- S52-SWAP E30
Slick, static and on Pokal splits
Still waters run deep. And if you think this E30 is simply a case of fancy wheels and a suspension drop, you’re about to get schooled at the next set of traffic lights… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Steve Hall.
With ultra-clean looks and sitting static over Pokal splits, this S52-swapped E30 is a slice of modified BMW perfection.
‘Ultimate’ is one of those words that gets thrown around hyperbolically these days, rather like ‘awesome’. If someone were to tell you that your shoes are awesome, you might reasonably hope that they’d then drop to their knees, speechless, agog, unable to mentally process the sheer magnificence of said shoes. No? Of course not! Language evolves by the manner in which it’s spoken.
‘Awesome’ just means ‘good’ nowadays. But ‘ultimate’, that should still carry some weight, surely? The term either means a) the final point of a process or b) the best or most extreme example of something. So we’re going to shock you here and posit that the car you’re looking at is a strong contender for the title of ‘the ultimate E30’.
I know, it’s a bit of a melon-twister, but stick with it. It may seem an extraordinary claim, given the sheer wealth of high-quality second-gen 3 Series out there, many of which have been adoringly showcased in these very pages, but this one’s owner – Scott from Renown Steering Wheels, no less – makes a pretty strong case for it. “It’s all in the details,” he grins. “The best colour, a very clean interior, the best engine with strong power everywhere, amazing looks, light weight – it’s hard to beat!”
Compelling indeed but is that little shopping list enough? The answer is yes, but let’s make the scenery go all wibbly for a second as we hop back in time to build a bit of back-story. It’ll help you see where all of this came from.
“I’ve loved cars my whole life, mostly ’80s motorsport themed cars,” Scott explains. “When I was a kid, my uncle had an E30 M3, and from the first time sitting in it I was mesmerised. Everything about it was so driver-centric – how the dash was angled towards the driver, the instantaneous response, its composure in corners…
“My first car was an ’87 Supra in metallic brown; not great in Wisconsin winters but a superb GT car, and to this day I love an in-line six noise. Then I got one of my dream cars, a Mk2 Golf GTI, and I’ve had a dozen Mk2s since. I still have one. I got my first E30 while finishing college. I’ve had over 60 cars, ranging from my ’90s WRC dream cars – like the GC8 STi and a few screaming S2000s – to many, many old BMWs.”
Okay, so he’s set the scene pretty neatly. That E30 of his college days must have made quite a lasting impression, then, in conjunction with the memories of his uncle’s old M3? “Yes, I’ve had lots of E30s,” Scott confirms, “and I couldn’t resist this one. I bought it within hours of it being listed online. It was a very well-looked-after 318iS in my favourite colour, Diamond Schwartz Metallic, with a cloth interior and a few very tasteful mods. I just knew I could turn it into the ultimate E30… and I’ve had it for six years now; while I’ve had several other E30s in that time, this has always been the one that’s received the most love.”
Now, we’re going to cut to the chase and face up to the one thing that’ll really annoy classic BMW purists: the engine swap. For while the 318iS is much sought after for its purity and cult classic status, that wasn’t enough to encourage Scott to keep it all stock. “I am a huge fan of the M42 engine,” he assures us, “and the car handled amazingly and could be driven 100% because, while it isn’t very powerful, the balance is incredible and requires good driving to be fast. But the motor got tired eventually, so the decision was made to go for a naturally aspirated S52 setup with mods to get the most power out of it and to remain reliable.”
He says this airily, as if it’s all in a day’s work, but an S52 swap is a very cool thing indeed for an E30. In a nutshell, the S52 is a high-performance variant of the venerated M52 straight-six, and you’d normally find it in the North American-market face-lifted E36 M3. You’re looking at a 3.2-litre displacement and an output of 240hp right out-of-the-box. Saucy stuff for a 318iS, right?
Of course, this was a considered conversion, Scott didn’t just say ‘okay, my M42’s knackered, let’s find something else to plonk in there’. The OBD1-converted M3 motor brought its native gearbox and propshaft along for the ride, with an LSD out back facilitating the hijinks. The sump has been necessarily truncated and wears an armoured skidplate – you’ll see why in a moment – while the engine also enjoys an M50 intake manifold, juicy fuelling, and a robust remap. Quite a lot of shove to shoehorn into a 318iS, then, but Scott’s kept it subtle, the custom exhaust culminating in an iS-style tailpipe to keep people guessing. So why armour-plate the underneath?
