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Discussion Starter · #44 ·
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.
Thanks for this. I've looked up some 712 racks and they're still affordable, and I'm all about upgrading brakes too.


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.
Lots and lots of attachment to this car. As I said my brother owned it for a few years and he basically gave it to me because it knew I would take care of it. And here we are. The car is currently in the shop getting a bunch of small stuff (and a couple of big things) that I can't do myself done.

I've already addressed the cooling system, suspension was refreshed with stock Bilsteins a couple years back, and I'm currently replacing the window seals (3/4 windows done) and windshield cowl (done).

The dash cams require having the headliner dropped, and there are already new B and C pillar covers waiting in the car. I'm having them toss the old ones and replace with new ones. I have black M3 sport seats, steering wheel, and aluminum dash trim and door handles inside.


@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.
I'll absolutely be keeping it, 100%. Forever. That's the point in making this project something reasonable and maintainable. My reasoning behind the LS swap was mostly the aftermarket support and ease of adding power.

But you do make good points. Growing up I could only think of having a 500hp car for the street, but now that I'm on the street all the time, I just want something with enough power to get out of its own way and then some.


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.

The use case for the car is really big consideration of the best direction to go, IMO.
Probably should've mentioned this but this is my only car for now. My fiance and I are planning on getting either a Bronco in a year, or something else depending on availability. THAT car will pull daily duty, freeing this car up for work that needs to be done.

And the use case is basically a street legal car that I track whenever I can. My fiance is pretty good with letting me have my hobbies that get me out of the house, so I do think I'd actually be able to make good on the promise of wringing it out in the right (safest) place.




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?

Definitely the latter. I don't do anything to please anyone else, so I don't think I'd be disappointed either way. The real question is which road would lead to the least amount of headaches and down time when things break.


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?
Haha, yeah man. There is no lack of things to fix on this car. I honestly really like the way the motor sounds too. The AFE intake I have gives it some awesome induction sound and it's got a really clean rev.

I definitely plan on building and refreshing 'the car' as a whole before I start really messing with the engine stuff, but once I do, there are some pretty impressive LS swap kits available with some really well-made looking parts.

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.
I don't think anything you said is out of line. This guy near me truly is the real deal and he's commented several times on how nice the car is and how he appreciates customers that take care of their stuff. That does come into play when I don't have a lift or a garage.

That's really what's been keeping me from going all-out on this thing. It's not a 325, or a beater E36. Even the mods I have done have been thoughtfully researched and almost all the parts are OEM. It's yielded some solid results so far.

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.

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.
Really appreciate your posts here. Subframe bushings are actually part of what the car is in the shop for now. I'm having them diagnosed to make sure they're ok. If they're not, I'll be addressing that before anything else, honestly. Bushings, reinforcement plates, and of course arrest any corrosion before any of that's done.

Also checked out the R&T Ohlins setup and it's much cheaper than the spec setup so, that's a win.

Not to mention there's companies like Wiring Specialties that make plug and play wiring harnesses. Here's one for an LS3 but they have other options. I'm still team M54, keep it simple, but if OP wants to go LS it's good to know about these types of kits
Yep, I've been in casual contact with Vorschlag Tuning who, according to who I spoke to are still making LS Swap kits, and mentioned it's one of their strongest lines of business currently.

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.
Great point, and thank you. This kind of stuff has definitely been on my mind as I'm a little paranoid about the subframe bushings. The last thing I wanna do is be one of those guys that throws power at a chassis that isn't ready for it. I've also had too much toe start to eat diffs in previous cars and this is one of those random tidbits you don't learn with some casual digging.
 

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Discussion Starter · #45 · (Edited)
Whatever helps put his kid through college.
Yes. Mike is the mechanic's name and the last time I spoke to him he said "bring the car, a way to get home, and your credit card"

So, while he was half joking, I'm fairly sure he'd tell me to keep the motor that's in it.

This thread made me realize I've never really documented or written down the stuff I've done on the car, so once I get it back next week I'll upload some pictures of the state of things. To date the scariest mod I've ever done was replacing the shift knob on the automatic. IYKYK.
 

