You might be surprised to know that Clay Sanderson, the owner of this unassuming-looking E36 BMW, used to be an avid truck enthusiast. After owning a handful of modified Ford Rangers, he picked up a '97 Ford F-150 that he chopped up to achieve a 13-inch drop on full air-ride suspension. That's not exactly the background most of our readers come from, but this unique automotive history has allowed Clay to bring us a car you might not be used to seeing on these pages.
After Clay's best friend, J.B., decided to move on from modifying trucks and picked up a '90 Honda Accord, Clay followed suit and made the jump from his F-150 to a brand-new Toyota Corolla. Some people would call that stepping down (literally), but in our eyes, it was the right decision, and it didn't take Clay long to tear into it.
By the time he was finished, the Corolla was sporting a TRD supercharger at 14 psi with methanol injection, supporting engine modifications, wheels, and suspension mods. Even though the Corolla was a fun car, it still wasn't what he wanted. Clay soon sold it and managed to rescue an '87 Mazda FC RX-7 that had been hiding in someone's backyard.
After spending a lot of time and money sourcing a turbo rotary powerplant for the car, Clay found out just how finicky rotaries can be when the engine let go while it idled for the first time. Frustrated, Clay turned his attention to a V8 swap. With a carbureted Chevy 350 and an automatic transmission, the FC was fun, but it still didn't satisfy him.
Clay's next discovery was another FC with an LT1 engine and T56 six-speed transmission for sale. He made the nine-hour trek with his faithful wife to pick up yet another project car. The body of his current FC was cleaner than the new car, so he swapped the entire drivetrain out of the car he had just purchased into his previous FC chassis. At this point you must be asking yourself what all this has to do with the BMW you see here in this feature. Read on.
One of Clay's close friends decided he wanted a piece of the V8 fun and bought Clay's FC shell, as well as an LS1 engine set. He stored these items at Clay's place while he made plans for the build and got his funds in order. After a few months, he decided his build simply wasn't going to work out. He offered the engine to Clay, but it was a little bit out of his price range. Despite those concerns, Clay tore into the engine to check it out. Sadly, he found water inside the combustion chamber, which meant the seller had duped his friend. On the bright side, Clay's buddy cut him a ridiculous deal that he couldn't refuse, and the engine set was his.
That very LS1 drivetrain is the one you see before you. But with all those FCs, how in the world did it end up in an E36 BMW? Clay had torn apart his FC to begin installing his new engine and transmission setup when his wife came to him with some wonderful news: She was pregnant. As many of our readers with children know, becoming a parent often causes a bit of a shake up when it comes to the cars we decide to modify and drive. "I didn't do much of anything for a few months, as I was faced with a decision. I daily drive my project cars. The FC has no rear seats. I didn't want to strap my son in the front of a two-door, two-seat sports car," Clay remembers.
Clay turned to Craigslist and searched with the terms "RWD Sedan." What he found was a seemingly never-ending supply of E36 BMWs with blown head gaskets and various other issues. The best part? They were selling for cheap. Clay promptly pulled the LS1 back out of the FC and put the chassis up for sale. Within three weeks, his RX-7 was on a trailer heading to its new owner. And that's when the idea of building an E36 V8 sleeper came about.
Clay joined BimmerForums.com and began to research installing the LS1 engine into the E36, but there wasn't a lot of info to be found, as only a handful of detailed swaps had been completed. There was an aftermarket engine mount kit available for the swap, but it was out of his now child-constrained budget. It was at this point Clay decided he would take the path less traveled. He would design and fabricate as many parts for the project as he could himself.
The first E36 Clay bought, a '92 325i, turned out to have chassis damage. However, it was cheap enough that he could use it for spare parts and mock up his custom engine setup. After spending countless hours with his new MIG welder, Clay had built mounts as well as a set of long-tube headers with 13/4-inch primaries flowing into 3-inch collectors that connect to the rest of the custom-built exhaust system.
In the meantime, the search for a clean car finally paid off. Clay found yet another black '92 E36 with a warped head about 10 minutes from his home and scooped it up immediately. Progress was quick from there. "I learned more about myself during this time than ever before. I was making everything with my own hands. I had a sense of pride about this car that was only second to my son," Clay explains. About six months with the new chassis, the car rumbled to life for the first time.
