These Hardcore BMWs Are Not Built By BMW

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Built to the highest standards, these are monsters made for crushing the Nurburgring.

Tom Schirmer, founder and owner of Team Schirmer on the outskirts of the Nurburgring, has spent most of his life making BMWs better. The exquisite cars that roll out of his garage are so far removed from the BMWs they are based on that, since 1996, Team Schirmer has been an officially recognized car manufacturer, complete with its own brand name and VIN numbers.

After working on his dad's BMWs and Alpinas from 11 years old and completing a three-year car mechanic course in two years in his late teens, on November 1, 1993, at the age of 19, Tom opened his own garage. It was a 1,100 square-foot premises with nothing but a lift and 10,000 ideas running through his head.

This was the time of the E30, and Tom had an M3 that he'd brought back to life from a wreck. Being based in Germany, it was only natural that he was heavily involved in racing. That was the beginning of Team Schirmer, with one clear vision in mind: to perfect racing parts - and then make them road legal.

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Self-taught, with a photographic memory, when a car goes up on the lift, Tom instantly sees where the axles are working with the wishbones and identifies how they should be changed. If he's not 100% sure, he'll take a measurement, but he's rarely, if ever, wrong.

"Suspension and kinematics are key to setting fast lap times," Tom tells CarBuzz. "Even if you have less power than a rival, with better suspension, you'll be quicker."

Customers aren't getting a car that's just a couple of seconds quicker around the track. Compare a car before and after Tom has worked on it and the difference is night and day. As a small operation with Tom involved in every single build, assisted by a handful of dedicated mechanics, his output is conservative. Only around 60 cars have rolled out of his Nurburgring workshop since the new facility opened in 2009.

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He has over 500 machined parts (made of aircraft-grade aluminum, anodized, and unique) each of which is numbered, branded and most importantly, TUV approved. This means it's been approved to use on German roads. And there's not much, if any, higher quality approval than Germany.

He uses just a handful of companies to supply the parts he doesn't make in-house.

Nitron manufactures the dampers (based on his own design) and full kinematics. The British firm provides efficient, quality work, turning around Tom's designs quickly. The end result, he says, is superb for the money.

KMP Drivetrain Solutions supplies the paddle-shift kit, the seats are from Recaro, and AP Racing provides the brakes - arguably the best in the world and used by Bugatti on the Chiron.

Engines are supplied brand new from BMW. Tom then fine-tunes them, providing a full warranty.

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Carbon parts are designed from scratch and sent to one of three companies that return flawless pieces for his cars.

His BBS E88 wheels are racing wheels that are approved for the road. "This is the best optic rim for every BMW. I don't know any better."

While there are lighter rims out there, saving a kilo here and there on wheels is negligible. And at just under €5,000 (a little over $5,700) for a set of four, the price is actually pretty reasonable. Dunlop Direzza 18-inch rubber is his preferred tire for road and track. But if you want to go racing, "then Michelin is king."

Problems with exhaust emissions, roll cages, and other local laws make bringing his cars to the US difficult and expensive. But, as of January, he has set up a parts business called Team Schirmer Parts so American BMW owners can upgrade their cars. Not every part in the catalog is available, but enough of the important ones are for customers to transform their vehicle into a proper track car.

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I had the chance to check out one of Tom's creations - an E46 M3 Coupe - from behind the wheel on the public roads that snake around the 'Ring. The exquisite roll cage, expertly fitted to ensure ingress and egress is hassle-free, reminds you this is no ordinary M car. Once strapped in, you might expect the car to explode into life. But Tom has purposefully kept the sound a few decibels below raucous. Akrapovic makes brand new exhausts for Tom, even if they're out of production. And this one had a lovely rumble, nothing obnoxious, hinting at the power of the car.

Tom's handling and braking expertise are apparent the moment you take a couple of turns at speed. The car can be controlled almost telepathically, with featherlight, ultra-precise steering and astonishing brake feel. The longer I drove it, the more I wanted to drive it. The more I pushed the car, the more feedback I received. Simply put, it didn't take long to realize this is a car that would make me a better driver.

Pictured below is the exact car we piloted being pushed to the limit at the 'Ring where it feels most at home.

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Having worked on M cars for over 30 years, Tom is in a unique position to judge their evolution.

"Over generations, reliability has got better, but cars have got heavier, the brakes don't survive. The M2 Competition is great value considering the power, but the suspension is the worst I've driven in the last 15 years."

"Dangerous in the wet, no grip at all," Tom gets calls from plenty of M2 owners and dealers asking for his suspension kit.

BMW has set its cars up for road use, and even the M cars are no longer the track-honed machines they used to be. Tom knows this and works to make BMWs as track-ready as possible. But he won't work on just any BMW. It has to be an M car, something with a foundation on which to build.

Tom has been working on a new M4 since August. We asked if he plans to change the grille: "I'm thinking about it. But if I make any changes, I need to make sure the airflow and cooling aren't compromised. Let's see."

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When the owner dropped off the car, he simply said: "Tom, do what you want. Give me a fast track car." And he didn't ask what it would cost. Tom isn't cheap. In fact, he's probably the most expensive guy in town. But customers that know his work don't care. He has spent a fortune on approving his parts, spent years perfecting his craft. And he wants to make a decent living.

If you want a brand new car, built from scratch (like the E90 sedan above), expect to wait at least one year. His team is a small, select one, and they don't rush. They take all the time they need to perfect the finished product.

"People know, for BMW I am number one."

Just watch the video below of a Team Schirmer E46 setting a 7:12 bridge-to-gantry time at the 'Ring - the fastest time ever clocked by an E46, modified or otherwise. You'll find it hard to argue with that statement.

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