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.
With such a great chassis, we didn’t want to upset its balance too much so our only upgrades were Continental CSC3 tires, the popular BMW Motorsport X-brace, UUC anti-roll bars and a UUC strut bar, all of which improved road holding on our 65mph test turn. We increased grip from a peak 1.09G to a respectable 1.16G, without compromising comfort.
Since then, we’ve given the car a fresh feel with Powerflex bushings from BimmerWorld in the control arms, installed by our friends at Modified by KC, who did most of the installations in this series. We also upgraded the shocks to Bilstein units but retained the stock springs. This meant the ride wasn’t compromised, but the handling is top-notch, and the car isn’t so low it destroys our DTM Fiberwerkz splitters.
Our final performance upgrades utilized UUC Motorwerks’ 328mm Wilwood front brake conversion, which fitted behind our 17" UUC/D-Force wheels without spacers.
On the rear we installed BavAuto drilled rotors with Cool Blue pads and Goodridge lines, before painting the calipers to match the fronts. Overall, Project M3 was very successful. It remains a fantastic daily driver with up-to-date performance and no sacrifice in drivability or reliability.
We dropped a total of 180 lb, while the handling, braking and aesthetics were significantly improved. Given the weight loss and power gain, we were happy to discover how close we’d come to the performance of the E46 M3 (see table on next page).
Did we reach our goal?
To gauge our modifications, we tested Project M3 against a stock E36 M3 sedan to represent where we started, and an E46 M3 Convertible (not ideal but all we could find) to show where we were headed.
The testing was done on the same stretch of road, within one hour to limit weather deviations, and by the same driver.
With the narrowest tires, our M3 had a tough battle ahead but the stock E36 posted a low 14sec quarter-mile with a trap speed in the upper 90mph.
With its stock M52 intake manifold and 6400rpm rev limiter, the stock car lacks top-end. So our project car beat it in the quarter by 0.6sec or 114ft (eight car lengths) and reached 120mph nearly 6sec sooner.
With launch control activated, the heavier E46 M3 posted a 0-20mph 0.2sec quicker than both E36s. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see Project M3 not only reeling it in by second gear, but our quarter-mile was better by nearly 50 ft.
Assuring this was a weight advantage, we expected the E46’s top-end to turn things around, but Project M3 kept pulling, eventually hitting 120mph almost 2sec faster.
Without an E46 M3 Coupe on hand, we think it’s safe to say Project M3 is at least on par with one, as well as the current 135i and 335i twin-turbo models. That’s not bad for a 15 year-old 3-Series with off-the-shelf upgrades, no forced induction, and 170k miles on the clock!
|M50 manifold conversion||12/07|
|exterior lighting and aesthetics||3/08|
|interior lighting and aesthetics||4/08|
|exhaust, pulleys, throttle body and coils||11/08|
|UUC anti-roll bars, X-brace, wheels||5/09|
|clutch and short shifter||7/09|
|clutch and lubricants dynoed||8/09|
|cams and track pipe||11/09|
|headers, big-brakes, dyno||8/10|
|SSR Wheels, wheel studs conversion||9/10|
et Tech Spec
1997 BMW M3
Owner: Paul Piola
Engine: 3.2L six-cylinder S52 with BimmerWorld/Sunbelt 276/272˚ OBD2 cam kit, M50 intake manifold conversion, throttle boot, BW/Stewart water pump, BW/Samco hoses, BW/Active Autowerke software, Active track pipe (cat-delete) and DTM muffler, EHP 3.5" Euro intake kit with 24 lb/hr Bosch injectors and EHP pulleys, Dr Vanos Stage 2 Vanos unit, Bavarian Autosport shorty headers, ignition coils and 140-amp alternator, Riot Racing big-bore throttle body, PWR 40mm radiator, Optima R35 Red Top battery, NGK BKR7EIX plugs Drivetrain: Five-speed ZF transmission, UUC Evo 3 short shifter, BimmerWorld/Clutch Masters clutch with 10.5 lb JBR flywheel, UUC Motorwerks bushings Brakes: UUC/Wilwood 12.9" big-brake kit front, BavAuto drilled rear rotors with Cool Blue brake pads and stainless lines
Suspension: Bilstein shocks and struts, stock springs, UUC Swaybarbarian anti-roll bars and front strut bar, BMW Motorsport under-chassis X-brace
Wheels & Tires: 17x.8.5" UUC/D-Force LTW-5 wheels, H&R stud conversion, 235/40 R17 Continental ContiSportContact 3 tires, TyreShield puncture protection system
Exterior: DTM Fiberwerkz carbon fiber GTR hood, CSL-style trunk and front splitters, BavAuto M3 bumper and foglights, EAS black kidney grilles, Umnitza xenon conversion with Depot housings and Orion angel-eyes, Umnitza LED tail lights and clear corners
Interior: BMW M3 Coupe seats, Euro-spec steering wheel, BavAuto center console with armrest, LED interior lighting and mats, Rally Road Productions shift and e-brake boots, UUC shift knob, SPA Technique dual oil/water temp gauge
Thanks: Jay, Gordon at Bavarian Autosport, James at BimmerWorld, Arjun at UUC, Dana at Continental, Modified by KC, Bryce, Ryan
|E36 M3 SEDAN||E46 M3||PROJECT E36 M3|
|Transmission||5-speed manual||6-speed SMG*||5-speed manual|
|Rear Tires||245/40 R18 Bridgestone R050||255/40 R18 Goodyear Eagle GT||235/40 R17 Continental CSC3|
|Rated hp||240hp @ 6200rmp||333hp @ 7900rpm||est 310hp @ 6700rpm|
|Rated tq||236 lb-ft @ 3900rpm||262 lb-ft @ 4900rpm||est 270 ft-lb @ 4500rpm|
|Dynojet hp||212whp @ 6000rpm||272whp @ 7800rpm||261whp @ 6700rpm|
|Dynojet tq||219 lb-ft @ 4000rpm||225 lb-ft @ 4200rpm||241 lb-ft @ 4500rpm|
|Curb weight||3180 lb||3830 lb||3000 lb|
|1/4 mile**||14.3sec @ 97.3mph||13.8sec @ 102.6mph||13.5sec @ 105.6mph|
|Ambient temp||79° F||77° F||77° F|
**corrected to NHRA sea level from 1000ft elevation, reducing times by 0.1sec and adding 1,ph