Few could argue that, in its heyday, the second generation M3 was one of (if not the) best performance cars under 40 grand. German engineering, compact styling, five seats, coupe or sedan bodies, excellent braking, unprecedented handling and a torquey 240hp engine hauling just 3200 lb to low-14sec quarters were the traits of a highly desirable car in the '90s.
In 2009, it's hard to imagine a decade has past since the last E36 M3 rolled off the showroom floor. The good news is they're still incredible value at around $10-12000k for a good used one.
Bassam Hannaway picked up his '95 M3 with just 40k miles on the odometer a few years ago. Having a close friend obsessed with modifying this particular car, Bassam knew it wouldn't stay original for long.
With a strong engine dynoing at 217whp, he started with a BimmerWorld stage 1 intake setup comprising a European-spec air-mass sensor, Conforti software and AFE intake kit. This netted him just under 230whp. Shortly after, the urge for more power led to Schrick cams and the motor exceeded 240whp.
At this power, the car seemed nearly perfect. It pulled well, sounded great, and stayed maintenance-free for years. But with the on-going horsepower war between auto manufacturers, no lightly-modified E36 M3 was going to keep up with newer performance cars. So while a turbo setup sounded nice, it was too pricey, and Bassam wasn't interested in dealing with the potential hazards of so much torque, let alone changing the characteristics of his S50 motor. So when he came across a used RMS supercharger kit based around the Vortech blower with water-to-air intercooling for a price he couldn't refuse, he jumped all over it.
With a goal of 330whp, the newly-rebuilt Vortech V2 SQ (super quiet) blower was in good shape but no software was included. He tried unsuccessfully to get it running for almost a year until he finally took the car to evosport in Huntington Beach, CA for its fully programmable AEM plug-n-play engine management system. Then it was game-on.
While nobody knew for sure how much torque the supercharger would make, Bassam realized the stock clutch wouldn't be able to cope, so evosport recommended a six-puck single-disc clutch from OS Giken before dyno tuning could begin.
Keeping a very close eye on knock, especially with the engine at its stock 10.5:1 compression ratio, evosport conservatively tuned Bassam's car to an impressive 390whp at 7000rpm, momentary seeing 14psi boost at max power on their Dynojet 248C dyno.
To allow a little more ignition timing and a larger safety margin against knock, an AEM methanol injection kit was also added. Fully automated, evosport tuned the methanol-specific map to add an extra 3° of ignition timing as long as there was methanol in the trunk-mounted reservoir and no knock was detected.
Cruising around town, the car is sedate, feeling stock except for a slightly louder exhaust. But let her rip off the line, and with 240 lb-ft of torque available at 3000rpm, it's a tire-spinning frenzy that doesn't let up.
A quick shift into second gear makes things scarier, with the tail violently pitching left to right, and now I'm fighting to stay straight at near highway speeds.
Shifting into the money gear, the tires finally hook-up. The thrust as the revs climb is nothing short of amazing. Unlike a turbo system of equal power with a torque curve resembling the shape of a bell, a centrifugal supercharger keeps the torque in a flat but consistent upward climb. Therefore, the engine feels somewhat like a stock M3 - only on steroids. The boost pins you harder and harder into the seat as you approach redline.
By 6100rpm, torque peaks at 325 lb-ft and stays nearly flat through to the redline, giving a sensational, stomach-churning experience, as if you've ejected four fat passengers with each 1000rpm increment. All that sustained torque up top converts to an E92 M3-eating 420whp at 7000rpm (a stock 2008 M3 showed 350whp on evosport's dyno). This is especially impressive considering the cylinder head has never been pulled and the cats are still in place!
From the outside there's no hint to the car's performance. The liquid-to-air heat exchanger is unnoticeable in the front. It has only the lowered ride right thanks to Bilstein struts and H&R springs. The xenon lights and HRE wheels might grant it a second look from unsuspecting motorists. But if they're lucky enough to catch Bassam rocketing away to the tune of an exploding Dinan muffler, they'll witness something they won't forget.
Engine: 3.0-liter S50 24v inline-six with Vortech V2-SQ supercharger, RMS air-to-liquid chargecooler with front-mounted heat exchanger, evosport/AEM EMS and water/methanol injection, custom thermal-coated big-tube headers, 440cc injectors, Schrick 264/256° camshafts, GReddy diverter valve, PWR radiator, Stewart water pump, Dinan cat-back exhaust
Driveline: five-speed manual with OS Giken six-puck single-disc clutch, lightweight flywheel
Brakes: Bavarian Autosport cross-drilled rotors, Goodridge lines
Suspension: Bilstein dampers, H&R springs
Wheels & Tires: 18x8" front, 18x9" rear HRE 545 wheels with 225/40 front, 255/35-18 rear Bridgestone Potenza S-03 tires
Exterior: European Auto Source black kidney grilles, Umnitza smoked corners, Euro-spec tail lights, clear bra and ellipsoid headlights with first-gen xenon and angel-eye conversion
Interior: SPA dual-digital oil/water temp and fuel/boost pressure gauges
Audio: Kenwood KDC-MP4028 head unit, Boston Acoustics 12" sub and amps, Rockford Fosgate capacitor
Thanks: Bob, Brad at evosport.com, Steve at europeanautosource.com, Matt at umnitza.com, osgiken.com, Gary at gksystemsinc.com, raceware-fasteners.com, scegasketsonline.com
Considering its stock block, this M3's performance is impressive. But evosport warned Bassam the factory head gasket and bolts would be a weak point. Yet he decided to try his luck. However, it wasn't two months later the car started overheating. The failing factory bolts caused microscopic head lift under boost, allowing pressurized air into the water passages at wide-open throttle. Consequently, the head gasket let go shortly after.
Per evosport's advice, he installed an SCE copper head gasket. Each gasket is heat-treated to ensure it conforms to the O-ring for a tight seal, making it ideal for boosted applications. Just .010" thicker than stock, the .080" SCE gasket will maintain near-stock compression.
To stop the head lifting, re-usable Raceware head studs were installed. These parts reportedly test between 203,000 and 205,000psi, and feature billet hardened washers and 12-point forged aircraft heads with anti-friction coating.
As the only American-designed studs approved by Porsche AG for OEM use, Raceware studs are designed to evenly distribute load along the block for a proper seal and avoid power-robbing block distortion.
Since the car doesn't make massive torque, stock-sized 10mm studs were installed, eliminating the need for drilling and tapping the block for larger studs.
Evosport has been using this combination of SCE head gaskets and Raceware studs successfully in their turbocharged BMW racecars for years.