A big diesel saloon makes for a sensible family car, there’s no question of that. But Cirk Robinson doesn’t really do sensible. Which is why this former BMW E60 520d is now a V10-powered dystopian terror…
Feature taken from Fast Car magazine. Words Joe Partridge Photos Ade Brannan
Bravery is an intrinsic part of innovation. It’s often said that a short-cut is a short-cut because otherwise it’d just be the way. But it’s when we go in the other direction, deliberately taking the long way round in order to determine whether we can find or create something better, or more unusual, or more interesting, that the real magic happens. Naturally you have to be brave to step off the beaten track, as you don’t know what sort of thorns or poison ivy or angry bears will confront you – but life’s too short not to try it, right?
Now, regular readers will probably already know that Cirk Robinson is a man who enjoys guzzling brave pills and stepping into the unknown. We featured his Corsa a couple of years ago and it’s just about the most mental Corsa you’ve ever seen: custom pickup conversion, heavily modded Nova wide-arch kit, sodding great turbo, the works. This fella is no shrinking violet. So perhaps it shouldn’t raise your eyebrow too high to learn that the bruising wide-arch M5 you see here isn’t actually an M5 at all… he’s just turned it into one through sheer brute force, 500bhp V10 motor and all.“The build on this car started with no intentions of touching it at all,” he assures us. Yeah yeah, heard that one before. “I’d worked my arse off at a little bodyshop, and I’d seen the BMW and instantly wanted it. I thought it’d be a lovely family car, and I wouldn’t touch it as I had the rear-engined Corsa I built to mess about with. So I enjoyed the standard silver M-Sport 520d for all of four weeks… before I bought coilovers.”
Things certainly took a significant turn at this point, as Cirk hadn’t realised just how beautifully comfy the 520d had been before he’d bought the coilovers – nevertheless, he’s not the type to take a backward step, so he forged ahead. Snapping up a set of 20-inch Y-spoke X6 wheels, he was soon happy again, and the car continued to evolve over a variety of different looks and setups; wheels, spoilers, the usual minor mods.
“Then came the stupid decision to make a custom Rocket Bunny-style kit for it, and a full colour change to Mazda Candy Red, with a great big spoiler, wide wheels and dragging on the ground,” he laughs. “Oh, how I thought this was cool is beyond me.
“I enjoyed the car like that for about two years, until a speedy drive one night rushing to pick my kids up on time led to the build you see here… I was driving to get to collect my kids; I went round a roundabout, exactly as I did every other night, the car went into a drift, did a 180 onto the verge, and I was going backwards looking through my rear window shouting ‘Nooooooooo, Monicaaaa!’ I went backwards into a lamppost. The car cut out and I thought ‘Oh shit, please drive…’”
Impressively, the car was not only driveable, but had in fact sustained only minor damage to the corner of the bumper, the spoiler, one taillight, plus a tyre had popped off the rim. An easy fix, and Cirk started collecting together the necessary parts… when what should he find for sale, but a written-off M5. Interesting. The floor was creased from a side impact and the shell was junk. But immediately the cogs in his head started to spin. Wouldn’t it be fun to transplant the M5 running gear into his 520d?
Since we’re on the subject of bravery, it’s worth pointing out that the act of fitting modified BMW’s iconic and famously troublesome 5.0-litre V10 to a project takes a pretty sizeable pair of trouser potatoes. This is an engine utterly fabulous if it’s a good one, and a one-way ticket to the poorhouse if it isn’t – and the fun part is that there’s no way of knowing which way yours is going to go. It’s all pot luck.
BMW’s first production V10 engine, it’s a formidable power unit by any standards – a naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre with DOHC, 4-valves per cylinder and double-VANOS; the block and heads are aluminium, it has individual electronically-actuated throttle bodies, aluminium oil-cooled pistons and a forged crank along with a quasi-dry-sump setup. All of this technical wizardry delivers a nice round 500bhp and 384lb/ft – and, crucially, it revs to 8,250rpm. This engine is, in short, an absolute animal. A masterpiece, if a reputationally flawed one.
