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1997 BMW M3 - Mission Complete Project E36 M3

After several years in the making, we finally conclude the build of our E36 BMW M3 project car.

By Paul Piola

At the turn of the millennium, the tuning industry went into overdrive with E36 M3 upgrades, with off-the-shelf items ranging from mild to wild. Therefore, we were excited to get our turn at building this impressive car, but didn’t want to sacrifice its drivability or reliability for the street, attempting to make it the perfect daily driver.

We also wanted to keep the factory feel, so opted against forced induction. Our target was to match the performance of the E46 M3, pushing a cool 100hp/liter at 333hp. Starting with a US spec 3.2-liter S52 engine rated at 240hp, there was a 93hp deficit to make up. Interestingly, the cars were only about 60whp apart on the Dynojet – about 210whp for the E36 versus 270whp for the E46.

With 95cc less displacement (3151cc vs 3246cc), lower compression (10.5 vs 11.5:1), and only one throttle body (versus six on the E46), it would be an uphill battle.

After extensive research, we found upgrades that provided great gains. First, an M50 manifold conversion from BimmerWorld used the larger diameter intake manifold from the ’92-95 M3 and 325i. It added about 20whp up top, while a BimmerWorld OBD2 cam kit using Sunbelt cams added a further 18whp.

These parts hurt the low-end slightly, costing nearly 40 lb-ft of torque in a small, 300rpm window. Fortunately, most of it returned with the addition of short, equal-length headers from Bavarian Autosport. Active Autowerke’s cat-delete racing resonator also provided good gains throughout the rev range.

At the time of the AA test pipe test we also had a UUC RSC36 cat-back exhaust installed, but the combo was too loud for the street – the RSC36 was fine for stock cats but we opted for Active’s DTM exhaust to compliment its cat-delete pipes. This reduced the noise to almost stock and only cost 1-2hp.

We eventually hit over 260whp, a little shy of our 270whp goal, but with 240 lb-ft of peak torque we had more than the E46 M3.

Other power adders that helped achieve this included NGK BKR7EIX iridium plugs, a Bimmerworld/Clutch Masters clutch kit with lightweight flywheel, Redline fluids in the drivetrain, Lubro Moly oil in the engine, Riot Racing 4mm overbore throttle body, and high-performance ignition coils from Bavarian Autosport.

To further improve overall performance, we recently worked with DTM Fiberwerkz, who sell a range of BMW body parts including a carbon GTR hood and CSL boot lid that shaved 40 lb in the right places. Plus they totally transformed the look of the car.

Additionally, the GTR louvers release heat from the engine bay, keeping the intake air temp comfortably within 15° F of ambient while cruising. We also see significantly less heat soak on a grocery run.

DTM Fiberwerkz also sells CSL-style carbon front splitters, that we color-matched to the other parts painted in red.

At one point, we slightly damaged the front bumper cover, so ordered a replica from Bavarian Autosport and upgraded to projector foglights at the same time.

Other weight reductions came with the installation of UUC LTW-5 wheels (17 lb vs 24 lb stock), JBR flywheel (10.5 lb vs 24 lb), an Optima Red Top R35 battery (33 lb vs 44 lb), UUC big brake kit (saved 9 lb per corner) and the full exhaust system saved another 32 lb. Lastly, we filled our Conti tires with TyreShield’s puncture protection system, negating the need for our spare tire, saving a further 45 lb.

On the inside, Rally Road Productions have shift and e-brake boots in perforated leather and M-color stitching. We further complimented them with a Euro-spec three-spoke, airbag steering wheel that perfectly matches. We found it in Germany on Ebay and the quality was incredible.

We also removed the sedan’s seats and replaced them with the M3 Coupe’s “Vader” seats for additional support.

Lastly, we picked up a Passport Escort Solo2 cordless radar detector from BavAuto, which has already saved us several times. Tested against a Valentine One, it’s slower to respond but the laser detection is better.

By Paul Piola
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