Because this thing is low, that’s why. And static, too, not hopping on air or hydros. Ground Control coilovers keep the rubber snugly acquainted with the arches and again Scott’s taken a holistic approach to the chassis: chunky anti-roll bars, M3 control arms and a quick Z3 steering rack make the E30 eminently chuckable. Then there’s a set of E30 M3 Brembos to rein it all back in again. Perfect for canyonrunning, as well as the odd trip to the track. “It’s been a battle to get the car as balanced as it was before with the added weight and power,” Scott says, “but it is deceivingly fast in just about any situation!” Which is just the way it should be. We like ‘deceivingly fast’, together they’re two of our favourite words.
What really stands out when Scott’s waxing lyrical about his E30 is how much he cares about the details. There are a lot of people out there who’ll just farm a project out to a professional builder on the assumption that the right choices will be made but Scott really does sweat the small stuff. It’s no coincidence that he’s the driving force behind Renown USA – he likes things done right, and if the right way doesn’t yet exist, he does it himself.
“I started Renown at the end of 2014, because I couldn’t find the parts I wanted for my cars,” he explains. “I’ve always been fascinated with steering wheels, and for many of the cars I love, the original steering wheel isn’t that interesting and definitely not the best choice for spirited driving. So I wanted to create a brand that would offer products that feel like they belong in the car, have proper aesthetics that don’t look like they’re begging for attention, and enhance the driving experience.” Naturally he needs the most extrovert Renown wheel possible in his own car, which is why you see a startlingly blue example here – a clear focal point for the interior. “I started Renown with the help of this E30’s character, and continue to test all products in this car,” he says. “I plan to continue making it the best it can be – that’s why, for me, it’s the ultimate E30. You can follow my BMW adventures on Instagram too, on @renownusa – things are always changing.”
What Scott enjoys most about his car is its initial stealth-like element of surprise. When he’s not out driving the canyons or commuting through San Francisco, he can often be found at car shows and meets across LA, where he constantly enjoys the double-takes of passers-by who at first assume that it’s just another clean 3 Series, before zooming in for a closer look and unearthing all the work that’s gone into it. Because there’s a lot. While a first glance may sideline the car as a simple stop-drop-and- roll, there’s so much going on under the surface, like the frantically flapping feet beneath a serenely floating swan.
So is it the ultimate E30? No, we’re not going to go that far – there’s a lot of you out there doing cool stuff, and we know you’ll continue to push the boundaries. But it is Scott’s ultimate E30, and that’s all it needs to be. He’s set the bar pretty damn high with this one, hasn’t he? Power, looks, poise, quality, subtlety… it’s the product of relentless refinement, and it shows.
Interior has been treated to a bright blue Renown Monaco steering wheel and sexy Renown Carousel carbon gear knob.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE S52-swapped #BMW-E30 / #BMW-E30-S52 / #Pokal-Felgen / #BMW /
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six #S52B32 / #S52 / #BMW-S52 from US E36 M3, OBD1 conversion, M50 intake manifold, E39 M5 3.5” intake, #Bosch-Cobra injectors, #Turner-Motorsport tune, shortened oil pan, #Red46 Sump Armor skidplate, custom exhaust with OEM 318iS-style tailpipe, E36 M3 #ZF320 gearbox, E36 M3 propshaft, OEM Z4 short-shift, OEM 2.93 LSD
CHASSIS 9x17” (front) and 10.5x17” (rear) #Pokal-Felgen-GRB10SC wheels with 215/40 (front) and 235/40 (rear) Falken Azenis F tyres, E30 M3 five-stud hubs, E30 M3 aluminium control arms, #Ground-Control coilovers, #AKG bushings, front and rear anti-roll bars, Z3 steering rack, Sparco Motorsport solid tower bar, E30 M3 Brembo brakes, stainless steel brake lines, Porsche brake booster
EXTERIOR Diamond Schwartz Metallic, non-sunroof, shaved keyholes, windscreen washer jets and antenna, smoothed bumpers, OEM Euro grilles, trim and numberplate panel, OEM Hella smiley headlights, iS sideskirts, Hella smoked indicators, DDM 5k HID lights, BBS spoiler
INTERIOR Renown Monaco Motorsport steering wheel in blue suede, Renown Carousel carbon-fibre gear knob, Renown Motorsport gaiters, OEM Euro Recaro cloth interior and rear headrests, E87 1M floor mats, OEM black carpet and map light mirror, E30Head console cupholder
THANKS Elizabeth at PBMW, Adam Radzi, Sutton, Evan Van Tran, Yoshi of Pokal, Tyson of DirtyThirty, Fatlace, my fiancée, and the entire Renown family around the world
“It is deceivingly fast in just about any situation”
“I plan to continue making it the best it can be – that’s why it’s the ultimate E30”