Homebuilt AC Schnitzer BMW E34 540i Touring
Even though AC Schnitzer never actually had a tuned E34 estate available for sale to the public as a complete car, that didn’t stop the owner of this BMW 540i Touring from creating one from scratch.
When it comes to BMW tuning houses, there might not be another brand more recognized than AC Schnitzer. It was founded in 1987 by Willi Kohl and Herbert Schnitzer, and early on they made specially tuned BMWs for street and track usage, which included the DTM series. Since then, they've built classy show cars and amazing looking pavement pounders that spread their brand's reputation across the world.
It was this brand reputation that inspired Matthew Gilbert had to create his own AC Schnitzer 1994 BMW E34 540i Touring, using parts that weren’t originally offered in the United States, let alone for the E34 wagon.
Matt didn’t start out with the idea of creating an AC Schnitzer E34 Touring, though. “My original plan was just to mate a six-speed manual to the M60B30 since the automatic was already failing,” said Matt. “I was then going to put a set of cool wheels on it and sell it,” he laughed, “but I’m glad that didn’t happen.” It all started when a friend of his offered to sell Matt an M60B40 that was just lying around in the garage. That’s when this estate began to “build itself,” as Matt described it.
The first part he tracked down was the full AC Schnitzer body kit that another friend had in his collection. Once it was installed, it started a six-month process of tracking every AC Schnitzer part Matt could find—even parts that were only sold in Europe despite over thirty years of opportunity to have them imported before Matt got them.
While there are some crazy-looking concepts and show cars from AC Schnitzer, the body kit for the E34 is rather sophisticated and mature in appearance. It doesn’t have oversized fenders, large aerodynamic parts, or do anything to draw away from the cleanliness of the original E34 body style. Matt did modify the front fender arches of the car, but it wasn't anything too dramatic. The body lines still flow very well with the rest of the car and the AC Schnitzer kit.
The front fender arch modification was needed mostly due to the car's low, aggressive stance and wheel choice. The wheels are a set of very rare AC Schnitzer Type 1 wheels, which were made by OZ Racing. Finding this particular set of three-piece AC Schnitzer wheels was a blessing, because Matt's E34T has the most aggressive wheel fitment we've ever seen on an E34 using AC Schnitzer wheels. Usually when we see Schnitzer Type 1s, they have much smaller wheel lips, so finding a set of authentic AC Schnitzer wheels in a size this aggressive really set the stage for this car to be a jaw-dropper. The front pair are 17x9, and the rear pair are 17x10. They are covered in Nitto’s NT555 tires in 245/45R17 front and 275/40R17 rear.
The car sits low thanks to a set of CAtuned Super Sport Coilovers with 10kg/mm rate springs in the front and 8kg/mm rate springs in the rear. The springs sit on height-adjustable perches. A set of BMW E34 M5 sway bars keep body roll tight while every mount and bushing has been replaced by either new BMW parts or polyurethane replacements. Parts like the thrust arms and tie-rods are OE parts purchased through FCP Euro. The front brakes are Brembo F30 BMW four-piston calipers attached by AngryAssSolutions hardware with 340mm drilled and slotted rotors and EBC Yellow Stuff brake pads.
These AC Schnitzer aero mirrors were another very rare part for this build. “Those mirrors and the wheels were both the high and low points of the build,” Matt smiled, “They were awesome to find and made the look of the wagon. The cost of them, on the other hand, was rather high.”
Most of the interior comes from BMW but have been restored or recovered in new leather, like the E34 sports seats. Under the passenger seat is the OE BMW first aid kit offered on European E34s. Under the driver’s seat is a fire extinguisher mounted to the floor by an AngryAssSolutions bracket. The wooden Nardi steering wheel features a cover over the spokes and looks nearly like a factory part.
Even with the engine swap, the gauges are original to Matt’s car and still work properly. You can also see it’s been driven as it’s currently clocking in at nearly 200,000-miles, but Matt says, "you would think that a car with high mileage like mine would be throwing codes, with a bunch of check engine lights on the dash, but I just stay on top of the maintenance. I anticipate potential problems and order my repair parts from FCP Euro so I have them ready, then I carve time to work on the car at home when I'm not busy with family duties."
