The big things.

The big things.

"In this Special Series, I document my complete paint & body restoration along with the exterior upgrades to CSL specifications.

In this entry, the final parts get painted and we begin exterior panel reassembly. I touch on the expectations and reality of fitting aftermarket carbon body panels and give an overview of the adjustments to all of them."

It's been a month already!

A month has passed since the last entry, and it hasn't been for a lack of progress. I've had my hands full documenting the S85-002 Special Series on the V10 refit alongside the E46's reassembly, along with the first edition of Black Friday on EuroConnex. 

I'm glad to settle down over the holidays and catch up on The Phoenix's restoration. The following two entries will cover the re-assembly process, first documenting the "big things". 

In terms of current real world build progress, we're awaiting a last batch of trims and parts. It's on stand by for a spot for wet sand, polishing and paint protection film before final re-assembly. 

The Phoenix was transferred over to the detailing building with a few other never-ending and not-yet-started projects. This is the body shop life. 

On the previous entry "The Grand Canyon", we finished the rear end top side reinforcement and had the interior painted. I ended with the feeling The Phoenix was going to become a car again. 

It was now time for the fun part [...] or so I thought.  

The remaining large body panels got painted, including the CSL carbon trunk.

We encountered paint contamination issues during the paint process. No matter how clean we tried to get the gel coat, we couldn't avoid fish eyes. 

It required flow coating, a process in which the clear coat is sanded down during the paint process, and then further clear coated. It's mostly used to achieve show level paint finishes. 

This trunk has a lot of clear coat. It's a good thing to achieve a perfect finish - however it adds considerable material costs and time to complete the process.  

The carbon doors's exterior skin were painted. After requiring the most preparation work across all carbon panels, the finish off the gun was great. 

You can see the LED roof lights being relatively straight. There isn't much orange peel. Spraying the panel horizontally makes it much easier.

Still, dust specs are present. It's inevitable as a part of our paint process. We spray a lot more clear than usual collision repairs with the end goal of achieving show level finishes. 

The 1:1 CSL carbon diffuser was color changed from Phoenix Yellow to San Marino Blue Metallic. 

I had a few scratches on the carbon from shoddy reverse parking that were repaired. 

The ridge's paint line was perfectly redone. 

The side mirrors also got painted. We had to paint the entire interior of the mirror considering the previous shoddy Phoenix Yellow paint refresh. 

A few little things were sprayed as well, including the tow hook cover and gas cap. 

The fender's trims were painted, but they would end up being redone alongside the door trims due to spraying errors. 

A few trims would be painted later on, including the headlight sprinkler trim. 

We shaved the sprinkler hole by using structural adhesive. 

As part of the Bespoke Recaro Seat program, we sanded down the Sportster CS covers with plans to customize them for the Phoenix. 

Re-assembling the body and fitting its carbon panels

In this section, I briefly touch on the fitment of each panel and its auxiliary accessories. I will take a deep dive on each panel needed adjustments in their respective Special Series.

The Phoenix body panels were nearly all upgraded to carbon with a focus on the highest quality parts I could find: the CSL bumper, fenders, doors, hood, trunk and rear diffuser are all complete carbon. 

The only remaining original metal panels are the quarter panels, rear bumper, and hood. I'm unsure how long the original hood will stay on the car before it gets upgraded as well.  

The hood's underside was fully painted and clear coated, unlike the original hood that is left on base coat in a flat finish. 

I will not be running the hood liner to showcase the paint work, and to let more induction noises through. 

The first step for the Phoenix in becoming a car again is evident: fitting the Genuine BMW chromed kidney grills.  

It's a signature design feature of BMWs, no matter the most recent design liberties taken by BMW. 

I briefly hesitated in getting them painted gloss black to mimic the original BMW Performance gloss black units like my V10 M5 and M3 V8.

I passed - to me, this car is now firmly in the "classic" era of BMW and the chrome kidney grills are part of it. 

The signature hood grill was refitted as well. I might buy a new one. It's faded - of course. 

The hood cowl was replaced. It was torn and faded. 

Specifically this rubber trim at the top of the cowl was damaged.  

The airbox bracket was fitted. The previous car was supercharged, and wasn't used. It's not mandatory per say to run the box. 

The snorkel was removed and test fitted with the Genuine BMW CSL inlet tube. 

BMW M had understood sealed intake design with the E46 M3. 

We test fitted the E36 M3's reservoir relocation kit. As I run a 1:1 CSL carbon bumper replica, I needed either the original CSL fluid reservoir or to relocate it. I chose the later. 

