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The BMW M3 E36: A classic road warrior from the 1990s

The BMW M3 E36 is undoubtedly one of the most identifiable cars of the 1990s. A successor to the beloved M3 E30, the E36 was the first M3 to be fitted with a six-cylinder engine, ‘the BMW S50/S52’. Manufactured between 1992-1999, this car was so popular that ‘Car and Driver’ magazine included it in its ‘10Best’ list for every one of those seven years. Join us in the fifth instalment of our blog series focussing on the special vehicles our employees love.

A fascination for cars

Johan Penners, Sales Representative Aftermarket Benelux at NGK SPARK PLUG EUROPE GmbH, first developed a passion for classic cars as a teenager. “It all started when I was 17. The father of my girlfriend was a retired rally driver. Together we would prepare and modify cars for races that my girlfriend was competing in,” he tells.

For someone with an incipient fascination for cars, Johan’s girlfriend’s home provided him with everything he could ask for. “There you could find cars like the Autobianchi A112 and Fiat Ritmo, which her father used to race in,” he says.

He also had several old Opel Kadett C models with 2.0 Manta engines on the driveway. “It was in these cars that he taught me how to drive before I had my license. So, it would be fair to say that he had a large influence on my motoring life. It was during this time that I caught the car bug and I’ve been infected ever since.”

A signature BMW

It was during his teenage years that he also started to ‘work on’ his own cars. Thus, began an unending period of working on and modifying a range of different cars, which ultimately culminated in his owning a 1997, 3.2 litre BMW M3 E36.

“This ‘youngtimer’ has been the perfect starting point for racing purposes,” he informs. “I’ve had it now for around eight years. It was a stranded project of one of my friends, so I took it over and started modifying it for track and drift use on the weekends.”

Considered by many car enthusiasts to be one of the signature cars in the history of BMW, the particular model which came into the possession of Johan was in ‘reasonable condition’. The chassis and engine were in very good shape, meaning he only had to make a few ‘small modifications’, which included work on the suspension and the installation of bucket seats.
 


 

Starting from scratch

After five years of sheer driving pleasure, Johan noticed that the chassis was starting to tear and that the welds were loosening as a result of track use. He quickly concluded that a full car makeover was necessary. “I decided to start from scratch and carry out a full rebuild to ensure that I could enjoy the car for many years to come,” he says.

During the rebuilding process, the wealth of car-related knowledge he had gained since the age of 17 was put to very good use. “I did practically everything myself. It took me many years of learning and practicing to get to this point, but I always had an interest in anything technical. It also helps that you can do this at home in your own garage. There, you can take all the time you need to do it properly,” he informs.

Apart from the respraying of the car and the engine rebuild – things he believes are best left to the professionals – Johan was able to perform this renovation himself. This was, in part, thanks to a little help from his friend. “I’m fortunate to have a good friend who is an experienced full-time mechanic, so whenever I’m in need of advice it’s just a phone call away.”

Staying on track

Although he has the special dispensation which allows race cars to be driven on normal roads in the Netherlands, Johan generally tries to stick to the racetrack when driving his BMW. “It’s very difficult to restrain yourself and keep to the rules of the road, so I therefore use the car mostly on the track. That means that I can take the car out during the track season – from March to October – every three to four weeks and enjoy it as much as I can.”

Johan’s motorsport expertise is of great benefit for his profession. His direct access to several race teams in the Benelux has been an additional assistance for the company's local business. “For example, we have increased our technical support for the Dutch WSBK team by doing spark plug testing in Ratingen. This has led us to organising technical training at their local facilities, which as a result has improved the overall training experience,” he informs.
 


 

Work-life-car-balance

With his BMW equipped with NGK Laser Platinum PKR7A ignition heroes, a spark plug which he hopes the company “manufactures for a long time to come”, Johan’s passion for cars and racing shows no signs of diminishing anytime soon.

“Pretty much all of my free time left, after deducting work, wife, dog, family and friends, is spent on cars,” he says. Luckily for Johan, those close to him are very understanding of his passion. “My family understands that working with cars is something that I must do. It’s on my mind all the time. A life without cars and racing, for me, is something unimaginable!”

Next up in our blog series will be the 2002 Porsche Boxster (986) and a 1992 Porsche 968 Cabrio.

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