Lukas Wagiel’s childhood yearning for ’90s BMWs left a very clear imprint in his mind of what he wanted to create one day. And when he imported this one-owner E34 Touring from Germany to the UK, he had the perfect base with which to realise his vision and build his perfect modified BMW 540i.
From Performance BMW. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Scott Paterson
Rarity is a hugely desirable currency in the automotive world. Look at the Ferrari F40 – the bedroom wall poster for countless kids of the ’80s and ’90s, it’s an obscure and seldom-seen beast. Certainly not something you spot on the road every day. And how many of those were built? 1311 examples, all-in. Or take the case of the Lamborghini Miura, the original supercar – indeed, the car for which the very term ‘supercar’ was coined. Just 764 Miuras were built. As a total percentage of all the cars ever made, that’s… well, it’s a figure so tiny our calculator started smoking when we tried to figure it out.
But Lukas Wagiel has something rarer. You see, those kids growing up in the late 20th century weren’t all dreaming of jewel-like Italian toys. For Lukas, it was menacing and well-specced BMWs that formed the narrative of his automotive dreams. Fast-forward to the present day and the car you see him with here is super-obscure collector fodder: a 540i Touring with a manual gearbox, resplendent in Cosmos black metallic with factory M Tech styling and panoramic roof… just 499 cars were built in this unusual spec, and you can be sure that there are rather fewer of them around today.
“I was born in Poland, and BMWs were always in my nature,” he explains. “I used to live close to the German border when I was a teenager in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and I would always see E34s, E36s and E38s tuned up in proper German style. Low and wide, wheels with crazy-wide lips, big Schnitzer or Cobra square exhausts… and always in black, with black Hellas. It was the everyday head-turner look.” When Lukas’s uncle bought a green E34 535i manual, it immediately became the fledgling enthusiast’s dream car, and when his dad got himself a 328i Touring (again, manual) then that was it, the deal was sealed. Lukas’s desires would henceforth be Bavarian, it was tightly interwoven through the family history.
“When I moved to the UK, I had various different cars but a BMW was always on my wish list,” he continues. “My first UK BMW was an E39 530d Sport which I owned for three years, before buying an E46 325i Touring that was completely mint – the seller was an enthusiast who’d had it all resprayed, and it was sitting super-low on Bilsteins and H&R springs over BBS LMs.” It was a very cool Touring, but it had already been ‘done’ by the former owner and Lukas wanted something he could put his own stamp on – as well as having a little more power – and this box was ticked by the acquisition of an E46 M3 Convertible. It’s fair to say that his BMW adventures were blossoming healthily by this point, and joining the M3 Cutters forum spurred him on to carry out more and more mods… but ultimately, as the father of two children, the M3 was just proving too small to be practical. And what’s the logical answer when you need a larger vehicle to ferry the family about?
No, don’t say SUV. The correct answer is ‘estate car’. Don’t worry, Lukas fell into the same trap and bought himself a Mercedes ML63, followed by an X5 M Sport, but the yearning for a more traditionally shaped car with a petrol engine and a manual gearbox was proving too strong… and so the hunt was on. “At first I was looking for a two-door E30, as I had the idea to swap in an M60 or an M52,” he says, “but it quickly became apparent that in the UK you need to spend £8-10k, so I started looking at the German and Polish markets. I found a few E30s that looked interesting, but when I was on the way to see one my brother sent me a link to this E34 Touring, and I just had to take a look. It was a very rare spec, full history, and had only one owner from new!” The body was in average condition with a few scabs of rust, but it was all original with all the correct parts, receipts for its entire history, and with a healthy engine that pulled like a train. The gearbox was strong, it had a panoramic roof… everything about it screamed ‘Buy me!’, so that’s exactly what Lukas did.
“I left the 540i with my brother in Poland, where it had both front wings replaced and a full respray in its original Cosmos black metallic,” he says. “The diff was removed, refurbished, painted, and the ratio changed to 3.45, while the front brakes were removed and replaced with better, bigger ones from an E32 750i V12.” Some additional work was carried to get the rare wagon back to as-new condition, and then it was shipped to the UK where Lukas got it officially registered before taking care of some more belt-and-braces stuff. He changed the chain tensioner on the engine and it was also running a little hot – although not overheating – so he did some research and acquired an 80° thermostat and changed all the fluids. Then turning his attention to the chassis, Lukas replaced every single bush he possibly could with Powerflex items. And with it all legit, he started to think about modifications. Now, he didn’t want to go too nuts, given that he had a rare and original survivor that he’d just ploughed a load of money into bringing up to scratch. But at the same time, those teenage memories of OEM+ retro bruisers (back when they weren’t retro) were still looming large in his subconscious, and there were some things he just had to do.
