VAC

Features

Sam Van Heest's E90 M3

Photography by Matt Petrie @crosshair_nightmare

It is hard to believe that the E90 M3 is rounding out the tenth year since it’s production. Yes, ten years have gone by already and it is being celebrated by ill fitting bolt-on wide body kits and flame shooting, burble tunes that bounce off the rev limiter. Sorry for the spoiler alert, but you won’t find that in here. No, instead Sam chose a cleaner approach. The phrase that comes to mind and best describes his E90 is “elements of traditional ways”. Each of these individual components are not contemporary by any means, but he carefully chose each aspect and perfected them uniquely, reintroducing excitement for the chassis a decade later.

When it comes to suspension, there are so many ways to lower the car. Despite all of the possibilities, there was only one option for Sam. The Ohlins Road and Track coil overs were selected to ensure that his ride remains smooth and capable to tackle the tri-state roads while sitting tightly over the wheels. It is no secret that BBS is synonymous with BMW. Although you need to count on your toes for E9x’s with BBS wheels, Sam still manages to keep the bar elevated. The wheels are not the standard, concave face that is more commonly seen. His are the rarer, flat face RSII’s, which gives the wheel more of a traditional RS appearance. It allows the wheels to be built wider while clearing enough room for big brakes. On the other hand, something that is rarely seen on this platform, are the velocity stacks. Even though trumpets have been married to independent throttle bodies since their conception, his 8000+ revving V8 is packing a little more than just the orchestra horn section. His design and execution with factory functions are what etch its rank in velocity stack comparison conversation, but we’ll get to that in more detail later.

The use of color is so crucial in any build and a three-color pallet requires a specific eye, but more importantly, the right taste. Although white is a neutral pallet to work with, it is Sam’s use of the red and brushed silver that solidifies the execution. Throughout the car, the coordination is so seamlessly integrated, that one can miss the cues or just simply take them for granted.

Against the Alpine White slick top, the contrasting interior is merely a glimpse away.  This car was originally equipped with black leather, but it was since fully replaced with the more desirable Fox Red leather.  To take it a step further, he completed the conversion with the fold down rear seats, which were previously affixed in the back of the cabin. Along with the color swap, he updated the navigation system to the LCI spec, which changes the screen and menu format as well as the better idrive control unit in the center console. Also occupying the center console are the F10 M5 shift knob and an AEM gauge cluster to monitor vitals. Even their silver bezels were kept in mind to tie in with the silver accented components around the interior.



The red on the outside of the car is minimalistic, but extremely effective. Red StopTech ST60 calipers hover millimeters below the brushed BBS faces. On those brushed faces, sit custom height hexes that house red BBS center caps.  When the hood is opened, his valve covers, dressed in wrinkle red, provide a vibrant base for the trumpet display.  Another item that is not normally red, nor in the S65 for that matter is the physical dipstick.  Those of you unfamiliar with the S65 and wondering why a dipstick is being written about, is because these cars only have electronic ones that read on the instrument cluster and are hardly accurate at that.  Sam’s S65 oil pan had been given the VAC treatment of baffled channels and a good ol’ fashion dipstick to pull out and wipe down. He made the swap during his upgraded rod bearing replacement.

Of course, we can’t pop the hood and only talk about the red valve covers or a silly dipstick.  Matching the brushed finish of his wheels are the 2M Autowerks machined velocity stacks for the S65’s independent throttle bodies. The sound of throttle bodies grabbing the open atmospheric air before you is glorious and intoxicating. All you want to be doing is driving the car two gears below where you should be, but simply running the machined trumpets was not Sam’s end goal.  His thought process was thorough and very definitive. On a functional side, it had to mimic the factory plenum plumbing to keep the car happy and have no irreversible modifications to make it work. While brainstorming the layout, he did not want to incorporate any covers or trays around the trumpets. “I don’t want to loose the mechanical feel of this, I want the engine to look like an engine” he said adamantly. No disagreement here. Although succinctly stated, he’s completely right. Seeing the fuel rails and linkage along side the newly introduced oil air separator AN lines or the bullet shaped oil catch is a beautiful thing.

