The Ed. has fi­nally done it: the BMW E36 build that has oc­cu­pied his garage space for the bet­ter part of five years, and changed di­rec­tion more times than he’d care to ad­mit, is now a liv­ing, fir­ing, track-spec slayer. With so much tech­ni­cal de­tail hid­den in plain sight, you re­ally need to flick over to page 36 to un­der­stand this labour of love.

I’ve been ob­sessed with race cars since I was a kid,” Mar­cus Gib­son re­mem­bered. “I used to pour over old mag­a­zines and sketch race car floor­pans — ba­si­cally a lay­out schematic for dream builds— when I was, like, eight years old.” This in it­self is un­likely to come as a sur­prise, since we’re talk­ing about the very man who calls the NZ Per­for­mance Car throne room his of­fice, but what may catch you off guard is the tech­ni­cal de­tail he’s hid­den in plain sight be­hind the fa­cade of a track-spec BMW E36.

What you see be­fore you is the fi­nal form of the race car he’d al­ways wanted to build. It rep­re­sents the apex of the course this build has taken — one that’s cov­ered an ar­du­ous and of­ten frus­trat­ing path into the world of cus­tom car con­struc­tion, but one that’s also blessed him with the skills, knowl­edge, and friend­ships that only a jour­ney such as this can. And that’s all been be­fore he has even turned a wheel in anger …

Strip­ping the lay­ers back re­veals a com­plex and twisted story be­gin­ning some five years ago. Hav­ing sold his Mazda R100, which he con­sid­ered un­suit­able for his in­tended pur­pose of cir­cuit rac­ing, he be­gan think­ing more se­ri­ously about get­ting into drift­ing. A pretty small bud­get was planned, and op­tions got ex­plored. Not only did the car have to be suit­able in terms of size, wheel­base, and weight, but it had to be dif­fer­ent to what ev­ery­one else was build­ing in New Zealand.

Af­ter de­cid­ing on a BMW E36, a call with Kyrie at Quest Fab­ri­ca­tion alerted him to a shell avail­able through Ray at Hell-BM Mo­tor­sport. There was no ques­tion that this was the one, and, with the E36 shell re­homed within his work­shop, work be­gun strip­ping every­thing from the car.

He built a ro­tis­serie and got to work re­mov­ing over 100kg of road-car fod­der, be­fore seam weld­ing the en­tire chas­sis. With this done, the shell was trail­ered over to Quest Fab­ri­ca­tion, which was tasked with fab­ri­cat­ing an eight-point roll cage.

Cus­tom fab­ri­ca­tion to that level is a pretty good way to eat up a mod­est bud­get, but the build plan in­cluded us­ing all the S15-based sus­pen­sion com­po­nents sal­vaged from the old R100. In ad­di­tion, Mar­cus’ past projects meant he’d ac­cu­mu­lated a wealth of parts that could be made to work.

As such, the cho­sen pow­er­train was a Toy­ota 1UZ-FE V8, backed by a Nissan 350Z six-speed. The pos­si­bil­ity of tur­bocharg­ing was looked at but quickly dis­missed. Since the 1UZ was the best ex­am­ple he could have hoped to find, Mar­cus in­stead turned to as­pi­rated power, in the form of OBX in­di­vid­ual throt­tle bod­ies (ITB) with a cus­tom ta­pered-run­ner in­take man­i­fold fab­ri­cated by Gareth Court. But, as ex­cit­ing as the top end looked, prob­lems weren’t far away. The sheer girth of the quad-cam V8 made header clear­ance dif­fi­cult at best, and down­right im­pos­si­ble when it came to the driver’s side rear pri­mary pipes. Even with the steer­ing col­umn shifted, and the op­tion of shift­ing the mo­tor well for­ward of the struts on the cards, ul­ti­mately it wasn’t a com­pro­mise he was will­ing to make.

