Posted by: nick on: March 14 2013 • Categorized in: Cars
We’ve had a very unpredictable winter this year. As of writing this, it’s -3 and we had a short snow squall earlier today. However last weekend it was 17.5 C and absolutely gorgeous. There was only one thing to do: get the M Coupe out of storage.
Last year was particularly bad for me and driving. I was busy, we bought another car and the M Coupe ended up in storage. With only brief jaunts here and there, it amounted to a sad 1000km of driving all year. Fall was nice for driving but then we were back in Kyoto, after that winter came. So the car slept. Thankfully I’d disconnected the battery, having learned my lesson last winter that if I’m not willing to go run it every few weeks in the garage it will indeed go flat. As hoped, the car started without issue, roaring to life with it’s usual furor. One of the tires was a bit low, but the rest had held their pressure perfectly. With air in the rear drivers side tire we were ready to convert some dinosaur bones into vapor.
Having not driven the car for almost 4 months it really felt very good to get back into it. Steering is communicative, being one of the last hydraulic systems BMW used, but no where near as good as the setup in the e36 M3s and Z3 M cars. 12.8 turns to lock puts it significantly faster than the roadster and even the M3 CSL. It makes it a bit twitchy at speed, but also makes things like lane changes a trivial affair. Steering is so heavy you need to have a solid grip at all times anyway.
The clutch is as heavy as always and while not as pleasant as earlier BMWs (i.e. 90s and prior) in terms of engagement feel it gets the job done. Engagement is linear and having been together all these years it feels very natural to me. Pedal travel is still too far, but a $2-20 clutch stop or bolt would fix that. The gear box I once loathed now puts a smile on my face. 2nd gear is as notchy as ever, something common to all cars that haven’t had transmission fluid and mount swaps. 1st gear is still high, meaning you never spend any time in it after taking off. Somehow it feels good though, once you know where & when to give it gas as you row your way, it’s quite smooth up and down the H. And the ratios are close, so you’re rowing quite a lot. The learning curve to avoid the distinctive 1st to 2nd bunny hop, widely reported across the car forums, was quite steep: nearly 2 years at my rather modest rate of usage. Now it’s just plain rewarding to drive.
The engine is still the primary reason to own the car. It’s 3.2L inline six debuted with 338 HP in 2000 known as the S54B32. It still managed to produce a rather respectable amount of torque (268 lb/ft) given its high rev 100+HP/L nature. That’s mostly thanks to a rather long stroke which puts its piston velocity ahead of the Lamborghini Gallardo (as I recall). Six years later when the e46 M3 retired from the market, the S54 made its final debut in the M Coupe and Roadster. Though now it was coupled to an intake further from the hot engine itself, an ECU that was an order of magnitude faster and a much better exhaust setup. (Not to mention a much smaller and lighter car to haul around!) No forced induction to dull its responsiveness, no direct injection to calm its over running fury. To put things in perspective: here in 2013 sports cars with modern direct injection engines are hitting the same power outputs are all still quite a bit bigger. Think Porsche Cayman S (3.4L, 321HP) or the Nissan NISMO 370Z (3.7L 350HP). Neither of those engines is as responsive and revvy as the S54, not even close. I can only imagine how much more interested I’d be in BMW had they done a direct injection successor to the S54 instead of going the forced induction route…
The most enjoyable thing about the car is that it never feels ‘normal’ to drive it. After the Nissan GT-R came out everyone commented that it drove like a Maxima around town. The M Coupe never feels anything but absurd at all times. Partially it’s the seating position, you have to fall in and your butt is only inches from the road. The controls help too, the twitchy steering and tricky transmission add a lot of character to the driving experience. The engine finishes it off, dogging it around town under 3000 RPM and screaming whenever you jump down a gear or two. The Hayward & Scott exhaust we installed helps. The car really grumbles around town and absolutely shouts when called upon, completely with coughing and popping overrun despite having all four of its California complaint cats. Even pulling away casually from a traffic light is an event. It’s an absurd car. Absurdly unpractical. Absurdly uncomfortable. I might be stuck in heavy traffic, but the car always manages to put a smile on my face. (As I grit my teeth and picture my left leg growing to be the size of a tree trunk…)
This coming weekend’s highs will be -1 and 0 so there is no hope for a repeat performance just yet. I don’t know what the future has in store for the car and I, but spring will be here soon and I can’t wait.