He drew up some sketches for the cylindrical oil catch and then handed it over to his friend and local machinist, Eric of Tribal Iron Customs. Carrying out the brushed finish, the bullet shaped conversation piece also integrates the factory drain mount in the same location below the plenum. Focusing on the details, he even made a little bracket to hold the filter in place above the valve cover. Equally as impressive as it looks and sounds, is that attention to detail. He is not finished with this project either as there is still more to come.  The plan is to utilize the factory air ducts from the bumper and kidney grills by having filtered channels 3D printed to his specifications in order to feed it with as much clean air as open ITB’s can get.

Rather than removing the chrome accents around the car like the headlights and the grills, Sam kept them to compliment the polished lips of his wheels. A European inspired shaved front bumper and NLA original Challenge diffuser are just more examples of how little details go further than radical aero and body work.

Sam did not rewrite ‘the book’, he just pulled a few chapters out, added some vibrant illustration, and put them back in to show the rest of the community how it’s done.

Features

Jay Belknap's E53 X5 4.6iS S3

Photography by Dan Wagener & Ryan Lee

Traditional love stories typically begin with "once upon a time" and end with "and they lived happily ever after." Most people would hope that held true for every relationship, but through past experience we all know it to be an unrealistic expectation. Some relationships can start out as planned, but take a turn for the worst. Others may start out rough, but were all worth it in the end. For Jay Belknap and his 2003 X5 it was the latter.

Ever since Jay had a daily driver it's been some sort of truck/utility vehicle. It was something cheap and paid off which allowed him to sink money into his 1994 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4. Well, once he was satisfied with how the VR4 turned out, he figured he'd get the truck he had always wanted—a Range Rover Sport (Supercharged). So he went on the forums and asked the owners how they liked them… half said they were awesome, and the other half didn't know because they were always at the dealer for service. He then started researching the runner-up, the E53 X5 (keep in mind this is before the X5M had made its debut). Jay found that the 4.6iS could be supercharged through Dinan for a modest cost (much more affordable than what G-Power wanted to supercharge the 4.8iS for) so he decided to look for a clean one in black. Months of searching showed no luck and he eventually gave up.

One day about half a year later he randomly browsed for X5's on the market and found a one-owner 4.6iS (with 85k on the clock) for sale in Texas. It just so conveniently happened to be Black Sapphire, supercharged, and come with Brembo brakes and an E46 M3 wheel already installed. Skeptical that it had to be some sort of scam, additional photos proved it was in fact the real deal. He took a flight out to Houston a few days later with a check in hand. 

As he walked out of Houston International the black X5 whistled down the arrival ramp. It was freshly detailed and ready for him to take on a road trip back to Virginia Beach. He got in, exchanged pleasantries, got the paperwork done, and proceeded to drive to drop the previous owner off at his work. But as soon as they left the airport, boom, check engine light. The previous owner said he had a guy who was an old BMW master that did all the previous work and that he would have it fixed, right then. So they headed over to the shop and found a boost leak from a clamp that wasn't tightened down all the way. Already 4 hours behind schedule, Jay was ready to head home. When he finally got onto I-10 East, he punched it and the supercharged M62B46 said let's do this. He was instantly hooked; forgetting that the Range Rover Sport even existed. 

After about an hour into Louisiana though, the supercharger belt decided it was no longer going to be friends with the engine. It took out every other belt and the A/C tensioner on its way off the motor. Jay shut the truck down and got a tow back west to Texas. That tow truck broke down so another tow truck took him the remainder of the distance West on I-10 to a hotel in Beaumont, Texas, two blocks away from Beaumont BMW. He figured he'd be the first one into BMW the next day, get it fixed and be on his way. Well, he was the first one onto the lot, but the secretary arrived and informed him that their service shop is closed on Saturdays. She invited him inside to call yet another tow truck, to get him further West to Momentum BMW in Houston. It was at that time the service manager, who was coming in to do his end of month reports, had overheard Jay's situation and started calling his techs. One was awake and said he'd be right in. They got him back on the road with just a new main belt (no A/C belt/tensioner or S/C belt). The previous owner called back and paid BMW for the work. Jay thanked him and said if anything else happened on the way home that he'd take care of it from there (nothing more did happen though). He later found out that the blower bracket tensioner needed an alignment.