For­tu­nately, a change of tack wasn’t hard to find — good mate Robin Holl, who has been a key fig­ure in the build, had just the ticket in the form of a bridge-ported 13B with an S4 five-speed and ECU. The change of heart came in another, more fig­u­ra­tive, sense — Mar­cus no longer wanted to build some­thing he con­sid­ered to be a hack. He was al­ready half­way to a com­pe­ti­tion-level drift ma­chine, so de­cided to go the whole hog mainly due to the level of fab­ri­ca­tion he wanted to carry out him­self.

“We did a [ NZPC] tech ar­ti­cle on lob­ster-back­ing a while back,” Mar­cus re­called. “I took the car over to Kyrie’s [Quest Fab­ri­ca­tion], and ba­si­cally learned to TIG weld while do­ing that ar­ti­cle.”

With a whole new world of cus­tom fab­ri­ca­tion at his fin­ger­tips, and the tools and knowl­edge needed to com­plete a build of this mag­ni­tude at home, it was in­evitable that he’d also set his sights higher — of course, mak­ing things a whole lot harder in the process.

The rapidly snow­balling build stan­dard dic­tated a trick rear­mount ra­di­a­tor set-up, which was soon fabbed up and plumbed in, while the steer­ing and sus­pen­sion en­joyed sim­i­lar re-engi­neer­ing. From talks with Kayne Bar­rie and Gareth Court about steer­ing and

One of the worst things about build­ing on a bud­get is the of­ten lengthy pe­ri­ods of down­time, but that’s all a frame of mind. When he had noth­ing else to do, he’d fo­cus on other ways to chip away at the build — The ex­treme weight-loss pro­gramme, for ex­am­ple, which ex­tended to chop­ping out what­ever ma­te­rial nec­es­sary, from body pan­els through to the hinges. Af­ter sav­ing and weigh­ing al­most all the speed-hole of­f­cuts, Mar­cus puts the weight sav­ing at some­where near 60kg Even by race car stan­dards, this is a Spar­tan in­te­rior. The car­bon-fi­bre switch box was made at home by Mar­cus, tucked away at ceil­ing height for easy ac­cess and a clean dash fas­cia. You’ll also note the dis­tinct lack of gauges, which he deemed un­nec­es­sary. In­stead, there are three warn­ing lights — en­gine, wa­ter tem­per­a­ture, and crit­i­cal fail­ure — with a five-LED shift light func­tion­ing as the tacho. Clean, func­tional, and sur­pris­ingly user­friendly From fac­tory, the E36 rear USED a seper­ate shock and spring. with a fo­cus on hav­ing it low but also han­dling, a set of cus­tom in­verted Koni coilovers has been built. Kyrie’s eight-point cage ties into the up­per shock mounts, as well as the sub­frame pro­vid­ing se­ri­ous struc­tural re­in­force­ment

sus­pen­sion ge­om­e­try, Mar­cus found the so­lu­tion in a Pick-A-Part yard. Armed with mea­sure­ments and a hand­ful of pho­tos of E36 front struts, he fab­ri­cated cus­tom ones out of chro­moly tub­ing, us­ing cus­tom Koni coilover in­serts sourced from Ge­orge Stock and Co. at each cor­ner.

You’ve got to be re­al­is­tic, though, and a few glar­ing truths about the E36’s pur­pose couldn’t be over­looked. He’d seen first-hand the fi­nan­cial stress that pro-level drift­ing was putting on com­peti­tors, as well as the limited track time they en­joyed for their fi­nan­cial out­lay, so the eco­nomics of drift could not be ig­nored. Once again, the build di­rec­tion was changed. This time, the fo­cus was a cir­cuit-ori­ented end goal — “I ba­si­cally ended up re­build­ing the car for a third time,” Mar­cus ex­plained. “Chop­ping and chang­ing things has never re­ally been a con­cern. I’ve never had a dead­line and I kept learn­ing so much and get­ting a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of stuff, so ul­ti­mately I would want to change things for the bet­ter. Even if I was fast be­com­ing a run­ning joke amounst the pro­fes­sion­als I was press­ing for ad­vice.”