Posted by: nick on: June 16 2011 • Categorized in: Cars
BMW of the 70s was a much different company than the BMW of 2011. BMW had two platforms, the ‘New class’ including the famous 1600 sedan and 2002 coupe and the ‘New six’ which featured the larger 3.0 sedan and 3.0CSi coupes. Basically four product lines, with different engines, equipment and suspension gear within the model range. BMW didn’t even have any dealers in North America until sales of the independently imported 2002 were far better than expected. Apparently people loved the idea of sporty four seaters!
By the end of the 70s BMW had renumbered to their now iconic schema: the New class was forked into the 3-series and 5-series, the New six forked into the 6-series and 7-series. Starting with the E21 3-series compact coupes and sedans, the E12 5-series mid-sized sedan, the E24 6-series coupe, and the E23 7-series full sized sedan. The BMW brand began to grow.
Things changed over times. Everything grew. The 6-series was once a 7-series coupe, but when it was reintroduced in 2004, it was a 5-series coupe. BMW released a few sports cars, the M1 at the end of the 70s, the Z1 at the end of the 80s, the 8-series (a 7-series coupe again) in the 90s, the Z3 at the end of the 90s, and the Z4 in the early 2000s. BMW remained true to its target market the entire time, the best handling and thusly most enjoyable drives in their markets. The 3-series sedan and coupe was always BMWs bread and butter, the popularity and sales of BMW was at an all time high.
The BMW brand is one of the most valuable brands in the world, automotive or otherwise, so you can’t blame BMW for wanting to expand their brand. It began in the early 2000s with the X5, the least sporty car BMW had ever built. It sold gangbusters. Go forward 10 years and BMW sells an X1, an X3, an X5 and an X6 and a 5-series GT (yet another crossover thing) all cars panned by BMW’s original driver centric market. The X6 is a “sports coupe” that weighs as much as a small bus with a center of gravity to match, they even make an M model (remember when the M badge represented a car built, even just engineered by BMW M and not just shit bolted on?), what a joke… As of 2011 BMW now sells 11 distinct lines in our market…
Things looked good when BMW released the 1-series coupe in the North American market. A smaller (though not nearly light enough) sportier car at a lower price point, and as of 2011 BMW even has a 1-series M coupe. Perhaps there is hope after all? Perhaps not. Seems BMW wants to redefine the 1-series brand already. They intend to fork the 1-series coupe we know as the 2-series (more on that later) by 2013, and relaunch the 1-series as a front-wheel drive car (i.e. a stretched Mini platform) to be better aligned with the Audi A3. Thats right BMW is going to sell a front wheel drive car under the BMW brand. Why? Because the BMW brand is worth its weight in platinum, and a BMW badged Mini will sell better and for a higher price than a Mini badged one.
Next up is BMW’s decision to rebrand the 3-series coupe as the 4-series… That’s right, the car known as the 3-series coupe since 1975 will now be called the 4-series. Why? Not entirely sure. The 3-series coupe has always demanded a premium price over the sedan, and maybe BMW wants to give warm fuzzies to the brainless luxury target market they so love for spending an extra $10k to lose 2 doors and gain a better suspension… This action will ruin any residuals on existing 3-series coupes, confuse customers and obliterates 35+ years of heritage.
BMW? Do you remember what made your cars better than the cheaper, more reliable Lexus of the 90s? They were fun to drive. Why are so many 3, 5, 7 and all the X cars 4WD now?
BMW? Do you remember what made your cars better than the cheaper and faster Infiniti’s of the 2000s? They were more fun to drive. Why are you releasing a FWD 1-series and telling my the X6 is the evolution of the sports car?
