Katie’s Cars and Coffee has been a staple of the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area’s automotive community since 2010. Every Saturday year round, regardless of weather, both C&C newbies and veterans make a weekly pilgrimage to Katie’s Coffee Shop in Great Falls, Virginia to swap stories and share their automotive passions.

On an unseasonably warm February 10th just after clairvoyant groundhog Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early spring, enthusiasts came out of their winter hibernation, arriving hours before sunrise for one of the best-attended winter Cars and Coffee events I’ve seen in a long time. I brought my 1998 M3 sedan, parking alongside a few Katie’s regulars like Alexis Moreno and Sean Vojtecky. While there was a strong turnout of both modern and vintage BMWs, two other 1998 E36s caught my attention. What can I say—after taking much of my own apart, it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite BMW chassis.

First, I caught up with my friend Chris Plaza (@euro_buildz) and checked out his 1998 Schwarz Black 328is. Chris purchased this E36 in 2011 when stationed in Hawaii with the Coast Guard, making it his first BMW. Since then he’s added a number of cool BMWs to his stable, but this E36 started his love affair with the marque. Being no stranger to heavily modified Bimmers, Chris says, “I originally tried an S62 swap [my 328is], but it couldn’t be done without a dry sump kit.” So, in 2016 he changed directions and opted for a 333-horsepower 3.2-liter S54.  In its current form, it produces over 100 horsepower more than a stock U.S.-spec M3’s S52 engine and even more so over the original 190-horsepower 2.8-liter 328is engine.

Chris’ 1998 328is has something special lurking under the hood.

Backing up the S54 swap, a six-speed manual Getrag 420g allows Chris to row his own gears for optimal driver engagement. Chris points out, “The rear diff is a 3:15 limited slip, so the gearing is pretty tall which is fine with me since I’m on the highway with it a lot.” He adds, “I got the S54 swap for $2,500 at the time, which needless to say was a steal since it came with the transmission and ECU.”

Look, an S54 swap with Karbonius intake!

I’ve taken photos of Chris’ car plenty of times, but a few new additions caught my eye at the event on Saturday. As the hood was popped to show the impeccable S54 swap, I could see the latest modifications were a CSL carbon fiber intake by Karbonius and carbon fiber valve cover to match. Moving inside, a fresh M Tech 2 steering wheel and Z3M cluster were recently installed. Previously, Chris had the interior redone in two-tone black and gray, opting to keep the comfort seats.

Chris says, “Currently, my favorite thing has to be the intake induction sound.” While he jokes, “The current mods should hold me though until I get bored again,” he does have plans with an MK60 ABS swap from an E46 M3 and refreshing the headliner.

DS1s are one of the best factory E36 wheels.

Rolling on a set of gunmetal DS1s—which are possibly my favorite factory E36 wheels—this 328is is a real sleeper. If the hood wasn’t popped, a stranger who hadn’t seen the car before would never guess a monster lurks beneath a thin layer of sheet metal. I look forward to seeing Chris’ E36 continue its OEM-plus journey. I’d also like to thank Chris—if memory serves, early last year at this very C&C event, Chris suggested I write an article about high-mileage BMWs. (See the December 2023 issue of BMW CCA’s Roundel magazine.)

Later that morning, I spotted Dro Khachatourian (@e36_droo) walking away from his Cosmos Black 1998 M3. I extended my hand and struck up a conversation to get all the details on his classic second-generation M3.

Dro parks his 1998 M3, grabs a coffee, and walks the parking lot at Great Falls Village Centre.

Dro found this E36 M3 on Bring a Trailer three years ago. Since then he has given the M car a proper transformation from bottom to top. The interior is spotless and houses a set of nearly new manual-adjustment Vader seats—the manual seats are somewhat of a rarity beyond the ’95 M3s and lighter than their electric counterparts. A Renown three-spoke steering wheel replaces the stock four-spoke airbag wheel. Other updated interior touch points include a Dinan short-shift kit adorned with a ZHP shift knob.

The suspension is essentially brand new with an overhaul consisting of “coilovers, all reinforcements and bushings, mounts, camber arms, control arms, sway bars, x-brace, and front and rear strut braces,” according to Dro.

The exterior received a full respray at Dro’s shop, Manassas European Auto Body, with the subtle additions of a carbon front lip, glass headlights, and Apex wheels, and the non-so-subtle LTW wing.

Dro says he’s not done yet though as “future modifications will include the supersprint headers and mid pipe, m50 manifold swap, and possibly a supercharger.” A supercharger would certainly bump the U.S.-spec 3.2-liter 240 horsepower S52 engine to the S50B32 Euro spec’s healthy 321 horsepower.

Great Falls Village Centre—Shops, Offices, Restaurants, AND cool cars.

With such a nice example of an E36 M3 coupe, Dro says, “My favorite things about the car are the looks and the driving characteristics. I love the analog/raw feel of the car.” It certainly depends on your own generation and automotive experience, but I agree that the E36 provides a nice balance of modern amenities and a connected, more analog driving experience.

Whether it be learning about a vehicle you’ve never seen before or the latest additions to one you’ve seen plenty of times, nothing beats the passion, excitement, and friendship of another enthusiast sharing their project. That’s why if my schedule allows, I’ll go to Cars and Coffee every chance I get. If I get to talk shop with other knowledgeable E36 owners and enjoy a delicious coffee, how could I pass that up? —Mike Bevels

Here’s a look at more BMWs that attended Katie’s in February, 2024.



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