Slicks were wrapped around the 18x10.5-inch Enkei RPF1s, the spring rates were re­vised, steer­ing-rack lim­iters were ma­chined and in­stalled, and the fin­ished rear-mount ra­di­a­tor was ripped out and re­homed in an an­gled par­al­lel-mount set-up. In ad­di­tion, the driveline ex­pe­ri­enced a thor­ough over­haul.

“I’d al­ways wanted a four-speed dog­box, know­ing the weak­ness of the Mazda five-speed. It’s been the the­ory all along — put the best stuff fu­ture Mar­cus couldn’t af­ford in,” Mar­cus said. “So, when we sold the E46 wagon [daily-driver], those funds al­lowed me to buy the Jerico.”

But, although the tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tions may sug­gest oth­er­wise, this has al­ways been a bud­get-minded build, with a fo­cus on do­ing as much of the work at home as pos­si­ble to off­set the count­less ex­pen­sive parts that would need to be pur­chased. Even while the bank bal­ance was re­cov­er­ing, there was al­ways some­thing to do — whether it was me­nial tasks like drilling out speed holes wher­ever pos­si­ble, fab­ri­cat­ing fid­dly bits, or learn­ing how to form car­bon fi­bre, no time in the shed was spent idly.

And, as things got done, Mar­cus dared to dream of a dead­line for per­haps the first time since the build be­gan — one that was soon locked in for Ro­tary RE­union 2017. The bin filled up with cal­en­dar pages as the to-do list shrunk, and a big part of that was sort­ing the wiring for the Link G4+ Xtreme ECU. Fu­elled by Heineken, Mar­cus and the boys tucked into it, pin­ning the en­tire loom up and work­ing me­thod­i­cally through it, laying it out to be as hid­den as pos­si­ble, while re­main­ing eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. This ex­tends from a roll cage– mounted switch box, made at home from car­bon fi­bre, through to the ac­tual ECU mounted un­der the dash­board and right down to the or­derly fuse box, re­lays, and dry-cell bat­tery mounted on hand-made car­bon-fi­bre pan­els, all hid­den be­neath a hand-made car­bon-fi­bre false floor.

The em­pha­sis on raw, race car func­tion­al­ity is what Mar­cus takes the most pride in, so he couldn’t sell the work­man­ship short with a messy-look­ing ex­te­rior. Face value is, af­ter all, what suck­ers you in to take a closer look at the finer de­tails that are worth por­ing over. To that end, a set of Rocket Bunny Pan­dem E36 over­fend­ers, a MS Fi­bre­glass M Sport front bumper, and a Bay Speed rear bumper were mocked up, and the whole lot was towed to GT Refin­ish­ers for good friend Ben to coat in layer af­ter silky layer of Porsche 964–sourced mint green paint. Fin­ished off with a hand­made car­bon-fi­bre front split­ter that dou­bles as a flat un­der­tray, cus­tom car­bon-fi­bre rear dif­fuser, and a cus­tom duck­tail spoiler, this thing looks 100 per cent race car.

It’s not only skin deep, ei­ther, as you will know by now. If you were to phys­i­cally strip the E36 back to a bare shell, in a way th­ese words can’t, you’d dis­cover lay­ers — the orig­i­nal steer­ing col­umn re­lo­ca­tion bracket, the par­cel tray rep­re­sent­ing Mar­cus’s first at­tempt at car­bon fi­bre, and the beau­ti­fully TIG-welded lob­ster­back exhaust and in­take pip­ing. It’s not just a race car but a rolling di­ary of one man’s quest to build his vi­sion of au­to­mo­tive per­fec­tion.

