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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
Look, to each their own, and the NZ thing makes a little more sense. I hadn't realized that. My commentary has nothing to do with the sacredness of the car, just why go through the effort for a VQ. It's a fine engine, but its just fine nothing special. I'd sooner do a N54 swap than that.
 

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Turner Motorsport built a pretty darn nice 330 ZHP project car some years back, here's the writeup on it. Cams, header, different final drive ratio, H&Rs, etc. Came out pretty sharp. If it were me, this is what I'd do.





 

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I would LS it. I had a 330Ci, mine was an 01. It was fun, but... I have a buddy that has an E46 wagon with a turbo'd LS. It's ****ing absurd, in all the best ways. It is an absolute blast to drive. Wanna putt it around, no worries at all, thing is super driveable. Want to do a burnout the length of a football field, yes... Even a non turbo version would be a hoot.

LS it. Who cares if it's been done to death, you tryin to win a unique guy car show or are you trying to have a blast with your car?
 

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Look, to each their own, and the NZ thing makes a little more sense. I hadn't realized that. My commentary has nothing to do with the sacredness of the car, just why go through the effort for a VQ. It's a fine engine, but its just fine nothing special. I'd sooner do a N54 swap than that.
Sorry I've spent too much time on the e46 subreddit where a 318 is held in the same regard as an M3CSL. VQ wouldn't be my go to either, but I can see the appeal in their power output and how common they are.
 

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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.
You must have missed this part:

Wait, no, just keep what's in there and make it nice.
It was a joke. I stumbled across that the other day and thought it was amusing. The VQ is a fun engine, but that's a ton of work that could be better spent elsewhere.
 

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LS swap will be way more expensive than you think to do it right. Easily $15k when all said and done. At that point, you may as well have bought a C5 on the side.

The only engine swap worth considering is an N52.
Eh... I just did an LS swap on one of my dad's cars and he didn't spend near that much. Changed, trans, motor, management and a bunch of odds and ends to make it fit right. I think all in we did it for about 5500. Trick is, just do the 5.3 put a good set of heads and a cam in it and it will make over 400 at the wheels. You can find 5.3's all day long for $1000 - $1200. Look for an LM7. We got my dad's for about $600 out of a bone yard.
 

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Another vote for just keeping it well maintained, an ageing E46 should have plently of things to keep you busy, like peeling a-pillars and rotting bushings. I even like the stock exhaust on the E46 330i's, its got a nice growl to it so I probably wouldn't swap it out. If I were to mod anything, I would put some Ohlins R&T coilovers on, they're daily-friendly coilovers that are pretty well reviewed. I wouldn't go too low though, I'm from that part of the world and Baltimore streets are not exactly smooth.

Also, I may be mistaken, but doesn't the LS swap in the E46s have some weird stuff that's needed, like a hydroboost brake conversion because the master cylinder doesn't fit?
 

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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.
Please don't take this the wrong way, but if being near a good mechanic might influence your decision, and you want the car to last forever, I don't think you want this to be an LS swapped BMW. It obviously can be done but it's not the kind of thing that's going to yield an, erm, OEM+ result.

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.
Thanks for this. So many people leave it open ended and then the replies just describe cars they would want. This is a reasonable build we can shoot for. Some thoughts:

Spec E46 suspension kits are $5k.
The problem is that that's not street/track, it's full on racecar. Something like 800lb springs and damping that's set up for a car weighing hundreds of pounds less. On the street the car would neither ride nor drive right. You'd likely be much happier with something like KWs, or ideally, Ohlins. Camber plates I also would not mess with unless you're getting weird tire wear at the track.

Manual transmissions are abounds.
Do it. There's plenty of guides for E46 M3 SMG conversions, it won't be exactly the same obviously but stuff like clutch pedal and mounting points and stuff will be a good reference for you.

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.
If you want to LS swap something for all those smoky burnouts let it be a dedicated project car you don't have an emotional attachment too. Maybe a hooptie E36 you find cheap somewhere. S54 is the only logical swap I can think of here for street/track/longevity as the chassis and such were designed to accommodate it so it's mostly finding parts as opposed to making them.

Another point, the rear subframe/chassis is liable to crack on these with hard use, it may already have. It can be welded and various companies make reinforcement kits.
 

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Please don't take this the wrong way, but if being near a good mechanic might influence your decision, and you want the car to last forever, I don't think you want this to be an LS swapped BMW. It obviously can be done but it's not the kind of thing that's going to yield an, erm, OEM+ result.
Disagree completely. Both on the reliability and the driver friendliness.
 

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I'm in the Baltimore 'burbs (I can see the city skyline from my kitchen window) and take my car to the track, so let me know if you want to hit up any events next season.

I did an LS swap on my MkIV 1.8t GTI last year. Well, actually I sold the GTI and bought a C5 Z06, but whatever. That said, the I6 is the soul of a 3 series. I like the suggestions to refresh the car and improve it where you can.
 

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Disagree completely. Both on the reliability and the driver friendliness.
I didn't say it would be unreliable or drive poorly, just that it's not in his interest of longevity and wouldn't be an OEM+ drop-in kind of thing. Stuff like programming the BMW CC module/can bus to understand what's going on, building a new harness/interposer that routes cleanly and has well documented schematics that don't get lost, getting all the factory instruments working correctly, cruise control, etc.

So, let's say 10 years from now something has an issue in one of those systems. In addition to regular repair, OP has to remember or reverse engineer what was changed with it in the first place and perhaps rebuild parts. I don't see how that could possibly serve the desire for longevity.
 

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I didn't say it would be unreliable or drive poorly, just that it's not in his interest of longevity and wouldn't be an OEM+ drop-in kind of thing. Stuff like programming the BMW CC module/can bus to understand what's going on, building a new harness/interposer that routes cleanly and has well documented schematics that don't get lost, getting all the factory instruments working correctly, cruise control, etc.

So, let's say 10 years from now something has an issue in one of those systems. In addition to regular repair, OP has to remember or reverse engineer what was changed with it in the first place and perhaps rebuild parts. I don't see how that could possibly serve the desire for longevity.
Solid line of thinking for sure. Not faulting you for it. But the LS has way more support and will likely still be heavily supported 10 years from now. As far as wiring goes, that's why you document while you build. for the canbus stuff they actually make a plug in solution for it now. Then you document everything and keep a folder on it. If you have the car you should have a folder with documents somewhere. I still have the file with every receipt for the 58 bug I finished last year. Some of the reciepts and documentation are from 2008. I have a wiring diagram that I drew out that is colorcoded and I passed that along to the new owner. When there is a problem with it, he should have no problem sorting through everything.

They do make some really clean solutions for the E46 LS swap, it's so popular that multiple companies make staged kits that solve all the problems you'll run into so a novice builder without the ability to fabricate can build it in the garage. They really have some killer kits out there. You could have a correctly assembled LS swap car for under 6k and then just start modding the motor for more power. It's real easy to get 450whp out of the 5.3's. Throw a low boost turbo setup and you can pretty easily put down 600+.They are also shorter and weigh about the same as the I6. The handling doesn't suffer at all and the low end torque and sheer grunt from a roll is fantastic.
 

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Something super important that's not engine related and hasn't been brought up. The way the rear trailing arms are designed, there is slight change in toe when the suspension compresses. This means your alignment will be changing mid corner. This can be fixed with a spherical bearing in place of the rear trailing arm bushing. Poly bushings tend to bind and don't really fix the problem. Since you mentioned tracking the car, this is a must do upgrade. It's likely a part of the spec E46 package but others have suggested good reasons not to go that route, so if you end up piecing together your own suspension package include this.
 
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