Pushing out over 1000whp, this stunning turbocharged E46 M3 finished in Laguna Seca blue is a simply staggering performance build that’s on a whole other level.
Feature from Performance BMW. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Josh Cole.
For some people, the E46 M3 is the ultimate incarnation of this most iconic of performance cars, equal to or perhaps just half a rung down from the legendary BMW E30 M3. It ticks just about every box imaginable and, in standard form, it’s a sensational car, but Michael Karas’s incredible turbocharged build takes everything to the next level.
This is one of those cars that absolutely floored us when we first set eyes on it, and it’s a build that just keeps on giving. The more you delve into it, the more incredible details, and mods you find, and it really is something seriously special, an absolute masterpiece of an M machine. To build something so epic on such an incredible scale is not something one does lightly, and Michael has been a BM fan for many years and is no stranger to modding anything with wheels. “I’ve been interested in BMWs for over 20 years,” he says with a smile. “The performance and driving experience left an impression on me at an early age, and I’ve been a diehard enthusiast ever since. My first BMW was a 1997 Estoril blue M3. I fell hard for the appearance, performance, power, and the colour remain one of my all-time favourites,” he grins. As for modding, well, we weren’t kidding when we said he’s no stranger to it. “I can’t leave my cars alone,” Michael laughs. “Every single vehicle I have ever owned, even as a teenager, has been modified from minor cosmetics to full race builds. From BMWs to Volkswagens, Acuras, Toyotas, and Subarus, I’ve never been able to leave my cars stock,” and he’s clearly not about to slow down.
“I looked for this particular car for quite some time,” he continues as we turn our attention to the magnificent turbocharged E46 M3 before us. “I knew exactly what I wanted and had to find it. Laguna Seca just pops like no other colour, and the M series acceleration and handling was something I had to have and wanted in a newer model at the time. I fell in love with every aspect of the car – the colour, body lines, and superior performance. It’s still one of the best-looking M cars, in my opinion,” he adds, and we know of millions who would agree. As for what the future held for this E46, there was never any doubt about that in Michael’s mind: “I knew from the beginning that I wanted a fully dedicated street beast. It was going to be my project car,” he smiles, and it’s that and so
Michael’s approach to this build has been measured and methodical, a steady process of enhancing absolutely every aspect of the build over six years, and while this car might floor you with the extraordinary numbers it’s producing, it’s the complete package on every level. “I began with exterior cosmetics,” Michael tells us, and while the changes he’s implemented are subtle, they’re extremely purposeful and combine to give this E46 M3 a serious sense of presence and aggression. “I should also mention my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, is also a BMW enthusiast and loves this car,” Michael adds with a grin. “I would narrow options down, and she chose the final aesthetics. Over a few months, I did the work myself for the most part and shopped out the paint and bodywork to a few local shops.”
If you were to – very briefly – see this turbocharged E46 M3 in your rear-view as it comes tearing up behind you, you would immediately be struck by the combo of Strassentech front lip and Hamann brake ducts both finished in body colour, plus the Bimmerworld carbon grille. You might not have time to notice the custom-made inner carbon headlight shrouds, though, an extremely subtle but exceedingly stylish addition. As you pull over to let this Laguna Seca beast past, you’d catch a glimpse of the Bimmerworld carbon side vents, and then you’d get a quick glance at that shapely rear as it rapidly disappeared ahead of you, perhaps giving you just enough time to admire the Vorsteiner CSL-style boot lid and diffuser, both in carbon and both finished in body-matching Laguna Seca blue. Individually, the additions are subtle, but altogether they combine to deliver the perfect sense of purpose, and they ensure this M3 looks simply magnificent.
The next area that Michael turned his attention to was the whole of the chassis, because if you’ve got an E46 M3, then you’ve got to make sure all the underpinnings are nice and solid before you go and start having fun. “All the bushes were changed to AKG Motorsport poly bushes, then KW V3 coilovers were swapped in. I removed the rear subframe and replaced it with a brand-new BMW subframe, and Turner Motorsport subframe reinforcement plates were added,” says Michael, and that’s one way to ensure that you’re not going to have anything to worry about. “A custom Chromoly eight-point roll-cage was made to tie-in the rear subframe for added strength, safety, and reliability, and Turner Motorsport anti-roll bars were also added,” he says, all of which makes for a seriously impressive selection of chassis and suspension enhancements. Not only do they ensure that the E46 M3’s already legendary handling is elevated to an even higher state of sublimity, but those V3s have also allowed Michael to get his M3 sitting perfectly.
