The only M3 to be produced with a V8 engine becomes even more fun with a 6-speed manual transmission, no sunroof, and BBS E88 Race Pocket wheels.
Commuting through LA traffic every day can certainly be soul sucking. Most people go through the same routine over and over every weekday - rushing out the front door to start up their cars, hustling over to a crowded nearby freeway onramp to jockey for position, going wheel to wheel like F1 drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen approaching a corner. Except they're not battling on the Baku street circuit on the streets of Azerbaijan - they're just fighting their way onto the highway with a faceless, soul-less Tesla Model Something just to sit in 10mph traffic for two hours, all the way to work.
Lawrence Liu, the owner of this Alpine White 2008 BMW M3, wanted something different. He didn't want his daily commute from the high net worth, residential tree-lined streets of San Marino, California to drain the energy from his soul as he traversed his way to work, deep into the West Coast's streetwear epicenter on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles every single day.
Lawrence has been working in marketing, sales, and merchandising in the sneaker and streetwear industry since he was 18 yrs old, and has been driving this E90 M3 for a little over half a year now. For West Coast residents that are into sneaker culture, the car you drive is just as much a part of your personal expression of style as a set of fresh kicks on your feet. According to Lawrence, "just like my taste with sneakers, I prefer a clean, timeless look when it comes to the car I drive. That's why I decided to build up an old BMW E30 wagon, and why I decided to buy an E90 M3 for daily."
The E9x M3 is the last generation M3 with a naturally aspirated engine, and the only generation M3 with a V8 engine. Lawrence says, "I chose the E90 because when I compared it to the E46 M3, I found that the E9x felt more powerful, and it felt like it handled better. I personally love the E90 four-door version more than the E92 two-door coupe version, because I can load my trunk with boxes of sneakers when I go to work, then use it to drive to the supermarket, and even drive the nearby mountain roads when I want to have fun on the weekend."
"The throaty sound the S65 engine makes is just incredible. I love having a German-made V8 engine. I am not really a fan of the new BMWs that are available in the dealership right now - the way BMW has chosen to go with the exterior design and the engines they use in their modern day cars are just not my style," he explained. This being said, Lawrence decided to buy an E90 M3 sedan because he always wanted a four-door daily driver, and because the E90 M3 looks aggressive from the rear, especially when it sits low with a high end set of wheels.
Lawrence's car is a six-speed, three-pedal, non sunroof version E90, coated in BMW's classic Alpine White hue. "The slicktop model with 6-speed manual transmission in Alpine White III is my favorite combination offered for the E90 M3," Lawrence explained, "because the non-sunroof version with manual transmission is much more rare than the DCT automatic trans, moonroof versions that you normally see on the road. Also actually, this body style M3 is pretty rare in itself, with only around 9000 E90 M3s made and sold worldwide. So to me, this is the best spec available when it comes to the E90."
When it comes to building a car, sometimes less is more. This is how Lawrence believes a car should be. He does not think it's necessary to change or modify every single part of the car, preferring a clean, OEM Plus look, especially for a European car. This is why he steered his build clear of dark tinted windows, wild paint, air suspension, and super cambered wheels, although he has owned cars like that in the past.
"I prefer a clean, tasteful, BMW Motorsport-inspired style, so that's how I set up the car, " he continued.
The E90 chassis means a lot to Lawrence. He says that in 2006 when he was in elementary school, his mom got an Alpine White E90 BMW 325i, and he grew up with that car. As he got into cars, he kept seeing M3 ads in every single new car magazine he looked at, and it became his dream car.
Lawrence admits that he hasn’t taken his M3 to the racetrack yet, but he knows his car is a beast. It sits low and aggressive like an M3 should, thanks to KW Variant 3 coilover suspension. He plans to continue building the car with high quality parts, and then ease his way into track days so he can build up his skill as a driver.
The car's interior is clean and spartan, as one might expect. Everything on the inside has been chosen for function just as much as form. Lawrence does have a few style cues in the car though, like the Fragment Design air freshener hanging from rearview mirror, which pays homage to his favorite Japanese streetwear fashion designer, Hiroshi Fujiwara, a fashion industry legend who has worked with renown brands like Nike, Louis Vuitton, Levi's, Stussy, Supreme, Beats by Dre, Converse, and many more.
