Perfectly Imperfect: Rocky’s 1992 Mercedes-Benz W124 300d

Perfect cars come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. In the case of Rocky’s 1992 300d Mercedes-Benz, it is perfect because it fills a need by being imperfect. You may have caught on that broken old cars are thematic to our blog lately, and you would be correct. We love old cars because they have stories to share and provide endless entertainment thanks to their quirks. Rocky, like the rest of us enthusiasts, is absolutely giddy about his atrocious Merc. This car is gloriously tailored to the purpose for which it was purchased, as I found out after spending some time behind the wheel.

Having an old car is something of a love-hate relationship. While it may not start right up on the first few clicks of the starter, you know that just a little bit of love can go a long way towards keeping it running. This car, purchased as a winter beater, set Rocky back less than a few week’s worths of bar tabs. Naturally, it has some issues. Those issues are the reasons why it is such a lovable little tank. The imperfections that attributed to its low cost make it the right choice for Rocky to obliterate this winter with whatever northern Ohio can throw its way.

This 300d is an example of Mercedes’ W124 chassis which spanned over a decade and received a number of engines including the awesome AMG V8. Since this one is Diesel and carries the weight of hundreds of thousands of miles upon its shoulders, Rocky’s 300d is possibly the slowest one to ever exist. Which says something, considering the acceleration from the W124 in its most powerful trim could still be described as glacial. Jokes aside, the cushy W124 platform featured several innovations in their suspension and interior functions that became industry benchmarks thanks to their superb performance. The W124 also benefitted from the lowest coefficient of drag at the time of its release. This was likely Mercedes trying to squeeze everything they could from the monumentally slow car in order to help it keep up with its Audi and BMW rivals. Which it did not.

Despite all that, this car is still lovable. It is interesting with its suspension seats and massive steering wheel, which give the driver the impression of wheeling around in a school bus. The rumbling Diesel and faint turbo whistle complete the thought that maybe you are driving a Bluebird school bus, except this might be slower. The funky characteristics continue with the rest of the woodgrain-splattered interior, which resembles the inside of a house from a Wes Anderson film. It might be a requirement that Rocky invest in some tweed jackets.

The interior truly does provide the most enjoyment from the car. The A/C works, front windows still have some life in them, and one speaker intermittently makes noises, so it might as well be mint. It is definitely good enough to transport Rocky in style, albeit, excruciatingly slowly. Since the interior is ‘well loved’, it should be no pain to drive through the winter with snowy and muddy boots trampling in and out of the coffee-colored carpet, which is exactly perfect. Once again, a winter sled cannot be something so nice that you consider not driving it, but it can’t be destroyed to a point that you won’t enjoy it. This 300d provides an excellent balance of comfort and brokenness that sits in the Goldilocks zone as a classy beater.

Beaters like Rocky’s 300d and Zach’s E32 are essential to the car enthusiast as they give us a ‘redundancy’ as one of our engineers like to call it. The more layers of redundancy you have, the easier life is when we constantly take apart our cars. In the cases of many of us, we prefer three or four beat up old classics over a single new car. At the end of the day, we always have something to drive and never worry too much about what other people may do to the car while we are out and about. Door dings? Who cares!

This 300d is an excellent winter beater and a daily driver, but is it the perfect choice? Rocky seems to believe it is, and after driving both it and the E32, I have to say I myself am undecided. There are positives in the corner of the W124 thanks to its plush seats and soft ride, but it is so unbelievably slow it almost seems like it can’t keep up with the rotation of the Earth. This car, the E32, and others as yet unannounced will be the main focus throughout the winter as we find out which beater is the one to have. If you think you have the perfect winter beater, leave a comment or send us a message so we can find out for ourselves whether you are onto something!

Just Stopping By: Orlando’s Audi 8P A3 and Will-Call Parts Pickup

By popular demand, we have reinitiated our Will-Call order option for customers who want the option to pick up their parts at our facility. This gives folks the option to get their orders as soon as they are boxed up and ready to go out the doors and it gives us a chance to interact with our customers. The influx of tuners to our office has brought with it some awesome cars driven by enthusiasts like Orlando, who brought down his incredible 8P A3 for some information on tuning software.

Orlando bought the Audi in 2013 and immediately began to upgrade it. Some key features you may notice upon first glances are the carbon fiber side skirts, hatch spoiler, and sport bumper conversion. These subtle exterior modifications, paired with the beautiful purple factory paint, hint at the real work Orlando has invested into the little hatchback’s power plant.

The TFSI engine powering this A3 has received extra special treatment over the five years Orlando has spent with the car. Prominently displayed are the APR carbon fiber intake and Integrated Engineering intake manifold, but little else is visible thanks to the compact engine bay. Just because you can’t see it, though, doesn’t mean it won’t hurt you. The K04 turbo-powered engine produces 354awhp and 388lb/ft of torque to make this 8P one to contend with some of the most powerful production sedans on the market, despite being an older Audi.

Reigning in all that power are Porsche big brakes retrofitted from a Cayenne and stuffed under the front wheels. In the rear are the other Porsche calipers alongside a dual caliper setup for independent braking between the parking brake and foot brake to ensure the rear wheels lock when he wants. All that face-ripping stopping power makes this beefed-up hatchback something safer to drive, according to Orlando, who hinted that ‘it stops very quickly from 150mph to 0.’ I won’t question how he knows this, but it definitely proves the need for brakes capable of handling upped power.

Orlando has tastefully modified his 8P A3 to be subtle, yet interesting, powerhouse. Enthusiasts like him are the driving force behind ECS and the results of their work are our pride and joy. We want to say a special thank you to Orlando for bringing his Audi by today for us to enjoy. Remember, you too can be a part of the ECS story when you come by for parts. If you are local (or up for a good road trip), you can request a Will-Call option and we will see you in the lobby when you come by for a personal hand-delivery. Stay tuned for more customer features and keep building!

