490HP V8 E30 Supercharged sleeper. Completely standard on the outside and with nothing to give the game away, this supercharged V8-powered E30 Touring just might be the ultimate sleeper. Words: Elizabeth de Latour Photos: Matt Richardson.
WHAT LIES BENEATH 490hp supercharged V8 E30 Touring
V8s are awesome, that’s something we can all agree on. They’re a lot like pizza – even when they’re bad, they’re still good, which is why, much like we can forgive a greasy, cheap pizza because there’s still something appealing and delicious about it, we can forgive the numerous V8s sins that have been committed throughout the years, like the awful, strangled American engines of the late ’70s and ’80s, because there’s still something inherently cool about them. And just what makes V8s so irresistible? It’s got to be the noise, really, hasn’t it? V10s and V12s sound more exotic, straight-sixes are super-smooth and silky but V8s just sound so brutal and angry and the noise they make is really quite unlike anything else. While BMW might be best-known for its straight-sixes, it has been dabbling in V8s for quite some time now, producing its first V8 in the ’50s, and has made some gems over the years, like the M62. In 4.4-litre form it was an impressive and muscular engine with a lightweight, all-alloy construction and while it was good in the contemporary BMs of the time, like the E39 and E38, it’s great when swapped into something smaller and lighter that can really make the most of its outputs. Something like, oh, maybe an E30 Touring, perhaps…?
Not that you’d ever be able to tell that Michael Garden’s E30 is anything other than an incredibly clean, completely stock E30 Touring – something of a rarity in itself these days – certainly not without opening the bonnet, because there is literally nothing to give the game away, anywhere. Could this be the ultimate sleeper? We haven’t even properly delved into exactly what’s going on under the bonnet, because simply swapping in a 4.4-litre M62 (M62B44) V8 into an E30 would have been far too simple and unexciting for Michael and there is an awful lot more to this Touring than meets the eye…
“I’ve always been into cars ever since I was a kid, when I loved looking at them and was into all the stats,” says Michael as we begin to explore the wonders of his E30. “When I learned to drive I inherited my late grandma’s Peugeot 205 1.1 GL in beige,” he grins, “and I had three more 205s after that.” There was also a modded Capri 2.0 Laser that he swapped a 2.9 V6 from a Granada into but, Michael admits, he didn’t do things properly and didn’t upgrade the suspension or brakes to help cope with the power. The experience did, however, ensure that he wouldn’t make the same mistakes again when modding once older and wiser. You will notice among that list of previously owned cars a distinct lack of BMs but, when Michael did finally get behind the wheel of some Bavarian metal, he did so in style with an E30 325i SE Saloon that he bought for the princely sum of £795 back in 2006 as he wanted something RWD and we get the feeling it was a hint of what was to come.
“A while back my granddad on my dad’s side passed away and he left me some money; as he’d been a WW2 Spitfire pilot I figured he would have liked me to have a fast, loud car,” Michael says with a smile and we can categorically say that he has ticked both those boxes in the biggest way imaginable. Shopping for a car began and Michael had some rather specific criteria in mind and a clear idea of what he wanted to do: “I like E30s,” he says, “I like V8s, superchargers and I like sleepers and I knew I wanted to build a supercharged V8 E30,” he grins, something most of us would probably like to do. The search for a suitable candidate began and this exceedingly clean, 91,000 mile, E30 318i auto Touring popped up and was duly snapped-up by Michael. “I found an E39 540i donor car with the non-Vanos 4.4 M62 engine in 2010,” he says and so began what was meant to be a six-month project but ended up becoming a six-year journey to get the car completed and on the road. Obviously one can’t rush a project of this scale but there was another reason why it all took so long, as Michael explains; “I gave my car and the engine and gearbox to a company to do the swap for me. It started well but then progress stopped – they did put the engine in but lots of things were wrong and the final straw was when it blew a piston on the dyno. That’s when I sent it off for a rebuild and to get everything done properly,” and this engine is most definitely proper. It’s been fully-rebuilt with sleeved cylinders and CP alloy pistons plus new bearings, timing chain, oil pump and gaskets to ensure everything was in perfect condition. There are custom tubular Zircotec-coated exhaust manifolds, a Myriad twin 2.5” stainless steel manifold-back exhaust system and then there’s the small matter of the supercharger that Michael mentioned as part of his long-standing plan for the car. It’s an ESS E39 kit, which utilises a centrifugal supercharger running at 7 psi, and getting it to fit in the E30’s comparatively cramped engine bay took an awful lot of tweaking.