The kit is easy to fit, however it required a few sensors and rubber pieces I didn't have on hand. It was part of the latest trims order. 

While in there, the valve covers were removed to document the S54 variant of the upcoming Bespoke Valve Covers.  

As a side note, I'm excited to feel the power of a S54 fully uncorked with 288/280 cams

My original power steering reservoir was leaking. We had the opportunity to fit the new Performance Power Steering Reservoir I love the silver finish!

Expectations v Reality of Carbon panels. 

From my years in car communities and online discussion spaces, the rationale to sourcing and fitting carbon body panels is often misunderstood by many M owners.

The discussion is purposely blurred and avoided by many aftermarket companies to the benefit of their bottom line. The poor quality can be hidden on Instagram, but you will forever notice the gaps up close whenever you walk up to your M car - and that is what matters to me. 

Ultimately, there are a few fundamental dynamics that will never change. 

  1. If it isn't OEM carbon, it will never be perfect out of the box. 
  2. If it's expensive: it will fit great out of the box, and can be made perfect. 
  3. If it's cheap: it will fit poorly, cost just as much as #2 to make it fit decent. 

Unfortunately, no matter how much massaging is done to lesser quality parts, they never end up fitting right and may well end up costing more when all aspects are considered. 

I experienced this on my fiberglass E92 M3 CSL trunk and documented the poor quality in "I unknowingly went dumpster diving".

The painful reality is your paint shop's bill will be 2 to 5x higher than fitting a quality aftermarket panel to achieve lesser fitment. This type of work is expensive, it's a trial and error process that requires time, skills and experience to get it right. 

The paint & body invoice to fit this trunk was 1.5x the value of the trunk - and it wasn't perfect. 


The 1:1 carbon doors. 

The carbon doors have been the most difficult, painstaking and frustrating carbon panels to prepare for paint, and adjust for final fitment on the Phoenix - arguably ever.

I played the Eastern European lottery and lost. It ended up having similarities to buying off Alibaba: shoddy craftsmanship, and non-existent service after the sale.

I gave this company many opportunities to fix it per their own warranty terms, but they haven't. We're in for a roast. I will document my experiences with this manufacturer in upcoming entries as part of its Special Series here

The exterior shell fits fine, as I previously documented in "We just wanted to be sure.".

You'd expect this from any carbon door, whether it's for motorsport or street use. 

From afar, it has all the "bling" attributes you'd expect from a carbon door. The half-painted aesthetics are definitely a flex. 

As of now, it has taken us over 20 hours to adjust the interior. I will document every, little, thing in a specific entry. 

We aren't done yet, and it has gotten from bad, to worse: the structural geometry of the driver door is compromised. 

This is in addition to having bondo in my carbon doors due to the mold having door dings in it (!), after going through 3x rounds of 2 component build-up primer. 

After some trimming, we managed to fit the side mirrors to the doors. 

Those who know, know what's wrong here. Patience, I'll document all of it. 

We broke the mirror glass when removing it for paint. It's a risk when dealing with 20 year old parts. 

Unfortunately, the mirror clips on the actuator broke as well. You can't buy those separately from the actuator. 

The old mirrors had signs of the shoddy paint job from the previous owner. 

AH! A new mirror, problem solved eh?

Not exactly. BMW updated the side glass during the product lifecycle of the E46 M3. It appears to be a simpler, more cost effective design. 

It requires extending the side glass mirrors from the housing. 


The OE+ widened carbon fenders. 

I have documented the widened carbon fenders at length in its Special Series here.

We already knew they would fit great - yet fenders are arguably the most time intensive panels to fit right as they intersect with the bumper, hood, doors and side skirts. 

If I had 2x criticisms to make about these fenders, it would be having an exposed carbon line by the engine bay, and having them manufactured from pre-preg carbon instead of vacuum. 

The side grills were still in good shape after all these years.  

They clipped in easily, with no trimming required. 

Perfect fitment. 

The internal bolts of the original fenders are painted from the factory. We sand blasted, and a few were painted. 

The engine bay bolts for the fenders were sourced brand new. The previous owner's paint job sprayed all over them, and they weakened: we threaded most of them during removal. 

They get loosely bolted first as some adjustments will be required to get panel fitment right. 

The fiddling begins with what is usually the most important panel gaps with fenders: the doors. 

This panel gap is mostly dictated by the lower bolt inside the fenders, to the doors. 

A bit more fiddling, we had a bit of a gap at the top. You do need to mindful of the door closing. The carbon doors unfortunately add some material thickness to the edges. 

