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Unread 05-09-2011, 04:59 PM
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Default Vorshlag E46 Alpha - 330Ci LSx Build Thread

Introduction: Many of you know of Vorshlag from our earliest Vorshlag branded project car, the E36 LS1 swap, aka: "The Alpha car". I purchased this 1993 BMW 318is chassis back in 2002 and it was developed into the first LS1 powered E36 on the planet. This project spawned a "kit" of parts that we started selling in 2007, and we've been developing, improving, and selling parts for this popular V8 swap ever since. There have been several other companies that took this idea and tried to market a kit, but most of those have since come and gone. We're still here, still selling our Vorshlag E36 LS1 swap components. Since 2002 we've become the premiere spherical top mount/camber plate supplier to many models/markets, one of the biggest AST shock dealers, and more. The "LS1 swap kit" part of Vorshlag is actually pretty small, but its something we're known for, we're passionate about, and its something I want to expand to other BMW models. Since almost all BMW motors are pretty limited with respect to ultimate power, affordable upgrades, supported EFI tuning software, and even engine reliability, the LS1 family of engines is a huge improvement to these otherwise capable chassis. Anyone that's ridden in or driven an LSx powered BMW will attest to this.

Existing Vorshlag creations: BMW E36 LS1 and BMW E30 LS1

As most of you know we tackled the E30 LSx swap last year (but decided not to make this into a kit) with our $2010 GRM Challenge E30. We've ran into several limitations with that chassis (brakes, rear suspension design, front strut tower placement, overall chassis rigidity, etc), most of which we're dealt with but are not easy to overcome. Since we have no desire to make an LS1 kit for this chassis, after the upcoming $2011 Challenge in October that car will likely have run its course here at Vorshlag and be sold. Sad, but true. So we need another BMW chassis to tackle with an LS1 swap...

Enter the BMW E46. This chassis is aging gracefully and used car prices are dropping to affordable levels for running & driving 323/325/328/330 E46 coupes and sedans, plus there are E46 cars are out there with blown head gaskets or other ailments that make them VERY affordable. This chassis is more similar to the E36 chassis (which the world fell in love with) than the E30 was. The E46 is an evolutionary design from the E36, instead of the revolution that the E36 was over the E30. The E46 is slightly larger and heavier than the E36, but the looks/curves/interior is still very pleasing to the eye, and to some (me included) its the best looking 3 series ever. Some of this added room shows up under the hood (where the E30 severely lacked space), mostly in added width but also in fore-aft room, plus the fenders are roomier for larger wheel/tire room and the 330 has much larger OEM brakes (which require 17" wheels to clear).

The larger size of the E46 should make the LSx swap even easier than the E36, and possibly even some of the same E36 LS1 swap parts would work in this newer chassis. Well, that was the hope...

The reality is the E46 engine bay is pretty different in general layout and shape from the E36. As you can see above we've already started test fitting LSx motors with T56 transmissions into the E46 chassis, and from this initial testing we've learned a lot. Namely: nothing we currently make for the E36 LS1 fits this chassis. Although some of the same challenges are there for packaging the V8 and full length headers, new ones have arisen. So an entirely new set of motor mounts, trans crossmember, driveshaft, steering shaft and even a new oil pan will be needed to fit the LSx V8 underhood an E46 (aka: "Stage 0 kit"). Not to worry - we are already tackling this, and have a rigid timeline for offering the "Stage 0" parts needed to mount the LSx motor and T56 drivetrain into the E46.

As you can see here, we have located a willing E46 donor chassis for this V8 swap in-house development work. This car was pretty much a classic example of a "basket case", but it will still suit our needs. It was already partially disassembled, had no OEM motor or transmission, but much of the rest of the car is intact. This is a white 2001 BMW 330Ci coupe, 5-spd, hardtop car - as in: no sunroof! I didn't even think these 330 cars existed without a sunroof, as I had never seen one (and I've looked for some time). The only other E46 cars I've found in the USA without the factory sunroof were lower-end 325/323 cars or the later ZHP 330s (2003-2005). So finding this car was like uncovering a unicorn, but a damaged unicorn. We spent considerable time, money and effort converting my blue 2001 330Ci into a no-sunroof coupe, following SCCA's rigid guidelines for DSP class. $1500 in imported BMW roof/roof bow/headliner and 2 weeks of work later we had a no-sunroof '01 330 Coupe. So this white car, even with all of its flaws, was a unique find.

And flaws it has aplenty. The rear subframe has ripped itself out of the trunk floor at one of the 4 attachment points, then was driven this way for a good long time, so it needs substantial rear trunk/chassis repair. BMW stopped covering these issues under warranty years ago, but they do sell a repair kit - which is basically a new trunk floor panel and some other bits that tend to fail. To most folks this would mean $3500+ in shop repairs, most of that in labor (diff and subframe comes out, trunk floor comes out, new panel welded in, other updates are made), but we're industrious and can tackle it! ("ignorance is bliss"?) The car has also been robbed of much of the engine harness/DME wiring, all of the sub-computers, HVAC components, front seats, radio/amp, OEM fuel tank, stock wheels and a little more. But a lot of the interior and wiring is intact, and after a couple weekend days of cleaning/clay barring the exterior, pressure washing the filthy engine bay, and removing/cleaning/re-assembling the interior, it is looking more like a real car again. The exterior is straight and doesn't need paint or body repair (other than some light PDR), which is a huge plus. I located the previous owner and we're seeing about buying the fuel tank back as well as a few other missing items that would save us some work hunting down replacements.