“We can recall nothing feeling quite so utterly and outrageously ferocious as this E30. It’s really hard to accurately convey on paper just how fast this car feels and just how fast it is”
All this is looked after by an Emerald K6 ECU with a triple map switch, with the car having been expertly mapped by John Lamsley at Emerald in order to get it running absolutely perfectly, which it does and it makes a hell of a lot of power. With 286hp as standard, the M62 is a great partner for the E30’s lightweight frame and that it gives it some serious performance but, with the supercharger on board along with the supporting mods and custom map to top it all off, Michael’s M62 now makes an awesome 490hp backed up by 430lb ft of torque. Those are impressive figures when you’re trying to move a large, modern machine at serious pace, but in an E30 that’s sheer madness, as we would experience first-hand a little later…
Additional under-bonnet modifications include a custom alloy radiator that was designed to fit under the slam panel as there was no room for it to go anywhere else, and a custom VW/Renault brake master cylinder and servo combination while the throttle-cable operated non- Vanos M62 allowed Michael to retrofit E30 cruise control. The gearbox, the E39 540i’s original Getrag 420G six-speed manual, has been bolstered with the addition of a lightweight flywheel and stage two clutch from Phoenix Motorsport, with power being sent to a 3.07 ratio 210mm LSD from an E28 M535i, with custom back cover twin-mounts and custom Davemac driveshafts to allow the large case diff to work with the standard E30 hubs.
Of course, one does not simply carry out a V8 swap on its own and, with memories of his old V6-swapped Capri, Michael has made sure that every aspect of his E30 build has been suitably upgraded. The criteria for this build was to create a fast road/track car and to keep it as stealthy as possible, which is why you won’t find any stretched tyres, sump-scraping drop or aftermarket wheels here – everything has been chosen to help this car go as quickly as possible without anyone knowing it. On the suspension front Michael has opted for GAZ adjustable dampers mated to custom-rated springs all-round, with H&R adjustable front and rear anti-roll bars and a substantial rear brace adding stiffness where there’s no rear bulkhead. In terms of wheels, as you can see the E30 wears its original 7x15” BBS-manufactured Style 5s, which are a huge part of its ultra-stealthy appearance, and they’ve been wrapped in grippy, high-performance Hankook Ventus RS-2 rubber all-round. Now, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s no way you could ever possibly manage to fit any sort of performance brakes under 15s and the tight mesh of the Style 5s doesn’t give the game away but, amazingly, Michael has managed to do just that, squeezing a WMS BBK beneath the front wheels, combining four-pot calipers with 300mm discs and the whole lot is topped off with Ferodo DS2500 pads and braided hoses all-round, offering some serious stopping power, especially for such a lightweight machine.
At this point in a feature we’d usually move onto looking at the exterior and interior styling additions but, as you can see, there’s really not a lot to talk about aside from just how completely and utterly stock this E30 looks. Even the exhaust is subtle, though there’s nothing subtle about the way it sounds but it’s a lot quieter than it used to be… “Originally I had a straight-through system with just one central silencer,” explains Michael, “but it was too loud – I got banned from the ’Ring for noise! After that I had an X-pipe and rear box fitted and it’s a lot more refined,” he says, but we’d say it’s still plenty loud enough. While the exterior has been left completely untouched, the interior has received a little more work, but such is its subtlety that you need to know what to look for to be able to spot the changes. First up you’ve got the front seats, E28 M535i items, which have been retrimmed in lush Alcantara, along with the rear bench, and there’s a Nardi steering wheel; Michael has also added black headlining and there’s a trio of gauges on the centre console with a multi-gauge for volts, oil and water temperatures, AFR and an additional temperature sensor readout. Next to those you’ll also spot a small, unmarked knob and this enables Michael to switch between maps, while in the boot, hidden out of sight, sits the tank for the water/meth injection system.
Even exhaust is relatively subtle. Custom alloy radiator. A lot of work was required to get the supercharger to fit.
Nardi steering wheel Knob for selecting different maps.
Standard 15” BBS Style 5s add to the stealthy look. Rear brace triangulates down to the diff mounting. So standard, so unassuming…
With our shoot wrapped up, it was at this point that Michael insisted we get behind the wheel of his E30 and have a go ourselves – having sampled an NA M62- swapped E30 some years go he was keen to hear our thoughts on how his creation compared and it would have been rude to say no. The first thing you notice when sitting in the driver’s seat of Michael’s E30 – any E30 – is how small the car feels around you and that immediately makes you aware of how little mass surrounds you. The second thing you notice in Michael’s car is nothing; bar the gauges there is nothing here to suggest that this is anything other than an ordinary E30 and that makes everything that follows so much more shocking as a result. First there’s the noise; the car fires with a snarl and settles into a loud, throbbing, bassy idle while even the lightest of throttle applications elicits an intimidating growl from this twin shotgun pipes. Aside from the noise, though, the initial driving experience is identical to that of any other E30 right up until the moment you first decide to really apply the throttle and all hell brakes loose. Now, over the years we have been privileged enough to drive all manner of seriously fast and seriously powerful BMWs but, honestly, we can recall nothing feeling quite so utterly and outrageously ferocious as this E30. It’s really hard to accurately convey on paper just how fast this car feels and just how fast it is. When you put your foot down there is no lag, the V8 and supercharger combo responds to your input immediately and you are just assaulted by this explosion of acceleration and it’s absolutely relentless. There’s huge low-end torque but, once you reach into the power band, that’s when the whole experience gets taken to another level.
