- Post is under moderationV8 E36 6.2-litre LS3-powered Saloon. Subtle on the outside, brutal on the inside, this super-clean M3 packs a 500whp V8 punch. Words: Elizabeth de Latour Photos: Jordan Unternaher
STREET FIGHTER 6.2-litre #GM-LS3 / #V8-swapped / #BMW-E36 /
It would seem that if you wish to insert a large, American V8 into a BMW then the E36 is the vehicle of choice. While BMW never put anything bigger than a straight-six into that capacious engine bay, Alpina squeezed eight cylinders under the bonnet for its B8 4.6 way back in #1994 , showing everyone that not only could it be done but that it was definitely a good idea.
We must have featured more LS-swapped E36s than any other model of BMW that has undergone the heart transplant but we’re certainly not complaining. And how could you when you’re being stared down by an LS3 E36 M3 that’s as clean and downright sexy as Brian Cain’s example? The exterior exudes nothing but subtlety while the engine bay is clean enough to eat your dinner off. And the interior drives the point home that this E36 ain’t nothing to mess with…
That Brian’s ended up with a hunk of American muscle in his E36’s engine bay is less of a surprise when you learn that his first car was a 1987 Pontiac Trans Am and that he currently owns no less than nine BMWs. This car is the perfect blend of home-grown V8 from his youth and the Bavarian marque that stole his heart ten years ago. “I was always fascinated by the engineering and the history of BMWs,” he tells us. “But I was never able to afford one while I was growing up. I love the history of automobiles and how they came to be. #BMW has always kept its roundel logo, the kidney grille design and the signature Hofmesiter kink on the rear quarter glass. Small details like that just speak to me.
“My first BMW was actually this M3. As I was growing up, I remember the E36 M3 being released. It was such a great looking car. I had model cars of it and posters but I always thought it would be out of my reach. When I was finally able to afford one, I had to jump on it. I was searching for an E36 M3 Saloon. It had to be a Saloon. I wanted either Hell red or Dakar yellow and I found this red car in Las Vegas, about 2000 miles from where I live.” But when a car is good it’s worth travelling for, and this M3 was very good indeed. “It was a one-owner, low-mileage, flawless example,” Brian grins. “The next thing I knew, I’d booked a plane ticket and flew out to get the car. I drove it home over a three-day span, collecting a couple speeding tickets along the way!”
Initially, the M3 served as Brian’s daily driver but, having grown up around hot rods, having owned a Trans Am, and having modified a selection of Hondas, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place – although Brian never anticipated taking things quite this far. “I knew I was going to do coilovers, the exhaust, the wheels and other basic things,” Brian says. “And I drove the car as a daily driver for almost six years. It was always kept in amazing condition but after putting nearly 100k miles on it I wanted to redo it. I have always been into hot rods and V8 cars, so I knew I wanted to do an LS swap. This was still when LS swaps were relatively uncommon on these cars. I started to doing research on what I would need and how I would set everything up. I had a general plan on paper before I even started. I went to a local wrecking yard where I sourced an LS3 engine from a wrecked Corvette. I took it home and immediately stripped it back to a bare block.”
Clearly the best time to add stuff that’s going to make even more power is while the engine is out of the car and no corners were cut when it came to slathering it in go-faster bits, as Brian explains: “Items I added included: Katech rod bolts; a high volume oil pump; CNC-ported heads; a custom grind cam; Comp push rods and rockers; LS7 lifters and seven-layer head gaskets; a ported intake manifold; a FAST 92mm throttle body and fuel rails; and 60lb injectors with Aeromotive Stealth fuel pump handle fuelling. The Vorshlag engine mounts are the only swapped parts used.
