S54-swapped track beast BMW E30 Coupe

Built, not bought’ is a pretty common phrase on the scene these days – modifiers who’ve solely achieved their goals in the confines of a single garage with just a cup of tea and a crackly radio for company are rightly proud to wear their achievements on their sleeve.

That’s not to sideline the opposing crowd who’ve modded cars from scratch but with the aid of skilled pros, of course – we can’t all be experts, and there’s a whole flourishing industry set up to serve such purposes. But Dani Simmons’s history is very much hands-on, and that’s what has informed this astoundingly detailed E30 creation. He fancied doing stuff, then he did it – it really is that simple. The fact that he’s a BMW and Mercedes Specialist Vehicle Technician by trade helps a lot, naturally, as he’s far from fumbling about in the dark here; indeed, the staggering breadth of parts and upgrades in the spec list is led partly by his inherent knowledge of what goes where and works with what, and partly by the fact the he’s got Bavarian petroleum coursing through his veins; cut him open and he bleeds little M badges (not literally of course, please don’t try that).

“I had the front and rear arches slightly widened for better wheel spacing too, and I fabricated my own front splitter for better traction and downforce”

It’s impressive to note that Dani has no fewer than five BMWs in his current stable; “I’ve been interested in them since I was very young,” he explains. “My dad used to own many E30 325s and E34 Tourings, that’s where my passion began.” His first BMW, an E36 316i, was handed down to Dani at the age of 17 by his older brother – it had been his first car too, and has now been in the family for 12 years. He’s still got that E36 seven years later; in fact it’s his daily driver and has been treated to an M52 conversion, M50 manifold, full M3 front suspension and rear disc conversion.

Parked alongside it is an E30 sporting an M42 motor, also running a rear disc conversion, so it’s safe to say that Dani knows his way around an engine swap and the odd chassis upgrade, and has pretty clear ideas about what he wants each car to be able to do. Presumably it was always the plan to do something pretty radical with the 318iS we’re looking at here, then?

“Er, no, not as such,” he laughs. “When I bought the car I had no intention of modifying it, I just wanted it to be a cool daily runner!” Well, we can certainly see the logic of that. He was just 18 when he bought it, and the 318iS is a bit of a legend in its own right – a world apart from the humdrum 318i, that ‘s’ badge counts for a lot… the stealthy offering had a 140hp 16-valve engine in factory form, with sports suspension, sports seats, M Tech trim, and unique front and rear spoilers. You can appreciate why a youngster’s head would be turned by such a thing.

Of course, we’re not looking at a stock 318iS here today. Far from it. So it’s safe to assume that quite a lot has happened since this fella first set eyes on that slightly rusty E30 in Motherwell back in 2012. Fancy a potted history? OK, give it to us year-by-year, Dani: “In that first year, 2012, I fitted a set of Mk2 VW Golf TSW Omegas, along with some cheap coilovers,” he says. “In 2013 I swapped in an M52 engine. 2014 was the year that I fitted a full five-stud conversion with E36 M3 front hubs and BC coilovers. 2015 saw me removing the M52 and performing a total rebuild. 2016? I didn’t do anything in 2016, that’s when my son was born! But by the end of 2017 and start of 2018, the S54 engine was going in.”

“Those freshly-groomed horses all gallop through an E36 M3 3.0 five-speed gearbox with matching flywheel, clutch and propshaft, with a 3.73 325i LSD fitted”

Oh, simple as that, eh? Yes, he’s rattling through the project with machine-gun rapidity, but that’s the nature of a project like this: it’s not as if he’s prepping the car for a show with a finite deadline, or trying to set up the chassis in anticipation of a race series with a defined start time.

This E30 is a faithful sidekick to Dani, a perennial constant, and the relentless tweaks and upgrades are just the logical product of evolution and refinement. “It’ll never be finished,” he tells us, but the very concept of ‘finished’ doesn’t really apply to cars like this. It’s built to be used, and this latest S54-powered evolution sees him using it harder than ever.

Let’s take a closer look at that engine then, as it’s been far more convoluted than simply hoiking the 3.2-litre six-shooter from an E46 M3 and dropping it into the E30’s bay. The spec list for this motor is the product of years of specialist work under the bonnets of BMWs, and it’s been engineered for high performance under stress as well as longevity and strength.

“Everything throughout the chassis has been either rose-jointed or poly bushed, and the five-stud conversion allows for a better choice of brake options”

“It’s a facelift S54 engine, taken from an M3 convertible with 90,000 miles on the clock,” Dani explains. “A completely standard tall block, with a colour-coded PSDesigns custom velocity stack kit, custom air intake feed hose from the nearside fog light blank, ITG sock filters, and a Ramair idle air filter. The Alpha-N tune has the Sport mode on constantly, and I’ve made up a custom exhaust system that runs from the stock S54 six-branch manifold to a stainless steel 2.25” twin system, into a 3” straight pipe to a large rear silencer with a 3.5” exit – nice and subtle!” he says.