So with the rear trunk floor repaired, and a little more work beyond our Stage 0 parts development, this chassis could be made into a running, driving car again - after we've optimized the driveline installation parts. That is really our number one goal: making the "Stage 0" parts to get the motor + trans located into this chassis, and building production full length headers. You can get a stand-alone LSx engine harness into a car in a weekend, that part is easy. Its making all of the factory gauges, a/c, warning lights and OBDII systems work that is a nightmare. Wiring the LSx engine computer perfectly into a BMW sub-systems isn't our specialty, and never has been. Its tedious, time consuming work that is best handled on a car by car basis, due to the many changes to a given chassis throughout a build generation. I've done it a few times and a one-size-fits-all, 100% plug-n-play wiring solution is neither possible or "kitable" for the E36, and the E46 is so much more challenging with all of the integration of subsystems into the DME that BMW incorporated. Some people/shops thrive on this type of work, and more power to them.

But for a "mostly-streetable" car, or a track-only car, or even a partial street/track car, the wiring work needed to make the engine run is fairly simple, and only a small number of wires are needed to tie into the chassis itself. In most BMWs (E30, E36) there are separate computers for ABS and HVAC and other "body" systems, but these later CANBUS cars like the E46, more of that sub-system work is handled by the main BMW DME computer. So the E46 is a new challenge, but we have some solutions in store for the most critical functionality. We need to have a driving test mule to verify the viability of the E46 330 rear halfshafts, stock brakes and other OEM bits with the LS1 drivetrain installed. We'd hardly expect anyone to buy our Stage 0 kit if there were still so many other OEM driveline parts being used that were untested. So this car can and will run, but as what?

One other thing to note: our 2001 Mustang GT 5.0 6-spd test mule that we've been using to develop suspension parts for the S197, by tracking it in NASA TTB class and autocrossing in SCCA STX class, has had a recent change of purpose: This car will no longer be tracked. You can read about that in the latest post in that car's build thread (on Vorshlag, Corner-Carvers, SCCA Forums, or

So I am, as of this week, currently in need of another track car - which this white 330 LSx could fill. Yes, we have the LSx E30 that can technically be run in NASA TTU (although not competitively without some additional $ invested), but its eating T5 transmission at an alarming rate, so we're saving it for UTCC in July and GRM Challenge autocross/drag race event in October. The proper fix for that issue is a T56 or some other beefier transmission, which the GRM budget doesn't allow for. Also, my blue 2001 330 Ci we have (formerly used in DSP class) is not being sold, but being converted back into a dedicated NASA TT car. It happens to be base classed very well in NASA TTE, and our build up for TTD class looks pretty unstoppable (sets track records in TTD at will). But this blue car is really my wife's main TT car. She's a competitive racer herself, and "sharing" a single car for Time Trial use at a NASA weekend is less than ideal for either of us or the car in question.

So this white 330 with an LS1 installed could become my personal NASA TT/track car. NASA Time Trial use is great for chassis/drivetrain testing, as the competition element there would push us to develop the car into a more capable track vehicle. But what class do we build it for? As with any engine swapped chassis, it would need a "new base classing" from the NASA TT director if we hoped to enter it in the normal TTA-TTF classes. But for an LS1 swap, those re-classings tend to be pretty painful, and then we're back to playing my least favorite "pay with points" mod game. So we need to look at TTS, TTU and TTR. Otherwise this could just become a "fun street car" type of build, which could be run at HPDE events. These "class-less" HPDE cars tend to bore me fairly soon, though, just as running around in HPDEs without any rhyme or reason tends to bore me. The competition element in NASA TT is what brought me back to doing track events, so TT is where it needs to be run, for track use.


That's right, we want you to weigh in with your choice. Please look at the three possible paths for this car below and let us know which you would chose - or lay out another option, if you feel we have missed something.

Three Test Car Options

1. Option one is an all-out NASA TTU race car. Build the car to the limit of the TTU class. Power to weight ratio of 5.5 lbs per hp, which means we'd shoot for a race weight with cage + driver of 2800 lbs (gutted interior, composite panels, lexan, etc), so we'd need to make a motor with 509 whp to max out the power-to-weight. That means we'd need to build a fairly stout ~7.0L LSx motor (again), a TR-6060 trans (The E36 Alpha's 500 whp 7 liter eventually broke the bone stock T56), Accusump/oiling improvements, and flare the body for wide Hoosier race rubber (315mm out back, minimum). This build would match more of the "final" installment of our E36 Alpha car, shown below. The budget would quickly creep past $30K or more, and consumables would be pricey (big Hoosiers, expensive motor, etc). Already owning 5 race cars already, this would be a bit of a stretch for me, but it would be pretty damn fun.

