From borrowing Aunty’s car for backstreet hacking to transforming it into a turbo M20B25-powered award-winner some 15 years down the line — this is Corrie De Wagt’s wild ‘79 BMW E21
Words and photos: Jaden Martin
No car goes harder and takes more abuse than the one you don’t own! Whether it’s a rental racer, a company thrasher, or a family loan — as long as your name isn’t scribbled on the ownership papers and your credit card isn’t wearing the repair costs, you’ve got yourself a guaranteed ticket to Good-Times-Ville. Especially in one’s formative years, mechanical sympathy is a phenomenon reserved for the cars that you’ve sunken your own paychecks into, right? People should know by now that from the moment you’re handed keys to a car that you have no vested interest in and you’re out of eyesight, the party is already starting. There are no promises that the poor machine will make it back in one piece, or even back at all.
ENGINE: BMW M20B25, 2494cc, straight-six
HEAD: Auckland Cams 272-degree camshaft
INTAKE: Custom front facing plenum, 90mm throttle body
EXHAUST: Custom 2.5-inch stainless steel system, Adrenalin R muffler, custom shotgun tips
TURBO: Holset HX50, Top Street Kings stainless steel manifold
WASTEGATE: Turbosmart 38mm
FUEL: 650cc injectors, 500hp external pump
IGNITION: Bosch coils
ECU: Link G4+
COOLING: E36 alloy radiator
EXTRA: Link boost solenoid, relocated fuse box, loom tucked
When Corrie De Wagt’s aunty offered him the use of her ’79 BMW E21 to sit his license test in many years ago, under the premise that it was in order to get the all-important ‘manual’ endorsement, she unknowingly said goodbye to it forever. Corrie passed his test easy and opted to drive the E21 around as his own for an extended period of time. A teenager in control of a light-weight, manual two-litre quickly translated into more than a few stints of backroad antics and culminated in the diff being sent straight into outer space. Broken, abused and without anyone stumping up to repair it, the E21 was relegated to sitting behind Corrie’s parents’ house for a solid decade.
And it would likely still be there if it wasn’t for Corrie’s aunty officially gifting it to him six years ago. Of course, now with a vested interest, Corrie wasted no time in pulling the BMW out from where it had hibernated and set about rebuilding it. Although its time spent dormant had taken its toll on the chassis, rust had set in heavily and with next to no parts cars around to pillage, it meant Corrie, a panel beater by trade, had to make his own repairs. This saw the rusted sills replaced, the bottoms of all doors replaced, and the boot floor remade. After all that, it’s probably a little frustrating that Corrie would meet now-good friend and fellow E21 owner, Ryan, the following year and discover that he had five parts cars to choose from. Ah well.
Corrie tells us that after all the repair work was done, he had only intended to hear the factory two-litre breathing through a set of individual throttle bodies (ITBs) and slam it out over a set of factory wheels with whitewalls wrapped around them. In reality, that turned into widened steelies, a heavily-slammed ride height, and thanks to a late-night internet trawl after more than his fair share of beverages, natural-aspiration was traded in for boost with the purchase of the Top Street Kings stainless steel turbo manifold from the UK.
PAINT: Resprayed in teal green by Kalon Andrews at Andrews and Gilmore
ENHANCEMENTS: Panelled by Corrie, Kamei front lip, carbon-fibre front diffuser, modified BMW 2002 flares
SEATS: Reupholstered factory
STEERING WHEEL: Scarles
Panelled, painted and semi-complete, the BMW made a brief appearance at the 2016 4 & Rotary South Island Champs. By the time the same event rolled around the following year, it was packing even more capacity by way of the M20B25 you see here. Ripped out of an E30, the 2.5-litre makes use of the previous motor’s turbo pieces and now, where the factory extended brake booster would typically be found at the front of the engine bay, a meaty Holset HX50 huffer lives that takes full advantage of the chassis’s recessed strut tower — it’s almost as if it was made with this exact application in mind.
Engine-wise, the bottom end remains untouched. Corrie tells us that these blocks are more than happy to soak up a generous serving of boost without issue. Up top, the only part of the puzzle that isn’t factory-original is the aggressive 272-degree Auckland Cams camshaft. The rest of the party is provided by selected bolt-ons, including a custom front-facing plenum that makes use of a 90mm throttle body, 650cc injectors fed by an uprated external fuel pump, Bosch coils for ignition, a custom 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust with an Adrenalin R muffler and a Link G4+ computer to keep everything under control.
The first time around, Corrie opted to lay down a low-key copper-toned brown hue over the exterior panels, then slowly add details such as rear louvers, wide-boy wheels, and pinstriping. So it would come as a rather decent surprise to the punters at the 2019 incarnation of the 4 & Rotary South Island Champs when the cover was lifted to a striking teal green colourway laid over a very differently-styled car.
You see, Corrie had decided to bite the bullet and order a fresh set of his all-time favourite wheels; BBS RS. The E21 had, at one point, worn copies of said model and he took the chance to order the real deal to his exacting measurements. When they showed up, the 16×9-inch and 16×10-inch dimensions were spot-on for his grand vision for the car, but maybe not the reality. This meant that the factory arches needed their fair share of tickling. The most sensible way around this was to extend them outward and Corrie took the opportunity to modify a set of BMW 2002 flares to suit. Out back was a simple trim-and-add affair, but the front section needed a good 30cm added in order to continue the flare down onto the front lip and carbon-fibre diffuser combo.
While Corrie had simply removed the bonnet to display the engine bay in previous years, he didn’t like how it changed the car’s profile. As a result, you’ll now find the bonnet down at all times and a giant inspection hole cut out of the centre to reveal not only the big straight-six, but that generously-sized turbo in its full glory. As for the teal hue, it’s a nod to one similar found on the later E36, mixed up specially and laid down by Kalon Andrews at Andrews and Gilmore.
Now in its final form — or so Corrie is currently telling himself — the E21 is back to seeing the most regular use it has had in over a decade. With even more vested interest in the car than ever before, you know Corrie is treating it a touch nicer than when it was just his auntie’s spare runabout. That said, the BMW may still see the occasional skid or two, whenever Corrie feels like taking a walk down memory lane …
WHEELS: (F) 16×9-inch BBS RS, (R) 16×10-inch BBS RS
TYRES: (F) 215/40R16 Falken, (R) 225/40R16 Falken
GEARBOX: E21 four-speed
CLUTCH: Heavy-duty, one-ton pressure plate
FLYWHEEL: Re-skimmed E30
STRUTS: Racing Dynamics coilovers
BRAKES: Factory calipers and rotors, E30 master cylinder, relocated brake booster
DRIVER/OWNER: Corrie De Wagt
OCCUPATION: Panel beater
BUILD TIME: Five years
LENGTH OF OWNERSHIP: 15 years
THANKS: My wife, Francine, and our kids for putting up with me always working on and talking about the car; Kalon Andrews at Andrews and Gilmore; Phil and Hayden at L&B Performance; my aunty, Janet, for gifting me the car; Matt Corboy for the first paint job; Jayde Alsop a Jaesigns for all the last minute signwriting; and everyone else who has helped out
FUEL TYPE: 95
TUNER: L&B Performance
This article originally appeared in NZ Performance Car issue No. 278