Studie AG’s carbon wide-body, Zero fighter-inspired M2 is one of the most extreme F87s on the planet. We take a closer look.
Believe it or not, both BMW and Mitsubishi have something in common when it comes to success through removing weight. BMW, most notably, used thinner steel, aluminium panels, Perspex windows, and removed luxuries and soundproofing in the 3.0 CSL. Mitsubishi, on the other hand, doesn’t have much history of weight-shedding in its cars, but could only make their famous World War 2 Zero fighter work because of similarly extreme dieting. As much of the plane as possible was built out of a then top-secret alloy called Extra Super Duralumin, and all the armour usually fitted to protect the pilot, engines and so on in other planes was never fitted. Even the alloy seats had holes drilled in them to remove the last few grams. Thus, you can see why a BMW built in the spirit of a Mitsubishi (plane) is actually a great fit, and this is exactly what Studie AG, Japan’s largest BMW tuner, did for their latest demo car.
The whole process started mid-2016, when Studie decided to exhibit at the 2017 Tokyo Auto Salon – a first for the company. Given this was a momentous occasion, they decided to build an extra-special car, and given Auto Salon is now visited by so many foreigners, CEO Yasuaki ‘Bob’ Suzuki and his team wanted to build something unmistakably Japanese. “That’s when we decided to build a car around the theme of a Zero fighter, which the Americans used to call Zekes [hence the name on the side skirts]. And for that, we felt the M2 was the best fit. However, just sticking a rising sun on the side would have been boring, so we got in touch with Tyler Surfboards in the US, which I’ve been a customer of for 13 years, and who have actually made several Zero fighter-themed boards in the past, and asked them to come up with a new Zero Fighter-themed board, the design of which we could also use on this car. And using the livery of an actual fighter back in the day, Tyler came up with the board in question. Tyler’s main business is longboards, but he also restores classic cars in his spare time, so he loves cars, and I think he felt creating a design that would also be used on a car would make for an interesting project.”
As you can see, both board and car turned out great, and despite the massive disparity in shape and lines between the two objects, Suzuki-san says there wasn’t really much of a problem getting the car wrap design to work. “We planned to have the media shoot the car with the surfboard anyway, so we put a lot of effort into the car’s livery design to ensure they both matched. The only real sticking point was how far up the body we extended the black nose section [something, along with the yellow mirror accents, that pays homage to the original planes’ nose sections and wing highlights, respectively]. Apart from that, we were pretty happy with everything.” However, as you all know, no build is just skin-deep, and to really pull off the Zero theme properly, Studie needed to work with its suppliers to drop weight wherever possible. And in the modern age, that didn’t mean aluminium, it meant copious amounts of carbon fibre. To whit, there’s a full M235i Racing carbon wide-body (only available to those who own an M235i Racing already), a dry carbon roof custom made by Studie’s M6 GT3 race program supplier near Fuji Speedway, the first Arma Speed carbon M2 bonnet ever made, 3D Design carbon aero, with the lip and side skirts modified to fit the wide-body, and those wild Swiss-cheesed Recaro SP-A carbon buckets, which have not a shred of padding save a very thin cushion for the seat base. Further measures include using those gorgeous custom-painted BBS RI-D 19” wheels (which are aerospace-grade Duralumin for an extra connection to the Zero fighter), and removing the rear seats, fitting a Motorsport half-cage in their place.
Perhaps surprisingly, all this work still only yielded a 60kg or so weight saving, but Suzuki-san points out this could have been a lot more had Studie ditched the cage. And as it is, the fact they saved weight where it mattered – up high and at each end – meant the car’s behaviour changed completely. “I took the car out around Tokyo and its surrounding mountain roads a while back, along with four other modified M2s (a full Schnitzer demo car, a Hamann car, an M Performance model and 3D Design’s car), and drove all of them to compare. And while I think the biggest influence was the carbon roof, the Zeke just felt so incredibly light overall compared to the rest. It felt utterly different. Power-wise, the 3D Design one was strongest, but come a winding, mountain road, none of the others could keep up with the Zeke. The handling was completely different,” he says. Sounds very much like the reports of how the original Zero fighter compared to its rivals back in the day, too – handling prowess over everything else. Now, it might be worth pointing out here that for this drive, Suzuki-san fitted some stick-on Recaro pads into the driver’s seat to make it more bearable on the road, which does take away from some of the Zero fighter feel, but apparently the Studie Nagoya branch manager has taken it out around Suzuka for testing with the seats un-padded and reported they were fine – understandable given they’re basically just very expensive (£3500 each) go-kart seats.
