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Interview With Herbert Gattermeier - Part One

Talking with Australia's leading BMW tuner - Herbert Gattermeier of Bavariacars.

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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Who is Herbert Gattermeier?

"I come from a family that was always into cars, trucks and automotives. Actually, I had originally wanted to be a historian, but my Father told me to do something proper... I studied motor vehicle engine design in Upper Austria, then I was a member of the army, the National Service and then I worked for BMW in Munich, Porsche in Salzburg and then - for a little while - Masse-Ferguson in England. I then changed my career to rail engineering and that's what brought me to Australia; I didn't fully leave the automotive industry, though."

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"When I was working for BMW I was in the engine development department and, for Porsche, I worked in a subsidiary where they built the Formula V cars; I was already tied to the racing scene because that's what I did in my own time as well. I started motor racing in 1959 - I started with Minis, Alfa Romeos and BMWs. Formula V was fairly new back then - we tried different things inside the engine, though we were pretty much governed by regulations. Still, we successfully tried to find a bit here or there."

"Racing today is so different to what it was then - power was not as easily available as it is today. At the same time, safety was non-existent. There was no safety whatsoever - no roll cages. Nothing. I once fell 30 metres down into a river once during a hillclimb event - I came out unharmed, except for a broken finger. That was driving a Mini too [laughs]."

"I picked up the auto scene again when I arrived here in Australia. I had set up a railway engineering company in South Australia and then I came to Sydney for work. Anyhow, I got married here and then I thought I'd do something for myself again; so, in 1978, I started this business specialising in local BMWs. And that's what I've been doing since."

Once your business was set up here in Sydney, what sort of cars did you begin working on?

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"When I started off it was BMWs - we never repaired an Australian car even then. We never touched Fords, Holdens, Chryslers and whatever else they had here in the '70s. We did a few other European cars, though - Porsches, old Ferraris, the occasional Maserati and some of the Volvos because, you know, they have Bosch systems onboard. But I would say about 90 percent has been BMW."

"Basically, we started with servicing and maintenance. But I always wanted to build something for myself - I had done that many years ago back home. I did a lot of Mini preparation in Europe and some work preparing BMWs. I raced over there from '59 to '72 and I built quick cars - I won two championships. One hillclimb championship and one circuit racing championship - both in Austria."

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"From day go I wanted to do performance work, but it didn't come through the doors that often; you had to do all the maintenance work to keep you in business. Then, when someone came along, I could play with some performance gear. It was mainly naturally aspired engines like 2002 BMWs - they were a very faithful object - and then we started building turbocars in about 1979 or 1980. 633s and things like that, which ended up making about 350 horsepower."

Other than BMW, what sort of cars have you worked on?

"We have done some water-cooled Porsches. Porsches are, in my book, one of the best cars around - like BMW, they have a very strong driveline. I have owned Porsches myself and they are just a very good car; not particularly practical though."

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"I've done Mercedes as well; a recent one we did was a 190 Cosworth; standard, they have about 195 horsepower and weigh about 1440 kilos, so they're not very quick. That was the customer's complaint, so we turbo'd it for him and came up with 374 horsepower - and it goes very well. The driveline, though, is not as strong as a BMW driveline and we had failures of the diff, CVs joints and axles - they just snapped because it makes a lot of torque now. We've now upgraded the rear-end with quite a few BMW bits and pieces."

"I've also rebuilt Ferrari 12-cylinders, fitted power steering to Testarossas - and we've modified them as well. We've got rid of their K-Jetronic and put EFI in them a few times."

Did you find - having worked on the Ferraris - that they're built as well as their reputation suggests?

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"The new ones are, but the old ones are not. The old ones are more like a home-built car. When you look at the frame it looks pretty much like somebody's built a kit car. The new ones, though, use a lot of forged aluminium sections - they're very up-to-date now."

Are you interested in working on other types of vehicles?

"Sure I'm interested, but we've worked in the BMW scene quite heavily and that's really where we want to stay."

What were some of the power outputs typical in those earlier days of your business?

"Well, my racing 2002 had about 205 horsepower and that's about it. It was a quick car back then but its way down on power of compared to cars of today - most atmo 2.0-litre racecars today make about 240-250 horsepower."

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"Back then racecars were much slower but they were more dramatic to drive - there was less handling and the tyres were worse. They were certainly spectacular - people would come around corners on three wheels. It was good [laughs] - I wouldn't have missed it for anything. I'm still racing now but I'm getting a bit old in my teeth now..."

What would you suggest is the best second-hand performance Euro car for less than $10,000?

"I would buy an E30 325 or maybe even an older 2002 and spend some money on it making it a car for club work."

And which vehicle would you pick with a budget of $50,000?

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"Well, I think I would still buy an E30 325i and I'd turbocharge it. Then you have a relatively lightweight road car with close to 400 horsepower. With the new BMWs the car might cost you already $40,000 and you can't really do much with the money left over - and they do need work done because they are so heavy."

Why do you like the E30 particularly?

"I think the shape looks maybe a bit old now but it's always been quite a pleasant shape. They dress up very well - give it some proper skirts and some nice wheels and they can look really good."

What is your ultimate car?

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"I would get a 540, 740 or 840 - but, er, they are too heavy again. I think maybe a 5-series with a twin-turbo engine - that would go!"

What are your approaches for extracting more power from BMW engines?

"We like to turbocharge, but we have done supercharging - and we might get into that again. Some customers just want a supercharger of a turbo; we're currently looking at a product from Germany, which might do well. But, yes, if you want real power you have to turbocharge it. You might get away with a supercharger if you have a 6 to 7-litre engine, but if you have a smaller capacity engine you really have to go for turbocharging."

Do BMWs - as a rule - respond well to basic air intake and exhaust mods?

"Well that's in the eye of the beholder. Some people might be happy with a gain of 5 percent so we might fit just an exhaust system and some free flowing air filters, a different throttle body and a little bit here or there - but it won't get them very far. We double the power - or more than double the power - with a turbocharger."

What are some of the similarities and difference found across 1970s, 1980s and 1990s BMW engines?

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"They've all got very strong internals - a strong bottom-end, strong crank and good size bearings. The M10 out of a 2002 has very large bearings compared to some of the 2.0-litre engines of later.

The newer engines get possibly lighter, but there's more webbing in the block so they're stiffer. But, then, a 318i of today is 142 horsepower but it doesn't go better because it weighs 300kg more than the previous model. It's really dancing on the same floor again."

What BMW models are best to steer clear of - the 1980s 'eta' engine'd models have a bad reputation for example?

"The eta is not a bad engine but if you want to make something out of it you have to change a lot. You keep the bottom-end because it has a long stroke - its 2.7-litres - but you need a different head, cam, valves a lot to make it work. It's a very torquey engine but it is rev limited at something below 5000 rpm and, as such, it doesn't perform great. The cam is very mild and it has actually has less cam journals than the i models; it's sort of like they built something but, at the same time, tried to save some money. That's how it comes across."

Stay tuned for Part Two of our interview with Australia's BMW tuning expert!


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