Since the last season of Built by Mike ended, ol’ Mike Day has been chugging along on the next phase of the Overland X5 build that’s been redubbed as the “Ultra X5.” This new setup takes the limits of the E53 and pushes them WAY above what simple bolt-on upgrades could reach. If you’ve paid attention to our social media, you may have seen some of the work-in-progress teasers showing the major changes. Mike has swapped out the independent suspension for solid front and rear axles, created custom Bilstein suspension, fitted massive mud bogger tires, and thoroughly reconfigured the SUV from its sport-derived suspension setup into a dedicated off-road rig. But you’ll just have to wait until the next season to see all of those major changes come to fruition. While you wait, we thought we’d take a look back at the Built by Mike series over the years and highlight some of the incredible accomplishments Mike has achieved in some of the craziest builds ever attempted. This week, we’re diving into Built by Mike and setting the stage for his next season, one you certainly won’t want to miss. 

Project: VW MK3 Drift Car

A few years back, Mike picked up a MK3 GTI shell rotting in the field behind another ECS engineer’s house. In Mike’s wild brain, he didn’t see a restored MK3 GTI sporting a modern engine and the typical Volkswagen flair. No, he saw the potential for a short-wheelbase, widebodied, absolute ripper of a drift car. So, armed with cutting instruments of all kinds, miles of welding rod, and a donor BMW V8 from his E34, Mike rolled up his sleeves and began imagineering. (Can we say that? Disney, don’t sue us.)

The course of the build involved essentially stripping the car of all rotted components, pulling the drivetrain and running gear, and effectively removing the “skin” of the MK3 to drop back down on a “chassis” of his own creation. Through countless hours of measuring, cutting, bead rolling, and dimple-die-ing, Mike crafted a full lower body for the car’s new rear-wheel drive layout. A ford 8.8” rear end on a multilink setup with custom remote-reservoir coilovers, the BMW V8 from his E34 paired to a six-speed BMW gearbox, and even a relocated rear radiator enclosure found their way into the MK3.

With the car dedicated to drifting competitively, Mike also built a custom roll cage, dash setup, and integrated everything he could to make the MK3 retain as much of its MK3-ness as possible, despite effectively tube-framing the majority of the car. From the outside, other than the boxy, hand-crafted, metal wide body, the MK3 looks nearly stock. You know there’s something weird about it when you see the bright pink cage, repositioned front bucket seats, and chassis-mounted rally shift lever, but until he turns it on and rips a fat skid, you wouldn’t know it’s sporting two extra cylinders and two extra cams, along with a live axle in the rear. Thus began Mike’s dive into building insane, one-off, purpose-built, performance cars.

Check out the full build playlist on our YouTube channel and watch this MK3 go from rust bucket to skid ripper!

Project: 944 Stage Rally Car

Not one to back down from one-upping himself, Mike turned his attention to another project soon after completing the final revisions to his MK3. You may remember in one of our Winter Beater seasons that he picked up a non-running Porsche 944. That car started its life with Mike by receiving basic maintenance, some home-brew extended lower control arms and rally suspension, and big ol’ tires. But that was just the beginning.

After a little more than a year with the 944 in its first stage, Mike decided to up the ante and give it a similar treatment as he did the MK3. This time, his goal was to build a certifiable stage rally car sporting a 5-cylinder turbo 07K with completely custom internals. While this build didn’t require quite as much floor-chopping as the MK3, it was no easy feat to stuff the new engine in place, build a certified cage, install all the necessary safety equipment, and make the whole setup work in the 944 package. 

When it was all finished, Mike was left with a one-off, completely FIA-compliant, stage rally car. This flame-spitting, 07K-powered, extremely lifted 944 is now capable of flat-out hooning on any unpaved surface and puts down more than triple the horsepower the original 4cyl 944 offered. While it hasn’t seen too much time on stage rally courses yet, Mike has been eager to get to as many off-road events as possible. You may see more of that in the near future, but for now, you’ll just have to enjoy the full build series on our YouTube.

Watch Mike’s insane 944 stage rally build come to life in our full playlist here on YouTube!

Project: E53 X5 Overlander

What has kept Mike off the stage rally courses probably more than he’d like to admit is the latest project, an E53 X5. Purchased for yet another Winter Beater season, this X5 started its life with Mike as a somewhat neglected, if not complete, stock E53. For winter beater duties, Mike gave it the maintenance treatment it deserved and fixed as much as he could without having to re-do work he knew he would attempt in the future. That involved the standard maintenance stuff like the cooling system, ignition, gaskets, brakes, tires, and a few odds-and-ends here and there. But the real purpose for the luxury SUV was for Mike to prove that you don’t have to give up comfort to stray off the beaten path.

With this E53, Mike has single-handedly helped us develop the ECS Overland offshoot by using it as a testbed for products like integrated and modular roof rack systems, lift kits, lunchbox lockers, rock sliders, skid plates, interior storage racks, and even bumpers. 

The first stage of this car included a fairly comprehensive, but also somewhat conservative, series of modifications by his own design. Not only will the X5 live most of its remaining life off the beaten path, but so too did Mike stray far from the norm with his list of modifications. Everything on this car was conceived, designed, printed, prototyped, and ultimately developed by Mike (with some help from a few other ECS engineers) with one goal in mind: go where no E53 X5 has gone before, and pave the way forward for other E53 owners to do the same.

Much of this build is definitely considered “conservative” by Mike and serious offroaders, but don’t let their frame of reference fool you: it was a serious undertaking to make this soccer mom school tripper into a capable overlanding rig. Somehow, though, Mike made it happen.

Watch the E53 X5 become a certified overlander here on our YouTube playlist!

Check out ECS Overland Upgrades for your future offroad project here!

Project: E53 “Ultra X5”

That finally brings us to the next iteration of Mike’s X5. This time, as we said, he’s pulled out all the stock stuff that makes it an X5 and is turning it into an Ultra rig, complete with solid axles, tires as big as the Rock’s CrossFit gym has, completely custom Bilstein suspension, and more. This X5 will “dominate all” to use Jesse’s turn of phrase, and will join the ranks of other one-off creations in Mike’s fleet. 

Tune in to our YouTube in the near future to see this build go way beyond where any E53 X5, or ECS Tuning has in general, gone before. Follow @miketheday for personal updates and be sure to stay tuned to our social media for any news and sneak-peeks before the new Built by Mike season hits the internets!