The Perfectionist

Thomas Nyznyk’s 2006 E46 M3 looks like a brand-new car, but somehow it’s shinier, nicer and better than it was when it rolled out of the showroom. It drives better, too!

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November 28, 2014

At first glance, Thomas Nyznyk’s 2006 E46 M3 impresses mostly with its cleanliness…and its apparent originality. It looks pretty much stock: no oversized wheels fill its fenders, no giant wing adorns its trunk lid. It looks like any other eight-year-old M3 that’s been so well kept it might have rolled right out of the showroom.

Look closer, however, and it becomes clear that it’s no such thing. Its spotlessness goes much deeper than a good detailing on a lazy Saturday afternoon. This is way more than a well-maintained M car. It hints of an almost ethereal purity of mind, a perfectionism in shining metal.

Where some BMW enthusiasts express their affection for the marque by modifying their cars to their personal taste, fitting custom body parts or boosting power to the Nth degree, Nyznyk’s approach is different.

“I really liked the E46 M3,” he says. “I just wanted it to be more so.”
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Finding the right car,

then finding the right mods

About six years ago, the 34-year-old Nyznyk—a manager for a large Bay Area tech firm—bought this E46, his twelfth BMW. He’d been hooked as soon as he bought his first, a 1994 E34 540i modified with a Dinan chip, Brembo brakes and other assorted goodies. For the first time in his life, Nyznyk says, he was no longer just a passenger with a steering wheel. “I was a driver!”

He joined the BMW Car Club of America and started attending track events, making his way into the Advanced group, while also enjoying California’s magnificent roads less traveled. He became one of the CCA’s concours judges, which comes as no surprise, really, if you look at his wheels.

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“I love maintaining a car’s cleanliness to a showroom standard,” he says. “To me, it shows a sense of pride in ownership and an appreciation for the vehicle.”

After experiencing a variety of BMWs, he finally decided he wanted an E46, specifically an M3.

“The E46 communicates well with its driver,” he says, explaining that it offers the perfect balance of power, handling and steering feel. Equally important, it’s fairly light and nimble despite meeting modern crash standards and incorporating up-to-date safety features. He appreciates each generation of M3, of course, “But I feel the E46 is still the sweet spot.”

Nyznyk was looking for a car from 2006, the last year the E46 M3 rolled off the assembly lines, with a six-speed manual instead of SMG and in great condition. Finally, he found the right car—in Titanium Silver metallic over Gray leather—in San Jose, not far way from his home in Monterey.

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Being a perfectionist, Nyznyk wanted his M3 to constitute an exceptional example of the Mothership’s craftsmanship.He also wanted it to fulfill its potential, so less than a month later he dropped it off at Dinan Motorsport in nearby Morgan Hill for a power upgrade. Having recently sold his E39 M5, he found the M3’s 333 hp/262 lb-ft S54 six-cylinder engine a bit lacking in torque compared to the S62 V8’s 394 hp/368 lb-ft.

Taking his car to Dinan was natural for Nyznyk; to him, Dinan felt more “factory” than “tuner,” and he appreciated the pride the company takes in its workmanship as well as the warranty it offers. He had Dinan install its Stage 3 engine software, high-flow intake/air mass meter housing and free-flow exhaust. To improve handling while retaining the stock feel, he had Dinan install its front and rear strut/shock tower braces, Stage 2 suspension and Dinan by Champion wheels shod with Michelin Pilot SuperSports measuring 265/30R-19 at the front and 275/30R-19 at the rear. Dinan also put in adjustable Turner Motorsport rear lower control arms and replaced the stock shifter with a short-throw unit. The transformation wasn’t complete, however, until Steve Dinan used an extra-thick felt marker to put his signature on the tool kit cover in the trunk.

Preventive maintenance

“I felt an immediate difference,” Nyznyk says. “The understeer was gone, the throttle response had improved and the motor felt much stronger.”

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The stock brakes, on the other hand, were no longer strong enough. With rotors measuring 12.8 inches in diameter up front and 12.9 inches at the rear, clamped by single-piston calipers, they didn’t really do justice to the M3’s performance, especially following the Dinan mods. Nyznyk replaced them with Brembo Gran Turismo brakes front and rear, which were larger and stronger than stock but didn’t have the feel Nyznyk wanted in daily driving. On the recommendation of a friend, he replaced them with the brakes from BMW’s Competition Package (ZCP) option, which were sourced from the M3 CSL sold in Europe. Measuring 13.7 inches in diameter up front and 12.9 inches at the rear, the brakes are noteworthy for their two-piece construction and cross-drilled rotors.