Due to the lack of aftermarket engine tuning parts for the M2, not a huge amount has been done to the engine, with only an Arma Speed Direct carbon intake, Akrapovič Evolution exhaust, Okada Projects Plasma Direct coils and a Studie Tuned Program 2 piggyback ECU boosting the grunt, but Suzuki-san says this wasn’t a problem due to the car’s lighter weight.
“We didn’t feel the need to boost power drastically, plus, tuners have only recently got their hands on the M2, so there isn’t a huge market out there in terms of engine parts right now. Perhaps in two or three years’ time, we’ll see more parts available and be able to do more internally, but for now, there’s a limit as to what’s possible.” In some ways, this lack of power additions actually ties the car into the Zero fighter theme even more strongly though, as the whole reason the plane had to be so light was that it had to use existing, underpowered, engines – something its later rivals didn’t have to worry about. Connecting the car further to the mythos, there have been some nice handling upgrades too which, as Suzuki-san pointed out, work with the lighter body weight to ensure the car’s a cornering monster. Namely, you’ve got a set of Bilstein Clubsports on there, H&R anti-roll bars and a CPM M2 chassis brace, which allows the whole lot to move much more as intended. Suzuki-san says the Clubsports are a bit hard for the road, but are an ideal coilover for those who wish to drive their track toy to the circuit, run laps, then drive home again. No doubt the AD08R tyres and Brembo Racing forged monobloc six-pot front calipers, M Performance twin-piston rear calipers, and slotted, two-piece discs front and rear, help in that regard, too.
Of course, nothing stands still in the car world, and while the Zeke looks amazing in its original wrap, it was recently unveiled in a new guise, complete with respray in dark metallic grey and red pinstriping. The BBS wheels have stayed, as a tribute to the original, though. Thankfully, unlike some former Studie demo cars (e.g. the wide-body Z8 we featured back in April 2016) Bob says the car will remain in his possession for quite some time, if only because Japan is currently in the midst of an M2 boom, with a waiting list that stretches out four months. “It’d be hard to get another one even if I sold this and regretted it,” he says. And likely he would. While the car has changed its look now, this M2 will always remain the first ever car they showed at the Tokyo Auto Salon. Even in changed form, it’s worth holding on to.
Studie AG Zeke M2
Engine and transmission:
3.0-litre straight-six turbo N55B30T0, Arma Direct Air Cleaner intake, Okada Projects Plasma Direct coils, Akrapovič Evolution exhaust, Studie Tuned Program 2 piggyback ECU. Seven-speed M DCT gearbox
9×19” ET-19 (front) and 10×19” ET-10 (rear) BBS RI-D custom-painted wheels with 245/35 (front) and 265/35 (rear) Yokohama Advan Neova AD08R tyres, Brembo Racing forged monobloc six-piston calipers with 380mm two-piece slotted discs (front) and M Performance twin-piston rear calipers with custom 380mm ‘Big Rotor Kit’ slotted, two-piece discs (rear), CPM M2 chassis brace, Bilstein Clubsport coilovers and H&R anti-roll bars
BMW M235i Racing carbon wide-body wings (front and rear), Arma Speed carbon bonnet, 3D Design custom carbon lip and side skirts, 3D Design Racing Wing and carbon diffuser, custom dry carbon roof, Brex headlights, custom Zero fighter wrap based on Tyler Surfboards design with yellow wing mirror wraps to match highlights on original fighter wings
Recaro SP-A customised carbon seats with Schroth four-point ASM harnesses, Studie custom Alcantara and leather factory wheel with blue centre marker (not fitted at time of shoot), Motorsport M2 half cage, Motec C127 dash logger, 3D Design sports pedal set, custom floor mats
Words and photos: Chris Nicholls