Needless to say it was not a desirable first 24 hours of ownership. On a good note though, Jay later established a relationship with Dinan's after-sales support team. They got him set up with the parts needed to fix the tensioner rod, belt, etc. Like any machine, it needed maintenance, even the supercharger stuff.

Now to the untrained eye Jay's X5 may appear as if it came this way from the factory, but the finer details tell all to this rare beast. If you're not familiar with the 4.6iS model, it had a very short 2002-2003 production run. BMW had injected the standard X5 model with steroids metaphorically speaking, just like they do with the ///M models. These factory enhancements included larger fenders flares, massive 20" wheels, larger/louder exhausts, a unique variant of the 5HP24 transmission, aggressive camshaft profiles, the high flow intake manifold from the older M62 cars, bored, stroked and compressed to a 10.5:1 ratio producing 342hp/354lb·ft. What makes Jay's X5 even more rare is that it's 1 of 27 Dinan supercharged X5's in the world. The Dinan Signature 3 package consists of a Vortech V-2 S-Trim Supercharger (5.5psi), MAF, throttle body, DME flash, EGS flash, Delphi 37lb injectors, and E39 M5 fuel pump.

 One common goal of any true performance-oriented enthusiast is to put as much tire on the road as possible. With that in mind, the weight of the vehicle, the additional power and simply because he wanted the ability to rotate tires, Jay sourced another pair of 20x10.5" OEM Style 87 rear wheels. He then got a fresh set of four Bridgestone Dueller HP Sport 315/35/20's. The improvement in grip from the 12.4" wide tires up front was night and day. The concave design of the Style 87 rear wheels barely cleared the eight piston Brembo calipers but didn't require a spacer like previously needed with the 9.5" fronts. To accommodate the lower offsets, he also added the X5 LeMans edition front fender flares. The rear wheels were spaced out 25mm with H&R DRA style spacers to help balance the front-to-rear track width. A Dinan strut bar and camber plates were also added to help brace the seam welded chassis for the twisties. The Brembo GT brake system 380mm (15") front, 355mm (14") rear helps bring the tank to a halt on demand, without a hint of fade. 

At around 107k miles the supercharger's high speed bearings on the impeller shaft got a little noisy. With  help from friend & mentor, Tony Acker, they had sent the blower off to Vortech, and performed the M62 timing guide & valley pan job at the same time. Vortech returned the supercharger with a newer Si-Trim impeller which meant more mid-range power than before.

During the summer of 2011 Jay decided it was far too hot out and had lost trust in his OEM water temp gauge. He also wanted to be able to read and clear codes on the fly so he removed the cluster (fixed the infamous pixel problem while in there) and integrated a PLX Devices DM-100 into the cluster. In addition to OBD date, the DM-100 was installed with PLX Boost, EGT, dual WBO2, and oil pressure modules. Other installed electronics include a Tekonsha P3 trailer brake controller, and a hardwired K40 Dual front/rear RADAR detector and front LASER jamming system.