There are many AC Schnitzer touches in various parts of the interior, such as the handbrake handle.
The aluminum pedals, including the dead pedal footrest, are also from AC Schnitzer.
The AC Schnitzer weighted shift knob makes rowing the gears of the Getrag 420G six-speed feel more precise, as it's weight counters the resistance of the internal shift linkages.
There are other European domestic market BMW parts installed in the car besides the first aid kit. “I had everything I felt was needed to make it the best representation of what AC Schnitzer would have built,” said Matt, “Well, that’s if they even made a Touring variant instead of the sedan.”
It’s also amazing just how clean the whole car looks despite its age, especially the rear seats. The rear seats, bolsters, front seats, and door panel inserts have been reupholstered, and Matt plans to swap out the worn seat belts and carpet in the future.
A set of these rare OEM BMW European domestic market rear window pull shades help keep the interior cool when the car basks in the Southern Cali sunshine. Matt found them on sale in Germany and just had to have them. They will also keep the interior leather from breaking down due to harmful UV rays.
The cargo area gets some OE treatment with parts you can't normally find easily. As you look past the Thule roof-mounted bike rack, you can see some of the extra OEM parts that you’ll only find in a wagon-style car. The dog netting behind the rear passenger headrests helps separate the cargo area from the passenger area. It also screams of classic European estate features.
The trunk area features a BMW OEM rubber cargo mat to help keep the rear carpet clean. Matt actually acquired it when he bought an entire parts car to complete this project. The roll-out cargo cover allows Matt to hide his dirty cargo, too.
While AC Schnitzer didn’t touch this engine, it doesn’t mean this M60B40 is entirely stock.
The custom-mounted and washable cone filter allows the engine to breathe a little better and even sound a bit meaner. The DUDMD chip gives it a bit more power, too, as it makes 285-horsepower at the flywheel as verified by a Mustang dyno.
Adding some chassis rigidity to the front strut towers is a Racing Dynamics strut bar. It ties the towers together to reduce the flex from chassis roll.
Just under that tower bar, you can see the CAtuned camber/caster kit that’s a part of their Super Sport Coilovers. You can also see that the damper portion can be tuned by the hex-head adjuster. However, it will adjust compression and rebound at the same time rather than individual adjustments.
AC Schnitzer also knows how to make a V8 sound right. “The utter vulgarity of the exhaust is hypnotic,” says Matt. It certainly makes going through the gears of the six-speed manual a more fun experience over the stock BMW exhaust system.
“The achievement that I’m most proud of is that I completely followed through with the vision in my head for this build from start to finish,” said Matt, “Along the way, I’ve made some great friends and converted a few BMW sedan people to Touring owners.”
While going to an air suspension system is something Matt may look at in the future, he’s rather pleased with the result. “The engine and transmission swap make this 540i Touring a blast to drive,” Matt explains, “but finding and tracking down the full AC Schnitzer catalog for the E34 made this wagon build what it is.”
That air suspension will have to wait, though. Matt is already working on another E34 build, and it’s slated to the be the first N54 swap in the world for a Touring with a DOC Race turbo kit. For now, this AC Schnitzer equipped E34 estate isn’t going to change. That’s fine as it gives us a bit of a what if look, answering the question, "What if AC Schnitzer did actually build an E34 Touring?” We’re sure it would have ended up a lot like Matt’s 540i Estate.
Despite not having any direct source for AC Schnitzer parts, Matt’s E34 shows that you can build the car of your desires. Even if that car didn’t exist at all, at least in the case of this wagon. AC Schnitzer never actually did a full catalog build of an E34 estate, but Matt was able to pull it off. It took some digging, patience, and a bit of cash flow to do it, but he was able to show that it could be done. Now, it makes us wonder what other estate-style BMWs AC Schnitzer could have or should have created.
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you enjoyed this BMW E34 Touring, you can find additional BMW-related content at bmw.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one, here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Written By: Antonio Alvendia
FCP Euro Content Producer and Sharpshooter Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, deep offset wheels, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after drooling over M5 Estates on photo trips to racetracks and automotive museums all over Europe. He is currently devising a plan to return to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and drive the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @antoniosureshot