2. Option 2 is a no compromise "Super street car". Big LS1 motor, working A/C and ABS, all of the OEM gauges, all of the creature comforts. The automatic climate control and factory ABS would be extremely difficult to integrate (I will explain more in another post), as these systems all tie into the main BMW DME computer. Another hurdle is the CAN-BUS wiring, so an outside CAN-BUS wiring guru would be needed to have the LS1's computer talk to the BMW DME, to allow these systems to function. Probably a black box in between to interpret and wash the signals from the LS1 computer to the BMW computer and back, eating thousands of dollars in tuning and software work. The car would weigh in the 3200-3300 pounds range with driver, have a nice stereo, 4 seats, but be of little use on a road course. I'm not too thrilled with option 2, but this is what a lot of potential customers think they want when they are looking at our LS1 kits (but very few of them ever actually make this mythical "super street car").

3. Build a dual purpose street/track car for NASA TTS. Make it have most of the dash, working windows, wipers, lights, signals, horn, a very basic heater, and license and inspect the finished car for some street fun. In the end its really built for the track around something like the NASA TTS class rules and limits, but it can also be used (and tested) under real world street use. No flares (saves mucho time/effort/money), no huge/crazy tires/mods, just basic AST coilover shocks, reasonably sized R comp tires on decent wheels, all the factory steel and glass, OEM based brakes (E46 330 has 13" front rotors already), etc.

The E46 non-M can fit 18x10s with 265mm rubber under just rolled fenders, like the car above had before we flared the fenders to clear 1" wider 285s. This dual-purpose street/track build [b]was what the E36 Alpha car was originally (for the first 2 years) with a used 2002 Camaro 5.7 LS1, and it worked great in this role (see below) logging both street and autocross miles.

This third option is more appealing to me, as it revolves around much more achievable TTS class limits, which has a higher minimum weight for the power we'd shoot for. This means we could leave the interior installed, and add something like a 4-point roll bar/harnesses/2 race seats for safety. Otherwise we'd leave it with carpet, door panels, and maybe even a radio. With some interior left in, and an inspection sticker and tags, we could drive it to In-n-Out Burger on nice nights, or to Cars and Coffee car shows here in town, as well as take it to the track if we wanted to avoid towing our enclosed rig to an event.

For NASA, TTS is like TTU and TTR - these top 3 Time Trial classes do away with the (often times painful) "base classing" of your car and the tedious "points" system, where you use available points to "buy" mods for your build, yet still have to live within a set power-to-weight ratio, limits for tires, a base weight assigned to your car, etc. TTS/U/R are all power-to-weight based, with some modifiers for big things like tire width, compounds (slicks vs DOT Rs), and number of doors - more "high level" performance impacts, rather than counting every point for every bolt-on you want to do. So the rules are easier to live with.

Today we weighed my blue 2001 BMW 330 coupe at 3167 lbs. This with the stock seats back in, stock battery, back in, fully functional HVAC, the HK radio + amps, a 62 lb roll bar, all 6 of the OEM airbags, 18x10s and 265 Yokohamas. The race seats lop 100 lbs off of that, and the A/C and airbags drop even more (we had it down under 3000 lbs at one point, with the a/c still installed). The white 330 weighed in at 2090 lbs yesterday, missing the drivetrain and front seats. This means I suspect we could get an "option 3" track/street LS1 E46 into the 2950/3000 lbs range, sans driver. The power-to-weight ratio for TTS is 8.7 lbs/hp (without modifiers), so with race weight with driver of 3150 lbs that gives us a max power number of 362 whp. That power level is very easily achieved with a very mild 5.7L LSx build, which we can whip up pretty quickly. That also means: reliable and affordable (both popular attributes!)

This street/track TTS option and that power/weight goal would allow us to keep much of the interior, the power windows, all of the OEM lights, and the other basics needed for "street legality", while not saddling us with the pain and expense of integrating the automated climate control or ABS/ESC into the (non-existent) BMW DME. I have a good solution for the ABS, that I derived from working on McCall's Z3 this past weekend, but I'll cover that in another post. This type of semi-street/dedicated track car is what most of our E36 LS1 kit customers actually end up building. Some compromises in creature comforts, but a terror on track and still streetable enough to drive to/from track events and even around town for extra fun. We have solutions to the OBD-II inspection issues, that are actually quite easy (forces the inspectors to do a regular "sniffer" emissions test on the car, which it can pass easily with good catalysts).

So, let us know what you think of the E46 LS1 kit, and which way we should go for the running/driving test mule. Stay tuned (see: thread tools/subscribe to thread) for more updates in the coming months. Also, I'm still looking for a signature ‘look’ for the various Vorshlag race cars (that incorporates the updated VOMO logo) and need a graphic designer. If that's something you're good at, please contact me.

Terry Fair -

Vorshlag project cars: $2010 GRM Challenge E30 V8 + E46 DSP Autox Build + 2011 Mustang GT autox/track car

Last edited by Fair!; 05-11-2011 at 03:05 PM.
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