With the 107k refresh and monitoring equipment fitted, everything was working tip top. Then one day as he came up a steep on-ramp that had a sharp crest to it, the X5 got airborne for a split second. Unluckily for Jay, he was at the top of the engine's 6600 rpm range when it happened. Inertia took over and all the exhaust valves slightly mushroomed—two cylinders were bad enough to notice under load. Making matters worse, the intake cam gears spun about the cams slightly. With Tony's help, they did compression, piston height, and leakdown tests. They removed the heads and sent them off to VAC Motorsports for a Stage 1 upgrade including Stainless Steel Intake valves and Inconel Exhaust valves. While the truck was down, he got bored and looked for other parts. He happened to find a very rare, new 4.6iS Tubi Rumore catback exhaust with serial number 9 stamped on it. Tubi is mostly known for making exhausts for exotic cars so he was surprised to discover that they even made one for the X5. After receiving and installing the original heads, now blessed by VAC, a huge improvement in power and efficiency was found.

All told, this X5 produces around 475bhp. Although Jay's never taken it to the drag strip, he'd like to think it's possible to break 12's in the 1/4 mile. Not bad for a 10 year old German tank, which is the reasoning behind the name "Panzer".

Today, Jay’s 4.6iS S3 has 135k miles on it, and has been supercharged for 133k of those miles. He would like to thank Dinan Engineering for their outstanding after-sales customer support. Jay would also like to send a huge thanks to Tony Acker for his knowledge and time spent keeping this X5 running so strong. Stronger, in fact, than the day he first got it, many years and many miles ago. So does a bad start have to equal a bad finish to a relationship? In this case, it most definitely did not.


Features

Yani Avrahami's E30 M3

Photography by Dan Wagener

The idea to create a successor to the BMW M1 based on the new 3 series was born in the summer of 1981. Unlike the M1 however, the M3 was to be mass produced on the assembly line. Due to Group A homologation requirements, BMW had to produce 5,000 road cars in order to compete. Form followed function through the concept with it being built specifically for road racing purposes. Although it was based on the standard 3-series the exterior of the M3 was equipped with 12 different body panels to improve aerodynamics and accommodate a wider track. The power-plant was a high-revving four-cylinder engine known as the S14. It combined the block from the M10 with a four-valve head derived from the one used on the six-cylinder M88 and S38 motors. From 1987 to 1992 the M3 dominated the touring car racing scene and had great success with the street version as well.  

Let's fast forward to 2004, the year when Yani purchased his 1988 Alpinweiss M3 (06/87). It was when their prices were right around their all time low. Back then, it had the S14 engine and was completely stock. Yani had gone through his first BMW CCA drivers school in that trim and had an absolute blast with it. By his next school, he had sent the car to VAC Motorsports in Philadelphia, PA to have them install a pair of Recaro Profi SPG racing seats, the rear roll hoop, cams and perform a tune. 

He had driven the car with the 2.3L for about 125-150,000 miles. It was daily driven for about 4 years until he had picked up a second car. Eventually one of the pistons on his 2.3L had cracked so a rebuild was in order. He had VAC bore out his 2.3L to a 2.5L block, with CP pistons, arrow rods, VAC titanium valves (1mm over size) and titanium springs, 292/284 cams, Stage 3 head, carbon fiber DTM intake manifold, 2pc rally header, and an oversized oil pan. 

After running 50,000 miles, there was a failure at a wrist pin bushing. He was at Summit Point rounding turn 10 at the main circuit, pulling 120mph in 4th gear at 8000rpm… just as he was about to shift to 5th gear and it was done. Just before that happened he had turned to his buddy Dan who was in the passenger seat, “Man I love this car.” and gave the dash the "double tap" and it was all over. Off to VAC again.

After a lot of serious thought and some encouragement from another co-instructor Yani decided to go with an S54 engine this time. The S54 is normally found in the E46 M3 and is one of the highest horsepower per liter engines ever made. The 3.2L six-cylinder is good for 333hp with a powerband that seems infinite. Yani also added a 6 speed manual transmission, 3.64 OS Giken differential, 288/280 Shrick cams, CP Pistons, and VAC's Rods with a Vipec V88 ECU with Vanos Control and Drive-by-Wire Throttle. The additional engine modifications are now putting it at 350+hp. 

With great power comes a need for great stopping ability, so the brakes were also upgraded to Brembo Gran Turismos. Due to old age and blown shocks the Ground Control coilovers were retired for a new JRZ suspension kit. 