Up to 4000rpm the acceleration is astonishing and then, at 4k, the engine gets a second wind and it feels like the power curve has just leapt up in an instant and now the last 2000rpm are spent hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life. Your senses are completely and utterly overwhelmed by this relentless assault of acceleration and the supercharged V8 keeps pulling all the way redline. It’s breathtaking. It’s also genuinely, uncomfortably fast; we’ve driven lots of very quick cars over the years but this E30 is the only one to have ever left us feeling a little bit sick and shocked by the acceleration we’ve experienced. It’s genuinely a little frightening, actually unpleasant and the first time you experience the full force and fury of this E30 it shocks you. Michael has built a masterpiece and while the experience is completely dominated by the engine, the whole car feels incredibly cohesive; its easy to drive, the brakes are strong, the suspension compliant and it’s an incredibly accomplished machine in every respect.
This sense of completeness is no accident; it comes from the fact that Michael has spent years perfecting this build and has poured so much love and passion into it and it shows in every single aspect of the car. This is a car that has truly been finished, that is absolutely complete and there really is nothing else that could possibly improve this car.
“It’s done,” he says firmly. “I do feel like it really needs to be stripped out with a cage but that’s not something I would do, I don’t want to change the nature of the car. Maybe it’s time to let someone else have it,” he muses. “I wouldn’t do another project,” he adds, “I couldn’t better this so I wouldn’t even bother trying,” and while we never like to think an owner’s current project might also be their last, we have to agree with Michael. This car is so good and has taken so much time and effort to build that it would take a superhuman effort to try and produce something that could even match it, let alone better it, and that almost feels like it would be pointless. What matters is that this car exists, it’s utterly magnificent and it needs to be celebrated, which we are doing, and enjoyed, which Michael is most definitely doing and you can’t ask for more than that.
DATA FILE Supercharged V8 E30 Touring
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 4.4-litre V8 non-Vanos M62B44, full engine rebuild with sleeved cylinders, CP alloy pistons, new bearings, timing chain, oil pump and gaskets, E39 540i ESS 7 psi centrifugal supercharger kit, custom Zircotec-coated mild steel tubular manifolds, Myriad twin 2.5” manifold-back stainless exhaust system, custom alloy radiator fitted under slam panel, Emerald K6 ecu with triple map switch and OBD port. Getrag 420G six-speed manual gearbox from E39 540i, lightweight flywheel and stage 2 clutch from Phoenix Motorsport, 3.07:1 210mm LSD from E28 M535i, custom back cover with twin mounts, custom Davemac driveshafts to allow the large case diff to work with the standard E30 hubs
POWER AND TORQUE 490hp and 430lb ft
CHASSIS 7x15” (front and rear) BBS Style 5 wheels with 205/50 (front) and 225/50 (rear) Hankook Ventus RS-2 tyres, GAZ adjustable dampers and custom-rated springs (front and rear), H&R adjustable anti-roll bars (front and rear), custom rear strut brace triangulating down to the diff mounting, E36 rack, custom VW/ Renault master cylinder and servo combination, WMS BBK with four-piston calipers and 300mm discs (front), Ferodo DS2500 pads (front and rear), braided hoses (front and rear)
EXTERIOR Original Alpine white
INTERIOR E28 M535i Recaro front seats, standard rear bench, all retrimmed in Alcantara, black headlining, Nardi steering wheel, E30 cruise control retrofitted, custom alloy water/ methanol reservoir fitted in nearside boot storage area
THANKS My wife, for her support throughout the project. A project meant to take six months and instead it took over six years… Martin Green and Adam Tennant for their work at the beginning of the project, Justin Middleton for taking on the nightmare of an unfinished project and helping me get it on the road, Andy Hawkes at H T Howard & Co Ltd – although his company mainly deals with machining, he took on my engine rebuild, going above and beyond to give my E30 the engine it deserved! Akil and Sam at Myriad Exhaust in Walsall for their friendly professionalism and skill in creating a bespoke stainless exhaust system which looks and sounds the business. Mourad and the team at VAC Motorsports – they supplied my CP pistons as well as various other engine parts, plus good advice! Ross, James and Jon at Cotswold BMW for their help in sourcing parts, Gerry Wilson of Inflex Interiors for the Alcantara seats and black headlining, and John Lamsley at Emerald, for his excellent mapping skills!
“This engine is most definitely proper. It’s been fully-rebuilt with sleeved cylinders and CP alloy pistons plus new bearings, timing chain, oil pump and gaskets to ensure everything was in perfect condition”