Car Review: The Girl With The Roundel Tattoo

Stella

Approximately four years ago in the sleepy town of Corryton, Tennessee, a young man began his search for the one thing that seemed to be missing from his life.  Countless hours and endless nights were spent scoring the southern United States for what he knew his heart had been crying out for.  As the days and weeks went on, too many of his searches revealed nothing more than simple sighs and shoulder shrugs.  A few prospects showed their pretty faces but none were as appealing as what he had built in his mind.  His soul wanted more; it wanted strength, it wanted passion, it wanted love.  As his eyes grew weary, there became a time when Lucas Coleman started to consider his constant searching pointless.  That was until he saw her.  Resting peacefully along the coast of South Carolina was a girl who resembled his dreams close enough to give it a shot.  With sweaty palms and a nervous tongue, Coleman made the first phone call that sparked his curiosity in the right way.  A few days later, he made the trip and on a dreamy Saturday evening, the two shook hands for the first time.  On the outside, Coleman kept his cool but on the inside, there was no denying the shivers that were rippling down his spine.  She followed suit by holding tight to her seemingly restrained persona but Coleman knew in his heart that she was THE girl.  In her quiet eyes was a dark and mischievous twinkle that revealed there was another side to her and it was boisterous.  It didn’t take long for her fierce nature to show itself and cause Coleman to do something he thought couldn’t happen: fall hopelessly in love with a girl named Stella.

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Born in 1987, Stella sits just a few years older than the man who watches over her but to quote Aaliyah, “age ain’t nothing but a number.”  With the letters and numbers reading “325is”, Stella was conceived as BMW’s “sporty” model right underneath the racy, bouncy and raw M3.  Originally purchased by a presumably elbow-patched doctor, Stella lived a very quiet life for many years despite her legendary hardware.  Even though she was assembled with a limited slip differential, lower body aero and subtle trunk spoiler, Stella managed to actually be driven very little.  That was up until her odometer read a simple 67,000 miles and the second owner put a for sale ad on ebay.  Around the middle of the 2000s, a young man took over responsibility for the lady out of what seems to be sheer boredom.  This is when the story gets a bit hairy.

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As it turned out, the young man who purchased Stella almost a decade ago quickly began throwing money down her Delphin colored throat.  A huge wastegate here, a big turbo there and a rare and unique manifold all meshed together with a custom stand alone Megasquirt ECU.  At one point in her life, Stella put down nearly 500 horsepower to the wheels with nothing more than bolt-ons.  The internals of her 2.5 liter M20 single cam straight six remained the same as BMW intended them to be.  As cool as she was, her owner rapidly and stupidly did what he seemed to do best and became bored.  As dumb as his turn-of-face was, it was paramount for a Mr. Lucas Coleman who one night stopped searching before giving up.

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After a few phone calls and a one-day trip, Lucas had procured the title to Stella.  When he first took the reigns, she was in a in-between phase as the previous owner removed a large sum of the turbo parts for extra cash.  Suspension modifications in the form of Bilstein Sports shocks and Ireland Engineering Stage 3 springs were present as well as a tapped oil pan, 666 Fab expansion tank, ARP Head Studs, an Innovate LC-1 wideband and believe it or not, a fully integrated Megasquirt engine management system.  At the back, a BMW OEM 2.95 LSD made for oddly exceptional highway fuel economy but less than impressive highway power.  On the trip back from South Carolina to Tennessee, Stella initiated a 50-mph roll race with a stock E46 325i and lost.  Lucas had to change some things.

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Shortly after his purchase, Coleman began building a stock pile of parts.  After some D-Force LTW-5 wheels wrapped in 205mm wide summer tires were installed, a slew of piping and dreaming began gathering at the Coleman household.  Lucas had a plan: since Stella already had stand-alone, all he would need to do would be piece together a turbo kit and he had himself his first forced induction automobile.  First came a 666 Fabrication Manifold Adapter, then a Tial 38mm wastegate and a Synapse Synchronic BOV.  Soon after, he found a killer deal on a Garret GT3076R turbo and pulled the trigger.  He was too far to not continue so next came a 24x12x3 eBay intercooler core and some 2.5″ charge pipes to fit.  A custom-made 3″ exhaust to a big Magnaflow muffler completed the system for perfect back pressure.  After a few tired nights, broken knuckles and numerous expletives, a time came when Lucas realized that he was done.  Stella was ready.