Though it’s yet to drive un­der its own power, thanks to a stuck apex seal dis­cov­ered painfully close to dead­line, the RE­union date was some­how achieved against odds the TAB wouldn’t be com­fort­able with. Call it what you want — de­ter­mi­na­tion of will, sheer bull-headed stub­born­ness, or me­chan­i­cal ob­ses­sion bor­der­ing on lu­nacy. If you’re read­ing this, you’ll un­der­stand that drive to fin­ish on your own terms, with no com­pro­mise. Some things are worth wait­ing for …

Mar­cus isn’t ly­ing when he says the only un­mod­i­fied parts on the car are the rear Hardrace con­trol arms. The whole process was about learn­ing the skills needed to cre­ate the things he vi­su­al­ized for the build, which is truly one of a kind. you will not find a sin­gle part of the car that hasn’t been mod­i­fied or built from scratch

SUP­PORT STRUTS: (F) Mo­mow­erks chro­moly hous­ing, Koni 8611 dou­ble-ad­justable in­serts, 750lB King Springs, Koni cam­ber plates; (R) Koni sin­gle-ad­justable in­verted coilovers, 450lB King Springs BRAKES: (F) Brembo four-pot calipers, DBA slot­ted ro­tors, TTT Auto Engi­neer­ing adap­tors, var­i­ous race pads, braided lines; (R) dual Brembo two-pot calipers, TTT Auto Engi­neer­ing adap­tors, var­i­ous race pads, braided lines EX­TRA: Seam-welded chas­sis, Quest Fab­ri­ca­tion eight-point roll cage, Mo­mow­erks front bash bar and rear cra­dle DRIVELINE GEARBOX: Jerico DR4 four-speed, mod­i­fied mag­ne­sium adapter, S4 RX-7 bell­hous­ing CLUTCH: Quar­ter Master rally-type twin-plate FLYWHEEL: Chro­moly DIFF: KBM-built BMW 210mm LSD, BMW Mo­tor­sport 3.9:1 ra­tio crown wheel and pin­ion EX­TRA: Mo­mow­erks solid diff mount, Tuner Mo­tor­sport al­loy sub­frame bushes, braced and stitch-welded sub­frames

HEART EN­GINE: Mazda 13B turbo, 1300cc, twin-ro­tor BLOCK: Bridge­ported S4 plates, 12mm stud kit, en­larged dow­els, S8 side seals, un­break­able apex seals, light­ened S4 ro­tors, pol­ished crank, MFR oil pump, en­larged and baf­fled sump IN­TAKE: Mod­i­fied S6 up­per and lower in­take, S6 throt­tle body, Holl Rac­ing el­bow, Bosch idle-speed con­troller, stain­less-steel lob­ster-backed in­take, HKS pod fil­ter EXHAUST: Four-inch stain­less-steel oval, side-exit cus­tom muf­fler (not used of­ten) TURBO: BorgWarner S300SX, stain­less-steel twin-scroll man­i­fold WASTEGATE: Twin Tur­bosmart Comp­gate 40 BOV: TiAL 50mm FUEL: Dual in-tank Bosch 044 main pumps, Green Broth­ers Rac­ing (GBR) in-tank sock fil­ters, cus­tom tank mount, SX in-line fil­ters, SX fuel-pres­sure reg­u­la­tor, In­jec­tor Dy­nam­ics ID1000 pri­mary in­jec­tors, In­jec­tor Dy­nam­ics ID2200 sec­ondary in­jec­tors, cus­tom fuel-rail kit, Bosch fuel tem­per­a­ture and pres­sure sen­sors, Speed­flow Te­flon braided lines, AN fit­tings through­out IGNITION: Dual Link ig­n­i­tors, Bosch HEC coils, NGK plugs, cus­tom leads ECU: Link G4+ Xtreme COOL­ING: GBR oil cooler, cus­tom in­ter­cooler, Fenix Per­for­mance in­ter­cooler core, mod­i­fied Fenix Per­for­mance ra­di­a­tor, cus­tom swirl pot, Davies Craig EWP150, Spal 3500cfm thermo fan, Speed­flow bleeds EX­TRA: Cus­tom catch-can, 150A race al­ter­na­tor, MR2 power-steer­ing pump, car­bon-fi­bre duct­ing

SHOES WHEELS: 18x10.5-inch (-15) Enkei RPF1 TYRES: 285/645R18 Pirelli slick

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