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Also checked out the R&T Ohlins setup and it's much cheaper than the spec setup so, that's a win.
That's perfect. I have them on the Cayman and they ride fine on the street but don't leave me wanting at the track either. You can also easily tune the balance of the car with the damping knobs and ride height (which, notably, is an independent adjustment from preload!). A high end product.
 

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Before you go wild with the motor I'd highly recommend some headers, a tune, and an intake just for some extra noise. I personally wouldn't mess with an M50 intake manifold, there's a lot more to it with the M54 than simply swapping it over. You also lose the low end torque that you get with DISA. The gains are minimal for the work involved. Little bit of HP at redline isn't worth it.

Just changing the throttle mapping and response, along with the few extra HP from tune and extra revs is going to make it feel tons different. Then throw the headers on and it changes even more.

At that point you have a decision to make, and if you still want more power, supercharge it. VF Engineering BMW E46 330i Supercharger System

Before you do any of that I'd put a manual transmission in the car, as that's going to totally transform the experience for you, and quite frankly would probably have you put off some of the other engine modifications for the time being. You can look up the dyno sheets from automatic cars vs manual, and it's quite the loss at whp.

As far as suspension, if you're still going to drive the car on the street do not go full spec e46 with the suspension as it'll be a totally miserable experience. Refresh all your bushings and then get some ZHP control arms, stiffer sway bars, and pick some decent coilovers.

FWIW, after headers and a tune, plus a supercharger, you'll be over 320-330 HP at the crank, if not a bit more. Essentially where you'd be sitting with a stock LS (5.3), and still have all the characteristics of the super smooth I6.
 

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The M54 is one of the last reliable straight 6 normally aspirated cars from BMW. These cars are on the rise in value. I wouldnt modify it at all. These cars have been claimed to be the last good product to come out of Stuttgart. Maybe go through a re-build with it if you want a project. There is an awesome video from 50's Kid on youtube that does a full re-build. I have this same engine in my e85 with a 6 speed and love it. 50s kid also does a manual swap and all the typical things to tackle on these cars.
 

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The M54 is one of the last reliable straight 6 normally aspirated cars from BMW. These cars are on the rise in value. I wouldnt modify it at all. These cars have been claimed to be the last good product to come out of Stuttgart. Maybe go through a re-build with it if you want a project. There is an awesome video from 50's Kid on youtube that does a full re-build. I have this same engine in my e85 with a 6 speed and love it. 50s kid also does a manual swap and all the typical things to tackle on these cars.
I don't know that OP has plans to ever get rid of it, so resale isn't probably a concern.

Though you're not wrong, they are going up in value. The way I see it, as long as the modifications are mild, and the engine is not opened up, it's all easily reversable.
 

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The M54 is one of the last reliable straight 6 normally aspirated cars from BMW. These cars are on the rise in value. I wouldnt modify it at all. These cars have been claimed to be the last good product to come out of Stuttgart. Maybe go through a re-build with it if you want a project. There is an awesome video from 50's Kid on youtube that does a full re-build. I have this same engine in my e85 with a 6 speed and love it. 50s kid also does a manual swap and all the typical things to tackle on these cars.
They made over a million of these cars. Also OP doesn't seem to have any plans that involve cutting of the chassis, just things that can be bolted in. Even the LS swap at this point is reversible. If he'll get more enjoyment from some modification, I see no reason to hold back. Also Stuttgart is Porsche, BMW is from Munich ;)
 

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I say keep the BMW I6 and restore and/or upgrade all the other stuff that has a tangible effect on the way it drives in "typical" (meaning the normal street driving that accounts for ~99.5% of all the miles most people, even enthusiasts, will ever drive) - brakes, suspension, steering, interior, etc. However, I'm biased because I'm at the point in life where I don't really care about going fast because there's so few places to drive fast safely. These days, I'm much more interested in and impressed by older cars that have been well cared for and preserved or with "OEM+" type mods, even if they weren't rare or special when they were new.
 

