this love story starts in the 1990s.
Its no secret that I’ve been in love with cars since I was born. As far back as I can remember, if it’s had 4 wheels and an engine, I’ve been about it. Every Christmas or birthday that would roll around, I knew that whatever was veiled behind that colorful paper was some sort of model kit or die-cast car; at least it would be for the first few minutes. Every toy I got, I would always take them apart to see how they were put together, to see how they worked. Today, nearing 24 years old, I’m no different. When I see an interesting piece of technology, I’m anxious to get my hands on it and see how it functions. Today, I’m able to do what I love, day in, and day out. I’m very fortunate to have found my purpose in life very early on.
On outings about town or on vacation, toddler-aged me would identify passing-by cars out loud as something interesting drove by: “Look at that Bentley” or “Wow, a 1964 Impala!” with great accuracy and enthusiasm. Looking back, this was a very odd quirk of mine that, over time, I would learn to keep within for the sake of social benefit, but its still very much active in me today. One way I learned to express my affinity and knowledge for the automobile was through my artwork. I would draw them on anything that could receive media transfer - on napkins at restaurants, on random papers strewn about the house.
Its probable that my love for cars came from my father, as he was a car salesman - he would bring home different vehicles all the time, and his personal choice was a 1989 BMW 525i, Alpine White II over a Parchment interior. This car was paramount in my current love for the brand, as my earliest memories of family vacations and time spent with my dad took place in it. I sharply recall those balmy summer afternoons - the humid Missouri air, cicadas singing in the trees, that classic feeling of a Friday - he would come home from work, all four windows down and absolutely blaring old-school music from Zapp & Roger or Midnight Starr, and I would help him wash and detail it.
He had chromed Antera wheels(holy throwback, right?), probably the most notable feature of it, if you asked anyone else; but I remember little details about the car that made it special, such as the crayon I had stuck in a small crevice on the rear parcel shelf, or that oh-so-familiar “old BMW” smell that, oddly enough, smelled like crayons (I eventually found out that this smell comes from the Buffalo leather they used at the time - crayons (at least, then) were made from buffalo fat). He had many other BMWs after this one, including a handful of 7 series (I have one of those now, too), but his Alpinweiß 525i is the one that started it all.
Over the years as I aged, my tastes in cars teetered in a few directions, and by the time I could afford my first BMW, I had already had 12 other vehicles. My 535i - named Oreo - was my third BMW, second E34(chassis code for this generation of 5 series). Believe it or not, I actually bought her as a parts car for another E34 I had, whose transmission had gone out. My plan was to strip it for its manual driveline parts and scrap the rest.
Boy, did that plan get thrown out the window.
THE ONLY CONSTANT THING IN LIFE IS CHANGE.
I decided, having driven the car across the Midwest from Missouri to Laramie, Wyoming, back to Missouri, from there to Chicago with my best friend for a spontaneous getaway trip, that this car was so much more worthy of restoration than the other one was. I put my 18s on it and cruised it with the straight 6 for a while and tried a few tricks to modernize it. Besides, after so many miles and memories created, its hard not to fall in love with a car.
In 1993, BMW decided to stuff a v8 into the e34 chassis as well as update some key features of the exterior, namely the front fascia. They widened the kidneys and connecting body lines on the hood, creating a more modern and aggressive look. Having sustained damage from an exploding cooling fan, and being a 1991 with the smaller of the two variants, I decided to opt for a facelift. I traveled to St. Charles, MO to see my buddy Eric Berg of Importapart, a fellow e34 enthusiast with a plethora of extra parts. I drove up with no hood and returned with a red one and a new front end. I prepped and primed it and rode around like that until the Spring came, at which point I laid the white paint. I was more than pleased with the updated look.
However, if you know me personally, you know that sometimes, I just can’t leave well-enough alone - this car epitomizes that about me. As an avid car enthusiast, nothing gets me going like the sound of a v8, so I decided to put one in my 5 series. I bought an e32 740iL and tore it apart.
Swapping involved a fair bit of work - trips out of town to have a custom driveshaft made, visiting Eric again for the 6 speed manual transmission, repinning some 40-something wires at the body to engine harness, a little bit of welding here and there, but it all paid off. I threw some lowering springs on while I was in there, since it was all apart. Some purists would argue that its a bastard child, an abomination undeserving of the title since it “didn’t come that way”… but after a cold, frustrating winter, I finally had one of my dream cars, a BMW E34 540i6.
I was elated to take her into the public eye as a v8 car, so I ended up at a local Sonic meet. To end a perfect night, I had a guy challenge me to a race, thinking it was “Just an old BMW”… You can guess how that went.
But, again… I can never leave well-enough alone.
