Words & Photos by Henry Phull
Astonishingly, BMW’s E36 model has finally started to rise in value over the past year or so. Even though so many of these cars are being broken for spares and drifted, parts are still relatively affordable and easily acquirable, but because of this, the number of clean roadworthy cars has started to drop. The way I see it is that there’s two ways to take on an E36 build right now.. go for the mint OEM/+ look, or go completely wild with it like the car featured here, Alex Wright’s 328i Sport. Although far from ‘show car’ standard, this is one of the (if not the) lowest static E36’s in the country – and that’s what we’re interested in here at Slam Sanctuary of course. I’ve known Alex for a while now and been patiently waiting for a chance to shoot his car – but he’s forever been chasing the perfect fitment and ride-ability, but it looks like he’s finally nailed it, pushing the boundaries to get his car as low as he possibly can. Just seeing it on the roll, is something else.
Predominantly a Volkswagen man, Alex’s interest in cars previously involved a Mk2 Golf (on Wellers with AFH on R1 carbs), a Mk3 Golf (ABF on Corvette wheels) which he ran on flipped coils and four notches which actually got him sent to court, so eventually it ended up on AccuAir suspension to keep him out of trouble. That was followed by a B3 Passat on the same suspension & wheel set up, and then a B5 A4 on RH’s. Further down the line, Alex thought he’d have a go at drifting and purchased his first E36 328i, which quickly ended up in a tree at the bottom of his road – luckily he was okay, but the drift idea became a distant memory as he started to focus on lowering cars again as he had done before.
A friend’s 318is came up for sale cheap as it had also been crashed, leaving one side of the car with bent arms, so Alex picked it up and swapped over all the parts which were unharmed from his 328i. A healthy drop, Brock wheels, an LTW wing and more.. clearly he was enjoying playing about with E36’s, but it soon became apparent that the 318is lump had nothing on his previous 328i straight six and Alex missed the power.
Jamie Hitchcock’s 328i then appeared for sale, which Alex decided to buy as a donor car with the intention of dropping the engine into his 318, as the car had no interior whatsoever, stock suspension, no wheels or rub strips and what seemed like endless air lines (as the car was bagged during Jamie’s ownership) and sub cables which he is still finding to this day.
However, the car was a genuine 328i Sport, which are now becoming somewhat rarer and swayed him into keeping the shell and getting rid of the 318is completely. The car was ideal for Alex… “I’ve never been into show cars, clean paint or immaculate interiors. I’m drawn to cars that may be a bit battered but sit just right, especially static cars that can easily be mistaken for being on air.” he explains.
Finished in Montreal blue, the paintwork on the 328i was far from perfect, but it’d do for Alex’s needs. The plan was to get the car as low as possible and still be driveable. “Nothing looks better than a car on the floor with fitment, even better when it’s static. When I park next to people on air and I’m as low or lower you can’t help but grin.” he chuckles.
One of the first steps into drivability was to fit a set of SS AUTOWERKS engine spacers which raised the engine by 20mm to ensure the sump sits above the stock subframe, massively helping with clearance and piece of mind. The fuel filter was also relocated into the engine bay to prevent it from being destroyed underneath the car. Whilst I’m talking about it, the engine remains stock, apart from an ACS delete and silicone intake with a K&N filter, plus a Super Sprint cat back exhaust for some added noise.
Alex first fitted a set of FK coilovers which he had to cut up to get low, but unsurprisingly the ride was simply awful. Luckily an affordable set of HSD MonoPro coilovers later came up for sale which he snapped up immediately. These drove well when lowered normally, but the ride was still unbearable with the significant drop that he wanted…
This led to experimentation with various custom springs, finally opting for 6″ 16K springs on the front and 4″ 16K on the rear, which improved the ride comfort considerably, and which is now spot on. Again, after lots of tweaking, Alex’s optimum setting for the camber top mounts are set to -5 on the front, along with rear D2 Racing adjustable arms set up to -3.5.
Driving low wasn’t doing any favours for the rear arches on the E36 which were rotting badly anyway. To help with the overall plan of getting the car get even lower, and of course being able to keep the car without having to constantly spend on fixing the arches, Alex knew it was time to cut out the rot, and fit overfender’s which were sourced by SS AUTOWERKS.
These were fitted over the rear sections of the car and allowed an extra 50mm each side for wider wheels… it’s worth noting that the rear bumper mounts had to be spaced 25mm to accommodate them. The overfenders were painted to match the car along with the front bumper as it had been ruined previously.
Alex ran the car on the Brocks he had kept from the 318is for a while, but when an opportunity to trade them with a bit of cash for a set of AC Schnitzer (ACS) Type 1’s, it was a no-brainer. Besides, the Brocks had to be spaced out far too much with the newly installed overfenders. Being splits, it meant that the ACS’ could be rebuilt a lot wider to fill the wider arches.
Originally they were 17×8.5 up front and 17×9.5 rears, so Alex swapped the 3″ 9.5’s to the front and ordered some 4″ dishes to rebuild the rear wheels. Once built, the specs work out as 17×9.5 ET13 with 3″ dishes up front, and 17×11 ET-5 with 4″ dishes at the rear, which tuck perfectly under the rear overfenders, whilst the front arches have about 25mm pull in them.
Alex is still not done with the wheels and wants to try the faces in a darker colour, but they still do look a treat on the car. Getting tyres right also took some time, and making sure the car sat right and not too ‘nose down’ which is a personal hate of his on most E36’s. After being unhappy with 225/40’s on the rear, he upped them to 245/35’s along with 205/40’s on the front. It’s still crazy to think that the car is indeed static! Not many people would dream of running bagged fitment on a static car, but my hat’s off to Alex.
You only have to take a peek inside the cockpit to understand that everything about this car is, quite simply, raw. Immediately noticeable is the Safety Devices 4 point cage, which Alex had to modify to fit, as it was originally for a non-sunroof model car. The feet were cut off, a harness bar was welded to it, and then the whole thing was welded into the car on new base feet by Craig Sims.
The race car theme continues with a set of bucket seats out of a Mitsubishi EVO 5 which were made to fit, finished with TRS and Takata harnesses. Along with the prominent Kode dildo shifter, the interior is completed with a new Renown ‘100 Motorsport’ dished steering wheel with M-style stitching (350mm wide and 100mm deep) which was supplied by RollHard.
“This car was built without spending loads of money and still makes an impact” Alex tells me. Sure, it’s taken about a year to get to this point, but with a build like his it’s all about making those small upgrades as you can and when money allows. Alex now gets constant questions from E36 owners and others wanting to replicate his build and fitment, because let’s face it, he’s nailed the fitment. Some people don’t even believe that it’s static, which is always funny to witness at shows and meets. This isn’t just lowering a car as far as a set of coilovers will allow, and hopefully after reading you’ll get it… Endless fine tuning goes a long way. But, it’s not done yet. Alex has decided to take the car off the road towards the end of the year to work on a turbo build, flat boot with fuel cell, plus a true rear coilover conversion. It sounds like a serious-looking car will soon have a very serious engine, I can’t wait.