The BMW E21 paved the way for all the iconic Beemers that followed and helped make the Munich concern a household name. We get to grips with Becky Evan’s fine example, one of the best modified BMW E21s around.
Someone down in Munich knew precisely what they were doing when they came up with the E21. They must have got out of bed on the right side after a very, very good night beforehand.
Those stunning lines and neat, precise styling looked utterly amazing in the early 1970s, particularly when compared to more prosaic offerings from the likes of Ford, Opel and Fiat. The E21 looked great when they could be found lining the streets of Europe and most of the world. But they look even better now that the majority of cars on our roads are curved, heavy and pretty similar in precisely what they were doing appearance. That iconic shark-nose snout looks every bit as imposing as it did back when Ronald Reagan was the most powerful man in the Western world. And the racing pedigree these cars carved out for themselves still rings true to this day. What we’re trying to say is, the E21 is cooler than a penguin pissing in a blizzard.
There are E21s, and there are E21s, though. And the car you see here is sweeter than pretty much any other we’ve clapped eyes on. It’s a car that looks deceptively subtle and largely stock, precisely the hallmark of projects that’ve had countless hours of love, attention and elbow grease lavished upon them. Owned and lovingly resurrected by Becky Evans, this is one of those cars that just looks right from each and every angle. The kind of car that makes you realise just how much neater they looked when designers didn’t give a hoot about things like side impact bars, crumple zones and pedestrian safety. (A shark nose BMW has to be fairly high up the list of ‘cars you really, really don’t want to get hit by’.)
Now Becky’s penchant for Munich’s finest automotive export stems from her childhood, especially the Polaris Blue E21 that her mother ran as a daily driver. Throw in her dad Phil’s association with UK drag racing and various MSA events, and it isn’t too hard to see why she’s so interested in all things retro fitted with an internal combustion engine!
This particular car was advertised on a certain well known online auction site. There was plenty of interest and a flurry of bids, but ultimately it failed to reach its reserve. That’s where Becky and her father stepped in, travelling down to view the old Beemer, to see how much work it needed.
“It’d been tucked away and left there for a few months,” says Becky. “So, yeah, it was a bit tatty. But hardly a wreck. The paintwork was flat as hell and it looked a little tired. But the bodywork was solid and it looked to be in good order mechanically.”
A few minutes of bargaining later and Becky had her name on the V5, ready to get the ’80s icon back onto the road in time for the coming show season – a mere six months away!
Luckily the pair’s assessment of the car’s condition proved pretty much spot on, with no welding required to get it its first MoT in years. From here things moved pretty fast in terms of modifications. First a custom air suspension setup was installed, then some effortlessly cool BBS split rims found their way onto the hubs. The original paint was given a new lease of life via a comprehensive T-Cut session.
“If I’m honest I wasn’t a huge fan of the Henna Red paintwork to begin with,” says Becky. “It reminded me too much of the Guard Red you always see on old 911 Turbos. But now it’s really grown on me and I love how spicy it looks. Plus it’s totally original and a key part of what makes the car so special. I’d never consider spraying it any other shade. That’d just be sacrilege!”
The car’s been a fixture of the UK’s retro car scene ever since, a firm fan favourite and a car one can always be relied upon to draw a hefty crowd. Anyone else would’ve been tempted to sit back and rest on their automotive laurels, but not Becky. She’d grown tired of the BBS wheels and the original air suspension setup and resolved to do something about it, firstly by speaking to the chaps over at Rotiform about their all new BM1 alloys.
Now the decision to ditch the BBS was a divisive one, particularly as there’s little doubt they suited the old-school shark nose to a tee. But we’re huge fans of the BM1s. Retro car geeks might’ve spotted that they’re a subtle nod to the rims found on the original BMW M1, without doubt the coolest car to ever emerge from BMW’s M-division skunkworks.
“They’re actually a custom set, the first in the UK and specially designed to fit this particular car,” says Becky. “I wanted three-piece splits to begin with, but they wouldn’t have fitted. Getting these two-piece ones on has involved machining the drums slightly and rolling the arches right back!”
The E21 already boasted a near inch- perfect stance thanks to the original air setup. But, as you lot will no doubt know only too well, there was certainly scope for personalisation and innovation, hence Becky’s decision to take it to Riiva Design. A firm with an enviable reputation for turning out genuinely amazing air suspension setups, Riiva Design went to town on Becky’s BM. Working with the Air Lift damper units and slimline bags already in situ, they fitted a one-off floating tank installation and precisely routed hardlines. Plus well hidden compressors and expertly tucked wiring. Little details make all the difference when it comes to building jaw-dropping feature cars, and these truly are a case in point.
One area that hasn’t changed much at all since Becky and Phil collected the car is the engine, BMW’s classic M10 4-pot and the basis for the legendary M12 ‘Megatron’ F1 motor from the ’80s. In that guise (with the addition of a whacking great turbo) it was known to make well over 800bhp and could even be pushed to 1,000bhp for a scant few qualifying laps. But the naturally aspirated motor in Becky’s car is bit more down to earth. In fact it’s still totally as BMW intended, ￼The interior is still pretty-much as BMW intended, apart from the Nardi wheel ￼￼E21 BMW still quite happy to pull the E21 along at modern motorway speeds and still breathing in deep through its original carb setup. Yes it’s hardly a world-beating powerhouse of an engine, but it certainly suits the decidedly old-school nature of the rest of the build.
So, what next? Well Becky has no plans to part with her 21st birthday present and admits there’s still a lot she wants to do to it. The coming winter will probably see it taken off the road for a comprehensive, nut-and-bolt restoration (though that Henna Red paintwork will be staying, naturally). The E21 currently retains its complete interior, and while that’s no bad thing, Becky is itching to make changes, hence the Escort RS2000 ‘fishnet’ Recaros waiting in the wings: great for upsetting Ford and BMW purists. Better still for those of us that just appreciate cool old cars and the bits that make them!
“I don’t think I’ll ever want to sell it, particularly as me and my dad have put so much time and effort into it. I love how it looks and drives. It’s great having a cool, old-school car that me and my mates can roll about in.”
And that’s it. The whole ethos behind messing about with old school motors summed up in one go. Spot on.
￼OWNER: BECKY EVANS
TECH SPEC: E21 BMW
BMW E21 with factory Henna Red paintwork; pulled and rolled arches and enlarged exhaust recess; rear window louvres.
Custom Rotiform BM1 two-piece split rims; 8x16in (front) and 9.5x16in (rear); 195/40×16 front, 205/40×16 rear; custom Air Lift air ride setup with digital Autopilot V2 management; original BMW uprights cut and sleeved with Air Lift damper unit TIG welded into place for more negative camber; dual bellows air bags (front); custom Air Lift damper units with slimline air bags (rear); custom floating tank install with hardlines and hidden compressors and wiring; fully rebuilt OE brake setup.
OE M10 SOHC 1,766cc with single carb setup; stainless steel exhaust system with twin exit.
Complete BMW E21 ‘Pergament’ interior; Nardi Deep Cornwood steering wheel on custom boss; custom speaker pods with Audition 4in speakers; Hertz 8in sub and JL AMP.
Riiva Design for perfecting the air suspension setup and install; and to my dad, for being so instrumental throughout the build.
Words Jarkle Photos Chris Wallbank