We’ve all done it, right? He pondered what ifs: cars that we as enthusiasts want manufacturers to build. This is exactly like this Smit Vehicle Engineering Oletha Coupe Occurred. Only instead of dwelling on idle discussion, the Kaess brothers and Willem Smit set about properly exploring the idea of a BMW Z8 coupe. Both BMW fanatics, their family history is littered with a few select cars, and having had the opportunity to remove some panels on his E86 Z4 M Coupe, via a day off at the track, Willem found the task to be relatively simple. Or simple for an automotive engineer, at any rate; His resume includes stints at Tesla and Singer, work experience that dovetails nicely with Kaess’s experience in aerospace composites.
The Z8 idea quickly grew wings. Chassis drawings were made, with the dimensions of the Z4 considered close enough to work with, particularly in relation to the wheelbase. There were other advantages as well, not only cost and availability, but also rigidity. The low-volume Z8 may be beautiful, but it’s never been particularly well regarded as a driver’s car. The newer Z4 benefits from being developed as a roadster first, meaning the later coupe made the Z8 look structurally limp by comparison. Influences on the Oletha, then, are limited to its looks, which means there’s also a throwback nod to the 507 Roadster. And the result? Make up your own mind, but it’s actually absolutely beautiful, even if the black suffocates the finer details in the images.
Dynamically, the brothers intended to take their interpretive model to another level, aiming for something more akin to a 996 Porsche 911 GT3 than BMW’s boulevardier Z8. As such, there’s KW adjustable suspension attached to its custom forged monobloc aluminum wheels, which here use Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. Brakes are AP Racing Radi-Call Pro5000R six-piston calipers up front with 355mm floating discs, and the rear are four-piston calipers with 340mm discs. There’s a mechanical limited-slip differential and a six-speed manual transmission linked to the 4.4-liter S65B44 naturally aspirated V8. That’s a significant departure from the Z4 M’s standard S54 straight-six, of course, and not insignificant work is required to fit it under the hood.
They have commendably achieved that, Smit’s approach requires 3D printed motor mounts and unique manifolds; the latter alone takes over 25 different iterations to perfect. It’s so tight in the engine bay that the steering column goes through the manifolds. Smit designed it in such a way that he can build cars for both the right-hand drive and left-hand drive markets, while that functional hood scoop is needed to provide an extra 20mm of clearance. If he wants it, Smit will build him an Oletha straight-six that runs without that scoop.
The finish under the hood of this S65-powered ‘prototype’ mirrors that of the bodywork, meaning it’s as good, if not better, than the quality you’d expect from an OEM. The attention to detail is remarkable, and speaks not only to the level of passion that has been put into it, but also to the engineering know-how required to make sure everything looks just right while doing its job flawlessly well. The Oletha is, without a doubt, a testament to the men who built it.
The body is not only beautiful, it is also constructed entirely of carbon fiber. Based in San Diego, Smit understandably tried several US suppliers before heading to the UK and getting his panels there, and was quick to point out that they couldn’t find a US supplier to make panels with the company. quality they demanded. Here they had the luxury of choice, settling on one in the south of England. Exactly what they are not prepared to say; likewise, Oletha’s final surface modeling was done by an “industry insider”, although the overall shape is the brother’s design.
That composite body adjusts using the factory mounting points and uses different panel and laminate thicknesses depending on location, structural requirements, and your downforce. Computer testing revealed that the new wingless bodywork produced lift at the rear, so there’s a pop-up to counter it, reducing lift by 350lbs on the rear axle at 200mph. As is evident from talking to the brothers about each area of Oletha’s construction, they explored every possibility, looking at a number of alternatives before adopting this system. And to be sure of its longevity, they went to the trouble of testing the mechanism under load, building a transporter for it, and commissioning Willem’s girlfriend to do 10,000 steps on it. That’s a compromise for you, especially since the mechanism is from another production vehicle. They just wanted to be sure.
After the sleek, hyper-detailed exterior, the Oletha’s interior is a bit of a surprise. It’s pretty standard, although there is the option of different seats, upgraded audio and different trim materials depending on the customer’s wishes. Here the engineering pragmatism of the brothers is that everything works, and they are not wrong. In fact, the standard dash does a good job, the deep-shrouded instruments and proper dials, the wide transmission tunnel that still retains its stubby shifter, and the original BMW steering wheel are a reminder of how simple and uncomplicated they used to be. be the interiors of automobiles.
Starting the engine reveals that Smit Vehicle Engineering has done more than just put BMW’s original V8 under the hood. Its bespoke carbon fiber manifold obviously helps change its character, but there’s more to it than that, with forged pistons and connecting rods and upgraded valve springs fitted. It uses BMW’s MSS60 engine management, with Smit claiming a conservative 450hp at the crankshaft and redline raised to 8500rpm. Combined with his custom exhaust, it sounds fantastic: an intriguing mix of Germanic culture and American muscle, which, given Oletha’s genesis, seems entirely appropriate.
There’s an immediacy to the engine’s response that’s also very appealing, and the Oletha does a very convincing job of covering ground with impressive composure. It feels sophisticated to the beat, in a way that initially gives the impression of a talented GT. Gear shifting is wonderfully positive, the lever moves through its gate easily, and such is the engine’s ample boost up to about 5,000 rpm, you can go fast with little effort.
However, ask more and Oletha’s character changes. The engine takes on a harsher note, its delivery correspondingly fiercer, and the chassis, so slim and capable, responds positively to the increased demands placed on it. There’s agility and poise beneath the refinement, and while it’s not as sharp and twitchy as a 911 GT3, it’s probably a lot better. Its bandwidth is wider and much more livable. Which is not to say that it’s not very attractive; on the canyon roads near Palm Springs, where we spent a few hours squeezing the V8, every second in the driver’s seat was a joy.
Despite accommodating a larger engine under the long hood, the Oletha’s nose still turns inward quickly and precisely, Smit reveals that the weight distribution is within 0.1% of 50/50. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the curb weight, when full of fuel, is said to be 1483kg, which is in the same ballpark as the figure quoted by BMW for the standard car, which obviously makes do. with six cylinders. Consequently, the brakes hold all day without running out of ideas; reassuring, when you consider the performance on offer. He also talks about the amount of testing its creators have done to make sure everything works properly. The overall feel is that of a car that has been lovingly designed, and it’s no coincidence that the Oletha is as remarkable to drive as it is beautiful to behold. The brothers say it’s the car they wish BMW had built, and it’s hard to disagree. What is even more incredible is that it is not only the product of the musings of a couple of talented engineers, but also the first incarnation of them. Imagine what they will think next.
SPECIFICATIONS | SVE OLETHA
Engine: 4,361cc, V8
Transmission: 6 speed manual, rear wheel drive, LSD
Power (hp): 450 to 8,300 rpm (M3 GTS standard)
Torque (foot-pounds): 325 to 3,750 rpm (M3 GTS standard)
0-62mph: c. 4 seconds
Maximum speed: c. 180 mph
Weight: 1,483 kg (with 100% fuel)
MPG: 22.2 (M3 GTS standard)
CO2: 295g/km (M3 GTS standard)