One of the key elements for being a modified car fanatic is the ability to set yourself an unrealistic deadline. The kind most right-minded people would quickly dismiss as ‘not possible’. Even the most avid petrolhead would likely suggest something wacky like getting it ready for another show instead.
But for the die-hard tuning addict, no isn’t an option. This must become your life’s work to finish it one way or another for the unrealistic date set. Usually at the expense of time, money and of course your sanity.
We see it unfold every year at SEMA. How can builds be cut right down to the wire when the show date remains the same (give or take a few days) every single time? Surely if you’re building a car in time for late October, starting it even in January makes a whole lot of sense.
The reality doesn’t factor in the thousands of variables at play, however. Sometimes it is as simple as poor time management; other times it revolves around unrealistic expectations set by a customer or brand. But more often than not, the biggest sticking point for a SEMA build comes down to simply entering the unknown.
As soon as a new performance or sports car is launched, the tuning community goes into a frenzy, waiting (and expecting) the first modified examples to break cover almost immediately. That could be tuner parts, or it could be the trusty cut-fenders-add-wide-arches approach instead.
But thanks to our good friend social media, it really is a race against time for many brands to be the first. Because if you can lay claim to this, you’re almost guaranteed a bunch of exposure and impact before anyone else. Then, throw key events like Tokyo Auto Salon and the SEMA Show into the mix, and quickly the expectation to build something truly special – and new – becomes a headache overnight.
Don’t forget, this usually revolves around chopping up a brand new car that may have only been delivered just weeks or months before shows like SEMA. So, the ability to fast-track parts from eBay or dig up forum posts to check wheel fitment doesn’t exactly exist.
We’re in late August now, and with SEMA just over two months away, you’d expect most brands to be well underway with their booth cars. Especially for a brand like CSF who – for as many years as we can remember – have delivered major build after major build for SEMA, cementing themselves as one of the go-to stands for something special.
CSF’s Ravi Dolwani would like this to be the case. But unfortunately for him, the exact opposite has happened when their halo build was pulled from the show just a few weeks ago.
Why? Well despite the timeframe, this particular car would need to be bundled into a container and shipped halfway around the world to get there in time. And unless that container happened to include a spray booth and four-post ramp, sitting on a boat for several weeks wasn’t really an option.
“Our original plan was to bring over a restomod E30 M3 with an S54 swap built by Imran and Bilal of Eventuri,” Ravi explains. “Bringing these cars to market is a new venture of theirs, and after some deliberation at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July, we decided not to rush this build for SEMA. The guys want this first car to be absolutely perfect, and we firmly believe that ALL builds for SEMA should be the best they can be, regardless of timeframe or model.”
“At the same time, we didn’t want to just throw any car on the stand with CSF parts fitted. Take last year – Angel’s M4 and Mike’s K20-powered Ferrari. Both of those builds were the culmination of vision, hard work, and continued development even today.”
“Both were built by passion and that’s reflected in the execution. Any CSF booth car needs a good story, so for this year’s SEMA we had to come up with an alternative… fast.”
The most obvious solution here would be to reach out to one of CSF’s West Coast distributors and scope out a build already in the works. But even with limited time, Ravi wanted a car that’d still be a huge draw for the SEMA crowds, and one with an interesting story behind it. His solution? A little phone call to the team at R44 Performance…
“So, here’s the thing,” laughs Ravi. “Rhys and the team at R44 Performance have become good friends of mine, and I remember them saying they had plans of bringing their own car to the USA as part of a massive marketing exercise.”
“When they first mentioned this, we’d already committed to our SEMA booth cars and truthfully their goals weren’t for a SEMA build anyway. But being a super unique car in the USA, I felt they deserved it to be there, so I’d phoned around a few people to see what spaces were free.”
“As soon as the E30 M3 dropped out, I got straight back on the phone to Rhys in the hope they hadn’t canned their original plan to build it out in the weeks before SEMA…”
That car in question is BMW’s G81 M3 Touring – the first production M3 Touring – and one of the coolest M-cars in recent years. Oh, and one the USA will never get. Given how popular the M3/M4 platform is in North America, it seems an odd move for the Touring not to be available. But that just gives CSF the opportunity to show something unique at SEMA.
“America LOVES big cars!” Ravi adds. “We have so many trucks and SUVs here, and wagons like the C8 Audi RS6 Avant always get a massive amount of love – something I’ve experienced with my own RS6 over the last year.”
“BMW know they’ve missed the boat as the M5 Touring looks set to be coming to the USA instead, but for the time being at least the R44 Performance M3 will be one of the only Tourings here in the USA… and the only one properly tuned, too.”
After sitting down with Rhys and Dylan during Goodwood, Ravi and the R44 team set out a plan to transform the Touring from relatively stock daily to a full-blown SEMA build in just a matter of weeks once the car landed on US soil.
With the M3 scheduled to visit the likes of Titan Motorsports, Precision Sport Industries and IND Distribution, factoring in additional work on the exterior and suspension from Air Lift Performance meant little to no room for error would be left during the build phase.
“I wasn’t going to tell someone how to cook their own food!” laughs Ravi. “Building the car out for SEMA and having it on the booth is a big thing for us, but having seen other builds Rhys and the team have done I knew these guys have good taste. Because above all else, this is their car and their build – not mine.”
“In fact, all I really gave them was some help with their schedule to get everything executed in time to maximise their marketing plan. Not everything being fitted to the car would be straightforward work; R44 want this car to be a legit monster and that means cramming in tuning work that would usually take weeks into just a few days.”
Above all else, it massively ticks the box of an ‘interesting’ story for a SEMA car, which so easily could’ve been left to the last minute or replaced with an easier, more generic solution instead.
From the outset, it’s one of the first M3 Tourings to ever set foot (tyre?) on American soil. And it’s undoubtedly the first to receive a complete overhaul, including boosting performance far beyond stock with a little CSF magic.
“Here’s the thing, the S58 engine is an absolute powerhouse and it’s going to be around for another 10-plus years in my opinion,” adds Ravi. “This is our biggest push at the moment, and between the intake manifold, trans cooler and heat exchanger upgrades it’s also a platform heavily in demand for more tuning products all around the world.”
“I feel for Imran and Bilal on the E30 M3, but I know those guys will smash that build out the park with the extra time. And on the flip-side, it’s created a unique opportunity for CSF and R44 Performance to do something super-fun and exciting in the run-up to SEMA.”
“And trust me when I say this, that car isn’t just a display prop – it’s going to do big numbers and we’ve got serious plans lined up for it. Think top speed, drag racing and a little trip to Mexico…”
Photography by Dylan De Jager