BMW had just released the new F10 M5, and among the color options was Azurite Black. I was in love with it immediately - I spent all of my time scrolling through threads admiring BMWs latest marvel.
There had been some clear coat peeling on the rear quarter panel, and to me, there has always been something about a black BMW. So… It got stripped again, this time all the way down. Every exterior panel was replaced with the exception of one door.
I needed to shave the fuel door for one of the biggest modifications the car would be receiving. I flattened the panel, stitch/spot welded it into place and performed the necessary bodywork.
Here is why I shaved the fuel door. Since the release of the e39 M5, I have been crazy about quad-tip exhaust systems. They add balance to the rear end of a car and more obviously, aggression.
Its a modification that is often discussed, but seldom actually completed. The factory fuel tank is in an L shape that doesn’t allow clearance for exhaust piping to go to the other side of the bumper. The solution to this is to remove it and get a racing style fuel cell, or find a smaller tank.
Growing up reading Lowrider Magazine and being involved in lowrider forums, I knew that there was no limit to the custom routes people could take to solve a problem, including using parts from other vehicles. In my case, a 65-67 Mustang fuel tank would work perfectly for my application. It was narrower and had a flat top, so I could retain the use of my trunk floor, which wouldn’t have been possible with the standard racing fuel cell. I got a unit from one of my neighbors (who restores first generation Mustangs) and went to town.
Satisfied, I moved on to the front: prepped and painted the engine bay and prepared it to receive the freshly built engine.
This is one of my favorite stages in repainting a car: when all of the panels are put on one last time for dry-fitting and final prep. Usually, months go by between the start of bodywork and this point, so its always nice to see it look like a car again. The last steps of the bodywork would be completed at another location.
Into the booth:
Finally, after 6 or 7 months of bodywork and modifications, it was sprayed.
The spraying of the car took place on Friday, April 21, 2016 - painfully easy to remember, as I had just heard on the shop radio that Prince had passed away. I made sure to play his music as I laid the color. As heat wasn’t available in this particular booth, it was decided that for best results, we let the car sit for the weekend. The following Saturday and Sunday were like Christmas Eve to a child, I couldn’t wait til Monday to see what Santa had brought with the sunlight… The color was absolutely stunning.
I had it flatbedded home and began reassembly the same day. You could say I was excited to have it back together.
New paint isn’t quite enough - we like our paint as close to perfect as possible at M&B. Out came the sandpaper and elbow grease to remove this orange peel.
After troubleshooting some fuel leaks (seen below) I took it for its maiden voyage as an Azurite Black, 4.4 litre, 6 speed 540i. Rough around the edges, but worth the work. Note the lack of exhaust tips - there actually was no exhaust system on the car when this picture was taken; all open headers. Loud is an understatement.
I drove it up to my buddy Brian up in Moberly, MO to have my bespoke exhaust done. This system has vacuum actuated valves - I designed it to be “Active”: the performance and sound are dynamic with the driving style. Once the engine experiences a certain load, the valves open up and give a raw, unfiltered v8 sound, but if just on a calm tour about town, the car has a deep, but subtle song from two Borla ProXS mufflers. To tie it all together, I went with Corvette c6 exhaust tips.
Simple, but extremely effective and the sound is nothing less than incredible. Aggressive sound, on tap. What more could one want?
Like the year before, I drove this car everywhere - more than I drove my 7 series that I initially bought to be the daily driver while this car was under the knife. I took it to every show, every event I could and the feedback was extremely positive. Here again, a young kid from Columbia, MO had built this marvelous machine in his mother’s driveway.
One of my favorite pictures.
I would wake up on a cool, dewy Missouri morning, the car clean from the night before (ceramic goes a long way) and just go for a drive out to the Big Tree, just because. This car taught me that sometimes, there is no destination, just the journey, and that the connection between car and driver is certainly tough to replicate. When you put in such a great deal of time and effort with your own two hands, its hard not to fall in love.
This car is the one that helped me find my purpose in life - to catalyze the moment that people fall in love with their cars. Nothing in this world brings me more joy than to see others experience even a piece of the love I have for mine, for their own.
The last trip I had taken in her was up to Kansas City for a job with one of M&B’s long-time clients, and a Cars & Coffee meet the morning to follow. This photo was taken the evening prior to the meet.
And the morning of - It was a perfect morning. Imagine walking out to a clean car on an unusually warm but crispy winter morning, coffee in hand, ready to cruise with a good friend on down the highway to a car show.
That good feeling was short lived. February 18, 2017, on the way down to the show, the engine experienced catastrophic failure, losing pistons & adjoining rods numbers 4 and 8 on Interstate 35 south.
Oh hey, my check engine light is on. Wonder what I’ll find?
