Sometimes, Throttle is the best therapy. Behind the wheel of the right vehicle, the worries of the world seems to just disappear. The stress of life has a habit of melting away with each downshift, the burden of "Adulting" becomes insignificant with each apex of each corner. The acceleration can make even the worst of times seem to become Unimportant. Everyone's story is different, everyone has different challenges, and different needs, This is my story.
In 2009 I found myself making an international move to Germany. Quickly, it became apparent that we were going to need a car, as our small town only had minimal public transport. I bought a 1991 E30 316i, once my ex-wife, and I got settled in. This simple, basic little car sparked my love of E30s. This little car was some of the most fun I had ever had on 4 wheels. With its 1.6 liter M40B16, a 5 speed manual, it had enough power to keep up on the Autobahn, while getting 30 MPG. With it being the basic model, with manual windows, no Air conditioning, no power steering, and pretty much a radio as the only option, It's light weight made that 102 Horsepower seem a little less anemic. Although, My time with my scrappy little 316i was short. My ex wife had the water pump fail while traveling about an hour away, at the same time the thermostat failed, and closed. Needless to say, it overheated it, and popped the head gasket. I started by doing a rebuild on the M40, without knowing that this motor didn't exactly have a good reputation. The machine shop had a difficult time planing it back to true, due to the extent of the warp in the head. Using a translated factory service manual, I was able reassemble the dying heart of my 316i. All was not well though. The translation of the torque spec for the cam pulley to cam shaft bolt was off. The spec was 90 n/m, and it was translated to 9 n/m. I had a gut feeling that the spec was wrong, I ignored that feeling though, because of my lack of experience with BMWs. I decided the translation had to be right. First time it was restarted, the timing slipped, sheared off the woodrift key, and bent the valves in the 3rd cylinder. After that, I threw in the towel, and swapped in another M40 from a E36, and not long after that, ex wife made me sell it. Then about 2 years later, divorce, and sent back to the states.
Divorces have a bad habit of crushing your spirit, and your soul, and this was my 2nd. The first divorce, I bought a clapped out, and mostly rusted 1950 Plymouth 4 door sedan. That project didn't make it past the disassembly stage. This time around I bought a car that was already in pieces. I bought the car that I would later name "The Dumpster fire" from a Engineer at Boeing. He had started to disassemble it for a full restoration, and lost interest. I found it listed on Craigslist for $500, with extra parts, and a full motor rebuild kit, minus main and rod bearings. Within 24 hours, a truck was borrowed, a U-haul trailer was rented, and an E30 had a new home. A few weeks go by, and some weekend wrenching, Progress was slowly being made. The interior was back in, Fenders, Hood, and all the front body panels were reattached, and it looked more like a car again. The big thing I was still missing, was an assembled motor. I had the parts, but still missing the main and rod bearings. A few months go by, and a Different motor presented it's self. This car, Being a 1987 eta car, had a M20B27 originally, Which has a 731 eta specific head, which doesn't lend it's self to easy power. The motor that became available was a M20B27 Seta, Also known as the "Super eta." This motor was found in late eta and base 325 cars. Simplifying the differences, The Super eta uses the 883 head, same as the "i" cars, with a eta cam, and special dished pistons. At the time I was leaning towards going with forced induction, and the Seta is a good starting point.
Two months of wrenching and profanity a Seta longblock was assembled and ready to be installed. One weekend, a borrowed garage, Box of band-aids, and every word from "that list" and it was time for my first drive. Everything went well, with a few exceptions, Mostly related to using the wrong intake, DMU and harness. For the first time since the divorce, I started feeling better, my spirited drives were helping a lot. Things seemed to fall in order. The dumpster fire felt a lot like my old 316, Nimble, fairly quick, and generally fun to drive. But, without an "adult" (read: Ex Wife) nothing except money was keeping me from changing, modifying, building, and generally doing dumb things to this car. Shortly, H&R race spring, Adjustable Koni shocks, camber plates, and other odds and ends were purchased and installed. Then came some cosmetic changes, Like euro bumpers, and Smiles. I was Happy, But I came to find that I enjoyed working on the car, and I slowly was becoming board with the performance. During this time period, attended my first E30 picnic, and saw all the different motor swaps shoved in these little cars, I was inspired. That's when I started to research different swaps.
Prepping for the 2nd E30 Picnic, I pressure washed the dumpster fire, then it became very apparent that whoever painted the car, didn't do any prep work. Which lead to a large portion of the paint being blown off, revealing the original Cirusblaumetallic paint. This just added more to the personality to the car, and I decided that the shitty paint would stay. Research for the swap continued. Weighing all the pros and cons of different M5x motors, and Forced induction Vs. Natural Aspiration. It looked more and more like a M50B27TU was going to be my best bet. At that time, their was no less than 10-12 in junk yards around me, and the swap uses all stock BMW parts to make it happen. I was excited, but something still didn't feel right. About this time, a Friend's father had his Honda stolen, and he needed a car to borrow for "a few weeks." This gave me some time to do some real thinking, without seeing the dumpster fire. A trip to the junkyard sealed the deal.
While walking a local yard, Still looking for a M50, I happened to run across a 540i, that had been hit hard in the front and rear. At the time I didn't think too much of this find, and I walked by. Something kept telling me I needed to go investigate a little more. First thing that caught my eye, the paint was still shiny, and the interior was super clean. I started thinking this was probably a well maintained car. I was right, as the motor was very well maintained. I decided that, if the price was right, A V8 would be a lot of fun. Decisions were made. and the motor was pulled.