Everything else was custom fabricated in-house at the shop Brian owns, MWorks Garage. The 4” intake was custom-made in-house and American Racing headers are mated to our custom dual three-inch exhaust. The cooling system utilises a Zionsville radiator with heat shrink hose clamps for a clean look and I made the entire engine harness from scratch; I wanted it clean looking to complement the shaved engine bay but still serviceable so the engine runs on a completely separate fuse box and control from the rest of the car. Everything under the hood is powdercoated by Killer Koatings in Covington, Kentucky. The transmission is a T56 from a 2002 Camaro SS which has been completely rebuilt as well. Pretty much anything you could do to strengthen the transmission has been done, and gears are changed through a custom MGW shifter. Mike at Proxses Tuning in Dayton, Ohio tuned the car and currently it produces 496whp and 477lb ft.” Brian says this with the sort of casual understatement you would not expect from someone with a V8-powered E36 putting out somewhere in the region of 550hp.
Of course, putting together an engine that powerful is one thing but building a car that can handle it is another matter altogether, and no stone has been left unturned, no component left unmodified when it came to ensuring the chassis was up to the task. “The suspension has been completely overhauled,” says Brian, “with a combination of both stock and aftermarket parts.
The coilovers are all completely custom and have been built using Ground Control custom valved double adjustable dampers and custom spring rate Eibach springs. We made the adjustable control arms in-house while camber is controlled through Vorshlag camber plates up front.” While the transmission had been suitably beefed-up to handle all that power and torque, Brian still had to ensure that it would actually reach the rear wheels without obliterating any components along the way, so the drivetrain has undergone some heavy modifications. Power is sent along a custom-made three-inch aluminium propshaft with 1350 U-joints to a Ford Mustang Cobra 8.8 IRS diff using a Detroit TrueTrac LSD with 4.10 gears and onto the wheels via DriveShaft Shop axles. “I went with the Ford differential after going through two 188mm BMW diffs and completely twisting up a subframe after the second differential broke apart,” says Brian.
“Needless to say, it took some creative design, planning, and geometry to get everything working correctly together but it should be good for the 1000hp range.” This should provide ample future-proofing for whatever further mods Brian might have up his sleeve.
With masses of power on tap, the importance of stopping cannot be overlooked and while this E36 hasn’t been fitted with a BBK, the brakes have been suitably uprated and are now more than up to the job. Brembo discs have been fitted along with Performance Friction pads and Bimmer World braided hoses. The ABS has been deleted and Brian has added a Tilton proportioning valve to adjust the brake bias.
As far as the styling is concerned, Brian has opted to keep things subtle but, while at first glance this E36 might appear almost completely standard on the outside, there’s more going on here than meets the eye; there are lots of subtle modifications that are easy to miss. Up front, the foglights have been shaved to give the bumper a much cleaner, unique look and an AC Schnitzer front lip has been added to make the car look even lower. Euro headlights have been fitted and smoked indicators, markers and rear lights have been added. At the rear the boot spoiler has also been shaved.
However, the most involved exterior modification, which also happens to be Brian’s favourite mod on the entire car, was a direct result of his wheel choice. “I have always been a fan of CCW wheels,” he says. “And I wanted a wheel that had my exact specifications and finish: 9x17” fronts and 10.5x17” rears. Killer Koatings of Covington, Kentucky did the powdercoating and I did this when black wheels were almost taboo, everyone was still running polished wheels. Now you see almost every company offering this look of gloss lips with matt faces. When we were fitting the wheels, we didn’t want excessive camber, so we cut the rear quarter panels under the rear bumper and pulled them out by almost an inch on each side. The result is factory-looking car (most people would never notice the wider rear arches) whilst still being able to fit an aggressive wheel with less than one degree of camber.” Once you know what he’s done here you know, but from anything other than the right viewing angle those pumped-up rear arches disappear completely, blending into that blindingly brilliant red bodywork. Even gazing down the car’s flanks you still need to know what you’re looking for to actually notice the subtle swelling.
While the exterior is a picture of subtlety, the interior definitely means business and there are some choice mods in here. The original grey interior was swapped for an all-black one and Brian retrimmed the headlining and pillar panels in black suede. A pair of red and black Recaro Wildcat seats were added, along with red Scroth Racing harnesses, and there’s also a Nardi steering wheel and Euro M3 gauge cluster. The finishing touches are custom gear and handbrake gaiters made by Brian’s girlfriend Kaitlin, who runs StitchBoots and does custom automotive interior work.
