Rough & Ready: A Street/Drift BMW E21

I’m not sure why BMXers and drifting seem to go hand in hand, but it seems to be a thing.

Here in the Netherlands, Koen de Laat, better known as KUHNS, is another BMX rider who has made the jump from two wheels to four. What no one expected was the vehicle he chose to go drifting in.

The story of this E21 BMW 316 goes back eight years to the time Koen had just gained his driving licence. A friend visited Koen at home to congratulate him and casually hinted that his uncle might have a cheap car for sale.


After contacting the uncle, Koen discovered two things – the car was a coppery-brown E21 3 Series coupe, and it had been sitting outside in the elements for some while. Despite its weathered condition, Koen was keen to purchase the BMW, and a fair price of EUR 500 (around US$550 today) was agreed upon.

How do you transport a non-running car from a backyard on one side of town to your garage on the other? Most people would arrange a tow, but Koen just phoned his friends and convinced them to help push it!


Once the E21 was safely tucked away in his small garage box, Koen wasted no time getting stuck in. With help from his friends, the E21 was quickly back up and running and ready for its roadworthiness inspection, which the car ultimately passed.

At this point, the 316 was still a bone-stock daily driver. It stayed that way for a few years, too. During this time, however, Koen developed an interest in modified JDM cars of a similar age as his E21 and decided to customize the BMW in a similar fashion. At first, he kept things modest with a little lowering and then some new wheels.


At this point, Koen was still BMXing at a semi-pro level, but a knee injury from a riding incident put paid to taking things any further. As one door closed, however, another one opened. Koen decided to keep modifying the E21.


First up was the interior, where Koen’s idea was to upgrade it in the way you see early ’80s Corollas modified for street/drift use in Japan.

The driver’s seat was swapped for a vintage Recaro LXB recliner with classic Spectrum fabric. The E21’s large factory steering wheel was next on the chopping block, replaced with a smaller diameter wood-rimmed Momo equivalent.


Another period-correct aftermarket upgrade came in the form of Pioneer TS-X1 box speakers for the rear shelf. Finally, to enhance the BMW’s drift-ability, a hydraulic handbrake was fitted and customized to fit the original centre console.

Outside, Koen once again looked to Japan for inspiration and not go over the top. Staying true to the E21 era, a BBS front lip (yes, BBS used to make other things, too) and Zender side skirts and rear lip were added.


But it’s the wheels that set everything off – a mismatched set of Work Equips, 03 and 01 models front and rear respectively. The Equips aren’t wide, but they do have a huge amount of dish at the rear, something Koen achieved by splitting the wheels and reversing the centers. It’s an old-school trick to look cool on a budget, while not making the wheels any wider than they need to be for the amount of engine power on offer.


The 1.6L engine that came factory-fitted in Koen’s 316 barely made 90hp, and although the car could get sideways with it, it was less than ideal for drifting. The remedy came in the form of a 1.8L M10 engine from an E30 3 Series. But that isn’t the creative part.


To produce the power the engine is now making, Koen added a Volvo 940 turbocharger that sits on a custom-made manifold. The fuel injectors also came from a 940, while the exhaust was pieced together from an Audi RS3 system. What kind of management does this Frankenstein setup use? Surprisingly, it runs a stock E30 ECU. An adjustable fuel pressure regulator does play a key role, though.


Koen says the setup is good for 180hp, and it has performed reliably for the past two years while taking an absolute beatdown at grassroots drift events. A 323i axle provides some extra beef at the rear end, while BC Racing coilovers and strut braces front and rear refine the handling.


Koen’s E21 is not even close to pristine, but it serves its purpose and has character for days. It is also still street-legal. Yes, although we Dutchies love to complain about the cost of cars, taxes and insurance, we are blessed with pretty loose vehicle modification laws here.

Sadly, our photo shoot was cut short by a punctured rear tyre during some activities, but if you would like to see more of the E21 or this side of Dutch car culture, let me know. I might team up with Koen and hit a local drift day soon.

Collin Tiemens
Instagram: collinclicksphotos


How To join the IATS program: We have always welcomed readers to contact us with examples of their work and believe that the best Speedhunter is always the person closest to the culture itself, right there on the street or local parking lot. If you think you have what it takes and would like to share your work with us then you should apply to become part of the IAMTHESPEEDHUNTER program. Read how to get involved here.

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