You'll notice we hadn't yet fitted the side skirts. Knowing they were OEM, we didn't feel the need. The side skirt line is dictated by the doors, as such, we were satisfied. 

Finally, it was time for the Badgag spec TSW wheels to come off the car. We had the OEM ZCP wheels laying around and transfered the tires over. 

I made use of the opportunity to explore front wheel and tire fitments, documenting the new possibilities in the entry "A new world."

This ended up being a fitment I was satisfied with - still, it was all preliminary. My Bespoke Forged CSL style wheels are on the way with slightly different specs, and the tires will be different. 

The 1:1 CSL carbon bumper. 

Sourced from the same German manufacturer as the OE+ fenders, the 1:1 replica of the CSL carbon bumper was a quality piece. I documented the specs, and initial test fitment impressions in its Special Series here

However, my color change to San Marino Blue has the objective to go beyond the original BMW paint's finish quality. We put more a lot more clear coat to have higher tolerances for wet sanding and polishing later on. 

The bumper is another complex body panel - and the first one you usually see. It brings together various signature design features of the CSL. 

I sourced a brand new bumper grill for the bumper. The original test fitment went well, but the added clear coat thickness on the tabs will require us to sand and trim some of them. 


The 1:1 CSL splitters upper section is designed to lock under the bumper fascia. The inner corner was problematic due to material thickness as well. It's a game of millimetres here. 

The splitters need to be drilled and bolted. We did not yet as adjustments needed to be made. 

The bumper gets bolted to the shock absorbers from the 01 models with the aluminum carriers. This 1:1 replica is designed ala OEM: the carrier is integrated into the bumper itself. 

Not bad for a first try - but it was missing a few thing still. 

Off it came again as we needed to fit the headlights to properly assess fitment. 

Nice [...] real nice. 

We hadn't yet bolted the corner brackets as the threaded inserts, for some unknown reason, were blown out of the corner boxes. We'll repair this. 

I will document the full installation process in specific entries to its Special Series -  it's more involving than it appears here. 

The OE+ CSL carbon trunk. 

I love Karbonius as a company due to how it approaches carbon product manufacturing and development. They tend to do it right, and give their very best effort. This matters a ton when it comes to the part itself and the support provided after the sale. 

I've had their CSL carbon trunk sitting on a shelf in Spring '22. 

I already knew the exterior shell would align perfectly with the body from previous my DIY fitment - but having the pros do it is always the way to go.  

As a reminder, this is a not a 1:1 replica. The revised the interior design for sleeker aesthetics - and the matte clear carbon over the 4x4 weave is pleasing. I don't intend to run the liner as a result. 

The lock was fitted without a hitch (!). The rubber stoppers needed a little trimming. 

The first fitment test was money

The interior is always tricky when it comes to carbon panels, and Karbonius wasn't perfect here - but a lot better than most. 

The inner taillights fitted perfectly. 

The outside tail light fitment was great as well. Without the stoppers on there, the top line fitment wasn't yet perfect, but we'd easily get there. 

Fitting a trunk is less complex than doors - but there are still various critical parts to be fitted. We had a list going of everything needed. 

The keylock mechanism was a critical component that required precise adjustments to the inner carbon panels for proper fitment. 

The pros made it work. I'll document this in a specific entry to its Special Series. 

The 1:1 CSL carbon diffuser. 

The trunk and diffusers are arguably the two must-have CSL exterior styling cues for most E46 M3 owners. The 1:1 CSL carbon diffuser was developed on EuroConnex in 2022 and has become one of its most popular product.

I previously had some issues with DIY fitment and color match. We ended up understanding why: the car was evidently resprayed, and worse - it got "Love tapped."

In short, the diffuser brackets had unglued from the kevlar carrier. It got repaired and we fitted the diffuser without any issues. The tabs clipped into the brackets with little effort. 

Aesthetically, the diffuser sticks further out than the standard one. It envelops the exhaust tips. 

The combination of the CSL trunk and diffuser is a pleasing sight. 

The panel gaps are great all around. 

The bottom left corner will be pushed in. It can easily be done as the holes are slotted on the lower sections to tighten the gap. 

Still, we're splitting hair. The upper line is perfectly straight. 

 Lastly, we fitted the side skirts last. I sourced brand new clips. 

Straight lines make me happy. 

The body re-assembly took place over 3 days. While the entry felt like a lot, it pales in comparaison to what's coming. 

Up next: we move to interior trims fitment - arguably the most expensive snooze fest of all time.  



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