Homebrew safari-style Z4 M Coupe straddles the line “between cool and dumb”
Max Fischer makes his living as a freelance camera operator for TV and film, so he’s keenly aware of how to create something that looks pleasing to the eye. He also knows what will shock a viewer to attention. The science project he’s cooked up in his home garage in Richmond, Virginia—a safari-style BMW Z4 M Coupe—is one he expected would invite criticism. Not all of it approving, either.
“I posted it to the Safari cars Facebook group, where I had been providing updates. Then [to] the Z4 group—talk about a bad reaction.”
People may react poorly to new things they don’t understand. M Coupes from the Z4 era are rare and highly treasured as future classics within the BMW world, so drilling holes for a roof rack, replacing rear glass with a tire carrier, cutting up fenders, and installing a fully custom suspension is unfamiliar territory. Which, for an adventure-mobile meant to slide around off-road, is kind of the point.
Pushback from traditionalists doesn’t faze Fischer. He’s on his own winding path, having owned more than 20 BMWs, including 2002s and several race cars. His fascination started about 15 years ago, when he witnessed an old E30 spanking several exotics around an autocross course. “The BMW drivers I was seeing at track events were not yuppies, and they were fast, so they were doing something right.”
Before long he put together an E36 M3 race car of his own for competition. Then came Spec E46, the German Touring Series, and an E92 race car. Every maintenance mistake taught him something new, and after enough shops screwed up when working on his cars, Fischer decided it made more sense to buy a lift for his garage and do everything himself. That’s when his projects started getting more involved. Extracurricular, even.
Last summer he moved on from his “baby,” a street-focused, S54-powered E30 M3 he freshened and modified to his precise specifications. He sold it on Bring a Trailer for $66,150. “It was too nice to even park anywhere,” Fischer says. “I work in a creative industry, and I was craving something stupid and creative I could really dive into.”
From the outset, his aim with the lifted-up, knobby-tired Z4M was simple: to have fun. “I didn’t want to do something low, or a pseudo race car, all of which has been done a million times. What’s the total opposite of that? Something that sat on the line between really cool and really dumb.”
Though he’d seen plenty of Porsche 911-based safari-style builds, people were not thinking the same way about BMWs. An off-road-oriented Z4 was unheard of. “I thought, ‘Why should the Porsche guys get to have all the fun? I knew I wanted it to be like a rendering that people drool over, but a real car.”
Modifications would have to be considerable, so Fischer thought it best to start with something well-worn. When a 2007 M Coupe with 150,000 miles and a non-factory, satin-black paint job popped up online, he bought it sight unseen. “This was not a rare specimen,” he explains. “Seemed like a good one to take an angle grinder to.”
Before any power tools entered the picture, however, Fischer needed a plan of attack. He started with a factory-spec 3D model of the Z4 that he loaded into a CAD-like program on his computer. From there, he could assemble the model of his safari build using various stock images. It was rudimentary, but he had a roadmap. Inspiration came from artist renderings and classic trophy trucks, as well as Audi’s 2019 Audi TT safari concept and Russell Built’s widebody 911 from the 2019 SEMA show.
The trophy-truck tire carrier was his first victory. “From that point on, everything else had to be at least as absurd.”
Cardboard templates seemed like a good practice medium before he cut past the point of no return, but those preparations did not go as planned. “They say measure twice, cut once, but I just started cutting—a little bit at time,” says Fischer. “Because the car has a lot of difficult, compound curves, I had to start big and then slice down from there.” On the positive side, both the Z4’s front fenders and rear quarters are bolt-on, non-structural components—easy to shave to make way for chunky Toyo Open Country tires. In the end, Fischer lopped off 2.5 inches in order to fit the largest rubber he could.
After slicing off the bottom of the front bumper and relocating the oil cooler, the roof rack came next. “The car doesn’t have any drip rails or mounting points, so I had to drill into the roof and tie the rack to the chassis,” he says. “That was the point of no return. Daunting, but sometimes you need that to push you forward.”
Once the bodywork was done, it was time to dial in the suspension. Nothing off the shelf was quite right, so Fischer opted to work with Ground Control out of California for a full custom setup. The company had never done a Z4, so this was (again) new territory for everyone involved. The final product offered the characteristics Fischer wanted—5 inches of additional ground clearance and some extended travel—and achieved them without relocating suspension mounting points.
As for the Z4’s drivetrain, Fischer was more than content to keep it stock. “The S54 straight-six is such a great engine, so it just came down to maintenance. I know it well. Rod bearings, valves, all of that.” And though this is a car meant for driving off-road, it’s not a rock crawler; the standard rear-drive layout made more sense for sliding around, and all-wheel drive was simply beyond the scope of the project.
Details were the final step: skidplate, four Baja Design lights up front, and a 40-inch Aurora curved LED strip for the roof rack.
Fischer enjoys driving the Z4M almost as much as he relishes blowing minds at cars and coffee meets. But once he scratches the itch of goofing off in the dirt a few times in the car, it’ll be time for the next adventure. “I have major car ADD,” he says. “I like building them even more than driving them, more than racing.”
Once the Z4 is sold, Fischer will have more real estate and more funds for the next Bimmer in the on-deck circle: an E36 M3 Lightweight barn find. No doubt he’ll lend it his own creative flair, conventional or not.