See more of this car on Instagram @Orlandovlore

Build List:

• Complete APR Cold Air Intake
• DV+ Performance Diverter Valve
• Carbon Fiber Spoiler
• Carbon Fiber Rear Diffuser
• Carbon Fiber Side Skirt
• Rs4 19’ Wheels
• Stage 5 Big Brake Kit – Slotted 358x32mm Rotors
• Rear Big Brake Kit – Plain Rotors (310×22) Brembo 4 Pistons
• Integrated Engineering 2.0T FSI/TSI Intake Manifold- Red
• IE MK5 & MK6 2.0T TSI Recirculating Catch Can Kit
• CTS Turbo Gen 3 Downpipe – w/o Cat (MK6 1.8/2.0 EA888.3)
• Jetex Audi A3 2.0FSI Exhaust Quad Pipes
• Torque Solution TS-VW-012 Engine Mounts
• SPM Trans mount
• SPM Sway Bar REAR_FRONT Kit
• ECS SIDE-TO-SIDE SHIFTER
• ECS 6-Speed Clutch Bleeder Block
• The Neuspeed short shift kit
• Neuspeed Hi-Flow Turbo Discharge Conversion kit
• Neuspeed Hi-Flo Intercooler Pipe Conversion
• Wagner Tuning Competition Intercooler
• H&R Street Performance SS Coilover Kit
• AWE TUNING RELEASES VENT MOUNTED BOOST GAUGE
• R8 Red Coils
• APR KO4 Turbo
• South Bend Stage 2 Daily Clutch and Flywheel Kit
• S3 Straight Bottom Steering Wheel

N54Door: Tim’s Built BMW E90 335i 6-Speed Review

Cars and pets often resemble their owners. Whether it be an intangible attitude or uncanny physical resemblance, somehow you can’t help but think the universe brought those two together whether they are aware of the similarity or not. Such is the case with Tim and his BMW. The two share an exuberant and positive outlook that builds incredibly fast, not unlike the turbo spool from under the carbon fiber hood.

I approached Tim and requested that he give me the run-down on his BMW with the intention of understanding what it is like to daily drive a nearly 500 horsepower E90. He was more than happy to oblige and invited me to lunch where we were able to chat about his car.

The car in question is his heavily modified pre-LCI E90 335i powered by the (in)famous N54. This, however, is not just any E90. Tim is clearly a fellow who likes to push things to the extreme. Both he and his car have this palpable aura of curiosity to see just how far they can improve on what they have. Tim is a positive and excited guy who very clearly works at maximizing his physical potential, which explains why his car reflects that attitude. The E90 has been modified extensively from the suspension to the engine to produce as much street-drivable power as possible while retaining its utility as a passenger sedan.

Although high-horsepower N54s are nothing new, (hell, the engine is over ten years old at this point,) Tim’s E90 seems to be the only one that has not experienced the issues for which the engine is equally well known. I was told there was a rocky relationship between Tim and his car as it has been under the knife several times and only sees the road somewhere around 50% of the time he needs a car. What I found, however, was unexpected. Contrary to my impression of power-chasers, Tim has a true understanding of how to take advantage of the N54’s potential without making sacrifices to drivability or compromising the car’s reliability.

He advised me that the common pitfalls with N54s are the impatient owners themselves, not necessarily faults with the cars. Yes, the N54 has wastegate issues and needs expensive walnut shell blasting to de-gunk the ports and valves, and the injectors occasionally spray fuel all over the engine, but it is otherwise the most usable German engine to rival the 2JZ or RB26. Again, the power capabilities of the N54 are news to no one, but the daily drivability that Tim’s car provides is something of a first in my experience. His work has quite obviously paid off, as the engine produced nothing but power and wonderful noises during our drive. I have driven a stock 335i sedan and was left unimpressed. This car, however, would completely change my mind.

The most important part of building an N54, like many other high-performance engines, is to address any and all maintenance concerns before throwing more power to the crank. Tim walked me through some of his early years owning the car, which primarily consisted of maintenance related parts. The benefit of an engine that is notorious for certain problems is that you already know where to start: he took care of the pressing concerns early on and then began building for the reliable power output he produces now. Just like keeping yourself physically fit begins with the foundation of a proper diet, the foundation of any build is the condition of the car itself.

This seems fairly obvious, but the number of blown-up N54s for sale on Facebook and Craigslist shows just how many people decide to tune their car before it can take the extra power. Tim took care of everything major before he began to make improvements; all the while he kept in mind a specific power goal. He knew the clutch un=pon which he decided would only take up to about 650 horsepower, so his terminal power output had to be at or lower than the ability of the clutch. With that in sight, he set to improving the E90.

Under the car, you will find a set of Bilstein PSS coilovers that drop the BMW down on a set of Avant Garde wheels and sticky Nitto rubber. The suspension, as well as the Cool Carbon performance brake pads, allow the E90 to easily apply all 500 horsepower to the ground in an astonishing punch. Riding in the car is surprising, but definitely not scary like some I have experienced who forgot that going fast means you need to stop fast. The factory calipers paired with those Cool Carbon pads are plenty to reign in the car from a full-out sprint, which is impressive, to say the least.

Powering the car is the Frankenturbo-equipped N54 which is fed a steady diet of methanol and upwards of 20 pounds of boost. Right now, according to Tim, the car sits conservatively around 500 horsepower on its JB4 tune and the current settings. However, with some minor modifications, the Frankenturbo Rev3 twins can push more pressure and the timing can be adjusted to make close to 650 horsepower, which is his present goal. The meth-injection kit for this car is one of my favorite modifications because it adds power as well as reliability. As we mentioned, the N54 is known for gumming up its ports with carbon buildup. Steam cleaning the engine with a water-meth bath is possibly the best form of preventative maintenances one could apply to an N54. One that also provides 1600cfm of power-boosting explosions.

