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So, This post made my @westopher had me thinking. Am I doing the right thing?

I was bequeefed (sic) this car from my departed brother, Kenny (also known as Chip) in 2012. At the time it wasn't my first choice of car, but it was a clean example that was reasonably well cared for. That was until he got a little too sick to be able to drive. Then it just sat. For a while. I moved to NYC, and then ended up moving around every year. It became less than sensible to street park an aging BMW with no tools, nowhere to work on it, and needing to switch parking spots twice a week. Then it sat some more.

I've been through a lot with this car. It's scared me when it randomly shut off on the Deegan in the Bronx, it's made me smile with how smooth the engine effortlessly builds revs. I've thought about selling it a million times, thought about its potential, scooted it up to Connecticut to store for a year, accidentally backed into it, worked on it, broken things on it, moved myself to and from several apartments with it, and its gotten me to and from job interviews, work, weddings, etc.

Now living in Baltimore, it's the kind of car that gets respectful nods from the squeegee kids sitting out on Pratt street, but also doesn't look out of place rolling through fancy parts of DC and Annapolis. Without turning this into a sappy love story, I f**kin love this car. It's so good. IMO it's the sweet spot between refined analog machine and enough tech to make it comfortable and feel modern. Even if it's an automatic...it's just such a good thing.

But all good things must come to an end, right? I love the car, this is obvious, but I'm an enthusiast. Like you, I need more.

For a few years now I've just thought to myself "hey...LS swap the thing and be done with it" which all sounds good and is easy to say. But after giving it a lot of thought and knowing that I now have a reliable and fair specialized BMW mechanic less than a mile away...I'm wondering if maybe I should stick with the M54 motor.

This means I would be able to do more with the money, and most of it would need to be done anyway (strip the chassis and address any and all corrosion, POR-15 the **** out of everything, recoat, etc.) Basically without even touching the drivetrain, interior, or exterior I'd be tackling pretty much everything in this video:



Before you ask "what do you want the car to do?" I want it to go fast and I wanna have fun. It'll be a street legal car that I take to the track that retains most if not all factory creature comforts. I want it to be balanced but also make people laugh and maybe scared a little bit. I want the car to last forever.

Spec E46 suspension kits are $5k. Manual transmissions are abounds. I keep thinking about how nice it would be to have a built NA straight 6 that IMO sounds better than the S54, and kinda keeps the spirit of the car alive. But then I get swayed by thinking about doing huge burnouts and having something absurd to play around with.

What say you TCL? Big honkin Chebby V8? Or buttery smooth straight 6 with cams, full exhaust, head work etc.? Let's argue.

Car Wheel Vehicle Tire Grille



TL;DR - LS Swap or no?
 

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Sooo I've spent a lot of time reading about how to squeeze power out of the M54. The winning combo seems to be an M50 intake manifold with port matching, catless headers, and cams. But you're still not looking at that much power. Sub 300. That being said, how much power do you really need? I have no problem keeping pace on a mountain road in my even slower 325, it lacks a little on the track but you're already ~35hp up from where I'm at. The chassis is the shining point for this car, and the M54 is actually quite reliable, and does sound quite nice IMO.

What I would do is whatever suspension mods you already have plans for, a limited slip diff (I'm very happy with my diffsonline unit), a ZHP steering rack (the yellow tag 712 rack. one of my favorite things I've done to my car, if not my favorite), and then the basic motor bolt ons listed above. Also maybe a BBK for the front, I've read that 330 rears are generally adequate for track use but you'd likely want a little more stopping power. At least it's not the pathetic discs I have on my 325.
 

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E46 coupes are lookers still, and well kept stock-ish examples are harder and harder to find. So on that note: if anything, manual swap it (if I’m reading your post correctly and it is currently auto) and find a higher ratio limited slip rear end if it doesn’t already have one. The 6 speed isn’t necessary, the 5 speed ZFs are stronger, more plentiful, cheaper, and are functionally identical (the 6 speed is basically the 5 speed’s ratios plus a .81 overdrive).

You’ll spend a dumb amount of money on doing internals and the M54 will never make more than 250hp. It’s just not worth the cost. If you really want power, try to find a used supercharger kit. The M54 is a delightfully smooth and torquey motor, not a powerhouse and not built for high rpm/high stress track work, so my recommendation is to put a decent exhaust on it and enjoy.
 

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I feel like LS has been done to death.
 

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I keep thinking about how nice it would be to have a built NA straight 6 that IMO sounds better than the S54
That resonates with me. Of my vehicles, the E46 is the only one I want back. If I could have walked into a dealership and purchased a new one with updated tech, I would have. I only sold it because I got to the point where it was, either spend buckets of money getting it up to snuff for the next 150K miles, or move on. Being a year out of law school meant newer/reliable transportation was the responsible/safe decision. Of course though the E92 that replaced it was a basket case.