The velocity stacks look totally gorgeous in the engine bay, and the engine itself somehow looks almost native to the car, despite being two generations newer; you can thank Dani’s attention to detail for this, along with the raft of quality parts used in the build. The Mishimoto catalogue has been comprehensively raided, the E30 employing the firm’s E36 M3 twin-core alloy radiator, oil catch can, oil filter housing adapter and Black Series 19-row oil cooler. The fuelling’s been mightily beefed-up too, courtesy of an in-tank 5 bar fuel pump, two-litre Demon Tweaks swirl pot and Bosch 044 in-line fuel pump. And just for good measure, Dani cracked open the motor and replaced the con rod bearings with King Racing items, before sealing it all up again and neatly colour-coding the rocker cover. So much attention to detail, see? Form and function working hand-in-hand.

“The majority of the engine work took roughly three months to complete,” he explains, “mainly because my only time to work on the car was after working hours, perhaps an hour or two a night, a couple of times a week. The fuelling system was previously set up from the M52 conversion so that gave me a head start, and there weren’t really any major problems fitting the engine and components – hardest part was figuring out the wiring!” Impressively the whole loom is home-made, which goes quite some way toward demonstrating the level of skill we’re dealing with here. Those freshly-groomed horses all gallop through an E36 M3 3.0 five-speed gearbox with matching flywheel, clutch and propshaft, with a 3.73 325i LSD fitted to try to get the power down effectively, which is all certainly enough to give a stock 318iS a sleepless night or two.

There’s no point putting all of this detailed and considered power into a standard E30 and expecting the chassis to cope, of course. Things will explode and you’ll end up with bits of splintered metal all over the place and quite a lot of egg on your face. But you don’t need to tell Dani that. We already know that the first thing he did to this car was to sling a set of coilovers on, and as the car’s progressed over the years it’s kept on getting smarter until we arrive at the point we’re at now: BC Racing RM Series inverted coilovers, with the five-stud conversion, consisting of mainly E36 M3 Evo parts. Everything throughout the chassis has been either rose-jointed or poly bushed, and the five-stud conversion allows for a better choice of brake options – at the moment it’s E36 M3 calipers at the front and E36 Compact 318ti items out back. “I run 16” wheels in the dry as I like to keep the rolling radius to a minimum,” says Dani, proffering further evidence of the car’s track focus. “The only 16s I’ve found so far that fit over the M3 brakes are the Style 5s from the E38. And when it’s wet I run 17” Rota Grid Drifts with Uniroyal RainSport 3s – I’ve always liked the look of Rotas, and the widths and offsets work perfectly with the E30 chassis.”

You see what just happened there? He mentioned the way something looked. Dani’s not just a ruthless Terminator-like machine, hell-bent on honing everything and paring it back to a distillation of pure function… sure, this car is built first and foremost to be formidable on track, but he’s got a keen eye for the aesthetics too. It’s an important part of taking pride in your car, balancing show with go.

“I always loved the exterior styling of a classic E30,” he grins, “but I also always had a liking for the M Tech 2 body kit. After owning the car for a year, a cheap and complete genuine kit came up for sale locally, and it was something I couldn’t refuse! I’m very glad now, as the prices have almost quadrupled since. The body kit sat in storage for three years or so before I decided to get it fitted on and give the car a full respray, changing it from its original Brilliant red to Imola red II. I also decided to purchase a replica M3 Evo 2 adjustable rear wing for it, rather than using the Tech 2, due to track use. I had the front and rear arches slightly widened for better wheel spacing too, and I fabricated my own front splitter for better traction and downforce. The full outer respray with kit fitting took just over two weeks, and I was astonished by the transformation of the car!”

Where the exterior is all business, so the interior is a place of necessarily stark functionality. It’s not something that needs to be sumptuously trimmed for pan-European jaunts, it’s a track car, so Dani’s been very methodical with his shopping list: Cobra Monaco buckets with Sabelt harnesses, a grippy Momo wheel and PMC short-shifter, brake bias adjuster and switch panel and, most importantly, lots and lots of flocking. Glare is the track fiend’s nemesis, so this potential issue has been aggressively eradicated. Plus flocking just looks cool, doesn’t it?

It’s an incredibly robust spec list, and after years of honing and refining there’s no question over which upgrade is Dani’s favourite: “That would be the S54 engine,” he smiles, “which – if I could start again – would be my first choice of engine swap. The sound of the ITBs when fully open on track is immense!”