After showing off the neat and tidy engine bay and walking me through all his modifications, we hit some back roads to take the long way for some lunch. Despite a carbon fiber hood and trunk combo, as well as the wheels and stance, the E90 still is not what I would call ‘attention demanding’. It is quiet and fairly unassuming until Tim puts his foot down. The car is completely tame and feels similar to any other 3-series at normal driving speeds, but a depression of the throttle utterly transforms the car with a massive squeal from the Tial BOV between shifts. Even with larger turbochargers, the boost is nearly immediate. This lead to some eye-widening accelerations as Tim pinned the both of us to our seats with an all-out pull.

Since the E90 is a sedan, it is usable on a daily basis for regular errands and work commutes. I had difficulty picking out normal sacrifices present in most other modified cars when we were sticking to the speed limit. When Tim punched it and the car rocketed down the Wadsworth back roads, I still couldn’t find anything that just stuck out as hard to live with. I actually had to ask if there was anything that made the car inconvenient after he had modified it to this extent. Surprisingly, Tim had trouble thinking of anything himself. Besides the amount of work that he invested in making the car what it is, it has never left him stranded or given him trouble as a daily commuter.

His goal, besides big power, was to have something he could enjoy driving at any speed, regardless of the trip. He wanted a car could take to work, shows, or the track without a moment’s hesitation. With the current setup, his car handles exceptionally well and provides more than enough power to get anyone into trouble, but doesn’t punish you for driving it that way. The four-door layout gives the E90 a utilitarian side and makes it something Tim can take anywhere without changing cars. This is in line with his ultimate goal of having one car that really can do it all.

Thanks to modern technology and the help of manufacturers who develop parts for the E90 platform, he has been able to realize that goal. The E90 335i is realistically limited in the amount of power you can safely pull from the engine, but Tim is determined to reach that threshold. His dedication and commitment to finding the true potential of the platform without extensively modifying the frame or switching engines speak volumes about his personality, which fits exceptionally well with his chosen car. For the last few years, it has undergone many revisions to bring us the powerhouse I had the pleasure of experiencing, but the spirit has remained true. Tim aims to find the upper limit of his E90 while still using the car as his daily. Thankfully, that power goal may happen sooner than later, as he plans to adjust the tune and throw the car on a dyno in the near future.

With our drive over, it was sad to say goodbye to such a wonderful car. As a vintage car enthusiast, it takes something special to make me think so deeply about a contemporary car. Speed and power have never been as intoxicatingly tantalizing as they were sitting in the saddle-brown interior of Tim’s E90. The car is well balanced between its excitable N54, the planted suspension, sticky tires, and high-energy driver. This E90 is the perfect example of one car that does it all, which truly reflects its owner. I look forward to seeing the car reach that 650 horsepower mark, and you can be sure we will cover that breakthrough when it happens right here at ECS Tuning.

Adventures in Cincinnati: Unplanned Repairs, Engine Building, and Local Car Meets!

Just before the weekend, we wrote about how to better enjoy those less exciting DIY repair jobs with some tips that help us keep a positive attitude towards unplanned repairs. As if to test the claims, the universe coincidentally responded quite appropriately. The drive from Akron to Cincinnati that was more stressful than originally anticipated, we attended multiple car shows, and a major unplanned repair were just a few of the highlights from the weekend.

With cars, the unexpected is the only real consistency we enthusiasts experience. The original weekend plans to attend Wolfsgart in Burlington, Vermont fell through, so a trip to Cincinnati to visit some BMW friends became the impromptu replacement. I decided to drive the E30 convertible since it didn’t get the full road trip it was promised, which ended up being for the best. Just before I left, my temperature gauge began dancing around. No big deal, just a possible fault with the cluster or the temperature sensor. I grabbed a spare cluster laying around my shop, packed up my ridiculous amount of tools needed to drive the E30 long distance, and took off with my dog riding shotgun.

Just outside of Wadsworth, the temp needle started to creep towards the danger zone. I knew the cluster or temp sensor, or possibly both, could be lying to me, but playing around with cooling issues is not something that should be made a habit. Fortunately, a bit of congestion allowed me to dip out of line to check the actual engine temperature and put the convertible top up just in time for a torrential downpour. Fortunately, the engine seemed happy enough and not above operating temperature despite the gauge indicating otherwise. This, however, would mean my first priority was a full diagnosis of the issues.

I arrived in Cinci to my friend’s house, an enormous bastion of BMW performance smack in the middle of downtown, and began forming a plan for the next day’s full schedule of car work. Cars and Coffee at Fuel, a local coffee joint, would start the morning off with the right foot. Afterward, we made trips to the local parts stores for some tools and parts for the M30 one of them is building. However, as is often the case for BMWs, a quick pitstop for beer ended with an unfortunate disaster: the alternator in the recently S50-swapped E36 drift car fried. We rescued the E36 with a few batteries donated by our other BMWs and returned to tackle its issues alongside our other ongoing projects. This was the first in a series of unexpected repairs we made throughout the weekend.

We rescued the E36, brought it back, and chucked in a new alternator. After that little fiasco, I dug into my car. I decided a full compression test was in order for the M52 in my E30. I feared the worst, but before I threw any parts at the car, I knew I needed to officially diagnose everything. Since it is an OBD2 engine, I hooked up a technician friend’s Snap-On scan tool and checked the codes. All the codes were ones I was aware the ECU stored as a result of hastily deleted systems during my initial swap, so nothing was out of the ordinary there. Compression testing revealed that each cylinder had equal compression: absolutely no blowby and high PSI across all cylinders, which meant the head gasket had not been blown. This was excellent news, so I took a break from working in the 100-degree heat to join my friends working on the M30.

The M30 that had been yanked from a 535is had been torn completely down to a bare block recently and just resprayed. The head, oil pan, and timing covers had all returned from the machine shop, so the fun of engine building began. We meticulously reassembled the engine bit by bit over a few cold drinks and snacks before I returned to my own car to finish putting the coils and beauty covers back in. It was then that I had a few choices to make as to how I would proceed with my car.

Since the engine diagnosis showed only good news, I had a few choices to make. My laser gun showed that the engine was sitting steady at the correct operating temperature, so the sensor or the cluster had to be my culprit. With a simple process of elimination and thorough diagnosis, I did not have to throw parts at the car and hope for the best. It just goes to show that the fastest way to do those DIY repairs is generally to do them the correct way, not the ‘quick way’ like just throwing a new radiator in and hoping it solves the issue. So many other things could be wrong with the car, so you always want to take the time to investigate the causes rather than treating the symptoms.

After I swapped out the faulty cluster with a spare I brought, it was only a few minutes before the universe proved that one way or another I was fated to dig into an M52 cooling system. No sooner had some of my friends left for a dinner date in their E36 vert than did we receive a distressed call: the notoriously weak cooling system had failed them.

A mere two exits up the highway, we found the pair on the side of the road with a very smoky E36. The water pump bearings had seized, which wrenched the water pump pulley, belt, and fan from their correct location and scattered several of their components all over the front of the engine bay. Fortunately, they stopped as soon as the car overheated. It goes to show that after a day of fiddling with unplanned issues, you still have no idea what to expect when you drive 20-year-old cars on a regular basis.

With their date plans canceled, we returned to the house to play musical cars and move everything to a more convenient place so we could easily knock out the repairs on the E36. Even with professionals, the predictably unpredictable cooling system of certain BMWs can be a complete curveball that requires you to drastically alter your schedule. We arranged the driveway and shop to a configuration more conducive to quickly taking care of the repairs and called it a night after that somewhat defeating failure. As the light faded, we felt slightly dejected before calling it a day.

The following morning, we postponed our immediate repairs to attend the once-a-month Gears and Beers hosted by Madtree brewing company in Cincinnati. The parking lot was not exceptionally full at any one time, but a steady trickle of unique cars kept us entertained enough to take our minds away from the nagging repair waiting a few blocks away. Noteworthy appearances were made by an original condition Vanagon Westfalia and a few immaculate E30s. The Audi S6 Avant we brought fit in well with the quirky crowd of eclectic individuals.

After G&B, a trip back to the parts store, and a short stopover at the grocery store, we had everything needed for our water pump job. While we prefer to purchase our parts from the lowest cost distributor, sometimes immediate repairs restrict the number of choices you can make. Such was our case, and we forked over the retail store prices for a new thermostat, coolant hoses, water pump, pulley, and accompanying hardware.

Fortunately, the damage was contained to the water pump failure and the shredded belt. The radiator survived its fight with the fan and nothing else was damaged. A quick parts interchange and coolant bleed had the car once again happy while the owner visibly relaxed. Thanks to some quick thinking, good friends, and a few frosty beverages, the E36 barely spent any time in the shop and was able to hit the road that evening for a top-down cruise. With all the right elements, even a disappointing failure that means immediate service can still be enjoyable.

With the repairs to the E36s complete, a clean bill of health for the E30, and a freshly built M30 engine to drop in a 1980 E24, the weekend rounded out perfectly. A comfortable drive back to Akron late Sunday evening provided the icing on the cake as I was able to thoroughly enjoy driving a car with the knowledge that the engine is strong. My dog and I cannonballed back around midnight (obviously we obeyed all traffic laws) and made it safely. The surprise-filled weekend behind us, we can now look forward to more unplanned repairs with a similarly positive attitude while we work on new exciting projects. Stay tuned for more adventures in old BMWs!

5 Ways to Make Your Next DIY More Fun on Your Audi, BMW, MINI, or Volkswagen

When you own a vintage or performance car, the goal is to have more fun times driving it than you have moments that make you frown. As with any hobby, however, there are those times that something goes wrong or its just time to take care of that nagging maintenance. Whether you are driving something old or something new, it is always critical that you take care of those concerns before they turn into something much worse. Even though its just basic maintenance, it is still part of the fun in owning something special like a classic or performance vehicle. Here is how you can be sure to have a fun time even doing something that many would consider tedious.

First and foremost, working on cars is always best enjoyed with a good friend or group of friends. Owning these cars makes us part of an exclusive club where we are sure to form tons of lasting relationships based around our common interest. These maintenance jobs are the perfect opportunity to strengthen those bonds as well as make basic grunt work on your car fun. So grab your friends, a few frosty beverages, and come up with a game plan.

Next, you need to be serious about ensuring the work is done properly and with the right parts, but don’t get so engrossed that you take the job too seriously. Remember, as long as you are careful and meticulous, you have nothing to worry about in your DIY job. Be relaxed and enjoy the time you spend wrenching on your car with the end-goal always in mind that it will get you back on the road with a smile on your face and the satisfaction that you did the job yourself. One easy thing to do is set out a piece of cardboard and place all your hardware in order into the cardboard. It makes putting things back together incredibly simple and stress-free.

Make sure you have the right parts and tools for the job. Often, one of the things I enjoy most about DIY’ing is how much my tool collection grows. If I don’t have something I need to work on the parts I am attempting to replace, then I get to use that as an excuse to justify the purchase. Schwaben has pretty much everything from your most universal to incredibly specific tools to help you get the job done right, while our Assembled By ECS kits come with all the right parts hand-picked by our team to ensure you have the best replacements all in one box to go start to finish on your DIY the right way. With all the components for your job start to finish included in one box, you won’t have to make back and forth trips to the closest parts store and pay a premium: if they have it.