In case you couldn’t tell, we are big, big fans of Brian’s E36. The engine swap is awesome but it’s all the other performance upgrades that take this car to the next level. It’s the level of dedication that has been applied to every aspect of the build that makes it so special. A lot of work has been poured into this build and you can see it everywhere you look, it’s the sort of build you aspire to. There’s more to come, too, as Brian explains: “The car was recently sponsored by Vortech Superchargers who sent me a V3 setup. I hope to have it on soon, set in the 22-26lbs of boost range. It should make for a pretty wild ride.” Considering how wild this E36 already is, we can’t wait to see it.
DATA FILE BMW #BMW-LS3 / #V8 / #BMW-E36 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-E36 / #BMW-M3-LS3-E36 / #BMW-M3-LS3 / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E36 /
ENGINE 6.2-litre V8 / #GM-LS3 / #Corvette-engine , #Katech rod bolts, Telling high volume oil pump, LS1 oil pan, LS1 accessory drive, SLP crank damper, CNC-ported heads, custom grind #Comp-Cams camshaft, Comp Cams pushrods, rockers and timing chain, #LS7 lifters, LS7 seven-layer head gaskets, #ARP head bolts, ported LS3 intake manifold, FAST 92mm throttle body, #FAST fuel rails, #DeatschWorks 60lb injectors, #Aeromotive-Stealth 340gph fuel pump, AN-6 fuel lines, Vorschlag engine mounts, MWorks Garage wiring harness, MWorks Garage throttle bracket, MWorks Garage full V-Band exhaust, American Racing Headers exhaust manifolds, Zionsvile radiator, #MWorks-Garage expansion tank, MWorks Garage four-inch intake
TRANSMISSION 2002 #GM-Camaro-SS-T56 six-speed manual gearbox, #MGW shifter, steel shift forks, bronze shift pads, hardened steel bearing spacers and sleeves, #McLeod-RXT twin-disc clutch, Cincinnati Driveline propshaft, Ford 8.8 rear differential, Detroit TrueTrac LSD, 4.10 Ford Racing ring and pinion gear set
CHASSIS 9x17” ET20 (front) and 10.5x17” ET20 (rear) #CCW-LM20 wheels with matt black centres and gloss black lips, 235/45 (front) and 255/40 (rear) Falken tyres, #Ground-Control double adjustable coilovers, #Eibach custom rate springs, Vorshlag camber plates, Ground Control rear upper shock mounts, MWorks Garage rear lower control arms, Treehouse Racing front LCA bushings, MWorks Garage LSx power steering setup, Tin Soldier Race Cars modified subframe, Performance Friction brake pads, #Brembo discs, Bimmer World braided brake hoses, ABS delete, Tilton proportioning valve, MWorks Garage ABS delete hardlines
EXTERIOR Rear quarter panels widened one-inch, shaved front foglights, Shadowline grilles, Euro face-lift headlights, smoked corner lights, smoked side markers, smoked taillights, shaved rear spoiler, AC Schnitzer front lip, CQuartz Finest paint coating
INTERIOR #Recaro-Wildcat seats, MWorks Garage seat brackets, #Nardi steering wheel, Euro M3 gauge cluster, Schroth Racing harnesses, #Bavarian-Sound-Werks speakers, suede headliner, A-, B-, C-pillars and rear deck, black interior conversion, #StitchBoots gear and handbrake gaiters
THANKS I want to thank my parents first and foremost – they always told me to follow my dreams and supported me 100% in my decisions. Unfortunately, my mother passed away three months before we did this photoshoot. My girlfriend Kaitlin, owner at StitchBoots Automotive Interiors. She is with me every day at the shop, wanting to participate in all our projects. Eddie Wright and Greg Huber at Fast Eddies Auto Salon. Paul Montgomery at Eastside Auto Spa. Mike Pirnia at Proxses Tuning. Kenny Meade and Mike Karwath at Killer Coatings. Everyone at 1310 MotorsportsStream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.