Ray Yuson’s Alpine White BMW E36 328i sedan is a shining example of how combining a broad spectrum of influences can be used to improve upon an original.
The owner of this immaculate 1996 BMW 328i, Ray Yuson, officially joined the ranks of automotive enthusiasts back in the early 90s with his first car, a Honda Accord. Despite owning a Honda, he was already an E36 lover because of his father’s purchase of a red 1992 325i sedan with black interior. Beginning with his father’s 325i being passed down to him in college, he would embark on a car modding journey that included BMWs, Hondas and Toyotas - all informing his sense of style and proportion. However, it was a forgone conclusion that he would eventually return to the E36.
This vehicle is Ray’s way of paying homage to the automotive icons and aesthetics that shaped him. The OEM M3 front bumper and HARD Motorsport under tray are accented by a ZKW Euro spec headlight kit that together invoke the styling of the iconic M3.
The tail lights are also ZKW Euro spec but it is the TA-Technik Coilover kit that reveals another glimpse into the history that shaped Ray’s sensibilities. The lowered silhouette screams its DTM (Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft) roots. DTM styling lies at the core of Ray’s approach to stance - he was literally aiming to reproduce the DTM look without the livery. The 18x8.5 +28 Hartge Design D wheels (custom painted Alpine White to match the body color) are a dream realized after years spent lusting after them on the rack at legendary Southern California wheel retailer DAZZ Motorsport.
The E36 cockpit screams performance and this Nardi Deep Corn 320mm Suede steering wheel amplifies the effect. Along with the thin A pillars for greater visibility and the perfect seating position, it’s simply an amazing car to drive. Ray particularly loves that one can “place it in a corner and know exactly where you’re gonna end up.”
The low-tech, analog gauge cluster is a study in Spartan precision which allows the driver a steady stream of data that is easily translated into action at high speed. No extraneous information is allowed to dull the driving experience.
The Rieger one piece, illuminated shift knob and boot adds a hint of modern flash to the potent mix of performance and functionality that is the hallmark of all German engineering. It is a tasteful enhancement that manages to elevate without descending into gaudiness.
The E36 cockpit combines equal parts luxury, racing, and perfect space management. The rich leather seats embrace the driver and passengers without the distraction of cushiness. They communicate that a fun driving “experience” is to be had by all.
It is impossible to invoke iconic German engineering without a nod to Hartge. Back in the day, they specialized in aftermarket development for BMW and Range Rover. Their catalog inspired millions of young car modders like Ray.
The Hartge catalog is a bit nostalgic. It calls up images of young teenagers, starry-eyed and in full-on fantasy mode as they thumbed through the hallowed pages - imagining the cars they would build with these parts. Some would even simulate “lowering” cars in magazines and catalogs by cutting them out and repositioning them in relation to the wheels to create the illusion of a lowered stance. For many of them, owning a car like this was a fantasy. For Ray, at least, the fantasy has become reality.
The rear seating of the E36 is just enough to satisfy the sedan category while shading close to a coupe-like feel. Owning a functional four-seater that has the drivability of a sports car is the best of both worlds and it’s probably among the many reasons the E36 was (and still is) so popular.
Ray kept the stock M52B28 engine and he feels good about that decision thus far. The M52 is a straight-6 that generates 190bhp and can take the car from 0-60 in 6.4 seconds. Someday, if the mood strikes, Ray says he might swap the M52 for an S54B32 for an additional 153 horses. However, the initial desire was to achieve a certain exterior aesthetic and that mission has been accomplished.
One of the more compelling aspects of showcasing beautifully conceptualized builds is the organic, even evolutionary, nature of the process. There is always some new aspect to be refined. Even the most realized concepts remain “works in progress,” like the radiator Ray swapped into the car.
Ray chose the Ireland Engineering exhaust system with deleted center resonator to capture the look and sound that best exemplify the aesthetic he chose for this vehicle. The teenaged car enthusiast in Ray is probably even more joyful then he is at how this build came together.
This particular accent is one that brings to mind the same sort of aftermarket renown that Hartge wheels invoke. Spoon Sports is a famed Japanese race car tuner and aftermarket parts producer specializing in Hondas. These custom-fitted racing mirrors are made in the Spoon Sports style - a clever aesthetic touch that also reminds us that Ray is a product of multiple tuning influences.
When Ray was asked about the highs and lows of building this E36 his response was exactly what one might hope to hear from someone who has achieved a life goal. “The highest point of building this car is the luck I’ve had finding all the stuff it needed for pennies."
"Finding all the M body pieces and the OEM Euro lenses came from sweating it out at the junkyards, and the Hartge wheels came from a cool cat I met in Santa Barbara. Good friends passing cool old parts from their builds to it and the laughs along the way. Low points? Thank God, none. Knock on wood, this car just brings me smiles and joy every day of ownership.”
To supplement the iconic Hartge wheels, Ray chose R1 Concepts E Line cross drilled rotors with Mintex brake pads. The beauty of a well-executed build is in the seeming simplicity of the result. As Ray told us, “(you) can’t go wrong with a clean and simple build. It never gets old.”
Ray shared with us that it was his father’s car purchases that helped to put him on the road that eventually led to this build. In essence, there is somewhat of a legacy to be acknowledged here. That legacy was underscored for us when Ray told us that this build intersected with the birth of his son CJ in 2017. We like to think that car enthusiasts are born, not made. If this is the case, we can expect great things from young CJ in the future. In the meantime, we want to acknowledge the great work done by Ray in building this E36. It is, quite literally, what his dreams were made of.
Story by Avon Bellamy
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you like this BMW E36, 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.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS