knew that he wanted the car to sit as low as possible from the get-go, but still needed the car to maintain drivability. After years of running static cars, he opted to go for air suspension, allowing him the best of both worlds. Luckily Kustom Kolors were willing to take control of the air installation, too. With so much happening to the car already, Colin persuaded Barry to go even further with it and get the whole car resprayed in the eye-catching Santorini Blue, a rare BMW Individual colour – whilst replacing every single window rubber and body moulding at the same time. During the car’s time at Kustom Kolors, they also had a chance to roll the front and rear arches to fit a set of 18″ wheels that Barry had planned for it.
Kustom Kolors also had the rear quarter seams welded to the rear panel and got on with smoothing a lot of the bodywork – including welding up the boot and bonnet badges, removing the boot lock and original M-tech spoiler. They even remade the rear number plate plinth, so it has no visible lock and removed the side repeaters too. They then installed a carbon fibre splitter to make the front end a bit meaner, along with black kidney grills and a US number plate plinth/delete. You’ll also notice the distinctive pair of AC Schnitzer aftermarket wing mirrors.
With the bodywork sorted and new paint applied, it was time to decide on wheels. Barry opted for a set of brand new 3SDM Forged 3.19 FR Series, 18×8.5 up front and 18×9 rears, which he thought were unusual and different to what is out there on other E36’s – they really do set the car off from other examples. The wheels were paired with 215/35 front and 225/35 rear tyres, for some subtle stretch.
Next, and most importantly, it was time to get the E36 closer to the ground. Air Lift Performance bags/struts were used all round, along with AccuAir SwitchSpeed management to control everything. A large colour-coded 5 litre air tank is situated in the boot, along with two VIAIR 444c Black Edition compressors. The rest of the management system is hidden away out of view. Colin also fabricated some custom air lines which run through the sills and front chassis legs, with custom braided leader hoses to the bags. Barry decided it would be a good chance to upgrade the factory audio whilst the air install took place, so it was replaced with an Alpine head unit, MB Quart components and a Pioneer hidden sub.
With the outside of the car now looking incredible, Barry wanted to go that extra mile and finish off the car with a full interior re-trim, as well as installing a set of M3 Vader front seats – probably the best OEM+ option for the E36. The contrasting nappa grey leather works wonderfully with the Santorini Blue paint. Finally, Barry added a Momo Jet steering wheel for an improved driving feel.
In September 2016, after around four months build time, the car was finally “finished”. That being the tail-end of show season, Barry has only been able to take it to a couple of events (Westside Treffen and Ultimate Stance – where it won in the Top 20), so he can’t wait for this year’s show circuit to kick off. But as we all know, a car is never fully “complete” – there are still plans to upgrade the AccuAir SwitchSpeed to the auto-levelling E-Level management, and smooth the engine bay. This is definitely an E36 to keep your eye on – not that it’s hard to miss!