A trained eye will pick up some other details in the cabin.
If you look closely at the steering wheel, you'll see the blue leather line stitched into the middle of the wheel, which is an aftermarket accessory option that can be ordered from the BMW M Performance line.
The BMW M Performance Line steering wheel for the E9X chassis M3 is cool because it has all the controls that a normal E9X steering wheel would have, but it has an M logo at the bottom of the wheel, and contrast stitch on the inside of the black Alcantara wrap that matches the BMW Motorsport colors.
The M logo is noticeable again in the gauge cluster of Lawrence's M3, which, despite being powered by a large V8 engine, revs all the way to a redline of 8300rpm, making the E90 M3 feel rev-happy like the traditional 6-cylinder M3 engines that E30, E36, and E46 owners are used to - but with a lot more torque, and less fuel economy obviously. Anyway, who cares about fuel economy when you're driving the last body style of M3 with a naturally aspirated engine? This car was meant for high-rpm enjoyment!
Below the dash, a set of anodized black M logo pedals from Pedalhaus give Lawrence a stylish, confident feeling underneath his rare Hypebeast-featured kicks.
If there's one thing the German automakers are insistent upon, it's well thought out product design. One such example is the BMW-branded OEM accessory air freshener, which fits perfectly right into the air vents of the E90 without taking up too much space.
This particular E90 M3 had its factory silver interior trim replaced with the special edition carbon skin from the M3 Competition package. This little bit of carbon perfectly ties together the carbon pieces on the exterior of the car. Remember, Lawrence puts a lot of thought into the little details that make up his car.
The car currently has a comfortable set of Nappa leather factory M3 seats, but Lawrence says he plans to buy and install a set of Recaro seats in the future, with Alcantara center panels to match the material on his steering wheel.
By just casually glancing into the interior, it's impossible not to notice the machined aluminum CAE Racing Ultra Shifter sticking out of the center console, giving people a hint that this isn't a run of the mill M3.
Since it would be ridiculous to actually use the ashtray for cigarette butts while there are two air fresheners in the car, Lawrence opted to delete the factory ashtray altogether. He then contacted GW Garage to custom make the Alcantara center console inserts to surround the CAE shifter. By now, you already know that black Alcantara was chosen because it matches the steering wheel, and gives the interior a more cohesive look and feel.
Under the hood lies the heart of the beast - the 4.0 liter S65B40 V8 engine that, while having eight cylinders, weighs less and is just as rev-happy as the beloved S54 6-cylinder found in earlier models of M3.
Lawrence explains, "I believe that making a car run well, and perform just as it did when it was new is more important than buying all the cool modifications. Thank God the S65 is a pretty strong motor, and isn't that easy to break."
There are some known issues with the BMW S65 engine, however. Over the years, many E90 M3 owners on the forums have reported having to replace the S65's throttle actuators, and many have also experienced issues with the rod bearings as the mileage creeps higher. The rod bearing situation is a huge potential problem for the E90 M3—it can cause the engine to seize up, which would require a very costly rebuild or even an entire engine swap.
To get ahead of a potentially expensive repair that could leave him stranded on the side of the road somewhere, Lawrence took a proactive stance on these known service issues. Lawrence lamented, "this car was built in 2008; it's twelve years old already. After I purchased the car, I made sure to handle the major maintenance on it and fix some small things before they became a problem. I had the rod bearings replaced with VAC coated rod bearings, and had the engine block re-assembled with ARP Bolts because they are simply the best on the market. Everyone from pro drag racers to pro road racing teams use ARP Bolts, so I know I can run my engine at high-rpm without worrying about the rotating assembly coming apart. Aside from these major maintenance issues, I also ordered a bunch of other small parts, a new air filter, and a bunch of BMW Castrol 10w60 oil, because that's what the BMW factory recommends."