Take your time: sometimes, especially with northern cars, you have to fight your way through uninstalling the faulty or worn parts. This can easily frustrate even the most patient at-home mechanic, so keep a cool head on your shoulders and a cold drink on hand while you focus on one piece at a time. Know the job will be finished and you will not become discouraged. Keep chugging away at it and don’t put too much stress on completing the job right then and there. It may be a little more inconvenient to place a restriction on yourself and know you aren’t going to be finished in one sitting, but it is better to take your time and spend a few days on a job than to rush and mess something up or become aggravated. Remember, we want to have as much fun as possible so maintaining our cars is still a hobby and not a chore.

Lastly, consider filming the whole process. You can easily set up your phone to record and show places as you encounter them that give you trouble. Look at it as a chance to help someone out in the future and maybe make a video that gets a ton of views. This can make the process more enjoyable as you will have something to make you slow down and step back on occasion rather than rushing through the job. It also allows you to go back and reference your pictures or video should you forget how something goes back together or where you put something like that pesky 10mm socket.

With a successful DIY complete, you always feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in knowing you are capable of taking care of your car. With the Assembled By ECS kits, which are kits we assembled based on our own need for a start-to-finish project all in one box, you can be confident everything you need will be there for you so you don’t have to keep going back and placing orders for that one thing you forgot. Take the guesswork out, lower your stress, slow down, have a drink, and enjoy your next DIY with Schwaben Tools and Assembled By ECS complete service kits.

 

 

 

Why you should consider the BMW E39 5-Series as a Drift Car

As the world becomes a smaller and smaller place thanks to social media and the ability to instantly connect with anyone anywhere, the lines between cultures are blurred. When the drift car craze hit American shores in the late 90’s, there was a clear distinction between JDM styling, domestic muscle, and the refined German sports-luxury vehicles. Not all JDM cars were acceptable platforms for modification, so only some gained the exponential growth in popularity and subsequent increases in values as the demand grew. Fast-forward to a few years ago, we see the prices for early 90’s JDM rear-wheel-drive, manual transmission, drift cars hitting all-time highs. The cost for a used S13 tripled around 2015, which spurned a wonderful shift in the culture around drift cars. Less popular models like larger luxury sedans and European alternatives became more affordable in comparison, so drift builds began to incorporate unorthodox vehicles. Not all are created equally, however. If you are a European enthusiast, your options for drift builds are as endless as your imagination, but one stands out as a clear victor: the E39 5-series is the ideal drift car, and we are going to explain why.

First, the drivetrain layout. The E39 is a rear-wheel-drive, straight six or V8 powered, mid-sized sedan. The engineers at BMW made it a point to maintain a near 50/50 weight distribution for which their cars were famous, and the new 5-series for the 1990’s was no different. Produced until 2004, the E39 exhibited many tech features that made it a comfortable business sedan, but it also held true to its performance roots. Their sportiness plays a huge part in the drift build since it makes for less work off the bat and less downtime before you get sideways.

The FR (front engine, RWD) layout is a must for any drift car, but almost equally important is the wheelbase. Too short of a wheelbase makes drifting increasingly difficult. Cars like E30s, Miatas, AE86s, and other shorter-wheelbase coupes are often go-to answers for ‘what drift car should I start with’, but they have a snappier feel and can be more challenging to sustain a drift or transition smoothly, especially on larger tracks. For someone looking for an all-purpose drift car and daily, the E39 offers a longer wheelbase which means skids are incredibly controllable. The downside is you need power to initiate the drift, but the E39 has no shortage of power. To provide a comparison, a popular JDM drift car platform is the Lexus GS 430 sedan, which has a wheelbase of 110”. The E39 is a 111.4” wheelbase and the same drivetrain layout, but with better chassis balance front to rear and arguably is a more rigid car. You can already see that there may be some merit to the claim. If you are looking at a Lexus or Toyota big body, a BMW E39 is an alternative you should consider.

Moving on, the E39 sported a multi-link front suspension and a rack-and-pinion steering box. This makes pulling more angle from your steering quite easy. Additionally, the E39 steering rack can easily be swapped for a tighter ratio rack from a sportier BMW. Popular modifications common to purpose-built drift cars to achieve more angle, no suspension or drivetrain deflection, and tighter steering are now widely available for BMWs.

The swap between other OEM parts is another benefit for those who are steadily joining me in ‘Camp E39’. BMWs are fantastic platforms to customize in the spirit of OE Plus modifications since so many performance parts were offered from BMW that interchange across models. Bigger brakes, more aggressive wheels, stiffer suspension, performance exhaust, and various engine components can all be sourced from BMWs on which they were originally equipped to make your E39 a competent drift car without forking over the contents of your piggy bank or hunting an aftermarket option down that may have questionable quality.

Maintaining the theme of parts compatibility, the E39 came with one of five engines. A 525i sported the M50B25TU, a VANOS equipped, OBDII, 2.5 liter straight six. These are incredibly popular engines and can be found in 5 series and 3 series cars quite readily. Next, the 528i had a slightly larger version of the straight six denoted the M52B28. These are equally easy to maintain and share almost all parts across all BMW straight six engines of the time. The 530i had the biggest straight six, the M54B30. These are essentially de-tuned E36 M3 engines and the most desirable to have for a drift E39, in my opinion. Lastly, the M62/S62 engines found in the 540i and M5 respectably were the big V8s BMW equipped their top-of-the-range 5 series cars in the day. The M5 is still incredibly pricey, but the 540i offers a close second choice at a much more reasonable cost. The V8 is a high-revving engine that behaves more like a straight six than a traditional V8 in the power delivery. These can provide tons of power and fun if yours is well sorted and maintained. To speak to compatibility, all these engines can be found in 3-series or 7-series cars and are quite cheap.