As we all know, styling alone can only go so far, and you’ve got to get the wheels right, which Michael absolutely has. “I knew I wanted something stylish, but that would also hold up to the performance demands,” he says. “I started off with 19” RH Phoenix wheels and later changed over to durable 18” CCW LM5 wheels to accommodate a stickier and taller tyre that could stand up to the increase in power,” he explains, and the CCW 18s look so good. The deep-dish design really suits the E46 shape, and the fat tyres look so meaty and suit the whole build. Peer behind the spokes, and you will spot the hefty brake setup, with Porsche 996 911 brake calipers and Turner Motorsport two-piece discs all-round, with 345mm items up front and 328 rears, paired with Hawk ceramic pads and Bimmerworld stainless brake hoses.
We can almost hear your impatience bubbling over at this point because we’ve talked about pretty much everything apart from the engine, but it was worth the wait. “I originally had purchased a Horsepower Freaks (HPF) Stage 1 turbo kit making 460whp,” Michael begins. “I wanted more power, so I upgraded to the Stage 2 kit, adding methanol injection, bumping the power up to 540whp. The car ran at this stage for a year, but I felt it could handle more. I pulled the motor out in my garage and was ready to send it to HPF for a full motor build (Stage 3). The day the shipping company came to pick up the motor, my salesperson for HPF called and told me not to send the engine as the company had shuttered its doors for an unknown reason at the time,” he says. “I then reached out to Marcus from Lab22 via an online BMW community; he had experience with HPF, so I sent the motor to him for the build. With this new engine, the car ran at 720whp until the motor blew at Pocono Raceway. Thankfully, the engine was under warranty due to a cam bolt backing out and taking out the oil squirter in piston number one. Once I had the repaired engine back, I installed it and had it tuned for max power on E85. This motor made 820whp, and I was happy with the power initially. After about six-to-nine months, I was addicted and needed more power,” he laughs, and what was it they say about absolute power corrupting absolutely…? “I pulled the motor out and had a friend from the BMW community, Anthony, build it from the ground up to make a reliable 1000whp,” smiles Michael.
“The block was line honed, and a custom girdle was made and added; VAC Motorsports sleeves were machined and installed, Carrillo rods and CP pistons filled the holes. All parts were balanced and blueprinted. A VAC Motorsports high-volume oil pump and all new timing chains and gaskets sealed up the short block with all ARP hardware, along with an ATI harmonic damper,” Michael tells us. “The head was lightly ported and polished, and Ferrea valves with brass valve guides, springs, and titanium retainers were fitted. A VAC Motorsports Vanos hub was also installed with DrVanos upgraded Vanos. An Athena cut-ring head gasket was used to seal everything up with L-19 head studs. An FSR turbo manifold was fitted along with a Precision 6870 dual ball-bearing water-cooled turbo.
“Anthony made a custom wiring harness for the AEM Infinity that would control and keep this engine running without issues,” he continues. “I installed every possible AEM fail-safe sensor including oil temp, exhaust backpressure and barometric pressure. If any of the thresholds are reached in the AEM, the engine shuts down,” Michael explains. A custom two-pump fuel hanger was made, which holds twin Walbro E450 E85 pumps, and there are dual Radium fuel filters and a Radium fuel rail and ID2000 injectors. The engine is also equipped with an Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator and a Powerhouse billet high-flow dual passage flex fuel sensor. Power is sent to the wheels via a stock Getrag six-speed gearbox, which has been upgraded with a Spec lightweight flywheel and ST twin-ceramic clutch. Further transmission enhancements include a Driveshaft Shop Chromoly propshaft, Wavetrac LSD running 3.46 gears from a 7 Series and Driveshaft Shop driveshafts. “The exhaust note pours out of a custom 4” exhaust made by Joe from AIM Performance, throwing flames and popping noises,” grins Michael, “while dual Tial 44 wastegates dump to the atmosphere,” and we can only imagine the sheer noise and fury of this M3 at maximum attack.
“The entire engine process took four years to complete,” he says, and we’re not surprised. The specs are absolutely insane, with a dream list of engine upgrades onboard, and this was a real money-no-object build. Except it wasn’t just one build, it was multiple engine builds, and Michael’s commitment to power is truly admirable. He wanted a reliable 1000whp, but he’s actually ended up with a little more – 1021whp, not far off 1200hp at the crank, and 784lb ft wtq. This is one serious build and no mistake.