To fit his OEM airbox, Lawrence ordered a BMC Performance drop-in air filter. Routing the exhaust gas out the back of his M3, he installed a Macht Schnell Race X-pipe for more power. Further back from the X-pipe, the factory catback was modified to mimic the M Performance exhaust. The M Performance exhaust is less restrictive than the stock catback system as it doesn't have a mid muffler and a resonator chamber. Not only does this theoretically increase power output, but it also adds a distinct note to the sound of the rowdy S65 engine.
Inside the black end-pieces of the strut tower bar, an observant eye will notice the top nut from Lawrence's KW Suspension Variant 3 coilovers. These allow the car to sit low and aggressive, while handling well due to adjustability of the rebound and bump compression. They provide the car with enough stiffness to inspire confidence on a race track, but can be tuned to be soft enough for daily driving, too.
Inside the fender arches sit the crown jewel of the build—a set of BBS Motorsport E88 Race Pocket wheels, which are different than typical E88s. The more concave design with the deeper depressions give easier access to the lug nuts over the standard design. Yes, this E90 uses lug nuts. Installing wheels on a BMW using the factory supplied bolts is definitely aggravating, so many people opt to modify their hubs with a stud kit, like the one found here.
The wheels are sized in 18x10 up front, wrapped in 275/35/R18 Falken RT615K tires, with 315/30/R18 615K tires mounted on the 18x11 rear wheels. A look inside the wheel will show that this E90 M3 uses 360mm front semi-floating 2-piece cross drilled rotors.
On the rear quarter window, the M3 proudly wears the 50 Year Anniversary BMWCCA sticker. Car clubs are great, because they unite people with similar interests, and help to forge life long friendships - that's the best thing about car culture.
Under the factory vented rear bumper sits a Challenge GT carbon fiber rear diffuser, which perfectly frames the aftermarket stainless steel exhaust tips, added when Lawrence had the E90, E92, and E93 OEM exhaust bypass mod performed, so his mufflers could basically bypass the center chamber completely, turning into a more free-flowing exhaust for more power and a more aggressive sound.
As a nice touch to complement the sporty look of the car, an M Performance carbon fiber rear lip spoiler was added on top of the rear trunk.
Even though this is an early model E90 originally sold in 2008, Lawrence wanted to update the look of the car with the newer LCI (Life Cycle Impulse) tail lights, which use LED bulbs and give the car a newer look. However, in order to do this, he had to swap out the entire trunk lid with a newer style LCI E90 trunk lid, which has a thinner tail light center piece.
Up front, a carbon fiber GTS V2 front lip makes the E90 front bumper look more aggressive, and ties in to the carbon rear lip wing as well as interior trim pieces.
Even though HID conversions or LED bulbs are popular now because of their functionality, Lawrence opted to leave the OEM halogen light bulbs in his headlight housings, because he thinks the warm, OEM color temp lights give his car a classier look. To each his own. Either way, his headlights do look awesome, with the illuminated angel eyes surrounding the projectors.
Lawrence says he pretty much has the car the way he wants it already, but will probably buy a set of new Recaro seats for it this year, and maybe delete the iDrive navigation as well.
Lawrence might be young, but he already owns this super tastefully modified E90 M3 and a right hand drive E30 Touring from the UK. In the future, he has his sights set on a Porsche 997.2 manual GT3 and a Porsche Carrera 964 C2 narrow body. He is starting a new clothing brand called Garage Supply, and his goal is to have these cars in his collection to support the marketing of his brand.
Lawrence summed it all up by saying, "I learned a lot from owning this car. From refreshing the exterior to the motor, I spent a lot of time planning the mods for this car, and had to work hard and hustle in order to make this project happen. For a car like this, I think less is more. I just want to keep the car clean and tasteful. That type of look is really important to me, and that’s the same vibe I'm going for with Garage Supply Company. I will keep driving it and enjoying this car as much as possible. I think the E90 M3 is one of the best family cars for lovers of motorsport!"
Story and photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you enjoyed this E90 BMW M3, you can find additional BMW-related content at bmw.fcpeuro.com, everything E9X related at our BMW E9X Hub, 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