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Sedans have traditionally not held the same sporting status as their coupe counterparts. Despite many coupes and sedans sharing mechanical and chassis components, the four-door sedan is often labeled as the 'sensible' option of the two. It's the best choice for young families and young professionals to get through their daily lives. Conversely, the two-door usually gets the fun party image, ready for anything and everything, sliding sideways into every weekend and definitely not boring, thank you very much. Coupes have two doors, sports cars have two doors. Coincidence? Hardly...

Laguna Seca Blue E36 M3 clone on HRE wheels profile

When it comes to the BMW E36, each variant has its share of proponents and advocates. While we love the coupes, we would argue that the sedan is where it's at for us. We're pretty sure that the owner and builder of the beautiful Laguna Seca Blue sedan currently gracing your screen, John Paul Sinishtaj, would agree with us here. He's owned this lovely sedan since around 2006 and slowly turned the lowly base-model BMW 325i into the 450 wheel horsepower beast that it is today. 

John Paul acquired the teal sedan in an attempt to get back in touch with his rear-wheel-drive roots, and the handsome lines of the E36 attracted him to the classic BMW model. The sedan gave him the headroom that the coupes were lacking. 

"When I first started driving, I had an '86 Camaro. I loved it," he begins. "I got out of that because it was a little older, so I got a '91 Integra, two-door GS with a five-speed. I was in that for a couple of years, but I didn't like it because it was front-wheel-drive. I was looking around at E36 body styles, which I liked, and I'm like six-foot-five, so the coupes didn't really work out for me." 

RMS Supercharged S52 E36 M3 clone

The car he ended up buying already had an S52 from an M3 swapped under the hood but was otherwise pretty stock. John Paul wasted no time in increasing the power level on the 3.2-liter straight-six. A race-spec T-trim Race Mark Systems supercharger kit, with air-to-water intercooler and front-mounted heat exchanger was selected to do the lion's share of the work. The tired BMW engine had trouble at this point, with admittedly mixed results as things were turned up. 

"I pushed it," John Paul says. "With the stock head gasket, you couldn't go over nine pounds of boost. I made it to like twelve pounds and it lasted two weeks! It had some issues."

Sounds like an understatement. Either way, after sending the original S52 to BMW-heaven, John Paul made sure that the replacement wasn't going to suffer the same fate. Another engine was sourced, and the internals were upgraded and replaced as needed. 

Forged low-compression pistons and forged connecting rods were dropped inside the block, while Schrick camshafts were selected to control valve timing inside of a VAC Motorsports Stage 2 cylinder head. A Dr. Vanos rebuild kit ensured the BMW-bred variable valve timing operated as intended, and a custom RK-Tunes engine map resides inside the factory OBD1 ECU. 

Laguna Seca Blue E36 M3 clone AC Schnitzer HRE wheels rear

All this combines to produce a hefty 450 wheel-horsepower at 19 pounds of boost, a stout number for the svelte sedan. All this was done eight years ago, and the only repair needed in the 20,000 miles since the initial build was a head gasket replacement, performed just last year. 

A European-spec 6-speed manual transmission, ACT Clutch, and UUC short-throw shift kit transfer the power back to the rear wheels via a custom driveshaft. Once there, it's split between the two rear wheels thanks to a 3.46 final drive and Torsen limited slip differential, while a reinforced subframe ensures everything stays in place during hard driving. 

Read the BMW E36 Buyer's Guide

Already a fan of the classic lines of the E36, only minor period-correct changes and updates have been made to the body of the super sedan. Factory BMW M3 bumpers, side skirts, and trim replace the meek base-model 325i parts, while a three-piece AC Schnitzer rear deck spoiler puts a subtle punctuation mark on the exterior modifications. 

"It's ultra-rare that you find them for the sedan," John Paul explains. "Everybody's doing the M3 Lightweight tall wing on the back, and I didn't want to be like everyone. I was looking for that for two years, and finally, I saw one posted for sale on Bimmerforums."

It's a complimentary look, made all the more so by the shiny coat of Laguna Seca Blue paint, sourced of course from the E46 M3's color pallet. It was a full-body respray including the jams, engine bay, and trunk. And dare we say that it looks even better on the more angular lines of the E36 than on the curvy muscle-bound E46? According to John Paul, we are not the only ones to say such traitorous words. 