Sticking with the engine topic, drift cars rarely keep their engines stock. The engine range found in E39s are popular for modification and can be upgraded for minimal costs. Aggressive camshafts, a tune, performance exhaust, and basic maintenance is all it takes to squeeze more power from the 6 or 8 cylinder engines. If you want to take it to the next level, the M5x family of straight sixes absolutely love boost. A turbo setup on one of these engines can cost upwards of $2,000 but can be achieved for as little as about $800 if you are thrifty. This creates a whole new element of driving your E39. While you do not need more power to learn, the E39 will most likely become tame and boring as you progress. Having the ability to slap a turbo on the M5x can keep your E39 relevant as you improve. Buying a turbo setup is much cheaper than building a new engine or switching cars, after all.

Suspension, once again, is a big part of making a drift car slide easily without rolling over like a dog. Tons of suspension options ranging from ‘cup kits’ to full coilovers give you no shortage of choices in determining your suspension setup. A set of inexpensive coilovers with adjustable camber, dampening, and ride height is ideal in order to reduce wheel travel and increase the rigidity of your suspension.

E-brakes are critical for beginners. The standard E-brake in any car is not designed to be ripped around for line correction, so upgrading these are pretty much required for any platform. Fortunately, dual caliper setups in E39s are nothing out of the ordinary and they are easily acquired or fabricated. The dual caliper setup will allow you to install a hydraulic e-brake and independently lock your rear wheels. Since the E39 can be easily converted for this, we once again see a major benefit in choosing one as your drift car project.

Weight savings are also critical if you are serious about getting sideways. You want as little weight to move around as possible so more power is dedicated to spinning the rear wheels and sliding you around the track. E39 interiors are generally easy to strip. The car was designed to move quite a bit of technology, as we mentioned earlier in the article, so there are tons of non-essential comfort features you can remove and expect quite a performance increase for exactly 0 dollars. The heavy powered front seats come out simply, as do the rear seats. The car has a lot of sound deadening and plush upholstery, so go ahead and ditch all that, too. When you are done, you will have a surprising amount of weight pulled from the car, which translates to better acceleration.

Finally, there is the ‘cool factor’ all drift cars need. This is a mid-size, luxury-performance, BMW sedan. What isn’t cool about it? While everyone out there is rolling around in trashed S13 rust buckets for which they paid double or even triple their actual value, you can experience better quality and cheaper cost of ownership with an E39. The iconic kidneys, understated exterior, and smile-inducing size of the car make whipping one sideways an experience for sure, and damn if they don’t look good doing it.

So let’s summarize with a comparison. For our side-by-sides, let’s look at both a 530i and a 540i. We will stack them against an S13 240sx and a Lexus LS300 respectively due to their overall similarity.

2002 E39 530i –

M54B30 3.0 liter straight six: 230hp/220lb torque

Wheelbase: 111.4”

5-speed manual option or easy to swap

Curb weight: 3,400 lbs give or take

Four doors for more things that rhyme with doors.

Average Used Cost: $3,000 – $6,000

1990 S13 240sx (USDM ONLY)

KA24e or KA24de 2.4-liter I4 – 155hp/160lb torque

Wheelbase: 97.4”

5-speed manual option or easy to swap

Curb weight: 2,700 lbs

2 doors only

Average Used Cost: $5,000 – $10k

When we compare the two, you can see fairly even performance given the power to weight ratios between them, but we have a clear victor. The E39 offers more power, easier parts availability, cheaper purchase prices, cheaper cost of ownership, and more convenience to use if you are restricted to only one car. The E39 530i is clearly the better choice.

2002 540i:

M62B44 4.4 liter V8: 282hp/310lb torque

Wheelbase: 111.4”
5-speed manual option or easy to swap

Curb weight: 3,800 lbs give or take

Four doors for more things that rhyme with doors.

Weight Distribution: 52/48

Average Used Cost: $3,000 – $6,000

Lexus GS430:

1UZ: V8 300hp/325lb torque

Wheelbase: 110”

No 5 speed available, easy to swap

Curb Weight 3,700 lbs

Four doors

Weight Distribution: 53/47

Average Used Cost: $2,000 – $5,000

While the Lexus and BMW here are quite even, the reality is that the BMW is an easier car to get in and drift. Since the manual transmission available in the BMW means you can either get in and go or easily find a trans and pedal assembly to swap, you have a very short amount of downtime, if any, before you have fun behind the wheel. The 540i can be slightly more expensive, but they also can be slightly more desirable. Drift ready GS’ are already becoming increasingly expensive considering what you have to do to make them so. The 540i needs its diff welded and it is ready to slide on the track as-is. Not only that, but the aftermarket community for the BMW is arguably stronger and the resale value is higher. This favors the BMW E39 540i in our book.

As you can easily see, the E39 in any form offers an incredibly valuable combination of attributes that make it the perfect drift sled in lieu of otherwise ‘traditional’ drift cars that now demand a premium thanks to their popularity. With an E39, you are not only a part of the elite BMW driver’s community, but you are also situated in the perfect position to drift a more competent car than everyone else without spending any more money. Rather than hunting for abused used parts, arguing with craigslist posters who “know what they have, no lowballers”, and trying to piece back together a 30-year-old S13 with a million track miles, make the smart choice. Invest in an E39 for the best bang for your buck and quite possibly the next ‘drift tax’ bubble. Right now, few are aware of these cars’ potential in the drifting arena. Be a trendsetter and take advantage of their relative affordability while you can and still be unique with your choice of vehicle without sacrificing performance on the drift course.