… I guess that was her way of saying “Hey, we left some engine back there”. I go searching back a few feet to find pieces of it on the highway - connecting rods, shattered pistons and the associated rings.
As indicated by the above photos and the oil drainage below, this car was not a happy camper.
I figured I had nothing to lose, so why not see if it still ran?
Despite missing two pistons, and smoking just a little…
I had it towed home to Missouri.
The total accumulation of parts let astray when the engine blew:
Time for the autopsy/in depth view:
You can probably see by the photos that there are two rather large, but unnecessary holes where pistons 4 and 8 should be. Note the scoring of the crankshaft as you peer down the cylinders. Based on the oil found in the spark plug wells and other clues, a consensus was reached that the car had ran lean, causing catastrophic failure.
So, in less time than it takes for you to blink your eye, the beloved 540i was dead. It would sit for nearly two years, only moving to make room in the garage and coming out for the nostalgia that the occasional bath would deliver.
However, there’s an annual get-together, not to far from our Base in Atlanta, up in Asheville, North Carolina called “The Vintage”, an event geared toward vintage BMWs that includes spirited driving tours, a weekend party, swap meet, and of course, time spent with other classic BMW enthusiasts. Check out the content below for an inside look at last year’s event.
I had gotten word that the theme for 2019 was “Celebration of the Fiver” - meaning the first, second, and third(mine) generation of the BMW 5 series. It was like a sign that I had to get it back together, especially on account that I’ve seen guys do full restorations in an exceptionally short period of time and still make the show. The 2019 show will include this car.
The race is on.
The good components (many of them new) were put into the trunk until I was ready to build a new engine.
I stripped the interior out as it was perished and in need of replacement. We had nice weather one weekend, so I decided it was a good day to clean the interior up a little bit and get some new components.
I used some IGL Interior to tackle much of the task. It works a treat on all cars, old and new.
Sourced a new rear bench setup from a friend.
I lucked out when I found a v12 engine to swap into my 7 series - that meant the outgoing v8 would go into the 5: An engine I had put many miles - and memories - on myself that I knew ran well, for free.
The engine was torn down and cleaned. I slowly built it. In the photo of a butt-naked Oreo far above, you’ll notice a green BMW E32 740i in the background. That car gave its engine heads so that this one may live on.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of studying new design and seeing how I can incorporate that into my own vehicles. I often go the dealer for inspiration on new ideas and to look at the new models, BMW never ceases to amaze me with the technology and quality they put into each car. One feature that always stood out to me was the ambient lighting package. Color has a huge impact on our mood and how we perceive the world around us, so it isn’t at all surprising that they would give so many options such as an energizing green, a luxurious royal purple, or a cool blue.
I decided long ago, after much review of enough M5s and 750s to make your head spin, that the interior would be Criollo brown with a natural finish wood trim.
I also did a quick sketch of the interior in this combination, and added blue ambient lighting. Blue is the base of the exterior paint, so I found it best suit for this car.
Satisfied with the concept, I moved forward. I ordered the dye and LEDs, then got to work. I focused first on the wood trim - I wrote a DIY on that here - and was super pleased with the results.
The LEDs came the next morning, so I did the necessary modifications to the trim, soldered a few connections, and we were in business.
Another detail I love about the new 5 and 7 series is the option of Bowers & Wilkins Diamond Surround System - mainly because of the illuminated speakers. Not only is the sound just phenomenal, but it places a visual emphasis on music. Being a big music person myself, I love the bit of personality that it adds to the interior: it communicates that the owner of the vehicle in question cares about music - being a $4,900 option, its at least safe assume so. This is a detail I already have in my 7 series and love, so I figured it would be appropriate to add the same feature to this car while I’m soldering and modifying.
The following day, the dye came. The leather of the new door panels and seats was prepped and dyed, here in house, of course. It came out beautifully, a dead on match to what I was shooting for. This color pairs extremely well with the Azurite Black exterior.
If you have needs for leather restoration, definitely reach out to us at 573-521-7235 or book here.
I got the last few bits for the engine together, and my days in Missouri were coming to a close, so despite my abhorrence for the cold…
The engine was dropped in, but the transmission had to come out to be realigned with the splines of the clutch. 28* isn’t ideal, but you gotta do what you gotta do. A warm glass of Brandy (thanks, Chris Stapleton) and a few layers of clothing had me out there getting it done. After this, I lowered the car back down and got it into the (thankfully heated) garage for further assembly. It was messy, but I wanted to cover all of the bases and make sure it ran well before attempting to tidy anything up.
