I'm in love with this car all over again.My apologies for those awaiting an update on Project M3 the past several months, but we had to overcome some serious hurdles throughout 2004 and 2005. I am pleased to report that all is now well.
To bring new readers up to speed, this project came to life in 2001 with upgrades in every department, including an Advance Design racing suspension, a Stoptech 13.1-inch (332mm) big brake kit, and power upgrades from Turner Motorsport, Schrick and Supersprint, bringing the SAE wheel-hp from 215 to over 250. In 2002, the car later morphed from its naturally aspirated 3.0-liter engine to a 3.2-liter from Bavarian Engine Exchange using 8.8:1 compression JE forged pistons and Pauter connecting rods. It was turbocharged with Active Autowerke's Stage 2.5 kit, good for 355 wheel-hp at 10psi on 91 octane and 416 wheel-hp at 16psi with race fuel.
At this point, the car started seeing some track time, so we outfitted it with even bigger brakes from Brembo, measuring 14 inches (355mm) front and 13.6 inches (328mm) at the rear. The car was at the 340 wheel-hp level and, on Pirelli R-compounds, Project M3 was the overall winner in the second annual Eurotunerfest in 2002. A feat repeated at the inaugural Hotchkis Media Challenge in 2003.
In 2004, new goals for the project were established when AEM and evosport's joint venture in BMW stand-alone engine management systems chose Project M3 as their test car. That opened the door for a custom turbo system. In early 2005, after figuring out this engine was actually at 9.3:1 compression and not 8.8:1 (thanks to the milled head from the previous owner), JE designed new pistons, lowering compression to a true 8.2:1, and the cylinder head was redone by VAC Motorsport using a Ferrea valvetrain. Immediately after, a custom turbo kit was fabricated by Speed Force Racing (SFR), which is where we're picking up here. We had issues tackling the ignition system in the intervening months, but evosport and AEM pulled it through. Today, the car is running better than ever-by far.
Approaching SFR for the turbo kit was a no-brainer. After all, the guys there have fabricated turbo systems from scratch for all sorts of cars, including the Nissan 350Z and G35, Mazda RX-8, Toyota Supra, and Skyline GT-R. The company is currently working on Porsche 996, 997 and Cayman turbo kits. "We'll turbocharge anything," says SFR's owner, Tim Richards. In fact, SFR also took our Project Porsche 951 to a whole new level, taking it from a modified 277 wheel-hp at 17psi to 338 with its Stage 3 kit, using a Turbonetics 60-1 Hi-Fi turbo (see ec April 2005).
First thing for a custom turbo system: choose a power level. This leads to selecting a particular size turbocharger. Back to Turbonetics. Hoping to play with power ranging from 380-550 wheel-hp, I needed a turbo with a wide spectrum of efficiency. The ball bearing T66 with a P-trim in a 0.81 housing was the preferred pick.
Having decided on a possible peak power level, I could now figure out fuel injector size. Skimping on fuel injectors is a big no-no, so I called the best of the best-RC Engineering. Each set of its fuel injectors comes with a printout of the actual flow and variances between each injector. And you can count on those squirters not to let you down. I went with its direct replacement, high-impedance 750cc (71lb/hr) injectors, which gave me a large power cushion in case I (or some future owner) would want even more horsepower, which the T66 would surely provide with a 72lb/min flow rating (or about 720bhp).
Because Turbonetics is practically a one-stop shop for turbo stuff, I ordered my intercooler cores (yes cores), New Gen adjustable wastegate and Godzilla blowoff valve from the firm. Both latter units come with a set of springs for different ranges of boost levels.
SFR's Tim Richards and Jon Cutico were in charge of the work. We decided on a top-mount system, but there were issues. Since the motor is tilted towards the exhaust side, it leaves little room to route headers upwards without hacking into the passenger-side strut tower. So we took the idea from our very own Project 951 and decided to mount the turbo on the intake side instead, something that even today-well over a year after completion-is seen on probably less than a dozen E36 M3s throughout the world.