The Pinzgauer: A Millennial’s Perfect Choice

Recently, we have been looking back in time rather than forward for successes in the past that outshine their contemporary replacements. Cars like the MK1 GTI, E30 BMW, and AMG Hammer are arguably more appealing than the current production models for their affordability and ease of maintenance. Part of the draw to these rad cars goes beyond their quirky social relevance: cars today are increasingly difficult to own and maintain without professionals and an excessive repair bill. The cost of upkeep on a five-year-old car drives many buyers to a lease on a brand new vehicle or purchase with the intent to sell within a few years. This makes the utilitarian aspect of owning a car from the era that brought us the Grateful Dead and late night talk shows incredibly sound.

While we have scattered the board and covered several performance cars, the underlying aspect of practicality and durability has persisted as a selling point to a prospective vintage car buyer. The only logical next step is to push that envelope to the extreme and look at something from that time that has yet to grow in popularity to a degree of the other classics but completely embodies the unbreakable and function-over-form mentality. The Steyr-Daimler-Puch Pinzgauer is the all-out best purchase for anyone seeking adventure in the form of an indestructible off-road vehicle and practical daily driver.

In 1969, the world saw its first real musical awakening with the Woodstock festival in the northeast part of the United States. The establishment that those mud-caked, Country Joe and the Fish listening, chakra-aligners fought against were given the Pinzgauer. In the same spirit of ‘go anywhere, do anything’ that was favored by the free love crowd, the Pinzgauer was designed as an all-purpose troop transport military vehicle that was developed in several variants.

The Pinzgauer is praised as one of the single-best off-road vehicles of all time. Used by over 30 militaries worldwide since its initial production, the Pinzgauer remained relevant until 2009 and the design was purchased by many companies who continued manufacturing the behemoth. Even today, the relevance of a simplistic and durable means of transportation is still at the forefront of many buyer’s minds, but our technology dependence has favored new cars over their arguably more reliable grandfathers. In this case, we argue there isn’t a Benz available today with the same level of dependability and universal usability as a Pinze. 

Available in 4×4 and 6×6 platforms, the variations of the Pinzgauer were all originally intended for troop transportation, equipment transportation, and various backcountry expeditions that make it an outstanding base on which to build your millennial tiny-home existence. All joking aside, the rugged, spacious, spartan aesthetic of the Pinzgauer makes it practical as a means of transportation, exceptional off-road, and usable for any degree of camping or off the grid living.

As a millennial with a taste for 80’s nostalgia and an affinity for being in the mountains, the draw is absolutely compelling for this writer. So much so that we found a relatively local importer of these vehicles who, like the few contemporaries in his field here in the states, provides decommissioned military Pinzgauers to the motivated buyer. Located in Wisconsin, North American Pinzgauer’s inventory features only Pinzgauers of varying models all outfitted for their different purposes when they were military vehicles, ready for you to turn into your tiny home, bug out vehicle, or just an addition to your vintage vehicle collection.

So what does this mean for the new vehicles that are equally attractive to someone with a little cash in their pocket and hopes for offroading? We say you should skip the Toyota or Rover dealerships and head straight to an importer of Pinzgauers for the ultimate in functional utility. While you may sacrifice turn-by-turn navigation, heated seats, and an automatic gearbox, what you gain is a vehicle with which you can rely on to take you quite literally anywhere with no complaint, ample space for your gear and friends, and a simplistic design that will never have you guessing what the next repair will cost. Our advice, if you are itching for that VW Vanogan bug, is to take the road less traveled. Find a Pinzgauer and fall in love. Dare to be different like the children of the 60’s from where this car saw its inception. Buy a Pinzgauer before the market goes all Air-cooled Porsche on them and you miss your chance at the life of freedom you have always wanted.

Images DO NOT belong to ECS Tuning or its affiliates. Images have been sourced from North American Pinzgauer’s for-sale inventory. Please follow that link for more information on their available units. Special thanks to the owner, Bob, for letting us use his images of his amazing stock of imported machines!

Controversy in Style: XKGLOW Lighting Solutions for your Audi, BMW, MINI, or Volkswagen

The automotive world is vast and full of countless styles, influences, and motivations from nearly every aspect of life in general. It is a beautiful hobby to have, in that automotive enthusiasm allows drivers and owners to express themselves and draw upon inspiration from other facets of their personal lives to create something that wholly reflects their vision. This automotive expressionism, especially in its purest form, often leads to brutal debate over whether or not the car is ‘cool’ or ‘well done’ without much thought as to what brought the build together in the mind of the owner. Several styles and trends have been ‘love-it-or-hate-it’ in the past few decades, but one of the most controversial modifications has consistently been underglow and full spectrum lighting. One company who stands on the side of self-expression and creativity is XKGlow, who produce some of the finest automotive lighting solutions for nearly every make and model with high-quality, usability, and functionality in mind.

Underglow is just one of those things that either make you drop your jaw at the unified theme of the car on which it is equipped, or something that makes a little bit of bile rise up your esophagus. For this writer, underglow was something that was amusing, became uncouth, and has now returned full circle to a smile-inducing aspect of any car. XKGlow offers the ability to give your smile muscles a work out with their full-spectrum lights for interiors, exteriors, and even headlights that you can control from either a fob or your smartphone for instant satisfaction.

The systems are incredibly easy to install and use. From your smartphone, you can control brightness, strobe, color, and create customized presets that give your car a unique light show to flex with at the next local car meet. While there are no performance benefits to additional lighting options, there is no replacement for the amount of joy you can give yourself by changing the color theme of your car at night at the touch of a button.

Make the risky choice and throw underglow on your build to see just how much fun everyone had in the 90’s rolling around with neons under their civic. You can balk all you want, but I know that when I flip the switch under my BMW and enjoy some mood lighting, nothing else bothers me. Seeing the smiles and smirks alike make part of expressing your individuality enjoyable, but at the end of the day, finding something that means something special to you alone is the only thing that matters. Express yourself with XKGlow on your next project to see what we mean when we say ‘smile-inducing’. 

