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tim330i 12-01-2001 06:00 AM

A More Perfect Union
Written by Mark Martinez; photographs by Jim Buszek

After seeing the AC Schnitzer E46 M3 convertible in person, one thing becomes obvious: When the Gods finished drawing up the plans for the perfect E46 M3, they must have faxed the blueprints over to the folks at AC Schnitzer.

But before getting into the particulars of the car (we'll get to that in a minute), let's set the table:

Jim (JAb) and Mark (MarcusSanDiego): two crazy guys who wanted to see AC Schnitzer's convertible M3 in person.

Santa Barbara, CA: 220 miles from our home base in San Diego.

Cutter Motors: the Santa Barbara BMW dealership that is probably most famous for making Bimmerfest a household name; it's also the dealership currently housing AC Schnitzer's latest masterpiece.

Jon Shafer: the general manager at Cutter Motors; AC Schnitzer could not have left its car with a better steward than Jon.

Pristine: take your pick. We could have eaten from the M3's hood or eaten from Cutter Motors' showroom floor.

Now that we've dispensed with the players, conditions, and the locations, let's get to the car.

As we entered the showroom at Cutter, we couldn't help but notice the muscular, titanium silver M3 posing under the lights (what a ham). The thing screamed at us; we couldn't keep our eyes off the car. Indeed, by all appearances we weren't the only ones having a tough time keeping our eyes off the car. Customer after customer paid homage to the M3. The car, decked out in full AC Schnitzer garb, was striking in every way.

Not one meticulous detail was spared. Carbon fiber can be found in several areas of the car. The interior's trim is adorned in silver carbon fiber; the front splitter is covered in the darker carbon fiber that we've all become accustomed to seeing; the rear diffuser spoiler is dressed in carbon fiber as well.

The M3 rolls ("rolls" is kind of generous given that the car only has 103 miles on it) on 19-inch AC Schnitzer Type III one-piece wheels, which are shod with Michelin Pilot A/S rubber (245/35-19 in the front; 275/30-19 in the rear).

The car's front struts are tied together by a beautiful AC Schnitzer strut brace that looks right at home. As for the price, we'd rather not know -- though we hear it retails for somewhere in the neighborhood of $800.

As for the engine, it has been left bone stock. AC Schnitzer, in its literature, says it best: "It's best usually to leave well [enough] alone on every component which really cannot be improved. This is the case with the M3 engine."

One area, however, that was changed was the exhaust system. E46 M3 drivers typically complain of the whiny, tinny exhaust sound that comes from the stock M3. AC Schnitzer's new sport exhaust adds a much needed growl to a car that looks like a bulldog.

There were plenty of other details, but we'll leave those particulars to the pictures.

Still, before we leave we know you're probably wondering something: How much money would it take to get this car and its keys out the door? Jon Shafer told us this particular car wasn't for sale, but, to humor us, he called the folks over at CEC -- the exclusive distributor for AC Schnitzer in the United States -- to find out how much the car would retail for if the car was available to the public. After a few minutes, Jon got back to us: We'd need (gulp) about $80,000.

Our conclusions: As card-carrying AC Schnitzer junkies (and assuming we had an E46 M3), we'd be ordering our parts today. As for our trip up to Santa Barbara, it was worth the six to seven hours we spent on the road and every damn mile we put on our cars to get there.

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