Months went by, Plenty of parts were ordered from Garagistic, UUC, ECS tuning, and other companies. It was looking more and more like it was go time. Finally, I got the dumpster fire back from my friend's dad. and it was go time. The first night I had it back I got the front stripped, and got the motor prepped to be removed. Over the course of about a month, It was ready.
Pictures tell a story better than words sometimes.
One morning, Maston came down to my place before work, to help with some of the welding that needs to be done. I had been stalled for a few weeks, add to that I didn't have a good evening the night before. I'm a firefighter, and we had a LONG night. He insisted that wanted to do something to "cheer me up," and get the project back on track. So he talked me into doing a test fit without the trans. Overall, things were looking good. We needed to clearance a few places, like the battery tray. That was the motivation I needed. The Swap was back on track.
Things started rolling quick after that. The M60 was pulled back out of the car, and stripped to a long block. Cylinder covers were painted, Seals replaced, Timing chains checked, guides and rollers inspected. Meanwhile the box of parts got smaller and smaller. Once the motor was partially resealed, the flywheel, clutch and transmission went on for the first time. Now it was time for modifications to the radiator support.
One of the biggest problems with fitting this aluminum monster into the E30. Without making modifications to the Radiator support, It requires basically standing the motor on end, and dropping it into the engine back from the vertical position, then swinging it around, and down into place. Clearances are less than millimeters. Or, the simpler way, build a removable radiator support. The most common way to accomplish this is to drill the welds, remove the entire support, then add plates to both the car, and the support to allow the core to be bolted in and out. Maston and I decided to go another route. For the Dumpster fire, we decided to cut the support right above the frame rails, and drill out the welds on the sides. this left a welded support to tie the frame rails together, and still allow for a removability of the top half for access to install the motor. the vertical supports were sleeved with steel square tube, and supports were made for each side, to tie the core support back to the sides. Braking systems were modified, new lines made, and installed. We were now at the point where the motor and transmission could go back in for mock up of the transmission cross member and shifting linkage.
At this point, I was pretty close to the first start, with only the cooling system, electrical, and wiring adapter, and oil filter housing modifications left to finish. Though this entire process, I had my eye on being able to drive the dumpster fire to the E30 Picnic. For the first time since I started this build, it looked like I could make it to the show. Efforts were kicked into High gear.
Cooling system installation took a little time to get figured out, and installed. I'm not too proud to say that I had to use a pair of 90 degree brass plumbing elbows to make it happen. Installing the radiator relieved another problem, the oil filter housing blocked the upper port to the radiator. The solution was to use a X5 oil block, a X5 oil filter housing, and some custom lines. This allowed me to move the filter housing over to the right side of the car, and put it where the AC Accumulator once lived. The electrical system was more time consuming than anything. I needed to sit down with a wiring diagram, and remove the automatic components from the engine harness, and build a X20 to C101 adapter. Fuel lines were pretty easy, and strait forward. Next was shifter linkage, and building a shifter, which was an afternoons of work. We were getting close.
Https://youtu.be/7vMEJxWGX54 First few starts, as seen in the youtube video, shows the motor was running pretty rough, and wouldn't idle, but it would run. Maston and I did a lot of hunting, and found a few vacuum ports that were open to atmosphere. Once those were capped, Well, Videos tell even more than words.
I'm Close at this point, So very close. I started buttoning up things, and Prepared for test drives. With no exhaust, run times were kept short, and RPMs were kept down. I'd came this far, I didn't want to burn a valve, and destroy the whole swap. Body panels were bolted back on, and the first drive was just around the corner.
I took the dumpster fire to a local exhaust shop. After talking with them about the sound I wanted, we went with a Flowmaster series 40, 2.5" x2 in, 2.5" x2 out. Thing sounds amazing, a little loud, but I like it. I am a little lower than I would like, only about 2" from the oil pan to the ground, so I think I will need to get a skid plate. I was able to get a first real drive in after the Exhaust. I was more than thrilled with the results, the thing pulls like a freight train, and has plenty of power. My custom shifter works well, and I have a pretty short throw. It's really notchy, and a solid feel, I really like it
A few weeks go by, and some test runs were made. Little things were changed, and fixed over time, Things like small coolant leaks, and some suspension issues. The E30 picnic was the longest drive up to that point. The dumpster fire ran great, and was a huge hit at the show. I wasn't able to walk away from my car for more than 5 minutes or so at a time.
After the picnic, I made some more tweaks, and changes, Little things mostly. Overall, I'm very happy with how the swap went
I've been driving the dumpster fire for about 6 months at the writing of this article. and I love this swap. It's fast, Pulls hard, handles well, and is just generally fun. Weight balance feels slightly nose heavy, but not too bad, and doesn't really effect the handling. I'll be honest, this car puts a smile on my face, and at the same time scares the ever living crap out of me. It's pretty well balanced overall, It can be driven sensible, and gets decent highway mileage. But when it wants to be woken up, and the beast unleashed, it can and it will. All it takes is to bury the right pedal. Traction is a, issue right now. On dry road surface, it will easily spin the wheels in first, and second gear, with a chirp in third. In the wet, it'll spin them all the way though third. Overall, this car became exactly what I needed, My Throttle therapy. Behind the wheel of the dumpster fire, things just feel right.