The 17" BBS LM wheels were specifically made for the E30 M3 by VAC and are wrapped with Toyo's Proxes RA1 (R-Comp) tires. It's their Racetrack & Autocross tire developed for drivers looking for street-legal circuit tires. This allows Yani to drive to the track, rip all weekend and drive home.

His car has also earned itself a very suiting name, the "White Elephant". Yani's mom was actually the one who had given it the name. She would always call it that because right after Yani bought his car he was constantly fixing and modifying it. According to folklore, the White Elephant symbolizes a rare or valuable possession with the upkeep being very expensive. It is also regarded as a sacred animal in some parts of Southeast Asia even til today, a bit like the E30 M3's reputation among the BMW community.

Yani is the care taker of a true road-racing legend, he has stuck with it through the good times and the bad. He has nourished it and loved it. Most importantly though, he has driven it. Taken it to the track, doing exactly what the E30 M3 was born to do… perform. For that we have much respect for Yani and his passion for the White Elephant.


Features

Barry Solomon's E30 M3

Photography by Dan Wagener

During the early months of production, the E30 M3 was available in an extremely rare color known as Hennarot -- a very distinct orange-red. The production of this color occurred up until around mid-1987. At that time the number of Hennarot M3's imported to the U.S. is unknown but believed to only be a few hundred. Reportedly it was not a popular color at the time because it didn't suit the US market's perception of the BMW image, so they went to a more traditional red, Zinnoberrot for later years. The rarity of Hennarot caused it to become one of the most sought-after E30 M3 colors by collectors and enthusiasts many years later.

When Barry got the opportunity to purchase one in June of 2011 he didn't hesitate for a second. It was his favorite color of all time and he had been looking for one then. His friend called and stated that his dad had a 1988 E30 M3 (03/87) and he had to see it. So Barry headed up to New Jersey to check it out. It was in excellent shape and had about 129,000 miles on it at the time. It was in stock form with the exception of 17” TSW Hockenheim wheels, a custom exhaust and a chip. He knew that he had to have it as soon as he pulled into his friend's driveway. After a little negotiating took place, he purchased the car and was on his way. 

Once he got home he named the car "Hans Henna" and gave him a proper detailing all the way around the next day. The name was in honor of Hans-Joachim Stuck, a German racing driver who had won numerous races in BMW's in the 1970's until the mid 2000's. 

Barry drove the car around for about a month and then it was time for the transformation to begin. He picked up a new set of 17x8" (et13) AC Schnitzer Type I one-piece wheels and had the centers redone in Mercedes Velvet Silver with black barrels and polished lips. The suspension was upgraded to H&R springs paired with Bilstein Sport shocks. 

The standard seats were replaced with a set of black Recaro SR3's with white lettering. 

The exterior of the car received Evo III euro grills, black chrome kidneys, Evo III front splitter, and an Evo III rear wing. He also installed smoked Hella headlights and the rest of the lights were smoked with a dark clear coat.

As for the engine Barry has removed the stock 2.3L and installed a VAC Motorsports powered 2.5L engine putting down 215rwhp/205rwt. Engine modifications include a 7.5 quart oil pan, Evo III oil pump, port and polished head, ported 46mm throttle bodies, 276/276 aggressive grind cams, CP pistons, Pauter Rods, 2.5 Evo crank and a Kronnenberg Standalone Engine Management system. He's replaced the guibo with an M5 guibo, installed Gruppe N engine and transmission mounts, and a 4:10 differential with M Coupe cover (50% lockup).

Barry says this car is a total blast to drive and he enjoys every minute behind the wheel. It runs so strong with the new motor in it and he loves to put it through its paces. It's inspiring to see or talk to Barry about his E30 M3 because you can tell how much he truly loves it.

Now this feature just wouldn't be complete without a couple of action shots, so Barry threw his friend Yani the keys and let him do what he does best...