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The M54 is one of the last reliable straight 6 normally aspirated cars from BMW. These cars are on the rise in value. I wouldnt modify it at all. These cars have been claimed to be the last good product to come out of Stuttgart. Maybe go through a re-build with it if you want a project. There is an awesome video from 50's Kid on youtube that does a full re-build. I have this same engine in my e85 with a 6 speed and love it. 50s kid also does a manual swap and all the typical things to tackle on these cars.
I'm so tired of this line of thinking. Worrying about how much it's going to be worth in the future sucks all the fun out of cars. I hate that money has become a factor in even the most mundane cars. It's an E46 330, not even a ZHP, not everything has a curve where values come back and to be honest who cares. It's not special, its just a car with millions of others just like it. The reason this is even a topic is because the car holds an emotional value for TDE, it's never going to be sold at Bonhams.

Tiring.
 

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Discussion Starter · #56 ·
Yeah. Vorshlag's kit is beautifully made, and they make it to order so you can get updates as they build.

The Sikky option is cool, but the idea behind this all is to really understand and know this car inside and out. I'm concerned about the future of cars in that they're going to be so difficult to know. I'm not a coder, I'm not an electrical engineer, and I don't know what the hell is going on with the electronics that are now lining every inch of every new car.

I want to stay pretty hands-on with all of this, so I would be handling the swap/majority of the work myself.

It's feeling more and more like I should sort everything but the motor for now.

Get the car bulletproof and reconditioned as far as brake lines, fuel lines, suspension bushings and parts, etc. The Ohlins suspension is affordable and will likely REALLY make a difference in drivability and handling. An LSD installation (according to Turner) sounds like it's a bit of a Rosetta Stone to really unlock the potential of subsequent mods and that'll go hand-in-hand with a 5 speed swap.

I actually already have a Shark tuner, I've just never had the balls to ask someone to install it. I appreciate the 50's Kid shoutout, he's a gem and just recently started posting again thankfully.

You're all inspiring me and motivating me to really do something special with this car and I'm thankful for all the input.
 

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1. Sort suspension and bushings, brake lines, etc
2. Manual swap
3. LSD

By the time you're done with all that I'd be surprised if you feel like doing much to the motor, at least for a little while. Most manual cars lose about 15% to the rear wheels on the dyno, whereas the automatics lose 20-25%. That, coupled with the sensation of having a manual car, is going to make it feel much better.

I've been looking at dyno numbers for 330's that are supercharged, and most of them are putting down 300-320WHP, which is damn impressive. However you would want to intercool it if you plan on having it on the track.
 

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This isn't a realistic option for you based on everything in the thread, but I am surprised we've made it this far without mention of:




Chase Bays has a pretty extensive guide for what it takes to swap a 2 or 1JZ into a BMW. Downside is the prices of these motors (or at least 2JZ-GTEs) are skyrocketing, especially when compared to a junkyard LS 5.3. Upside? Well, it's still an I6 and (in my opinion) one of the best-sounding motors of all time, not to mention the power potential.

It seems like it may be more than what you're looking for, but hey, it's fun to dream. Best of luck on the project; keep us posted.
 

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I am an owner of a zhp, and someone who helped do an LS swap. I vote for supercharger, manual swap and lsd.

Just the manual swap and a zhp rear ratio will wake up the car significantly. (Though you may already have a spicy ratio due to the auto) Supercharger can be done in a weekend. Same for a manual swap.

It’s apples to oranges, but when I manual swapped my e30, it was like taking 500+ lbs out of the car. Suddenly the car felt alive.
 

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Check out Active Autowerke and see what they offer. I had an E36 with a M50 and 5 speed and their supercharger kit, that car was an absolute blast and made all of the right sounds. I couldn’t imagine that car with even another 50hp, THAT would be fun.
My suggestion would honestly be to go to a local BMW event, cars and coffee, etc and see if you can score a test ride in a few cars. See which one puts the biggest grin on your face regardless of HP or cylinders and pursue the combo that makes you the happiest.
I love an I6 and do honestly think it is the best engine setup, BUT, I am also a firm believer in a 6.0 LS. Whichever tickles your fancy.
 
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