November 27, 2020

Not your boss’s BMW: Webster student rebuilds his car to drive on the street and track

Freshman studio art major Will Bower-Leet dries his 1990 BMW 325i, which he named Heidi. Among other parts, Bower-Leet said he replaced the front bumper cover with an aftermarket option. PHOTO BY DAN DUNCAN.

Will Bower-Leet spends most of his time at Webster University working on studio art. But when he’s out of class, Bower-Leet spends time working on something else — his car.

Bower-Leet, freshman studio art major, owns a 1990 BMW 325i, a model known in the BMW community as an E30. Lower and louder than most cars sporting a Webster parking pass, Bower-Leet’s car stands out in the parking lot.

Not only does Bower-Leet drive the car to and from school every day, he also drives it on the racetrack.  Bower-Leet said he bought the car in 2009 knowing he would build it to be driven hard.

“(The previous owner) did little things to it, mostly maintenance,” Bower-Leet said. “I really loved it as a starting point. I went totally crazy from there.”

To improve the car’s handling and performance, Bower-Leet made a number of modifications, including a lowered race suspension, lightweight racing wheels and a less restrictive intake and exhaust system. Parts were easy to come by, as Bower-Leet worked at Bavarian Enterprises Inc., a local BMW repair company.

Bower-Leet said after repeatedly bothering Bavarian Enterprise’s owners by asking for a job, the two parties worked out a system. Instead of receiving paychecks, Bower-Leet was paid in parts.

During the past three years, Bower-Leet has participated in a number of organized driving events with his car, including track day events at Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill. At track days, participants drive at high speeds in a noncompetitive fashion. Bower-Leet said he has also taken part in autocross, a type of racing in which participants drive around a series of cones and compete for the quickest time.

Bower-Leet said he grew up going to races with his father. But it was an automotive racing video game he played as a child that solidified his love for motorsports.

“Gran Turismo 2 really sort of ruined my life,” Bower-Leet said. “I got all into cars — identifying them and modifying them — so I just totally had to have one.”

Will Bower-Leet washes his 1990 BMW 325i. He said he removed one headlight to direct more air in to the engine. PHOTO BY DAN DUNCAN

Last year, Bower-Leet was even able to combine his love of cars with his love of art in a piece entitled “Rendezvous.” By dividing his car’s 7,000 RPM tachometer into seven sections, he assigned each 1,000 RPM section to one of the seven musical notes on the chromatic scale.

“I had the car compose a piece of music,” Bower-Leet said. “I went driving and I filmed the tachometer as I was driving. I set it to time … and based on how long the tachometer was at that RPM or whether or not I shifted, it would change the note. It sounds kind of weird, but I was really happy with how it turned out.”

After spending so much time modifying the car, Bower-Leet said he developed a connection with his BMW. He has gone as far as giving his car a name — Heidi.

Elliot Smith, sophomore audio production major, has known Bower-Leet since elementary school and has seen him put in countless hours of work to transform the vehicle.

“It’s just like years and years of work, and (the car is) the trophy that he gets for all his hard work,” Smith said.

One of Bower-Leet’s more recent modifications to the car is a satin black paint job. He said the paint is the result of a series of minor accidents, one of which involved his girlfriend backing her car into Bower-Leet’s BMW. As for the cause of the accident, Bower-Leet has a theory.

“My girlfriend gets jealous,” Bower-Leet said. “There are two women in my life, her and Heidi.”

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