The E46 M3 was arguably the last true M car. It sat at the cusp of undeniable performance with functional luxury, seamlessly blended with the raw characteristic every M should exude, although it’s no featherweight.
Beyond all why the E46 M3 is one of the best sports cars ever built, it’s also definitely the best performance bargain for the European icon on today’s market, with prices starting from $14000-25000.
Having possessed a poster in the Europe-only M3 CSL on my own wall considering that the 1400 units were made in 2004, I always planned to obtain the M3. After years of casual searching, I finally found a pristine example exactly as I needed it: Silver Gray Metallic, manual trans, low miles and, on top of that, it was meticulously maintained by none other than Turner Motorsport. Granted, it’s no CSL, but it really ticked almost every other box.on the clock and also the rear subframe already reinforced by TMS, the 2003 M3 was an ideal platform for a project build.
We wanted a day-to-day-driving street brawler, with motorsport-inspired looks and the balls to lap Porsches at weekend track days, while also being capable of drift and auto-X events. Yes, we wanted an M3 that could do it all…
In future issues we’ll delve into the details of the parts used, the installations and difficulties (fortunately there are virtually none) as well as the reason behind each of our product choices.
Plain and simple, we wanted the best of the best, which meant choosing tried ‘n tested parts that could withstand the abuse we’d subject them to. So, we compiled a long list of modifications and sought the recommendations of our friends at european auto source (EAS) in Anaheim, CA.
2003 BMW M3 recaro speed seats 05
2003 BMW M3 coby wheel alcantara steering wheel 11
2003 BMW M3 recaro speed seats 12
The company is one of the primary go-to BMW tuning shops in Southern California. And so they agreed to complete the entire build while walking us through each step.
With three lifts, an in-house DynoJet dynamometer, custom ECU tuning and various parts in store, getting work done at EAS was as relaxing as a Hawaiian vacation.
Maintaining comfort on the freeway while gaining speed in the twisties is a black art, requiring finesse and balance, although having a car that handles well is one thing. So, we started with KW Clubsport coilovers because they’re ideal for the path or track.
This is the fourth car I’ve used them on and they’ve been consistently flawless. With a twist of the knobs, you can move from pothole-absorbing to teeth-chattering, as well as a happy medium is fairly simple toAssociated with Rogue Engineering front control arm and rear trailing arm bushings, plus rear shock mounts, our E46 feels track-ready and road-worthy.
The factory strut bar has a known weakness, so that we swapped it for a Strong Strut that’s reportedly indestructible, yet can be simply removed for motor maintenance without touching the shock towers.
Our biggest gripe with the M3, above all else, may be the steering rack. Non-CSL or ZCP M3s come with a 15.4: 1 rack ratio, making for lazy steering that takes full arm movements to do anything beyond a lane change.
Although the CSL rack is 13.6: 1, we opted for the sought-after unicorn of BMW racks; the Z4 M Coupe’s 12.8: 1 unit. Because of getbmwparts.com it became one of the best modifications we made, transforming the vehicle, albeit at a steep $1600.
The M3 was blessed with massive fenders, so my goal was to exploit them, extracting maximum grip and a broad-shouldered stance.
We wanted wheels that have been aggressive, strong and light-weight, so prefered a set of Volk TE37 wheels wrapped in Falken RT615-k rubber. With 265/35 tires on 18×9.5 up front and 275/35 on 18×10.5 out back, the car is planted and inspires supreme confidence. The deep concave design of the TE37 wheels paired with -4° of front camber created the look we wanted. But in all honesty, if Falken made 285 or 295-width rubber within this tread pattern, we’d run it and also the car would be even happier at the limit. As it is, the handling is fantastic but our power-adders require more traction. Yet the RT615-k is so predictable, that stepping-out your rear mid-corner on full throttle is peanut butter smooth, and smoky. Precisely how we like it!
The car is really a drift monster… After all, it can make a beefy 464whp and revs to 8400rpm.
ESS Tuning offers the most popular supercharger to the BMW crowd, and it’s no real surprise. The kit fitted perfectly, the software tuning delivers factory levels of drivability and the power is phenomenal, even on California’s poor 91-octane fuel.
We’re running the newest ESS VT2-525 supercharger kit, which had been engineered to hit the performance ceiling of pump gas. Kissing 9psi at redline with the centrifugal Vortech blower, means the powerband is literally pushed up a notch. It’s such as the factory power delivery, only multiplied significantly. The car pulls and pullspulls and pullsDue to the choice, we opted for the latest black powdercoat finish about the supercharger, intercooler, intake manifold and plumbing to keep things stealthy: mission accomplished.
In stock form, our M3 put down a wholesome 290whp and 240 lb-ft. Once the ESS blower was fitted we saw gains of 76 and 174hp lb-ft respectively on the wheels.
This road and power-hugging prowess will be useless without the ability to bring things to intense halt, so that we went for Performance Friction brakes. Utilizing lightweight four-piston forged monoblock front calipers with 355mm floating, dimpled rotors, the front brakes are ridiculously capable. Out back we have two-piston calipers on 323mm rotors and lap after lap, the brakes won’t fade, allowing us to carry plenty of speed into any corner. The good looks don’t hurt either…
To complete the car we made minor changes inside. Hearing the blow and exhaust-off valve is equally entertaining, though the factory speakers were blown, so we partnered with Bavarian Soundwerks to setup its Stage 1 loudspeaker upgrade.
To help keep our rear-leads to check we chose Recaro Speed seats because fixed-back buckets weren’t appropriate for our daily driver. The Speed provides support everywhere and has the capacity to accept a five-point harness.
The stock M3 wheel was also somewhat flimsy, and the leather was slippery. So Coby Wheel re-wrapped it in CSL-style grey alcantara with M stitching, thickening the rim and pairing it with matching shift- and e-brake boots.
We avoided the temptation of exterior spoilers and splitters, although the M3 has come a long way. Sometimes subtlety is the best policy, and while it’s no sleeper, it seems to slip underneath the radar good enough.
Part 2: ESS supercharger installation and dyno-test next monthfender and kidney grilles, smoked corners
Interior Recaro Speed seats on Macht Schnell floor mounts, Coby Wheel alcantara steering wheel, shift and e-brake boots, Stack gauges, Macht Schnell delrin shift knob.