Job one was to swap in the anti-roll bars from an E34 M5 because it makes sense with this platform, and then Lukas set about improving the exhaust system. Ordering a custom manifold and rear box from MTG Motorsport, the centre resonators were eliminated along with the cats, replaced by a welded X-pipe which provides a gloriously bassy rumble at high revs but isn’t too intrusive when he’s just trundling around town with the family on board. Then it was time to tackle arguably the most important part of the build: the wheels and suspension. With those vivid memories of youth demanding wide and shiny wheels filling out low-slung arches, there was a clear plan in place here. “I chose the new ‘Extreme Low’ BR Series coilovers from BC Racing to begin with,” he says, “and fitted a set of OZ Mito II wheels. Given the self-levelling rear suspension, it wasn’t exactly a quick-and-easy install, but with the help of Alex Wright (owner of the lowest static yellow E36 Coupé), we removed the self-levelling and looped the system. The front wasn’t easy either, as we had to cut and weld the new BC collars onto the struts, but we got there!” he grins.
After running static for a year or so, Lukas was keen to go lower to achieve the look he desired, although he was mindful that he didn’t want to be risking smashing his sump off on every journey, so a solution had to be formulated. The engine was duly raised up on SS Autowerks mounts and a custom steel sump guard fitted, and while he was bolting and unbolting stuff Lukas couldn’t stop thinking about his dream wheels. “It was a long route, I didn’t know I’d have to be building them from scratch,” he laughs. “After searching in vain for a set of AC Schnitzer centres, I found Neil (owner of the cleanest E36 M3 ’Vert in the UK – @m3_nut on Insta) who had a full set of ACS Type IIs – but the offset, sizes and colour weren’t right so I had to strip them all down. The centres were resprayed by The Wheel Specialists, and I ordered two inner barrels and two 4.25” lips from Felgenfuchs in Germany. The end results are amazing – the fronts are 9.75”-wide with 3.75” lips, and the rears are 11.25” with 4.25” lips. With just the right tyre stretch, the car drives amazing and is safe even at high speed.”
With his ideal wheels finally sorted, Lukas couldn’t help noticing that the car still wasn’t as low as he’d imagined, so there was only one thing for it: air. And given the high-quality coilovers that he’d already put so much effort into custom-fitting to the modified BMW 540i E34, he had the perfect base to build a system to his own specs. A set of bags were purchased from OCD, along with 3H management by Air Lift, and with the help of Carl at Studio Incar it was all fitted to get the wagon airing out like a champ. Carl had previously contributed to the project by fitting an Alcantara headlining, and now he was drafted in to build a full audio and air install. “I like to keep an OEM look, so the manifold, amp and air tank are hiding in the spare wheel well,” says Lukas. “I chose a Becker Indianapolis radio/CD, which uses the same amber-colour lights as standard so it blends with the dash and looks smart.”
The interior was further freshened up with a Nardi steering wheel, borrowed from an E36 and chosen as one of the few airbag-equipped options in the Nardi oeuvre. “A friend of mine found the wheel on an E36 forum,” he explains. “It was in average condition; the wood was immaculate but the leather was tired, so I sent it for a retrim. I also plan to change the light wood colour to a dark wood finish to match the rest of the interior, as I haven’t seen that done before.”
It’s the attention to detail that really sets this build apart and the more you look the more you find. Everything Lukas has done has been carried out with the utmost care, all remaining respectful of the fact that this is a rare car that came to him in very original condition. It’s a cruiser, a family wagon, a show-stopper, and a legacy for his children. And in certain quarters, it turns more heads than a Ferrari F40 or a Miura ever could.
Tech Spec: Modified BMW 540i
Engine & Transmission:
4.0-litre V8 M60B40, Wokke chip, limiter removed, SS Autowerks engine mounts, custom MTG Motorsport exhaust manifold, custom de-cat exhaust system with MTG rear box. Getrag six-speed manual gearbox, E60 545i short-shift, differential refurbished and powder coated, 3.45 final drive
Power & Torque:
326hp and 354lb ft
9.75×18” (front) and 11.25×18” (rear) AC Schnitzer Type II Racing wheels with 3.75” (front) and 4.25” (rear) lips, 225/30 (front) and 245/30 (rear) tyres, BC Racing BR Series ‘Extreme Low’ coilovers with custom OCD airbags and Air Lift Performance 3H management, E34 M5 front and rear anti-roll bars, Powerflex bushes throughout, SS Autowerks strut brace, custom Swagier sump guard, E32 750i front brakes
Cosmos black metallic, OEM M Tech styling, smoked Hella headlights, new fog lights and OEM rear lights
Black leather interior with Sport seats, retrimmed E36 Nardi airbag steering wheel, Alcantara headlining, Becker Indianapolis radio/CD, Hertz/Becker speaker upgrades and audio/air install by Studio Incar