Over 20 years after its retirement, the E36 3 Series is many things, from a budget practice car at drifting/rallying schools, or a clapped-out Facebook marketplace “deal” to a world-class build at basically every edition of SEMA. So, come to think of it, I’m surprised nobody built a pop-up headlights kit for the E36 BMW.
More often than not, people don’t enjoy cars that try to pass as some poster vehicle they’re not, and the replica market will tell you all about that. But the front-end transformation that digital artist Max Panysh rendered for the E36, which transforms the nose of the 3 Series into a smaller version of the contemporary E31 8 Series, just seems to work. So somebody should build this in the real world, and I’ll explain why below.
One of the key design features of the E36 3 Series is the low front end. Even so, an E36 BMW with pop-up headlights would require an even lower nose—otherwise, you’ll end up with an abomination like the one in the Reddit post below. And while look elsewhere when the E31 flagship coupe of that era has so much to offer?
At least to these eyes, the mini E31 8 Series conversion for the E36 lends the car an OEM+ look. Yes, this is more like a Daihatsu Copen with a GT-R look than a Nissan Sileighty due to the size difference between the two 1990s BMW models involved, but the idea is that the final look of the E36 (with the pop-up headlights up or down) is refreshingly clean.
What would it take to build an E36 BMW pop-up headlight kit in the real world?
The E31 8 Series conversion brings a slightly longer front end, which seems to fit the sleek shape of this E36 Coupe perfectly. Now, even with the E31 8 Series providing a fitting low nose as a base for the E36 3 Series pop-up headlight kit, such a project would require serious transformations.
The modifications to the E36 would involve not just the headlights and the bumper, but also the fenders and the hood. Speaking of which, the lower part of the front bumper seen here is a custom design by the said artist. Executing this with thin lines in the real world would mean the difference between the desired clean look and a creation that would attract the wrong kind of attention.
As for this E36 BMW’s pop-up headlights themselves, the rendering remains faithful to the lens design of the 1990s, thus adding to the modern classic look of the Bimmer.
It’s worth noting that with the exception of the five-spoke, deep-dish custom wheels and the lowering suspension, the E36 BMW “donor car” has remained unchanged. And to me, that makes the artist’s work even more impressive.
Who could build an E36 pop-up headlight kit? The first name that comes to mind is Mozy. These guys have fabricated the Golf 4 widebody rendered by Rob3rt Design, taken pre-orders for Pistonzero’s NA Miata, and are working on the Avante EG Civic.
You can find E36s for all budgets nowadays. However, E31s, which were expensive to begin with and only convinced under 31,000 customers between 1990 and 1999, are a different affair—a good E31 sells for about $40,000 these days. So, if you’re thinking of pulling off such a project as a one-off by cutting and modding 8 Series parts for your E36, you’d better have a lucky charm around the garage.