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Before he could turn the key, Lucas had to make a very important decision.  While the physical parts were there, his car was still running on its previously determined naturally aspirated tune.  Given that this would be the first time he had dealt with Megasquirt, he was admittedly a bit nervous about tuning himself.  So, on a calm Saturday morning, Stella was placed on a flatbed and towed to a local dyno shop which at the time, was called LNS.  It didn’t take long and while he was standing with a cigarette in hand, he heard something deep, dark and devilish fire to life.  After a brief moment, he realized it was Stella.  She was awake.

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The tech at LNS thought that Stella’s stock ignition system wasn’t up to the task of dealing with the big turbo and Megasquirt’s temperamental mannerisms.  So, he requested the use of a MSD ignition box and after a few dyno runs and tuning sessions, Stella put down a stout 280 horsepower at 15 psi.  Needless to say, Lucas was quite happy but still not fully satisfied.  A 3.73 OEM LSD, Addco 25mm front sway bar, Ireland poly RTABs and subframe bushings, SS brake lines with Ate Super Blue fluid, a Z3 1.9 steering rack and BF Goodrich G-Force Sports completed his daily driver/Dragon slayer package.

For a few weeks, Stella rolled around East Tennessee with the LNS tune and two boost settings: everyday and power.  Although he was pleased with his work, Coleman had a sense that something wasn’t exactly right.  After a while, his suspicions unfortunately turned into some hard truth.  LNS had flubbed the ignition timing and in no time at all, Stella’s headgasket began to leak.  It took a few long hours and nights to make up his mind but Lucas finally made a daring move.  Instead of dealing with LNS or another tuning shop, Stella’s rebuild and tune would be done entirely in his driveway.

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For a few months, Stella lived in a quiet Corryton garage while Lucas assembled parts and daily drove a humble little chap by the name Roger.  Given Roger’s 325e nature (read: slow), Lucas worked at a surprisingly fast pace in order to get his speedier friend back on the road.  A new headgasket, machined and port & polished head and a new exhaust went together and after a long time researching, Stella had a base tune that was ready for a first-start.  There were long and seemingly endless nights spent in his garage, but Coleman’s hard work paid off.  After a turn of the key, he had his best gal back and she was running.

Lucas became borderline obsessive with tuning his lady friend; always hunting for a better idle, faster spool and smoother top-end.  While to some people, the idea of constantly adjusting air/fuel ratios and spark may seem tedious but to Coleman, it was his therapy.  After each adjustment, his right foot would meet the firewall and the fruit of his labor would be felt, heard and smelled.  Tuning for him no longer was work.  Tuning for Lucas Coleman quickly became his not-so-guilty pleasure.  He was, without a doubt, in utter love.

Romance is never perfect.  If it was, there would never be stories.  Just as any worthy tale is told, the story of Lucas Coleman and Stella better resembles a roller coaster ride than a straight arrow.  Most recently, the old girl’s cooling system proved to be not as strong as Lucas would have liked which put yet another tough decision on the table.  Far too often would Stella push an excess amount of coolant into her expansion tank; especially after hard full-boost runs to redline.  The plug was pulled and for reliability issues, Stella currently breaths though nothing but an air filter.  Even though she doesn’t make sounds usually akin to airplanes anymore, she is as reliable as a rock.

To the average person, Stella is just an old BMW.  To the people around her and especially to Lucas Coleman, Stella is rolling justification for why car people exist.  While she is in admittedly fantastic shape, she is still old and is by no means without her faults.  Any rational person would never have embarked on such a serious project on a car older than them, let alone purchase a vehicle built during a time when stonewashed jeans were honestly considered acceptable.  Lucas Coleman is no rational person however: he’s a car guy.  Thus, Stella is still alive and kicking.  She has once seen nearly 500 horsepower and she’s been sideways so many times you would have to take off your shoes to count.  She’s been broken, raced, daily driven and used harder than any 20 something year old car should be but in turn, she has become a legend to some serious skeptics of East Tennessee and beyond.  She’s also become a serious part of one man’s life.  Today, Lucas Coleman appears exceptionally apprehensive about even considering parting with the love that was sparked all those years ago.

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