In the past, Rob Leech has either seriously thought about or been involved with all of the conventional power upgrades for the E36: turbocharging, supercharging, E36 M3 Euro-spec, E46 M3 and E39 M5 engine transplants. However, none of these solutions could create the desired balance of enough horsepower, torque and reliability at a reasonable cost. Therefore it was no surprise to hear that Rob was planning to stuff a “primitive,” torque-rich American V8 into his E36.
In order to make this swap work properly a healthy amount of custom fabrication had to be done. General Motors can be credited with the perfect solution for such a project when they created the lightweight all-aluminum LS1 V8 engine for the Corvette in 1997. It is interesting to note that the LS1 engine is about 60 pounds lighter while its T56 transmission is 50 pounds heavier than their BMW counterparts. The first order of business was the creation and positioning of a custom crossmember (BMW based) and motor mount configuration, as well as a custom oil pan and transmission mount. At the same time consideration had to made for the custom headers, which require proper clearance from the motor mounts and steering shaft. Also in need of consideration was the positioning of the new shift mechanism for the T56 six-speed, and the finishing touch, a carbon-fiber driveshaft and a custom M3 differential. Once the structural and primary fabrication was done for these main items, other important parts such as the radiator, coolant hoses and accessories could be configured.
Moving along to what is effectively invisible to the observer and likely the most difficult feat in this particular swap—the electrical integration. Rob’s high standards demanded that his E36 behave from the inside as any “regular” E36 does. This, of course, means that all gauges, functions and sensors work as on the OEM car. The integration of the LS1 engine ECU into the E36 sounds simple enough, but believe me… it’s not. This type of electrical technical work is extremely difficult, time consuming and unique to each vehicle and engine application. Rob’s good buddy Paul Botting performed the expert electrical work for this project.
A stock LS1 engine, rated at a fairly healthy 300 to 345 bhp (model and year dependent), was not going to do for this project, a custom engine build had to be done. Also, in order for the E36 to keep up with its newfound V8 powerplant, the chassis required a bit of upgrading to its suspension and brakes. Check out the spec sheet for the complete build details.
The visual effect from the outside of this special E36 can be summed up in one word: understated. But before one sees this particular car on the street or track, one hears it. The sound is really quite amazing, it has the unmistakable guttural sound of a motorsport oriented American V8. Weighing in at an honest 6 lbs/bhp, it is indeed deadly fast. There is an awesome amount of torque to get the little E36 underway and the power curve is steep and linear to the 6500-rpm redline. After a few hot laps in the passenger seat, even the bravest of track junkies requires a quick underwear change. Grip is very good, but with all of the raw V8 power under the right foot, the rear tires can be broken loose at will.
BMW 357i a.k.a. the GM-W
1993 BMW 325is
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
GM LS1, 347ci (5.7L); forged pistons; balanced and blueprinted bottom end; block girdle; ported oil pump; dual-row timing chain; AFR 205cc CNC heads; Comp cam, dual valvesprings with Ti retainers, lifters, chromoly pushrods; NW 90mm throttle body; FAST 90mm intake manifold; 4” cold-air intake; SLP 85mm MAF; 42/lb injectors; custom stainless stepped headers; Random Technology catalytic converters; 3” X-pipe; custom dual 2.5” exhaust; external oil cooler; Accusump oil system
Custom BMW subframe with urethane motor mounts, custom transmission brace with urethane mount, T56 transmission, custom shifter, Fidanza aluminum flywheel, Spec Stage 3 clutch, carbon-fiber driveshaft, Diffsonline 3.91 40% LSD
Ground Control coilover kit, camber/caster plates, rear shock mounts; Koni dampers; custom spring rates; Eibach sway bars; Powerflex bushings; BMW Motorsport strut brace
Stoptech 332mm big-brake kit, stainless steel brake lines, custom cooling ducts
Wheels and Tires
Corsair Custom Forged 9x18
Continental SportContact3 255/35
M3 aero kit, Euro lighting with HID upgrade
Koenig sport seats, Schroth harness, Euro M3 gauges, custom VDO gauges, UUC stainless knob, Hamann pedals, Momo Corse steering wheel, Nakamichi CD player
Peak Power: 450 hp
Peak Torque: 415 lb-ft