The last thing you want to do with a project car is rush it; you’ll end up with something flaky that you’re never happy with. Rich Colbeck’s flawless Pandem M3 is proof that if you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right…
Building a project car is much like playing a game of high-stakes poker. You’ve always got to be mindful not to give away your hand, not to exhibit a giveaway tell, not to let anyone know how powerful your finish will be until the time is right. It also requires a lot of whisky, a dimly-lit room, an opponent named Knuckles of questionable moral virtue, and… actually, no, it isn’t like poker at all.
It is all very ‘Too soon, junior…’ though; when you’re at the planning stage, it’s exciting to visualise the finished product, to rush through it and cut a few corners in order to show everyone your big idea. But you have to be patient, play the long game, do things properly. Otherwise you’ll always be a little bit disappointed, like those couples on Grand Designs who blow a million on a custom-built house, then cock it up at the last minute with a cheapo caravan kitchen because they’re desperate to move in.
This gloriously aggressive E46 M3, rocking its boisterous Pandem wide arches, is a clear manifestation of why you shouldn’t rush things. It’s been built properly, to a very high standard, and the results speak for themselves. But there’s more to this story than meets the eye: you see, we knew of this car in its first wide-arch guise, and… well, we don’t want to be uncharitable, but let’s just say the fella who put it together was perhaps a little more focused on the end product than he was on the actual methods of getting it there. If you rush things, people will know.
This car was, in fact, the very first E46 M3 in the UK to be fitted with the still-boxfresh Rocket Bunny Pandem kit, although the manner in which it was originally thrown together didn’t exactly do the car any favours. It was more of a fifty-yard motor. It photographed well, it looked cool as it rolled by, but it didn’t really bear close scrutiny. You might spot all the random wood screws holding it together.
What’s most impressive about the car’s resurrection is that its new owner, Rich Colbeck, didn’t even mean to take on another project – he was looking for something stock that he could just have a bit of fun with. But the old ugly-duckling scenario reared its head, and Rich just felt compelled to help the BMW recuperate and heal, so that it could develop into the swan it was always destined to be.
It helps, of course, that Rich has a lengthy history of building flawlessly executed rides; his last car, for example, a Liquid Yellow Mitsubishi Evo VIII dripping in carbon fibre and boasting an eye-watering spec, was featured within these very pages just a few months ago. This, then, is a man who does things properly – as you’d no doubt expect given his day job, pulling the strings at Autoworx in Hull.
“I’d always wanted an E46 M3,” Rich explains. “I decided that once the Evo was done, I was just going to buy an M3 and take a break from modified cars for a bit. Although as you can see, that went horribly wrong!”
Indeed, but fate’s loss is our gain, as the hunk of Hulk-like loveliness here keenly proves. Having spotted the UK’s first Pandem E46 on eBay, those mental cogs couldn’t help but spin into motion, formulating mischievous ideas and extravagant stratagems.
“When I bought the car, honestly, it was full of bodges,” Rich recalls. “The kit was really just thrown on with wood screws, the gloss black paintwork was terrible, the rear dampers were bodged in – more wood screws involved there – and bearings filled with clear silicone, the list just went on and on. Clearly I couldn’t leave it like that.
“There was no real game plan as such,” he continues. “To begin with I just winged it, to be honest – I’d bought it blind on eBay and collected it after midnight so I didn’t really look around the car as much as I should have done; at first my intention was to fix all the issues and leave it at that, but then one job ended up leading to another and, well, here we are. The stance wasn’t right either, and it was useless to drive, so I really did have to change some things.”
He’s not kidding. The car’s actually largely unrecognisable from its former guise, it’s only the fact that it’s a Pandem E46 on Squared wheels that gives away its past life, as Rich has pretty much changed everything. The bodywork has been radically overhauled and reworked – the Rocket Bunny curves now fit perfectly, and there’s been extensive smoothing before local garage Modern Classics shot the whole thing in a one-off mix of House of Kolor’s Shimrin Green. The roof is a contrasting metallic grey, and there are carbon fibre splitters and diffusers to ramp up the aggression.
Those unique wheels have been refinished in a fresh new hue and, to get it all sitting properly, the bodged coilovers have been junked and replaced with a premium Air Lift Performance air-ride system, complete with V2 management.
So, Rich was planning to take a break from modifying, was he? “Yeah, this car was basically stripped right back and started again from scratch, in the end,” he laughs. “Since I’ve owned it this year it’s had new paint, air-ride, new seats, wheels refurbed, new exhaust, new splitter, new diffuser, new lights, new steering wheel, new spoiler, full polybushing, rear subframe mounts reinforced…” Fair to say he’s been a busy boy, then. And he’s far from done with it. Having started thinking about selling the M3 to buy an American pick-up, the damn thing’s wormed its way under Rich’s skin, and now he’s talking with some enthusiasm about turbo and supercharger options, rollcage specs, setting the chassis up for track and drift use…
“It draws a lot of attention everywhere I go,” he says, “and people are always taking photos and asking me questions about it.” And a lot of this enthusiasm is down to the quality of the build – sure, you can draw in the magpies with a bunch of shiny trinkets, but it’s a job well done that makes people stick around and get excited. Rich may have worked quickly to re-engineer the car and make it flawless, but he didn’t rush it, and that’s the key difference: as teachers and grandads the world over have been saying for generations, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
TECH SPEC ROCKET BUNNY BMW E46 M3
House of Kolor Shimrin Green paint, Rocket Bunny Pandem wide-arch bodykit, ducktail spoiler, smoothed front bumper, bonnet and boot badge recesses smoothed, metallic grey roof, carbon fibre front splitter and rear diffuser, custom mirrors, gloss black kidney grilles, carbon fibre foglight intakes, LED taillights
S54B32 3.2-litre straight-six, K&N induction, custom exhaust system with decat, six-speed manual with short-shift
9×19” ET21 (front) and 11×19” ET20 (rear) Squared SD2 forged three-piece wheels, 235/35 (f) and 275/30 (r) tyres, Air Lift Performance suspension, V2 management, K-Sport big brake kit (8-pot front, 6-pot rear)
Corbeau fixed bucket seats, Personal steering wheel
Words Dan Bevis Photography Ade Brannan