Ask any modified car enthusiast about their dream, end-car show goal and they’ll unanimously come back to you with the same answer: SEMA.
This tends to ring especially true amongst the Brits in our community. I’m not sure why, but since our teenage years, my close friends and I have had endless conversations about how we could get whatever car we were dreaming of at the time over the pond and into the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
So, when a group of guys decide to actually give this a go, it wasn’t long before it landed on my radar. I was hooked and needed to know more.
The team in question is that of R44 Performance, who teamed up with CSF Race to bring one of their demo cars from the UK to the USA, with the intentions of showing it at the 2023 SEMA Show.
It gets better, because the car in question is one that’s not destined to be sold new in North America – the G81 BMW M3 Touring. Speedhunters’ creative director Mark Riccioni has teed us up nicely here with the prequel to this adventure.
Over two months have gone by since Mark’s story on R44 Performance’s G81 journey up until that point. The build was essentially complete, resulting in an eye-catching car with an interesting origin story. But with eight weeks until SEMA, the team at R44 lusted for more.The build was essentially complete, resulting in an eye-catching car with an interesting origin story. But with eight weeks until SEMA, the team at R44 lusted for more.
Apparently, importing and then modifying the most anticipated M car product of the last few decades wasn’t enough. And with that tight SEMA deadline only getting tighter, the ideas just got bolder.
But that’s the thing. This is the SEMA Show, America’s modified car mecca. You’re expected to do the most here. So, how do you turn the notch up to 11 on something like the R44 M3 Touring story?
Well, you stick to the old school modification guns, of course. This means ramping up the power and changing up the visuals. R44 Performance had the ace card of the M3’s incredible S58 power plant to play with, an engine I’ve covered a few times on these pages for its aftermarket tune-ability.
R44 decided to single turbo convert the engine, a practice older than time itself, but one with worthy outcomes. The R44 x TWP S58 G8X Single Turbo Kit is built around a Precision 6870 Gen2 CEA turbocharger, which R44 had their good friend Tom from Tom Wrigley Performance in the UK fly over to install.
I caught up with Rhys Herd from R44 Performance to pick his brain on the G81 ahead of SEMA this week, giving me a chance to quiz him on that sweet, sweet single turbo conversion.
“I would say the first impression that hits you is the sound that the turbo makes. It’s very unexpected from a modern BMW,” Rhys tells me. “You really don’t expect the noise when the throttle is pressed through the screamer pipes, giving you that whooshhhh on release of the pedal.”
We know well by now that BMW’s recent turbo straight sixes are almost like natural successors to the iconic Japanese tuner engines of the past, and Rhys’s feedback simply adds to our findings.
“The car was already extremely quick running a Tom Wrigley Stage 2 tuning package with port injection and a CSF Charge-Air Cooler Manifold,” he added, pointing to the flat 10.0-second quarter mile time the G81 had previously achieved. “Now, you can really feel the difference between the factory twin-turbo setup versus the large single turbo once the engine comes on boost – the car just pulls and doesn’t fall off.”
“With the tune Tom has done for the new turbo setup, there is no lag. It’s just perfect.”
Paired with a host of other CSF Race cooling parts – namely their Front Mount Heat Exchanger, S58 ZF8 Transmission Oil Cooler and S58 ZF8 Engine Oil Cooler – to ensure maximum performance and reliability, the turbo setup really is the focus piece under the R44’s G81 bonnet.
Next up were the visuals. It’s here that R44 utilised the robustness of vinyl to completely change up the M3 Touring’s look.
We’ve all seen shoddy vinyl work in the past, with those Instagram SEMA meme pages haunting the nightmares of every wrap expert in America. They’re nothing to worry the team at Inozetek and Impressive Wrap though, who paid attention to every detail when carrying out the Narwhal Blue refresh.
Next up were the carbon touches around the car. “M3s, especially the G80, really strive with carbon aero additions to the exterior,”Rhys said. “Mainly for visuals rather than performance, we added the MHC SP1 GT-style lip within the bumper to give it a more aggressive style.”
Rhys adds, “carbon aero is my personal passion, with MHC being my own company. Carbon fibre’s natural premium nature adds to the quality of the build. A subtle touch I love is that the front corners, lower side seals and rear corners are actually full carbon pieces that have been wrapped but left partially exposed. It’s a detail most wouldn’t bother with.”
It was only natural to tie everything together with a set of new carbon-barrelled Vossen S21-08 wheels. These not only work cohesively with Rhys’s personal passion for the material, but the other carbon touches around the car too.
Sprinkle in some more details, such as the new JQ Werks Momo Monte Carlo steering wheel and you’ve got a two-month transformation ready for SEMA. Talk about cutting it close!
Now, having always dreamt of taking a car from the UK over to the USA, I couldn’t help but ask Rhys some more practical questions about the experience of driving his alien M3 on extra-terrestrial British number plates around the big American states. “So, the G81 platform is pretty well known and popular to the enthusiasts here, despite never being sold here. You know, the Touring has been well overdue, so everyone that knows, knows. I’ve had people hanging out their windows, shouting hello and taking photos.”
“We’ve been followed by the police a few times, but they don’t tend to pull us over. I think it’s mainly because they don’t know what to do about our number plates; it’s probably more hassle than it’s worth for them. The one time we did get pulled over, the police simply just checked our paperwork before joking about how we could afford to drive the car from the UK all around America.”
What can we say, the SEMA Show magnet is a powerful one. If you’d like to check out the R44 Performance M3 Touring at SEMA 2023, you’ll find it at booth 21411.
Photography by Darrien Craven