“Race cars are cool, but street cars are where it’s at.”
Those were the words Mike Catell said just before we turned onto the highway and he set up to show me exactly why cars that can be driven on the street and the track are his favorite. Hanging out in second gear, allowing the exhaust to make all the right popping noises, he waited for the car in front to become a speck in the distance before pushing the skinny pedal to the carpet.
With a slight squat and a surprising lack of wheel spin, the car happily and quickly went from cruising speed to overtaking velocity in very short order.
A few clicks of the signal lever later and we were in the fast lane where Mike got off the throttle and we cruised quite comfortably to the photoshoot location. Windows down, radio at half volume, and leather seats semi reclined, I could see why Mike loves this car so much. It could transform from rowdy to civil and back again at the drop of a gear.
“I drive it as much as I can; it’s one of my favorite cars to take out,” he says. Considering Mike’s current daily fleet consists of a 1.8T-powered BMW E30 and a Cummins-swapped Chevy C10 among other oddities, that’s saying a lot.
In the BMW world, Laguna Seca Blue M3s are a bit of a sacred thing. They’re blue in some light, aqua in others, and bordering on teal when the sun hits them just right; it’s a color that’s nearly impossible to hate.
The color and generously proportioned rear end has earned the M3 a nickname of ‘The Blue Beluga’.
Mike’s E46 proved to be a fan favorite in the street, with a few thumbs ups, challenging revs, and honks as we passed by.
The paint, wheels, and stance prevent the car from being classified as a sleeper, but none of the exuberant onlookers probably expected it to be much more than an M3 with wheels, drop, and an exhaust.
At low RPMs this car is pretty good at holding its secrets close to its chest. But I’m sure with the photo above, each and every one of you is already hip to part of the hidden weaponry.
If you assumed there’s forced induction in the mix, you’d be right. Obviously the large intercooler gives that much away, but along with no longer being naturally aspirated the E46 it is also no longer powered by BMW.
BMW purists be cool – when Mike got this car the factory S54 was long gone. Rather than find another one or drop in an LS, Mike replaced the original six with one he was already incredibly familiar with: the Toyota 1JZ-GTE VVTi.
Mike and the 1JZ have history and it’s a motor that’s proven reliable under the conditions he expects a car to perform. That is, sideways with a cloud of tire smoke behind.
Mike’s 1JZ originally came from a JZX100 Chaser, but prior to this car it powered his previous standard-trim E46. It was in that car he figured out what worked and what didn’t with this swap.
Once that car was fit for pasture and his swap mounts were thoroughly tested, this chassis was acquired as a rolling shell.
Arriving pretty well in a shambles, Mike set out to get the M3 roadworthy over the course of a few months. No time to waste, efforts were focused under the hood first.
The 1JZ isn’t over built, but it is specced to be reliable. CP forged pistons have been installed along with ARP head and main studs, and bolted to a top-mount manifold is a GT35 turbo paired with a 46mm wastegate. All the turbo, wastegate and coolant hard lines were plumbed up using piping and fittings from local supplier Vibrant Performance.
Managed via a Link standalone ECU, the BMW puts down 340hp at 15psi thanks to a BR Tuning base tune. They’re not crazy numbers, but this car wasn’t built for posturing or dyno pulls – it was built for reliability and skids.
Lots of skids.
As someone who does build exhaust systems day in and day out at his shop, GT Custom Exhaust Oshawa, Mike couldn’t let the car scream through a basic set of blast pipes.
At first glance, tucked as tightly as possible to a carbon fiber CSL-style diffuser, the exhaust looks like it could be a mass-produced item, but it’s far from.
Coming off the down pipe is custom exhaust that Mike put together using stainless steel and titanium components also from Vibrant.
‘Functional art’ is the best way to describe the rear section Mike has built. The pie-cuts, the welds, the symmetry – it’s all an example of the work Mike is capable of when motivated and given complete creative freedom.
It’s Mike’s passion for cars personified within a single piece that most people will never see. Details like these are what separate a great car from just another car with a motor swap.
Not content with just the exhaust, all of the coolers have been custom-built or modified too. Mike is a big proponent of weld every day, and it damn well shows.
When it comes to building a drift car, both Mike and I agree that style is very important.
In the world of drift there are several different approaches currently popular. You’ve got angle kit-equipped billboards sliding through FD, livery-draped cars running tandems at Final Bout, and near-death missile cars everywhere in between. Then you’ve got cars like Mike’s; clean, simple and able to fit in anywhere.
In the looks department, Mike has actually done very little. BMW did a great job with the E46 and the stock fenders are wide enough to fit some properly sized wheels – Work VS-KFSs in this case – and matching rubber.
So, stock fenders remain and up front carbon fiber splitters hang on to the bumper for dear life. Tying the simplicity is a healthy ride height reduction.
This ride height might seem impractical for the track, but Mike has put a considerable amount of work into making the car work extremely well as it sits.
Usually on a car this low, especially an E46, one would expect to see quite a bit of camber in a photo like the one above. Traditionally, E46s have the spring and damper mounted separately from each other on the rear trailing arm, and even at factory height the rear spring is quite short. Springs needed to bring the car down to this level are even shorter still.
With his former E46, Mike realized that his desire to be low didn’t exactly jive with the factory suspension. Raising the car would have been a way to fix this, but where’s the fun in that?
In addition to having no motor when it arrived, this car also had most of the rear floor ripped out of it. Rust is an unfortunate problem that plagues basically every E46 in Ontario.
While fixing and reinforcing the floor, Mike also beefed up the upper shock mounts. Fortifying the towers was necessary so that the car could be converted to a true coilover setup.
The rear coilovers were provided by Parts Shop MAX, a supplier that’s been helping Mike build low and functional cars for years. Above the coilovers is a permanent Catell-built tie bar that runs from one strut tower to the other.
New PBM upper and lower control arms help keep the wheels at within a reasonable camber spec, allowing the car to grip up when Mike needs it to, be it in a straight line or sideways. Matching Parts Shop MAX coilovers can be found up front, pulling the car down to just a hair lower than the rear.
An argument could be made that all of the above is a heck of a lot of work just to get low, but, when the car looks this good, I’d say it’s time well spent.
Creatures Need To Be Comfortable
Power? Check. Sound? Check. Looks? Check. The last piece of this car to address was the cockpit.
Here’s an area where Mike actually didn’t do much at all. While they’re not the most supportive things in the world, Mike couldn’t bear taking the peanut butter-colored seats out of the car – a decision this author fully supports. BMW nailed this color combination and breaking it up for something like a black fixed-back bucket would be a tragedy.
Mike has fitted a deep-dish steering wheel and sturdy shift knob, but you’ll notice that the e-brake handle is stock. There’s no hydraulic unit here; Mike prefers to use weight transfer along with well-timed clutch kicks to get his car sideways.
The factory gauge cluster remains, and from the door sill up things look fairly factory issue.
Door sill down, to keep an eye on what the Toyota motor is really up to Mike has installed AEM, Defi and GReddy monitoring just forward of the shifter.
Looks, power, comfort, this car has everything you could ask for from a vehicle built for the street and the track. Oh, and it sounds damn good to boot.
You didn’t think that after so many key strokes talking about the sound of the car I was going to let this feature conclude without video did you?
Mike was working on the car when I returned for the sound bite, so apologies for the lack of driving footage, but there’s plenty of it in this montage put together by Drift Jam.
Cutting Room Floor