And as we’ve already keenly explored, this project will never be ‘finished’, that’s not what it’s about. Our man’s talking about fitting the E46 M3 SMG transmission and paddle-shift next, along with an ESS supercharger and a full roll-cage, which sounds like a jolly good idea to us. There’s a set of Porsche 996 brakes waiting to go on as well, and plenty more mods. Dani’s a proud curator of this built-not-bought E30, endlessly evolving it as he sees fit, and it’s just going to keep on getting better.


ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six S54B32 from E46 M3, engine bay resprayed in dark grey, red colour-coded PSDesigns velocity stacks and carbon heat shield, ITG air filter socks, Ramair idle control filter, Mishimoto oil catch can, E36 M3 alloy radiator, 19-row oil cooler and S54 oil cooler AN10 adaptor, AN10 custom braided oil cooler lines, AN10 Stealth black hose adapters, King Racing con rod bearings, BMW con rod bolts, Revshift 24v 95a polyurethane engine mounts, S54 alloy engine mount arms, S54 starter motor, S54 six-branch exhaust manifold, stainless steel 2.25” twin exhaust from manifold into 3” straight pipe to large rear silencer with 3.5” exit, Pro-Line Motorsport braided red Vanos oil line, relocated intake temp sensor, colour-coded rocker cover, custom coolant lines, Viton CPV seal, S54 5 bar in-tank delivery pump, Bosch 044 in-line fuel pump after swirl pot, Demon Tweaks two-litre fuel swirl pot, S54 5 bar fuel pressure regulator, custom fuel lines, Aeroquip 13-row power steering oil cooler, custom power steering pipes, custom engine subframe, standard S54 sump pan with twin oil pickup, Spal 16” fan, complete custom home-made wiring loom. E36 M3 ZF Type-C five-speed manual gearbox, PMC short-shifter, S50B30 flywheel, S50B30 clutch kit, E30 325i Sport 3.73 medium-case LSD

CHASSIS Dry wheels/tyres: 8×16” ET20 (front and rear) Style 5 with 225/45 (front and rear) Toyo R888 tyres; wet wheels/ tyres: 8×17” (front) and 9×17” (rear) ET35 Rota Grid Drift with 215/40 (front and rear) Uniroyal RainSport 3 tyres, front 20mm wheel spacers for wet wheels, 80mm wheel stud conversion, E36 BC Racing RM coilovers with E30 camber top mounts (front), E36 Compact 318ti BC Racing RM springs and shocks (rear), E46 purple tag steering rack, E30 inner and outer track rods, E36 M3 Evo front hubs, E36 M3 Evo suspension arms with E30 325i outer ball joints, front camber bolts, front and rear strut braces, E36 M3 anti-roll bar (front), E30 anti-roll bar (rear), E30 shortened front ARB links, rear E36 318ti stud conversion, rear Powerflex Black Series beam bushes, trailing arm bushes and diff bush, rose-jointed and castor-adjustable front wishbone bushes, custom-length steering rod, custom-made upper steering UJ, E34 lower steering UJ, E36 M3 EBC discs with Mintex 1144 pads (front), E36 Compact 318ti Brembo discs with Mintex 1144 pads (rear), ATE Type 200 racing brake fluid, Goodridge braided brake hoses, Renault Clio brake master cylinder and servo

EXTERIOR Full respray in Imola red II, M Tech 2 body kit, factory Shadowline kit, custom front splitter, smiley facelift headlights, cold air feed via front fog light blank, custom widened arches all round, red TRS front and rear tow straps, fibreglass M3 Evo 2 adjustable rear wing

INTERIOR Flocked dash, flocked centre console and handbrake surround, period-correct VDO voltmeter and oil temperature gauge, PMC gear knob, Momo 350mm steering wheel, OMP boss kit, rear brake bias adjuster, Cobra Monaco bucket seats, Sabelt three-point harnesses, E46 M3 S54 electric fly-by-wire throttle pedal, M3 OBD2 plug, 318iS front door cards, custom-mounted switch panel

THANKS Simmons BMW for sponsorship of the S54 engine, part payment of respray and engine conversion parts; Independent Merc and BMW Livingston for time dedication and sponsorship of track days


Fibreglass M3 Evo 2 adjustable rear wing. Cobra Monaco seats and Sabelt harnesses. PMC gear knob. Momo 350mm steering wheel. There’s nothing better than M power. PSDesigns carbon fibre heat shield. PSDesigns velocity stacks look and sound amazing. Two-litre swirl pot and Bosch 044 in-line fuel pump.

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Jean-Claude Landry
Jean-Claude is the Senior Editor at eManualOnline.com, Drive-My.com and Garagespot.com, and webmaster of TheMechanicDoctor.com. He has been a certified auto mechanic for the last 15 years, working for various car dealers and specialized repair shops. He turned towards blogging about cars and EVs in the hope of helping and inspiring the next generation of automotive technicians. He also loves cats, Johnny Cash and Subarus.