Here’s the thing BMW, you are losing what made your brand awesome. I know things are doing great now, BMWs are selling better than ever. I can’t blame a company trying to obtain more money, that is their obligation to their shareholders. The problem is, the further you get away from what made you awesome, the closer you get to the competition. Look at cars up until the 200s, Audi made the most utterly boring cars on the planet, but have you seen the new S5? Gorgeous! Merc made slushy luxury cars, but look at the current C-class, and of course C63 AMG and SLS AMG, I mean come on! Fantastic cars. Look at Lexus, king of the sofas on wheels, they even have an M3 fighter in the IS-F… Infiniti is slowly eating out the bottom of the 3/C/A4 segment too, offering near 335i performance at 128i prices.
The further BMW gets away from its roots, the closer the competition seems to get to BMWs roots. The brand won’t stay strong on its own forever. This current obsession with 10+ distinct product lines has been tried before, look at what happened to all the American brands… Amusingly of all of the current 11 product lines, there isn’t a single car I like as much as the BMW I have and the one I had before that… Sure you can blame the fuel economy movement for the boring-up of the new M5 and M6 and surely the next M3s… How long before a 4WD M5 or even M3… Might as well buy an RS5 at that point, it certainly looks better!
Enough with the rant, I’ll leave you this video of Chris Harris slinging the new 1-series M and the Cayman R around. Enjoy!
Posted by: nick on: May 12 2011 • Categorized in: Cars
Quite a mean stance!
vs the original BMW M exhaust
So the weekend before last, Tom and I set up to install a free-flowing exhaust on the M Coupe. I was pretty picky with what I wanted from an exhaust, the stock BMW M units are pretty good, albeit very quiet and thus quite heavy. I didn’t want a boomy american (or ‘rice’) sound just to shed some weight and add a bit of top end power, so I ended up getting bespoke exhaust makers Hayward & Scott of Essex (UK) to build me one. After a month of pounding on metal in sheds, the men from Essex sent me a hand-made exhaust. We waited for good enough weather to perform the install and got to work…
The process is easy enough in theory. In fact our biggest worry, seized bolts/joints was a non issue. The real challenge was fitting hands/tools in places to remove joints. We put the car up on four jacks, as high as we pretty much could. One of our jacks was low on hydraulic fluid, and was located at the back on the driver side, so we shuffled it to the front passenger side where it would be less of a determent. After playing with the jacks for awhile we were ready to begin. We began by removing the BMW back boxes. Each one was held on to two brackets, rubber mounts. Getting them off of the brackets was much harder than just removing the brackets from the body, so thats what we ended up doing. Each muffler was connected to the mid-section with two bolts and a metal ring, easy enough to remove. Removing the BMW mufflers, you really got a feel for how heavy they were, in excess of 30 pounds a pop.
Car parts scattered across the lawn like hillbillies
With those removed we could focus on removing the mid-section. The mid-section is guarded by several heat shields, which also keep it snug with the chassis. Removing those was trivial. The mid-section is attached to the rear cats (the car has four catalytic converters in the North American spec) with six bolts. Removing the top bolts proved to be exceedingly difficult but we managed to do so. At this point we felt pretty pleased with our efforts. We began to try and jiggle and slide the mid-section out from under the car to no avail. It was being blocked by two large pieces of the rear subframe that cross the back of the car and add to the overall rigidity. After hesitating and trying to partially undo and move them out of the way, we gave up and removed both cross bars. This made removing the mid-section a snap, and we put it on the lawn with all of our other parts.
The H&S mid pipes look pretty
The stock BMW M mid-section is an X-pipe and contain a mid resonator, and was also quite a heavy part. The Hayward & Scott mid pipes we were replacing them with were a straight stainless steel X-pipe. This change reduces back pressure, reduces overall weight (although not by more than 10 pounds) and produces an awesome crackley overrun noise on lift off and during engine braking… After a short break, we installed the mid pipe, having similar trouble getting those top bolts in. After putting those in, we reattached the cross bars, and then put the heat shields back up. From there we were able to begin installing the H&S back boxes. We rotated and snug them onto the mid pipes until they lined up with the brackets. This wasn’t particularly hard, though the mid-section was not perfectly symmetrical (an issue with any non robot made parts), and thusly made fitment on the drivers side a bit trickier than the other.