“They may not have the sex appeal of the Brembos,” he smiles, “but they work!”

Following the CSL theme, he also bought his M3 a CSL-style front bumper and CSL trunk lid, which constitute the only visible modifications apart from the blacked-out grille and M3 badge. The side mirrors are the European version, he adds, ordered from the company’s OEM parts list. Nyznyk also got himself a set of Dinan by BBS CH-R Motorsport wheels to replace the Champions for daily driving. The BBS wheels use a slightly narrower set of Pilot SuperSports that measure 255/30R-19 front and 265/30R-19 rear for more agile handling on the street, and they allow Nyznyk to save the Champions for the track.

“The Dinan by Champion wheels are very light, weighing close to 19 lbs., and have become very rare now that they are out of production,” Nyznyk says.

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Always mindful of improving the car without changing its nature, Nyznyk took it to Performance Technic in Dublin, California to address potential issues with the E46’s infamous rear floor/subframe. It hadn’t shown any signs of tearing, but Nyznyk had Performance Technic weld in a Turner reinforcement kit—prophylactically, he insists.

While they car was at Performance Technic, the company’s technicians addressed potential VANOS issues by installing a Beisan Systems oil pump disk, a seal repair and rattle kit plus the updated OEM cam gear bolts, removing the clutch delay valve at the same time.

Impressively free of understeer…and wear and tear

Though Nyznyk hadn’t made any modifications with weight reduction as the primary goal, fitting lighter wheels, a carbon trunk lid, Dinan exhaust and those Turner control arms shaved about 50 pounds from the M3’s total. Since the bulk of those were in unsprung weight, the car handles better as a result, and the engine mods make it more powerful, too: While the stock S54 engine put out a claimed 333 hp and 262 lb-ft, it now makes around 355 hp and 281 lb-ft.

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You can feel it, too, even motoring around Monterey and the scenic 17-Mile Drive, around the world’s most expensive golf courses. There is really no way to test the car’s high-speed performance, but acceleration is better, expressively better, than in a stock model.

I have to say, I do love the E46 M3. I think this model was one of BMW’s finest, one of the most ingenious cars to come out of Munich at the time. I’ve driven M3s in every form, including the E46 CSL, from bone-stock to full racing trim, and I’ve taken them on some breathtaking laps around the Nürburgring. Today, we’re only driving between sand bunkers and Japanese tourists here in Monterey, but Thomas’ car impresses me even at lower speeds. There is no understeer, which was a bit of a problem with the standard M3s of the time, and the car’s handling is pure joy. There is more than enough power to steer the vehicle with the rear wheels. It’s nifty, it’s terrifically sporty, and yet easily controllable.

It feels much lighter, too, even though the 50 lbs. Nyznyk saved doesn’t amount to even 2% of its 3,415-lb. curb weight. Maybe it’s exaggerated by the phenomenal throttle response and braking, both so impressive in a car that is driven daily in normal traffic.

It’s obviously not stock, yet this M3 is pure understatement. Its exterior looks like it’s fresh from the dealer showroom, but its luxuriously shiny paint is far better than it was when it left the factory thanks to careful polishing and color-correction. Inside, too, the car looks like it came straight from Garching, yet it has a solidity and precision that defy my expectations. It’s in perfect condition, of course, with no wear visible in its leather seats, and not a scratch on the Dinan pedals, either.

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Keeping the car this nice takes time, and it takes money, too. Nyznyk paid about $34,000 for the car six years ago, and he says he spent another $10,000 in mods, excluding the wheels. I’d say it was worth it, in both time and money. I think these cars were a steal at $48,900 when new eight years ago, and that fine specimens are likely to increase in price over the coming years.

In my opinion, Nyznyk has achieved his goal of having one of the best E46 M3s around. His car took third place in the ultra-competitive Concours class at the 2014 Legends of the Autobahn concours, and it was chosen by Michelin to represent the E46 generation of M3s. It just goes to show that you don’t need outrageous bodywork or extreme performance to have a standout M3, just a well-considered program of careful, character-preserving modifications and fine attention to detail when it comes to maintenance.

Nyznyk has clearly got the latter covered—even the new-car smell is still intact. I noticed it immediately when I opened the door for the first time, causing Thomas to beam a satisfied smile.

“I just want it to be very good.”

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