Anyways, as far as power goes if you want any appreciable power increase, an S/C is really the only answer. But, i don't think this car needs that type of power. The stock M54 never left me wishing I had more power quite frankly. I did have dreams of doing a full N/A build to make a beautiful screamer though. Maybe get it somewhere in the realm of 250-300WHP N/A; that to me is perfect. That said, I'm not a fan of swaps, and i think if you want to go LS you're better off just buying a car with one in it already.

Sounds like you have some attachment to the vehicle as well, this makes it all the more worth it to make it a revived e46, not into some Frankenstein, and hold on to it. In the long term, a clean example with a warmed over I6 is going to get the looks, not an LS.

My vote is thus warm over the I6, and keep for a long time. I think eventually the E46 will be sought after similarly to the E30, whereas I think for the E36 and E92 gens, it will only be the M cars that keep peoples interest. And if it isnt, you still have a wonderful driver's car that was built in an era where tech had creeped into improve cars and add safety, but not yet taken over and isolated the driver.
 

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I6 all day. 1, I personally think engine swaps are for project cars, not your one and only car. And 2, I6 is a unique and wonderful engine, whereas LSs are available in all sorts of things.

My vote is, keep the car as is and freshen it up/tasteful mods. If you want a V8/something else, go buy a V8/something else.
x2. I drove an E46 330ci about 15 years ago and remember thinking how perfectly balanced the car was. Either keep it as is, or sell it for a muscle car. The non-M E46 has been getting lots of love lately on auctions, especially if it's in good shape like this one seems to be.
 

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@TheDarkEnergist
I’m big on emotional connections to cars, so I say if you can justify it, keep it. You seem to care about it.
I think the quest for monster power is a great way to win a dick swinging contest on FB, but there is something to be said for cars with usable power. My personal opinion is over 350hp for the street gets a bit pointless. I’d rather wring out my weak ass 4 banger on a back road any day. Manuel and some suspension work with the right tires is going to do wonders for your car. If you do that, and it’s still not scratching the itch you can move onto the power or maybe another car, and I’d bet most of the money you spent, if you wrench yourself anyways, will be gotten out of your selling price and desirability of the car on the current market.
 
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I’m biased towards a good I6 and would absolutely keep it that way. Though V8s are certainly not long for this world in “normal” cars, there is something equally as special about a strong I6 pulling towards redline. If this was a total POS that you picked up for $1500 on Craigslist, sure, do the swap. But for this it feels wrong.
 

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If this is your only car and you live in downtown Baltimore, I'm not sure I'd want anything particularly nice or anything that brings attention to what I'm driving. Also, if this is a daily driver, I'm not sure I'd want a suspension setup from any spec racing series--unless you're planning to race/track it. I'd probably go with some type of low boost FI kit and catback setup for basic street driving.

If this is a project car, the SBC is an interesting option. There's a guy at a local C&C who has an e46 coupe with SBC. It never fails to grab attention when the car starts up. And regardless of how "played out" the SBC transplant thing is, the guy always has a small crowd around his car at some point during a C&C. On one hand, it seems like a fun project with a lot of upside. OTOH, that particular car has a bit of a kit-car vibe to it. It's a project where things are always being figured out.

The use case for the car is really big consideration of the best direction to go, IMO.
 

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M,

Whatever the soon to be Mrs TDE wants/allows is the correct answer.

J

srsly I would vote mild hopped up engine that's in it with some suspension work. $ is a big factor in my thinking
 

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I'm a big fan of well done swaps and have been a part of doing many over the years. The LS in this car would be as light, and have great balance due to being shorter than the I6 and thus sitting farther back. It would be at least as reliable as a BMW engine.

BUT... in this case the 3 liter 6 is a gem of an engine and with a few minor tweaks is about the best choice for the money. It would cost quite a bit to do the LS swap correctly and well. And would be apart far longer. My vote is to stay with the stock engine with a few tweaks. The engine in our ZHP was about the perfect balance of power in that car. 250 hp would be a really nice goal with the manual trans in there.
 

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No. Just no. That particular instance is only mildly acceptable because its a 318 and the motor in that thing was anemic. Otherwise, just why. That is a case where the LS was a good option, not a VQ.
Idk, I don't view the non M E46 as a sacred chassis. I do quite like the M54 and my 5 year plan is to get a 3.0 and do the mods I suggested to the OP. But I like to see creative swaps like this. I do think these cars need 6 cylinders at least, an SR20 would be a little weird imo, but a VQ is fine. Plus they seemed to be from New Zealand where I don't imagine there's too many LSs laying around
 
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