The heat shielding in the exhaust housings is impressive
We finished up, put the drivers side wheel, and lowered the car. I then proceeded to fire her up. The sound of a cold start was pretty impressive, you could FEEL it. Pretty soon the car warmed up and it became silent as it hummed a long in neutral. I took her out for a quick spin. Low revs are a bit deeper than I had anticipated, but the scream at high revs is just spine-tingling. Better yet is the sound between gear shifts, as unspent fuel burns up on the pipes and crackles out the back. This becomes more pronounced as the pipes heat up, to the point where a throttle blip with a fully hot exhaust is just incredible. Highway cruising is completely silent thankfully, however any throttle under full transmission load is quite a bit louder than I had anticipated. Superficial (though important, since you have to live with it) criteria aside, performance is fantastic. Though its really hard to say as the car has always had a ton of power put down to the road, so detecting a predictably small peak power improvement is impossible, we’ll have to book some dyno time to really know for sure.
The weekend after we did a bit more fitment work on the drivers side, as the pipe still sits crooked, more so when the exhaust heats up and expands. We’ve not quite gotten it perfect. I’m also not 100% happy with the volume level, it’s a bit TOO loud for my taste, though it sounds fantastic and raw, not synthetic and big-tippy. Never the less it’s been a fun project, however it turns out! Thanks to Tom for his hours upon hours of work.
The following is a video I made with a cold exhaust, the overrun is not nearly as noticeable as hot pipes, sadly. I had made a better one earlier but had completely forgotten to TURN THE MICROPHONE ON (as was the fate of my ‘before’ video). I might make another one one day, but I generally don’t like sitting and revving the engine like a child in place, its rather anti-social :)
Posted by: nick on: April 19 2011 • Categorized in: Cars
Keeping track of all of BMW’s different engines, US/CA vs Europe, has always been a tricky job. With the announcement of the new 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo from BMW to be dubbed the sDrive 28i for the 2012 model year, I thought it apt to look at just how muddy the waters had become. At one point in recent history, BMW sold 3 models, the 3-series, 5-series and the 7-series. Or compact, mid-size, full-size. After that you would just append the engine displacement and you had the model number. You knew an e36 325i was a compact BMW with a 2.5L engine. This trend was adopted by everyone else in the industry, and frankly as a car enthusiast, was something I really liked.
However in the late years of the e36 as BMW began to really become popular, BMW North America’s 2/3-model strategy and it’s belief in utter customer stupidity caused it to muddy the waters. Feeling that things like a 25i and 28i would be too close for customers to see the value-add, so they padded the numbers around. In Europe, where they sold many more different models of say the e90 (320, 323, 325, 328, 330, 335!) it wasn’t quite as bad. Unfortunately with the wide-spread adoption of turbos, BMW has pretty much just said screw it and assigned numbers willynilly based on focus groups to influence market perception. This new 2.0L turbo will surely show up in a US spec 328i in the future. Nothing wrong with the engine, produces as much power as the outgoing US-spec 3.0L 6-cyl badged 328i we get, but call it a 320i and be done with it. (Or heck bring back the 2002 era TURBO badging to make people feel special!) How stupid could the luxury car buyers really be… oh wait don’t answer that…
Let’s take a look at the 3-ers:
3.0L 6-cyl turbo
2.0L 4-cyl turbo
3.0L 6-cyl turbo
These all represent Canadian models as the US has often lacked the base (323i, 320i) that we got because their prices are generally much much lower (you can buy a 328i for 323i money here, even with conversion, cost of living, etc factored in. thanks BMW).
Remember too, dear BMW will sell you a 740i in the US with the same engine as the 2007 335i, with the power output claim to be the realistic 321HP output that engine made, instead of the understated 300HP they claimed. 735i would have seemed too pedestrian for 7-series buyers right? I’ll do another chart on a future lazy morning about how BMW basically completely forked US/CA and European engines the way they were in the 80s, though this time it’s because of our shitty quality gas instead of our stricter emission requirements. (Hint: they all went direct injection, got way more power and way better fuel economy, but aside from the turbos, have yet to see our market some 4 years later)