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M Powered BMW 323i - Curious George

With no prior mechanical experience George Lee embarked on a project to understand the BMW E46 platform inside and out, ultimately creating this supercharged M3-powered sedan.

Jun 10, 2007
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With over 100 trips to pick up parts from the dealership, more than 200 hours of planning and a total of 800 hours of wrenching and rewiring, George Lee has lived and breathed the DIY philosophy in building his '00 BMW 323i for the past two years. If you don't believe us, visit his website at e46.mit.edu where he's posted over 3000 photos.

There's something about George that explains his ability to complete this immense project - education. He's a graduate of MIT and is currently enrolled at the California Institute of Technology for his post-graduate degree in Computer Science. He's also an entrepreneur, co-founding the networking firm Fastsoft. George's aptitude for studying and problem-solving coupled with an enthusiasm for cars, made this project possible.

2018 BMW 3-Series
$34,900 Base Model (MSRP) 24/35 MPG Fuel Economy
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A Bright Future
After his first year at MIT, George needed transport for an internship. A family friend owns Century West BMW, and before long a loaded 3-Series was en route to Boston. "School consumed all my time," he began, "but I managed to squeeze in twilight hours to work on the car while battling New England's sub-zero winters."

Since George had no mechanical knowledge, he learned with basic changes like an intake, sway bars and coilovers. As the months passed, he gained experience and then tackled his first major project - installing a used supercharger for the 2.5 liter engine.

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Another major project was a first-generation car computer. "I built a Car PC using an Intel Pentium III mini-ITX form factor," he explained. "I was then able to demonstrate wireless MP3 synchronization while WiFi technology was still in its infancy, so I submitted it for my senior project."

After George graduated, he returned to SoCal and sourced a crashed '02 M3 with SMG2 transmission to begin the "real" DIY project. BMW never released a four-door E46 M3, so he was motivated to build his own.

M Swap
The totaled M3 had sustained damage to the intake manifold. "I thought it just needed a new airbox," he chuckled. "As I dismantled the engine, I realized almost everything was damaged - the throttle bodies, crankcase cover, coolant pipes and air valves." He spent the following weeks studying BMW's parts catalogue until he understood it and could fix every part.

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Disassembly spanned several weeks but George realized it was the easiest part of the project. Doing all the work from his garage, he had to remove the drivetrain with only jack stands and two pallet jacks. "Luckily, the front detaches effortlessly from the frame so I disconnected the engine mounts and driveshaft to pull the motor. For the rear subframe, I dropped the suspension onto the other pallet jack."When George's 323i and donor M3 were stripped, the next task was reassembly. "I figured it would be just the reverse process," he remembered. "but it's never that simple!"

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George first installed the M3 rear subframe (with a 3.46 limited-slip diff, beefier half-shafts and Rogue Engineering adjustable control arms). Next, he retrofitted the M3 front suspension including steering rack, control arms and wheel spindles. Reinforced by Rogue rear shock mounts, Praxis air suspension was installed to give height adjustment. Ground Control sway bars completed the package.

In order to retrofit the S54 engine and SMG2 tranny, George had to tackle the electronics - the most challenging task of the entire project. He obtained wiring diagrams for the 323i and M3. "After digging through hundreds of documents and deciphering German codes and symbols, I realized the diagrams weren't always correct," he explained. "However, I was able to reverse-engineer a harness by tracing every wire and cross-referencing between the two cars."

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Once the wiring was finalized, George saw an opportunity to improve performance. An Active Autowerke supercharger increased the power to 440hp, thanks to a kit that includes injectors, FMIC and cast intake manifold. In order to achieve the required fuel pressure, the M3 pump, lines, filter, diverter valve and pump relay were also needed.

The M3 fan shroud wouldn't fit the sedan, so George fitted an 18" Permacool electric fan. Then the stock auxiliary "pusher" fan wouldn't fit due to the intercooler. "To remedy this I installed two 10" fans to push air through the radiator, while two 8" fans pull air off of the intercooler," he said.

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Once the upgrades were complete, George lifted the engine, transmission and driveshaft back into the chassis on the pallet jack.The process took 18 months to complete. The car was then towed to Century West BMW to be double-checked by technicians. "The moment of truth came when it all had to work," he exclaimed. "And amazingly, the car started with no problems."

Paint and Body
Immediately after the engine diagnostics, the car moved to Marco's Autobody for a coat of BMW Individual Interlagos blue. "They're one of the premier bodyshops for dealers in LA." George explained. "They don't do aftermarket work but I organized a one-time deal thanks to my relationship with Century West BMW."Marco's Autobody had the complex task of retrofitting E46 Coupe headlights. To do this, they grafted the front part of a Coupe fender onto the rear part of the Sedan fender. Five fenders were sacrificed before they found the best join, but the work is now seamless.To provide a more aggressive appearance, the sedan has a Rieger CS body kit. The front bumper resembles the M3 CSL's and is accompanied by a carbon M3 hood from Vorsteiner, incorporating blue and black carbon vents. Finishing the bodywork is a Hamann roof spoiler and OE trunk spoiler.