After completing his epic engine, you might think that Michael was done, but the interior remained untouched thus far, which would never do, and it’s no less spectacular than any other part of the car. “Safety was first and foremost of importance, especially with the amount of power this car puts out,” he explains, hence the comprehensive roll-cage, but there’s an awful lot more than that going on in here. The rear seats have been removed, and up front are a pair of Recaro Sportster GTs, along with a set of Schroth Profi 2 harnesses. The dash, centre console and door trims are all carbon fibre, as is the handbrake handle, while an RTD shifter makes swapping cogs a joy. The custom steering wheel is not only heavily sculpted, but also features extensive carbon, and then there’s the driver’s vent-mounted AEM water temp display. The star of the show, however, is the custom-mounted AEM CD 7” digital display, that replaces the traditional BM four-gauge cluster. It not only gives Michael the essential info he needs, as well as allowing him to monitor absolutely any parameter imaginable, but it also looks amazing and makes the cabin look ultra-modern, and it’s an achingly cool addition.
So, after six years of build time, Michael is done, and we’re not surprised because he’s done everything imaginable, and then a bit more than that, and the M3 he’s created is something truly incredible. The engine alone is just astonishing, the work that’s gone into it, the numbers it makes – it’s hands-down the star of the show. “The engine is my favourite mod. Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush when the boost kicks in,” grins Michael. There’s so much more going on here, though, and this build is just so complete and every aspect of it, every element, every mod is awesome. All that’s left to do now is drive it. “Now’s the time to enjoy all the hard work put into it,” says Michael with the sort of grin that only a 1000whp+ turbocharged E46 M3 can generate, and this is a car that’s going to be keeping him happy for a very long time indeed.
Tech Spec: Turbocharged E46 M3
3.2-litre straight-six S54B32, VAC Motorsports sleeves, Carrillo rods, CP Carrillo pistons and wrist pins, VAC Motorsports high-performance coated main bearings and high-performance coated rod bearings, custom-made crank girdle with ARP hardware, VAC Motorsports high-volume oil pump, ported and polished head and ported throttle bodies, ARP L-19 head studs, Athena cut-ring head gasket, Ferrea valves, brass valve guides, springs and titanium retainers, VAC Motorsports billet Vanos hub, new BMW timing chains, chain guides, gaskets and seals, DrVanos upgraded Vanos, Beisan Vanos solenoid, FSR turbo manifold, Precision 6870 dual ball-bearing turbo, dual Tial 44 wastegates, custom-made 4” exhaust and wastegate dumps, HPF intake manifold, twin Walbro E450 pumps, Fragola -8 PTFE fuel lines and fittings, dual Radium fuel filters, Radium fuel rail, ID2000 injectors, Aeromotive fuel pressure regulator, Fragola -10 PTFE return fuel line and fittings, Powerhouse billet high-flow dual-passage flex fuel sensor adapter, AEM flex fuel sensor, HPF stage 4 intercooler, dual Tial 50mm blow-off valves, HPF oil cooler and piping, AEM Infinity with custom harness and sensors, RallyRoad motor mount bracket, custom-made billet motor mounts
Power & Torque:
1021whp and 784lb ft wtq @ 29 psi
Stock Getrag Type D six-speed manual gearbox, Spec twin-disc carbon clutch, HPF solid transmission mounts, Driveshaft Shop Chromoly propshaft, Driveshaft Shop driveshafts, Wavetrac LSD, 3.46 final drive
9×18” (front) and 11×18” (rear) CCW LM5 wheels with 255/35 (front) and 295/30 (rear) Toyo R888R tyres, Bimmerworld stud kit, KW V3 coilovers, Turner Motorsport anti-roll bars, AKG Motorsport front control arm, rear control arm, subframe and differential poly bushes, Porsche 996 911 Brembo brake calipers (front and rear), RallyRoad BBK adapters, Turner Motorsport 345x28mm (front) and 328x28mm (rear) two-piece discs, Hawk ceramic pads, Bimmerworld stainless steel brake lines
Factory Laguna Seca blue, colour-coded Strassentech front lip and Hamann brake ducts, custom-made inner carbon headlight shrouds, Bimmerworld carbon kidney grilles and side vents, colour-coded Vorsteiner carbon fibre CSL-style boot lid and diffuser
Carbon dash pieces, Recaro Sportster GT seats, Schroth Profi 2 harnesses, custom-made eight-point Chromoly roll-cage, carbon steering wheel, AEM CD-7 digital dash display