At this point (late February of 2019), I had to return to Atlanta so service some of M&B’s GA clients. I drove the 750iL back up to MO in late March to continue working, stopping in KY to admire the reason they call it the Bluegrass State:
Upon my return, I got the car running after some fresh gas. Excited was an understatement! However, there were a few sensors and such that weren’t functioning quite right. The wiring on this engine is exceeding 25 years old, it gets brittle. I decided to replace some of the wiring in the engine harness, so to prevent future headaches. This, of course, was done via solder and heat shrink, followed by rewrapping the harness to retain the factory look.
Now that it ran, I had to make sure it would stop. A brake fluid flush was in order, so I used nothing but the original - BMW DOT 4 fluid. I keep a few bottles on hand just for my projects, it comes in handy, not having to run to the dealer for every little thing. Pro tip: stock up on stuff like this!
While I was bleeding them, my niece decided to come and help. She’s showing quite the interest in cars, watching me build them; she wanted to assist, so I showed her where the lug bolts went, and sure enough, she started sending them home! Its always good to have an extra hand…
After more than two years, it was a bit of an emotional experience to drive this car again. It still ripped and did excessively loud burnouts just like I remembered. This was a milestone in this car’s life and in my journey with it.
Now to the finer things - it was time to start the correction process. That started with a wash, then it was moved into the garage to be lifted for better access.
While I had it apart, I decided to pull the headlight trims to clean and coat those, too. This process took years off of the face of this car, sort of like a wrinkle remover.
I also found the the keyless entry remote - it still works! I decided to repaint the “BMW” lettering on it; this was done by hand, then the entire piece was coated to protect it.
When a car sits for two years, especially in a toasty garage, mice like to find their way into it for shelter. To survive, they eat thins. wiring being one of those things. I came back outside one day after wrenching to a smokey interior - a wire had shorted in the seat harness, which melted not only that entire harness, but also part of the body harness from the dash to the rear seat. I traced, sorted and replaced most of that.
Dyed a few more interior pieces before reassembly:
With that finally sorted, I decided to clean it up and go for a celebratory drive downtown, then out to the ol’ Big Tree to do a shakedown test and enjoy the sunset.
I found an extra set of trunk tail lights, so I decided to add the European “rear fog light” option. This involved drilling a hole for the bulb, adding a wire/terminals and filling an empty space in the plug.
Being able to focus on smaller details, I decided to repaint the positive power terminal and do a light steam on the engine bay. I’d just picked up some beauty covers that had sat untouched for years.
These small things add up.
Cleaning up more interior pieces - 12v outlet polished to remove oxidation
Remade the harness for the electric sun shade:
As discussed before, I like to sign my work, so I found the instrument cluster to be a great place for it. Subtle, but once you notice it, its easy to appreciate.
And again, to celebrate a job well done, I went out for an afternoon/evening cruise and to snap a few photos. As you can probably tell, I’m always looking for an excuse to drive this thing.
With the car running perfectly and mostly complete, it was time to take it back to Atlanta. I filled the trunk with my toolbox (can you believe all of this work was done out of that thing?!), extra parts and such, filled up the 750iL as well (had a co-driver) and made my way down.
In Paducah, KY.
Had to snap a photo of the 7, I never get the opportunity to:
I was snapped after snapping:
After some torrential downpour in Tennessee and the rest of the way through GA, we finally made it to the house with two very dirty cars, but nonetheless, they both made it down without a sweat. Over the time of eight weeks, to have taken this car from a basket case in the garage, built an engine, rewired half the car after a short nearly set it ablaze, gathered and dyed an entire interior, refinished the wood/added full LED ambient lighting and then driving across the country without issue says a lot about the work and passion I put into my cars, and I’m proud of that. I'm proud to say that my work stands the trials of life, and I put the same pride into M&B.
She got a bath and I took her out on the town to run basic errands after being gone so long. It was surreal, shifting those gears again in a completely new area for this car. A simple activity, but it carried so much meaning; I had made a dream come true for myself yet again.
I did this to show people what’s possible with passion, grit and a plan of execution. I did this to encourage people to dream, and then aggressively realize those dreams. In my case, making my personal dream come true meant literally bringing a car back from the dead in every aspect - dead paint, no engine, mismatched interior, perished wood trim.
What does it mean for you? What can M&B do to ensure that you have an automotive experience just as meaningful? This company exists to strengthen the connection between car and driver, to give others even just a small piece of the joy I get from my own vehicles. If I can do that for you, my mission in life is complete. Head on over to the Book page to shoot me a message, and we’ll discuss the possibilities.
If you read the entire thread, thank you for embarking on the journey with me. I hope you enjoyed reading it half as I enjoyed producing it, because I had a ball. Dream big, achieve aggressively.
Until next time,
Derrick D. Bundy
M&B Fine Automotive Detailing & Coatings