Now that the car was finally running, it was time to sort out all the supporting details. The employees of the local AutoZone began to know Clay by name. He spent hours ensuring every gauge and light on the dash played nicely with the car's new and unfamiliar powerplant. Next, Clay turned to making sure the suspension and drivetrain could keep up with the power the car was making. He installed Tein S-Tech lowering springs and a host of polyurethane bushings from Powerflex. The gearing of the car was a bit wonky for the powerband of the LS1, so Clay replaced the factory 3.15 final drive with a 3.91 BMW LSD 188mm diff and a BimmerDiffs.com clutch upgrade.
With this setup, the car was a menace on the street, and at the dragstrip, Clay ran a 12.5-second pass, despite a massive lack of traction. Wisely, he upgrade his wheel and tire package to a set of 17x8.5 Kosei K1 wheels and 245/45/17 Nitto 555R drag radials out back. This allowed him to drop his times to the 12.2-second range, but it came at a price.
Aside from some cosmetic upgrades, such as M3 bumpers, Clay drove the E36 as is for the next little while. Soon, though, the 332 whp and 340 wtq the car was making simply weren't cutting it. As luck would have it, Clay ended up the winning bidder on an Eaton M112 supercharger from a Ford Lightning on eBay.
The supercharger was by no means a bolt-on to the LS1. Determined to make it work, Clay spent a great deal of time fabricating his own intake manifold. After many long hours, the supercharger fit under the stock BMW hood-something Clay had to do to keep the stealth factor in check. To keep the intake temps down, an Alky Control 100 percent methanol injection system was added, and with the addition of an LS6 cam, the setup netted 420 whp and 460 wtq.
Not long after, Clay took the car to a track day. He made a slow first pass to ensure everything was right with the car and ran an 11.96-second time. On his second pass, Clay poured on the power. He looked down as he shifted into Fourth gear and noted that the speedometer read 120 mph. Suddenly, there was steam billowing from the hood, the rear end began to wiggle, and Clay let off the throttle and clutched in, but the sedan felt like it was on ice. Clay did all he could to gather it up. Sadly, though, it wasn't enough, and a high-speed impact with the wall ensued.
Fortunately, Clay was able to walk away with nothing more than a sore neck, but his prized E36 didn't fare so well; it was a write-off. Determined to find out what happened, Clay cut the hood off the car when he got home the next day, and it turns out that a ruptured radiator hose caused a massive coolant leak that sent the car B-lining into the wall.
Despite the tragic ending to his supercharged LS1 V8-swapped E36, Clay is already talking about his next project. An E39 BMW 5-series that shall receive the same treatment, but instead of a supercharger, this time Clay's going turbo. So while one unsuspecting beast has fallen, another one will soon be born, and it's bound to be bigger and better than the last.
Specs & Details
'92 BMW 325i (E36)
Engine Chevrolet LS1 V8
Engine Modifications Eaton M112 Roots-style supercharger at 9.5 psi; LS6 camshaft; custom engine mounts, transmission mounts, long-tube headers with 13/4" primaries and 3" collectors, intake manifold, supercharger inlet; Alky Control 100 percent methanol injection system; Edelbrock fuel rails; Siemens 60-lb/hr fuel injectors; aluminum radiator
Engine Management Stock GM ECU tuned with HP Tuners
Drivetrain 3.91 LSD BMW 188mm differential; BimmerDiffs.com clutch upgrade; solid differential mounts; Maximum PSI front differential mount reinforcement; Tilton 3/4" clutch master cylinder; ACT 725-lb/ft clutch; GM T56 transmission; Quicktime "Blowproof" bellhousing; MGW short shifter; BMW M3 rear axles
Suspension Powerflex subframe bushings (r), trailing arm bushings (r); Tein S-tech springs; BMW M3 rear hubs, trailing arms
Interior Sunpro boost gauge
Exterior BMW M3 bumper (f/r)
Wheels, Tires & Brakes Kosei K1 wheels 17x8.5" (f/r); Nitto 555 tires 235/45/17(f), 555R 245/45/17 (r); drilled and slotted brake rotors (f); BMW M3 rear brakes
Special Thanks My wife, Elizabeth, for not giving me too much crap when draining our checking account; my close friends J.B., Eric, and Neal for always trying to get me to be more irresponsible with financial decisions; Jonathan Thayer with BimmerDiffs.com for picking me up when I was down and continuing to make his car more ridiculous to inspire me to do the same; Kevin "FlimFlam" Adolf with Performance Autosport and Steve Williams at Tuned by Frost for answering constant questions, offering advice, and making time for tuning sessions in the middle of their busiest weeks; and lastly, my friends on BimmerForums.com for the positive responses, encouragement, and endless supply of info on these cars.