Madness * (Mad-Ness)
1. The state of being mad; insanity
2. Great excitement
Corporate marketing is a funny thing. A headline I saw on The Onion a while back sums it up pretty well: "Automaker adamant about new car model."
Take BMW's 135i coupe. Almost overnight the car was engulfed in a hurricane of hype: the 300hp, turbocharged N54 straight six in a smaller, lighter, more compact chassis than the 3 Series. It was widely touted as the 2002's second coming, even internally: lightweight, fast, minimalist, a purist's car. To hear people talk, it'd be a virtual club racer in street clothes.
Well, not really. Turns out the car wasn't quite the out-of-the-box racer some thought it might be. Whether or not the somewhat misguided perception was in fact a product of corporate marketing or simply wishful thinking on our part will be left to history to decide-likely a 50-50 combination of both.
Not that it's a bad car. It's a darn good car with a really great engine, and even at launch it was speculated that a few modest mods could inject that missing performance link and make the car what everyone had been expecting from the factory-and then some.
Madness Motorworks, out of Portland, Oreg., has done just that. Originally known as MINI Madness, the company has worked on MINI Cooper platforms for more than seven years, and has begun expanding into other corners of the European realm, including BMW. Having dealt extensively with the Cooper S, essentially propelled by forced-induction BMW engines, the jump to the twin-turbo 135i wasn't a big stretch.
Madness founder George Mehallick is especially pleased with the project. "With fairly light mods it's an absolute wonder," he says, enthusiasm radiating from the telephone receiver. "This type of power and torque on demand is intoxicating."
In theory the N54 should be readily uncorked. Modern turbocharged engines are wells of untapped power. The problem these days is increasingly complex ECU encryption, and growing manufacturer protectionism for proprietary code. The N54 has proved difficult to crack in that respect, the silicon equivalent of a bank vault. And the few that claim to have done so reportedly found themselves subject to litigation.
The Madness 135i relies on software supplied from Evotech Motorsport in Germany, one of fewer than a handful of tuners worldwide able to modify existing code rather than relying on dated re-flashes or piggyback signal modifiers. (How they did it remains a mystery.) The intake was replaced with a unit sourced from AFE, and the hot side of the engine modified with Titek catless downpipes linked to a Madness cat-back exhaust.
The other inherent problem, at least with U.S.-bound N54s, was heat soak from hard driving in hot ambient conditions. Supposedly the problem lay in a decision not to equip Early North American-bound cars with an oil cooler. The problem can be fixed with a retrofit kit that has since been made available to U.S. customers with older 335i models. (Newer 335i and 135i models come equipped with oil coolers as standard equipment.)
Heat is further reduced with provisions in the Evotech software to modify the actions of the water pump and fan speeds under certain conditions, as well as a larger front-mount Madness intercooler. The 135i comes with a factory front-mount, but the Madness core is larger, with aluminum end tanks instead of plastic, and uses a bar-and-plate format designed for maximum straight-through flow.
On its website, Evotech claims 396 hp and 406 lb-ft from the stage-three software. With the flow and cooling mods, Madness claims to have kicked output up to 420 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque. The measurement took place on a MAHA dyno at Goodspeed Performance (a Madness affiliate) in Tempe, Ariz., which uses a deceleration cycle to calculate drivetrain loss and actual power output at the crankshaft.
Our biggest complaint with the 135i didn't rest with the engine but rather with the car's chassis dynamics. As one seasoned journalist put it: "It understeers like a pig." I can tell you firsthand it's nearly impossible to rotate the factory car without throwing it horribly out of shape. Couple this tendency to plow with the standard factory run-flat tires and you've got a formula for less than desirable track handling.
Madness addressed the issue with a full KW Suspension V3 coilover kit. In front, a BMW Performance brace was bolted in to tie the upper suspension together and tighten up turn-in. Adjustable camber plates were also added (set 2 degrees negative) and the front stabilizer bar replaced with a 35mm Hotchkis piece. In back, the factory bar was left in place but disconnected at one side, effectively rendering it inoperative. While we might not recommend this setup for everyday street use, it allows the rear end to be more easily unsettled, relying on the improved rigidity of the front engine to keep the chassis flat as the rear tires skate out.
The wheels and tires needed to be replaced, and Madness did it with Breyton GTS-Rs, which weigh a feathery 18 pounds each, surrounded with Continental SportContact3s. Inside those, the already beefy factory brakes were upgraded with slotted rotors, Cool Willey race pads, and stainless steel lines. The brake setup is definitely designed to be track-friendly, and you might say the tires alone could account for a 50 percent improvement in overall handling.
Inside the cabin, the controls have been altered with a BMW short shifter and sport steering wheel. A DashDAQ data display has been mounted next to the driver's A-pillar. It's a trick little piece of electronica that allows users to write their own data acquisition applications and display information with custom digital interfaces.
Having beaten the competition at its first road course event, Mehallick and the Madness crew are pretty happy with the end result. In fact, he's not even sure there's much more to be done other than replacing the suspension bushings with stiffer polyurethane units, and maybe a little bit of weight reduction. He says he's considered doing head work or playing with the turbo internals.
"I honestly don't know," Mehallick says. "Anything else could make this car a complete beast."
And as this one sits-gobs of power, improved thermal reliability, and at last, proper BMW handling characteristics-the 135i is finally something to crow about.
2008 BMW 135i
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
3.0-liter I6, dohc, 24-valve, turbocharged. Madness cold-air intake and bypass valves, Madness front-mount intercooler, Evotech software, Titek downpipes, Madness cat-back exhaust
Six-speed manual, BMW short shifter
KW V3 coilovers, Hotchkis 35mm front sway bar, BMW Performance strut brace, camber plates
BMW Performance slotted rotors, Cool Willey pads, Madness stainless steel lines, AP Racing fluid
*Wheels And Tires
Breyton GTS-R, 8.5x18Continental ContiSportContact3, 255/35 (f), 265/35 (r)
BMW Performance carbon rear spoiler, black kidney grilles
BMW Performance steering wheel and instruments, DashDaq data display
Peak Power: 420 hpPeak Torque: 440 lb-ft*Goodspeed Performance/Madness data