If you’ve kept up with Built By Mike this season, you’ve watched our mad scientist Mike Day take his (relatively) tame winter beater X5 from a mild overlander to a wild Ultra4 behemoth. Now, as we approach the conclusion of this stage of the build, we have a HUGE announcement: Mike, some of our ECS crew, and the Texas Speed LS-powered, completely custom-fabricated, E53 Ultra4 will be at SEMA in November! If you missed seeing it as a work-in-progress at our Turbos and Tacos event a few weeks ago, this will be your shot to see this build in person and speak with the man behind the creation. But before it can roll out onto the show floor at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Mike has that real SEMA crunch right now as he buttons everything up. Let’s look at what he’s accomplished with it so far and how much he has left to go in this special edition of Tuned In Weekly.
At this point, you’d have to live under a rock not to be at least aware of Mike’s build resume. We’ve covered his past projects at length here in this series before, all the way back to those winter beater seasons from several years ago. In fact, two of the winter beaters went on to live new lives after quite a bit of insane modifications. Everything Mike has built has been purpose-centric. That is, these cars started life as run-of-the-mill vehicles you’d never glance twice at and became something built to do one specific thing that Mike wanted out of them, all with a crazy attention to detail that Mike has made his calling card.
First, there was the MK3 (if it can even be called that anymore) that Mike chopped up and stuffed a BMW V8 into for a short-wheelbase, RWD, tire-slaying, drift car. Then, Mike set his sights on stage rally racing with the 944 spitting fire through an 07K 5-cylinder turbo. Now, he’s taken BMW’s first full-sized SUV and made a brutally rugged Ultra4 offroader with all the original creature comforts that attracted executives and high-powered realtors when BMW offered it new.
This approach is something that sets Mike apart from his peers. He starts with a goal in mind, takes a vehicle he’s already become familiar with through one project or another, and tailors the vehicle to suit the needs of the goal while doing it all from the same recipe. At this point, he has a formula. While some could argue that taking this cookie-cutter approach to different builds ends with a lack of variety, they’d miss the forest for the trees. You see, what Mike has perfected is a recipe for turning any car into anything else he has in mind.
Most of that begins with the idea itself. In this instance, it’s his desire to make an unstoppable Ultra4 truck that doesn’t feel like the inside of a construction site. Then, Mike removes everything that isn’t needed to complete his vision. If that means cutting away a large percentage of the original vehicle, so be it. His confidence in his approach and steady welding hands allow him to truly do whatever he wants. Mostly, that means removing everything that mounts factory drivetrain and running gear components and replacing them with tightly fitting steel tubes he bends with a monumental attention to detail. Every conjunction is located to perfection, every radius bent with precision, and every weak point over-reinforced to future-proof his creations.
Following the goal-oriented approach also creates a desire in Mike to build bespoke components, like suspension arms, strut towers, core supports, and anything else he needs rather than taking the closest available parts that do some of what he needs. This often requires him to find custom solutions for things like struts, shocks, springs, and their internal valving, when it comes time to suspend the body above the wheels. Because he’s thrown everything out, there aren’t bolt-in solutions when it comes to Mike, but that’s ok. He’s also taken away all restrictions on what his build can take, which means he can put in exactly what he needs to do the job perfectly rather than compromise with something that works quickly.
When all that’s done, Mike doesn’t end when the thing is functional, he ends when it’s finished (at least for the time being). Those final details are what show exactly how skilled he is both as an engineer and a creative designer. Anything that requires sheet metal is bead rolled and often dimple-dyed to reduce noise and introduce an industrial style that Mike has become known for. He blends that industrial element with as much of the factory appearance as possible to create this almost retro-futuristic, post-apocalyptic, feel. And that’s where many would refute the lack of variety argument with evidence that Mike has a specific design language at this point. You know it’s a car Mike built by the details, the design approach, and the purpose-built aspect. It isn’t meant to look cool, it’s meant to perform to the limit of what events or adventures the car needs to survive with Mike’s lead foot and aggressive driving behind the wheel.
That sharing of design elements and details mostly comes from a function-first design on Mike’s part, but it would be a mistake to think that they weren’t considered part of his design language. The result is something like a manufacturer’s lineup of vehicles, where you can see borrowed elements to create a measure of brand uniformity and recognition, except Mike’s cars all represent different manufacturer’s offerings from different decades. The Porsche is solidly 80s, the MK3 hales from the 90s, and the E53 X5 is from the early 2000s, yet they all share Mike’s touch. All three clearly incorporate the same elements and demonstrate the same build approach that speaks to Mike’s big-picture process. He isn’t just thinking about what it takes to get the car where he needs, he’s considered how to do it in a way that reflects his style rather than incorporating his style into what already existed.
This process is what gives his creations such a unique vibe when compared to other builds. Mike is willing to look past the original design and create something that retains its recognizable features, but isn’t really any more than a shell of what left the original factory. The difference is noticeable when compared to other builds at this level, which tend to lean the other way by tailoring the build around what was already there. For Mike, he sees that approach as a restriction on what the car can do. If all it could ever be was limited to what it was, then it would never be what Mike wants it to be. This difference may seem slight, but its something you start to notice after seeing things side-by-side. He’s like the anti-fitment chart for car parts. You can bet that very little of a Mike build will have anything listed as fitting whatever vehicle it is, because chances are, it doesn’t.
Which is exactly what happened here with this X5. Every piece designed to fit this vehicle only does so because Mike designed it. From the bolt-in overlanding upgrades he designed for the original build to the custom four-linked solid axles under the truck and everything in between, it’s all Mike’s vision from square one. No outside influence appears here, which means it looks like Mike, not like another engineer’s version or any other build with that chassis on the planet.
So, if that isn’t enough to tickle your fancy, you’ll just have to wait for the next few episodes of Built by Mike to see this thing through to the end. Finally, he can’t wait to share it with the world at SEMA 2023 in Las Vegas next month. Until then, you can rewatch all of his past projects and catch up to the present with this X5 over on our YouTube. Of course, follow @ecstuning and @miketheday on Instagram for more behind-the-scenes and sneak-peek content. Stay tuned, folks, this is going to be one helluva debut. We’ll see you at SEMA!