There are disadvantages to doing this, however. Firstly, there's much more piping going from the header to the turbo than on a more conventional turbo kit with a log manifold. Second, because any decent sized turbo will not fit between the driver side strut tower and the stock M3 intake manifold, a new manifold must be fabricated. Third, the relocated downpipe cannot be greater than three inches in diameter in order to clear the steering rod and transmission housing (but three inches will suffice for up to 600 wheel-hp and you could also step up to 3.5 inches after the transmission). Fourth, the power steering reservoir needs to be relocated. Fifth, the stock radiator hose will not fit because of the intake pipe. Lastly, a very hot turbo sits inches from intake manifold.
Heat would appear to be a fatal issue here. However the Auto Meter intake manifold air temperature gauge, as well as the factory air temp sensor monitored by the AEM EMS, does not see more than 10 degrees F over ambient air temps-which is about as good as it gets. In fact, a rip to nearly 160mph on a 72-degree F day peaked an 84-degree F intake air temp.
How is this possible? First, the underhood temp increases were kept at bay by sending all header-to-turbo piping and downpipe to Swain Tech Coatings for its White Lightning thermal coating. This alone has been good for a 300 to 400-degree F reduction in radiated heat coming from the pipes, as noticed by my pyrometer gun. Keeping the heat inside the pre-turbo piping aids turbo response too.
Additionally, a sizeable order was placed to Thermo Tec for its new Generation II copper header wraps, which can withstand a continuous 2000 degrees F. The Swain Tech and Thermo Tec combo works so well it's retained an unmelted zip-tie around a power steering line, a simple plastic band sitting an inch from a turbo up-pipe with scorching internals. Thermo Tec also sells Thermo sleeves in a variety of sizes, which were used on the various rubber lines.
Additional shielding was used on underside of the intake manifold, adhesive-backed heat barriers from Thermo Tec. Several thousands miles later we've had zero heat-related issues. Partial credit belongs to the air ducts built into the hood and Active Autowerke water-injection system.
There are several advantages of a top-mount turbo system. Since we'll be redoing the intake manifold, almost any size turbo can fit. The oil return line from the turbo is vertical to the oil pan for a perfect drain-no need for a noisy oil scavenge pump. We can get better exhaust flow by using real headers (as opposed to an exhaust manifold). We can also run a four-inch intake pipe without removing the air-conditioner's compressor (and, in my case, the air filter is nicely set behind my driver-side hood scoop) and the turbo and wastegate are easily accessible.
Besides the turbo components themselves, the header and intercooler piping can get expensive. Burns Stainless supplied straight pipes and U-bends, two 3-into-1 collectors, one 2-into-1 collector and V-band clamps. That alone was $1,200. Richards turned these pieces into a gorgeous, dual 3-into-1 header design that merges into a 2-into-1 collector, and up to the turbo. Luckily, California Water Jet was right next door to SFR. These guys were able to whip out our six header flanges-which otherwise would have taken several hours to create-in about twenty minutes. Their water jet machine cuts with 150,000psi of water pressure and will cut through a six-inch plate of steel.
The $600-plus worth of three-inch 6061 Burns aluminum piping that remained was pieced together to direct the charged intake air to and from a welded pair of Turbonetics/Spearco intercoolers, capable of flowing over 1000hp. Fabulous fabricators and master welders that they are, the guys at SFR also built the end tanks after welding the two cores together, so it would fit inside my factory bumper cover.
While Richards completed the header piping and mounted the turbo, Jon Cuatico got busy with the intake manifold. He cut the plastic M3 manifold down the middle and bolted on a fabricated plenum for more volume, while at the same time allowing the turbo to fit. I spent hours grinding down the welds inside the manifold, as well as the edges of the plastic runners to improve air flow.
The intake manifold was built with a flange to accept a 75mm (2.95-inch) throttle body from Accufab. Accufab fabricates aftermarket throttle bodies for high-horsepower Ford and Chevy applications, as well as multi-thousand-horsepower drag cars, but that didn't mean we couldn't get one of these nice pieces to work on a BMW.