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Computer Crazy
When George was in Boston, he demonstrated wireless technology and onboard computing with the car. He's since revamped it: "I evaluated power consumption, heat dissipation, shock tolerance and integrated features, then decided to use a Xenarc FL9 Car PC running Intel Pentium M 2.1Ghz and 1GB of DDR PC3200 memory. The FL9 comes with a startup/shutdown controller, so was an obvious choice. It allows the PC to start the computer 10sec after the car is running to give the voltage time to stabilize. Likewise, when the car turns off, it automatically hibernates.

"Typical hard drives don't last long with vibration from stiff suspension, so I used a solid-state M-Systems IDE 4GB flash disk," the computer-whiz explained. "It's rated at over five million write/erase cycles, which is ten times more than usual."

After sourcing the most suitable hardware, the computer was installed snuggly under the driver's carpet.

A PC is pointless without a monitor, so George dismantled an HP laptop to use its 14.1" LCD screen. The LCD fitted the center console perfectly, and a G-touch four-wire resistive overlay turns the monitor into a user-friendly touchscreen.

Motorized from the top of the dash are two additional 7" LCD screens. The left screen receives video input from the computer and is used as an accessory monitor to view real-time engine stats, a GPS map, or almost anything else gauges would normally monitor. On the right, a Scansys TM4 standalone four-channel digital video recorder has been modified to display three different camera feeds from CCTV cameras with nightvision in the front bumper, trunk keyhole and the motion sensor box in the headliner. All camera feeds are then recorded to the hard drive along with engine data.

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There are several other devices within the car including a USGlobalSat BT-355 GPS receiver on the decklid, as well as a Dell wireless adapter allowing George to connect to local WiFi. If there aren't any networks available, he's still able to go online using a Verizon Wireless cellular modem.

George's Car PC also uploads the vehicle's coordinates to mapping software for online tracking and acts as a WiFi access point. As a result of all this technology, a person can actually remotely view and record his cameras, location and engine data from another computer.

BMW 323i

Owner: George LeeLocation: San Marino, CAOccupation: Graduatestudent and co-founder of Fastsoft

ENGINE: 3.2 liter 24v i6 with rod bearing recall, DME software, drive-by-wire conversion, plasma coils, Iridium spark plugs, M3 wiring harness, relays and control units, TCU, radiator, power-steering cooling rod, AC cooling rod, fan delete, Permacool 18" electric fan, two 8" pusher fans, two SPAL 10" puller fans, M3 fuel pump, fuel leveler, gas lines and regulator, Active Autowerke stage one supercharger with intake, JC Designs cat-back exhaust

DRIVETRAIN: SMG2 transmission, M3 driveshaft, LSD and DSC control unit for LSD

SUSPENSION: Praxis air suspension, M3 rear subframe, rear axles, front control arms, tie rods, reinforced skid plate, front kingpins, wheel bearings, Rogue Engineering adjustable rear control arms and shock mounts, Schnitzer front strut bar, Z3 reinforced RSM plates

WHEELS & TIRES: 20x8" front, 20x10" rear DPE LS5 wheels, M3 rear wheel hubs, 225/35-20 front, 245/20-20 rear BFGoodrich KDW tiresBRAKES: 14" StopTech big brake kits front and rear

EXTERIOR: Rieger CS Coupe front and rear bumpers and side skirts, custom front fenders, VS vented M3 blue carbon hood, folding mirrors, Sedan facelift grille, 5% limo tint, color-matched moldings, Hamann roof spoiler, shaved antenna, OE Coupe wing, JL LEDs, Eagle Eye LED tail lights with red blinkers, matched trunk lights, '04 Coupe headlights, Predator Chromium, parking light delete, two '04 adaptive bixenon headlights, painted Interlagos blue

INTERIOR: M5 SMG3 steering wheel, paddle shift, steering wheel airbag, shift knob with custom illumination, M3 SMG2 shift boot, steering column and instrument gauges, modified dash, trim pieces painted silver, suede headliner and dash

AUDIO/VISUAL/COMPUTER: custom computer with dual head, DVI, solid-state SPDIF, 14" LVDS LG LCD screen, four-wire touchscreen overlay, Digital View LCD driver, ERG LCD DC/AC inverter, two motorized 7" LCD touchscreens, two USB hubs with Griffen Powermate, keyboard, mouse and GlobalSat GPS receiver, Dsub to video converter, AutoEnginuity OBD2 scanner, Linksys power over Ethernet injector, Proxim AP4000 802.11 a/b/g Access Point w/PoE, WiFi high gain 8dB antenna, additional OE battery, four-channel standalone digital video recorder, front nightvision camera and keyhole camera, cabin camera, electronic microphone

THANKS: Century West BMW, New Century BMW, DPE Wheels, Rogue Engineering, Carrozzeria Design, JleviSW, Modbargains, Umnitza, e46fanatics.com

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