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RallyWagen: Jaimie Orr’s trip with Volkswagen of America to the Arctic Circle Presented by ECS Tuning

Something we find incredibly enticing about cars is how many different ways we can find them exciting. We can appreciate the differences between our cars as they become more than just a utility. In some cases, the prospect of doing something insane with a car is the best way to bond with a car and too tempting to pass up. The situation in which we find ourselves now definitely falls into the ‘insanity’ category. Volkswagen of America, Jaimie Orr of Orchid Euro, and a number of partnering vendors have all come together with us to send a pre-production MK5 Golf Sportwagen through a grueling road trip across America to the Arctic Circle for a little bit of fun.

This particular MK5 is something special but unfortunately has to be destroyed as a result of its unique VIN restrictions. The wagen came to us from VW as a demonstration and crash-test only pre-production car, so it has a number of interesting features and differences between the actual production model. This low-mileage car was featured at SEMA for the debut of that generation and has since been sitting around just waiting for death. Since the car never received the love or attention it deserves, we thought we would give it a chance to form that bond between car and driver on a massive road trip.

Normally, driving 8,500 miles in a minty-fresh, low-milage, economy car would be in the realm of sanity and not terribly difficult. However, we couldn’t just sit by and make Jaimie’s trip a posh jaunt around the States, we had to give him something exploratory to make up for the general nice-ness of the MK5.

After some phone calls to APR, Black Forest Industries, KW Suspension, LIQUI MOLY, Escort, Thule, and GSP North America, we had a fairly extensive list of modifications for the doomed wagen. Most notably, we immediately slammed the VW on a set of KW V2 coilovers to make it as ground-hugging as humanly possible. This is where our own input came into play: the wagen will drive the full trip completely dumped out, so it needs some added protection for the daunting on-and-off road beating it will take. This is the perfect time to give our Street Shield the ultimate test by fitting it to the MK5 and sending it all the way up to the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle by way of some of the best roads in America for killing oil pans.

The Street Shield will keep Jaimie on the road for the trip if it is up to the challenge, which we think it most certainly is. Escort provided a radar detector so Jaimie can make sure he knows where the closest officer is to provide assistance in case of emergency (wink wink) and hopefully allow him to avoid any trouble on the way. LIQUI MOLY supplied oil for the trip, which we know will keep the engine running smoothly for the new APR upgrades it will receive in Alabama.

Beyond performance upgrades, we knew it couldn’t just go without some aesthetic improvements. Thule provided a roof storage box and racks for extra space and an aggressive overland look, we peppered the car in a classic rally-inspired livery, and BFI will be touching up the interior with some of their tasteful additions on the first stop of the journey.

Right now, the wagen has left the garage with only a few minor incidents of self-inflicted damage and is heading south to the BFI headquarters. You can follow us along as the MK5 Sportwagen receives numerous upgrades along the route to the Arctic Circle and hopefully encounters wildlife, rough roads, and adventure all the way there.

Check out all the sponsors:

Street Shield

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LIQUI MOLY

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ESCORT

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KW Suspension

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Black Forest Industries

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APR Performance

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ECS Tuning & StopTech VW MK7.5 GTI Sweepstakes Presented by Racingline: Big Turbo and More!

The news has already spread about our second sweepstakes car, the ECS Tuning and StopTech VW MK7.5 GTI Presented by Racingline. The GTI has already received a massive amount of work and attention courtesy of Zach and all our wonderful vendor partners and it is nearing completion. This most recent update finds us post-reveal, with the car having been present at Euro District and The European Experience to show off its progress. This week, we are pleased to present the most current work on the car. Racingline stopped by to assist in the very first Racingline Turbo installation, perform the tuning, and hang out while we fitted some of the last upgrades to the GTI that will find its way into the hands of a lucky recipient next month.

The GTI is finally coming together. This new Turbo from Racingline is one of the final touches that has allowed us to reach our final horsepower output goal, which will be revealed at a later date. Racingline sent some of their team to oversee the very first MK7.5 GTI turbo installs here in the states and have been a blast to have around the shop. The energy is palpable now that so many hands are on the car to have it prepared for its completion and to meet the deadline to present the car to its new owner, who has yet to be picked.

 

Zach has been hard at work installing more than just a fancy new turbo, however. The folks at Neuspeed delivered their downpipe, mid pipe, catback, and intercooler while Forge provided our dress up hoses. Lastly, ZSPEC contributed dress-up hardware to complete the visual theme underneath the hood. The car is finally coming together and we can’t wait to see how the performance has improved now that the engine matches the suspension and braking capabilities thanks to the additions from H&R with their coilovers and the 335mm StopTech Trophy BBK that absolutely bulges from each wheel hub.

The GTI is sure to see major improvements to power delivery as well as overall drivability with the litany of high-dollar performance parts adorning nearly every part of the car. Our excitement is building to see the finished product hit the dyno to find out if our maths have been accurate in determining what we believe to be the ultimate bolt-on built GTI to hit the streets. The new 3SDM custom 3-piece wheels have tied the exterior of the car together with the final livery and completely match the power that lies underneath. Everything about this car is visually striking and speaks volumes about the car’s capabilities.

Thanks to the guys at Racingline and Neuspeed who have helped us bring this dream build to life for the lucky winner and for providing such amazing support through the whole process. Without their contributions, and the roles played by all our other amazing vendor partners, this car would surely lack the bite to match its striking bite. Continue to follow along in our final weeks as the car is completed and becomes ready for the new owner to take delivery. Remember, every $50 spent on the site is one entry, so keep piling on the entries for a better chance to win this one-of-a-kind GTI as your personal show car, track car, and grocery getter.

Interested in entering?

ECS Tuning & StopTech VW MK7.5 GTI Sweepstakes: Presented by Racingline

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