We recently quizzed marque experts Munich Legends about whether or not these engines are as scary as reputation suggests and they very honestly replied that it’s 50-50. Half of these motors will be essentially trouble-free for many, many miles, while the other half could eat themselves at any moment without warning; big end shell failure is a particular issue, and you don’t get any notice short of a brief EML flicker before you’re suddenly sat in a cloud of smoke and clutching a £10k rebuild bill. All part of the fun though, isn’t it? And Cirk’s always been one to roll the dice. The mighty potential of 500bhp and 10 high-revving cylinders is more than enough trade-off for any perceived risk. Besides, once you’ve come up with an idea like this, there’s no going back. Your entire life would otherwise become a massive what if and no-one wants to live like that.
“So I bought the smashed M5, collected it, and stripped it down with the help of two friends,” he grins. “Bagging and tagging every nut, bolt and screw so we knew what was what, we worked three weekends on it – stripping the M5 on the first weekend, and then stripping and rebuilding my E60 on the next two.
“We got it all built up with only one issue: it started, but the excitement was short-lived as the car wouldn’t rev past 1,500rpm and it wouldn’t go into gear. We plugged it in and scanned it for an hour or two and found nothing. The head-scratching started and so did the interrogation, asking and blaming one another, ‘Did you plug everything in?’ and so on. After a full weekend of searching, one of the lads said ‘Pass me the driver’s seat’. So we plugged it in, and bam – it started and revved all the way and went into gear, finally!”
So it had worked. Cirk had successfully transplanted the V10 drivetrain into his sensible family car! Not so sensible now, eh? And with that achieved, he set his mind to the bodywork. Ordering a set of one-off WORK wheels, he knew exactly what sort of girth he needed to fill his custom wide-arches, which he then made from scratch before embarking upon the involved task of grafting a 1M bumper into the E60’s nose to create a startling hybrid of aesthetic styles. A set of unique vents, inspired by the E46 GTR, were grafted into the bonnet, and the whole shell was bare-metalled and prepped for primer.
“Finally, with hundreds of hours spent on the body alone, it was ready to paint,” he recalls. “After a lot of back and forth with colours, I chose Range Rover SVR Estoril Blue, with a blacked-out roof full of metalflake. And so the one mod left to do was to make the exhaust system; I ordered what I needed and set to, making a 2-into-1 4-inch system. The car has the factory manifold cats on and one silencer at the back, and it sounds like utter hell at full throttle!”
All of this custom work and innovation has created something unique and, frankly, terrifying. Sure, there have been a few bumps in the road, but no-one said being a pioneer was easy. The SMG-III transmission has been particularly meddlesome, to the degree that Cirk’s now a world-record holder in getting the gearbox out quick-smart to swear at it and whack it with spanners. But this is all just part and parcel of being a trailblazer. The results more than make up for the pitfalls.
“The car was built with all the anger I had in me from losing my dad, so without the massive loss of my hero and best friend I may not have built the car into how you see it now,” Cirk explains. “Finally, I can simply enjoy it. Seeing people stare at it as I drive by is fantastic too, it makes the hard work worthwhile.”
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And Cirk’s certainly cooked up something delicious here – a mouth-watering fusion of stylistic ingredients, garnished with plenty of tasty brave pills.
TECH SPEC: BMW E60
Hand-built and home-made wide arches; custom 1M front bumper; Range Rover SVR Estoril Blue paint; blacked-out metalflake roof,; E46 GTR-style custom bonnet vents
S85 5.0-litre V10, custom exhaust system; 7-speed
11x19in ET-40 (front) and 11.5x19in ET-33 (rear)
WORK Emotion wheels; 275/30 (f) and 285/30 (r) tyres;
BC coilovers, M5 brakes
Full custom red and black interior with carbon fibre trim
I’d like to thank my amazing Mam firstly; my hero/Dad; my two mates who helped with the M5 conversion; Davy for keeping me company on those long nights; and of course myself!