STARTED AS A BUDGET DRIFT HACK, THE BOSS MAN’S E36 CIRCUIT RACER NEARS COMPLETION — WELL BEHIND SCHEDULE, MASSIVELY OVER BUDGET, AND INFINITELY BETTER THAN EVER DREAMED
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