The last few steps of the turbo kit involved the fabrication of the turbo-back exhaust system and relocation of the power steering reservoir. The reservoir was easy-we just moved it to the passenger-side shock tower. The exhaust was trickier. Burns 321 three-inch stainless steel was used for the downpipe, mounted less than an inch from the oil pan. But Thermo Tec heat wraps, Swain Tech coating, a Turbonetics heat shield protecting the oil pan, and Thermo Sleeves protecting the fuel lines, all provide problem-free fuel and oil temperatures. Readings of under 200 degrees F during an 85-degree F day on my SPA oil temp gauge negates the need for the Victory Product Design oil cooler kit sitting in my garage.
The remainder of the exhaust came from Magnaflow: a three-inch stainless-steel exhaust system starting through two in-line resonators with a true three-inch diameter inside and a four-inch outside diameter. The system flows through a large muffler with a single three-inch inlet and dual, 2.5-inch outlets. SFR gave the exhaust tips a "staggered" appearance just like the factory.
The new engine sparked to life on the first crank. Gary Karamikian, evosport's tuning expert,programmed the AEM box with a "break-in" mode, ranging from 15 degrees of ignition at 10psi to 10 degrees at 18psi. After 500 miles, evosport's Dynojet 248C recorded a knock-less 403 wheel-hp run at 12psi, using 91 pump fuel.
After a trouble-free road trip from Southern California to Kansas City, I stopped at Imagine Auto and visited thier all-wheel Mustang Dynamometer. Project M3 had a tank of fuel with about 98 octane, thanks to a mix of KC's local 92 octane and a few gallons of Sunoco 112 GT racing fuel. On the Imagine Auto's dyno, the car sustained enough grunt to register 527 wheel-hp. Not bad for 18psi, 8.2:1 compression, stock cams, and only 10 degrees ignition. On the T66 compressor map, this puts it near the heart of its peak efficiency. The SFR turbo kit as well and nice flowing head from VAC Motorsport were doing thier job.
The dyno pulls were done using NGK R5671A-9 spark plugs (three steps colder than stock) and Redline differential and transmission fluids. I've also recently switched to Quaker's new 15w-50 fully synthetic racing engine oil, which is sanctioned for racing use only. This isn't sold in regular auto stores, but can be shipped by contacting the Paul Oil Company in Oakdale, Calif.
Given the tune, it's obvious a lot more power can still be had at this boost level-probably 50-60 wheel-hp on a full race-gas tune-but I wanted to quit while I was still ahead. It's been a long journey with this car and it's time to enjoy it.
Fast forward a couple of months and I've simply been having a ball with Project M3. The UUC 4-puck clutch and flywheel package is easy to live with and I'm loving the throws of my new UUC short shifter. The AEM tune from evosport has been spot-on and there have been no misfires, stalls, or hesitations. But best of all is the unique sound from the Magnaflow setup. With two resonators and the large muffler, it's quiet enough for a straight-through exhaust during cruising. At wide-open throttle, it definitely has a distinctive timbre over other turbo BMWs I've heard. The closest I could compare it to is the sound of a mid-90s 3.2-liter PTG BMW M3 GTR.
Thanks to the low compression of the JE Pistons, I am satisfied with 435 wheel-hp level on 92 octane. However I keep a close eye on engine performance with Performance Developments Knock Link. This little device includes its own knock sensor and features a series of LEDs, (two green: normal; two orange: caution; and one red: knock), and it can be adjusted for sensitivity. It allows you to monitor knock in real time and it's nominal price saves tons of paranoia. Many high output engines have been lost from a bad batch of gas, too high (and sometimes too low) ambient temperatures, road course activity, a high-speed run, a hot spark plug, hot spots in combustion, or other factors that can't always be accurately knock-tested with just a few dyno pulls. I'll have one of these hooked up in every modified turbo car I own.
Excuse me, I'm off to enjoy this car again. The only problem now is the car really needs taller gears. Finally, a good problem.