Design wise, The BMW E36 is one of the most iconic three series renditions of modern memory. From it you can see a very evolutionary path up to today’s latest model , but when it was launched in 1991, it was a direct replacement for the E30 – a car that was conceived in the 70’s and that remained in production for 9 years. As such the E30, as charming as it is, was looking considerably dated. To further add to the pressure, the E30 had been a gem of a car: one that buyers loved for it’s remarkable combination of reliability, comfort and on-rails handling. But as you’ll have read in the last issue of our magazine, the E36 managed to do a damned good job of fulfilling the criteria, and is highly sought after today!
Whilst the E36 came in many forms, form the 98-horsepower poverty spec 316i, to the sonorous 320bhp Euro-Spec M3, each one was praised for their astoundingly good chassis, driver-centric cabin, and overall bullet-proof reliability. The E36 has thus become the darling of automotive enthusiasts the world over, especially now as good examples have become increasingly more affordable. On the local front, whilst there are fewer high capacity versions knocking around, we have a fair share of enthusiasts who lovingly adorn their cars with affection and go faster bits. So then why single out this particular E36 build?
Let’s start with the man behind the car, none other than Sanjay Gunaratne. No stranger to BMW’s, Sanjay has built a reputation for building and contributing to some of the most respected Bavarian projects in the island. Having owned several E34’s and E30’s, this was the first E36 that Sanjay decided to purchase for himself. “When I first got the car, it was a mess,” recalls Sanjay. “The engine needed replacing, and the car hadn’t moved for several years, so all the other bits that tend to deteriorate over time had to be replaced too.” Most people, after seeing the car and the state it was in, would likely have walked away at this point, perhaps reasoning that it would take far too much effort to get it running again. But the car did have one saving grace: it was an original 325i. “Although it needed a new engine, the fact that it was a 325i meant that it also had a lot of equipment from factory, and no engine upgrade was needed,” say Sanjay. “We got very lucky with the engine too! When it was fitted and started for the first time it was evident the engine behaved like brand new!”
Engine in, and car running, the next year saw upgrades coming thick and fast. Rather than jumping ahead with drastic power upgrades, Sanjay instead opted to future proof the other vital components of the car, before any significant strides were made under the bonnet. This included upgraded brakes, 325mm in the front, courtesy of an E46 330i, and 295mm in the back from an E46 328i, paired with an M3 Servo and Master Pump. Brake and clutch lines were then replaced with braided units from Driftworks, and the steering rack was swapped for a quicker ratio M3 unit.
Increasing the already sparkling chassis saw the suspension being swapped out with genuine Billstein Coil overs, with 18 inch racing Dynamics wheels shod in some of the best rubber money can buy: Michelin Pilot Sport 3s. The ability to mix and match parts across the BMW range is exemplified once again, with the gearbox upgrade, featuring a lightweight flywheel coupled to an E34 M5 clutch and E36 M3 pressure plate, and M3 gearbox. And what would all this be without a Limited Slip Differential, which needless to say was also added.
Meanwhile the car underwent a re-spray, from its sedate original Glacier Blue hue, to the striking and sought after Estoril Blue. Eagle eyed readers will also spot a myriad of interior upgrades too, including M3 “Vader” seats, a multifunction steering wheel from an E39, cruise control, and a digitally converted AC panel.
So what’s next for the 325i? Well the next upgrade is already in progress at the time of writing. “it’s an engine stroker kit, which should in theory go some way to transforming the M50 into a S50, like that found in the US Spec M3. Once again this all done through combining parts from various BMW engines, and making our own creation,” says Sanjay. And after that? “If I keep the car for longer then I’ll consider fitting a supercharger. Active Autowerke already makes one, and it should be good for 350-400bhp. I think I’ll be happy with that…”
Whilst it would be unfair to brand Sanjay’s car as an M3 conversion, it will end up being pretty close, if not one step ahead, and is a conversion in it’s own right. Having had the opportunity to drive the car around the track, it’s safe to say that this smelting pot of BMW has become an incredibly driver-centric creation. Everything you’ve heard about the straight 6 engines that BMW made in the 90’s is true: even power delivery, eager to rev, and yet unbelievably refined. The brake and suspension upgrades, although admittedly taking a lot of the comfort out of the equation that BMWs are noted for, translate into corners that are taken with the car virtually flat, barking points being far later, and overall far higher g forces attained around curves.
Although Sanjay will be the first to point out that his E36 is a work in progress, if it’s this good right now, I for one can’t wait to find out just how great it’ll be in a few months’ time! In the meantime, look out for our video experience with Chassy in the Ride Along series, soon to appear on our YouTube channel:
A Stroker Kit is an engine upgrade which increases the displacement of the engine (Eg: In this case the 2.5 Litre engine becomes a 3.1 Litre). It does so by increasing the travel of the piston, so that there is a greater volume with in cylinder.
WORDS: Sam Smith
IMAGES: R2 Studios
A BIG THANK YOU To: Mr Sajay Gunaratne