There are parts of Canada so rural, a diehard gearhead could live his entire life without ever seeing an E46 BMW M3. Hold that thought for a second - never seeing one in person, only in magazines and online!
Such was the case for Kenton von Hollen. He'd never seen one until he actually bought an M3. For all he knew, it could have been a unicorn, but that didn't stop him from believing and buying a 2003 E46 BMW M3 in Imola Red.
"I've always been a car guy, having owned a built Z31 300ZX with a big turbo as well as a Duramax diesel truck that made over 1200 lb-ft. But I'd always wanted a European car because they seemed more sophisticated, comfortable and fast but could haul my family," von Hollen said. "I live in a rural province of Canada (Alberta) that's bigger than California yet only has three car dealerships. It's the kind of desolate place where you don't see performance cars too often," he added.
As a result of his geographical location, he'd never laid eyes on a real E46 M3 until the day he bought one.
"I'd never seen one, but based on everything I'd read, I knew it was the car for me," Kenton confirmed. "I can still remember the first time I drove the BMW M3. The handling was out of this world and it was built so well. It was everything I'd hoped for," he added.
Call it fate, but the Imola coupe was only one hour away from his home, tucked away in another small town off the beaten path. The original owner had only driven the pristine M3 during the summer, and a mere 55000 miles were registered on the clock. "Like most good car stories, I initially wanted to keep it stock. But when I turned to the internet for information, the upgrades ignited from there," Ken said.
What started as as simple fishing expedition into E46 car care and maintenance was transformed into a Horsepower Freaks (HPF) turbo build in no time flat.
"After learning everything I could about the E46 M3 on the forums and in magazines, I decided to look into performance mods, and before long I was dead-set on a turbo kit," Ken said. "Shortly after talking to HPF, I scheduled an appointment and drove the car down to Portland, OR for the install," he added.
Two short months after buying the 2003 BMW M3, he was about to embark on a journey that would begin with a Stage 2 turbo kit. Five days after delivering the car at HPF, it was making 600whp with methanol injection and 110-octane leaded fuel.
As luck would have it, on his long drive home, von Hollen cooked two pistons in the motor. The loss of compression was traced back to a faulty boost controller and a malfunctioning fuel pump.
Depressed by his bad fortune, von Hollen was unwilling to admit defeat and wasted little time having M&B Cylinder Heads build him a low-compression short block. When run on the same 110/meth combo, it made 680whp with an extra 100 lb-ft of torque compared to when the bottom-end was stock.
As with many parts of this build, bad luck was lurking around the corner. This time it metamorphosed as a rogue turbo that would grenade his exhaust system.
"The day I got the built-motor back, the exhaust wheel on the turbo sheared off and destroyed the exhaust system and several other components. Thankfully, the debris went downstream and not into the motor," he added.
Learning to look for the positive is an essential trait if you're going to stick with a build of this caliber. So a replacement 67mm turbo was the quick fix, but Ken was now hell-bent on perfection, and the thought of another failed turbo led him to a dual-ball bearing Precision 7168 turbo with billet wheel that kicked the boost to new levels.
How much? Try 620whp on pump gas and 800whp with race gas and meth.
In this form, our Canadian friend was able to amass more than 20,000 miles driving throughout Canada, cruising down to California, and even hitting track days and Shift S3ctor's half-mile races.
"I took the car everywhere, from airfield events to the drag strip and even road courses. Naturally, I turned down the boost for the latter, but it was a ton of fun and I soon got hooked on track days," he said.
Like all gearheads, enough is never enough, so von Hollen wisely chose to upgrade the M3 fuel system next. "I upgraded to PTFE lines, a Radium multi-pump surge tank, twin Walbro 400 E85 pumps, a Fuel Lab filter and pressure regulator along with a Radium rail and Injector Dynamics ID2000 injectors," he said.
The fuel upgrades were finished the night before Shift S3ctor 3, where the car again threw down 800whp, but this time on ethanol rather than the race gas/methanol combo he'd been previously using. Fresh from the dyno, the M3 claimed the title of "Fastest BMW" with a speed of 178mph.
As you'd guess, Ken was just getting started. His next modification would ultimately become one of his favorites: the plug-n-play AEM Infinity standalone engine management system. "The Infinity opened a lot of tuning doors because it allowed us to control every OEM feature, even the Vanos. We could also tune for different fuels and it helped increase power throughout the rev band. It even made it more drivable!" von Hollen said.
Along with the AEM Infinity, a flex-fuel sensor and fuel pressure sensor were added to take advantage of the standalone's ability to switch maps. "With the standalone and sensors I can run whatever concentration of ethanol I want without having to drain the tank. It's brilliant!" von Hollen exclaimed.
The addition of the AEM ECU kicked power past 900whp and 700 lb-ft on E90 ethanol, or 680whp on pump gas.
As a testbed for AEM and many other parts, the M3 has withstood more than 250 dyno pulls, thousands of street miles, and plenty of full-throttle track outings. Like all good things though, it eventually came to an end when the head gasket blew.