07 September 2007

BMW 130i - Studie Hall

Ever since BMW stopped importing the 318ti, and possibly even before that, there's been a cry from enthusiasts for a fun and affordable BMW. Well, the German manufacturer answered those calls with the introduction of the BMW 1-Series back in 9/04. However, it failed to reach our shores. The reasons given were numerous, involving the dilution of BMW brand values and the currency exchange rates, which would force the price of the small car into big car territory.

Finally, it appears that BMWNA has relented and will be introducing a version of the 1-Series, though it probably won't happen until a two-door version arrives. This will give the now slightly awkward looking five-door sports hatch a little more sporting cache to justify the price.

While enthusiasts in North America have been twiddling their thumbs waiting for the right 1-Series to come along, the Europeans have been busy building it into something worthy of the propeller badge.

Perhaps the most blatant indication of this is BMW Motorsport's racing program, that includes events like the Nurburgring 24-Hour Race. We covered the '06 race in detail last month where a 120d entered by Schubert BMW finished fifth overall and first in class.The Little Diesel That Could beat rivals from company's such as Porsche and Lamborghini, even shaming many competition M3s. The victory was explained by the car's clockwork reliability that meant it required no unscheduled stops. The team only changed drivers, tires and fuel in the entire 24 hours.

More than the car's incredible success, most people are amazed at how good the car looks. Resplendent in its widebody Motorsport clothes, the 1-Series has presence beyond its diminutive stature.

What's more, those clothes are available to anybody. We showed you the street version of the Schubert Motorsport 120d from the Essen Motor Show (et 3/07). The company was offering a version of the carbon widebody to the public, capable of swallowing 19x8.5" BBS in the process.

After a pilgrimage to Germany, Yasuaki "Bob" Suzuki, was inspired to build one of these menacing 1-Series for himself. The CEO of Japanese BMW tuner Studie sold hisAC Schnitzer Tension M6 to fund the purchase of two cars, a 130i and a Z4 M Coupe. His intention was to give both the Motorsport widebody treatment, starting with the 1er.As we've already mentioned, we came across the Studie 130i during a visit to Tokyo with Yokohama Tires. The rubber company had organized a track day at Tsukuba circuit and the little blue meanie was on-hand to demonstrate the impressive abilities of the new Yokohama S.drive tires (et 4/07).

The day before, our Yokohama hosts had taken us to visit Studie's main emporium in Yokohama City (see p50) and we'd stumbled across the 130i being prepared for the track day. It was still shiny and new, having never been put through such an arduous test, so as we watched the Bilstein coilovers being tweaked by the techs, we were warned that the settings were a "best guess".

The Studie techs should be poker players because the guess was spot-on, making the 130i the most entertaining car at Tsukuba.It's combination of three liter power, nimble chassis, powerful Brembos and predictable Yoko tires made it an addictive pleasure. We kept returning to the track in the BMW like a crackwhore after another fix. But when a car turns in so well, grips hard through the corners and then has the power to drift out of the bend, who can resist one more lap?To be honest, we only know part of the story of Bob's 1-Series because our Japanese is very poor. However, we did learn that the two bumpers and four fenders are all genuine BMW Motorsport parts. What's more, they're constructed from dry carbon for incredible strength and lightness. He claims the parts are available from BMW to anybody, and are the same as the ones used by Schubert for its street 120d.

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