Laguna Seca Blue E36 M3 front detail

"I guess it's the E36 body lines, but a lot of people are telling me that they had that color M3," John Paul says, surprised. "And they say it actually looks better on my car than on their car. I really wanted to do white, and at the last minute, I said just do the Laguna."

The interior features a 370mm Euro M-Tech 2 steering wheel as the centerpiece, with custom white leather sport seats featuring offset blue stitching and Vader headrests that provide comfort and support to the driver and passengers alike. Suede covers the headliner, A, B, and C pillars, while carbon fiber accents the dash, center console, and door handles.  

BMW M-Tech 2 steering wheel in E36

Keeping with the white theme, John Paul's M3-clone features 18" HRE 526 wheels with powder-coated white centers, while polished lips and 24k gold bolts provide a bit more bling and just a touch of contrast. 215/40 Continental Tires give just enough stretch to fit the rubber inside the factory fender arches.

E36 M3 clone front portrait in Laguna Seca Blue

Naturally, the best paint, wheels, and interior won't matter if the car doesn't sit just right. A set of Broadway Static coilovers with 18kg/mm front and 22kg/mm rear spring rates provide the required ride-height reduction, while still offering the control necessary for putting over 500 crank horsepower down to the ground. Yes, those spring rates are rather high, but John Paul credits the custom valving on the 1-way adjustable dampers for taming the springs without making the ride overly harsh.  

HRE 526 Laguna Seca Blue E36 M3 Clone

"I like to have my car pretty slammed," says John Paul. "I was doing research, and I came across Broadway Static/Fortune Auto. They hand build and valve it so that it can take the spring rate. It's so low, but when you go on the highway, it feels so smooth."

HRE 526 close up on E36 with Brembo brakes

After acquiring this E36, John Paul has continued to fill out his collection with a range of Bavaria's finest, including an E39 M5, a model rated by some as the greatest car ever made. It just so happens to be a sedan too. But don't think that means that John Paul has forgotten about the E36.

Laguna Seca Blue E36 M3 and E39 M5

"Just this winter, I converted it to OBDII," John Paul mentions, "Because it's more tunable and we can push more power out of the car." 

The goal? 600-plus-horsepower. Sounds like the super sedan is about to get even more super to us.  

Laguna Seca Blue E36 M3 rolling shot

 

Thanks to:

My dad, K, Jarek, DJ, K&B Autoworks, VAC Motorsports, Dr. Vanos, RK-tunes, RallyRoad, and Race Marque Systems (RMS).

 

Build Specs:

Engine:

  • Fully-built M3 S52 engine
  • Forged 8:5.1 pistons
  • Forged connecting rods
  • Schrick Cam set,
  • VAC Motorsports Stage 2 head
  • Race Mark Systems (RMS) V1 T-Trim (race) supercharger system
  • RMS air to water intercooling system w/ front mount heat exchanger
  • RK-Tunes OBD1 software (450whp @ 19psi)

 

Transmission:

  • European 6-speed E36 M3 transmission
  • ACT clutch/flywheel
  • Evo UUC shifter kit
  • Reinforced transmission brace
  • Reinforced subframe
  • Custom driveshaft
  • Custom Torsen 3.46 ratio rear limited slip differential
  • Rogue Engineering differential cover

 

Interior:

  • 370mm Euro M-Tech 2 steering wheel with M stitching
  • Custom white interior with blue stitching
  • Suede headliner
  • Suede A/B/C pillars 
  • Suede rear deck
  • Carbon fiber dash cover
  • Carbon fiber center console
  • Carbon fiber door handles
  • Sport front seats with Vader headrests

 

Suspension:

  • Broadway Static / Fortune Auto height and damping adjustable suspension
  • 18k (1007 lb/in) front springs 
  • 22k (1232 lb/lb) rear springs
  • H&R sway bars front and rear
  • Front/rear strut braces

 

Brakes:

  • Porsche 996 Brembo brake calipers painted Laguna Seca Blue
  • RallyRoad brake caliper carriers/adapters
  • Hawk brake pads
  • E46 M3 CSL brake discs front / rear

 

Exterior:

  • E36 M3 front bumper, splitter, side skirts, rear bumper
  • E46 M3 Laguna Seca Blue paint
  • AC Schnitzer 3-piece rear deck spoiler

 

Wheels:

  • 18" HRE 526 wheels, white powder-coated faces, polished lips, 24k Gold hardware
  • 215/40 R128 Continental Sport Contact tires

Laguna Seca Blue E36 M3 front detail

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Written by :
Nathan Brown

FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55


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