- Reaching The Zenith
With 600hp from its supercharged S54 , this RHD converted #BMW-E30 M3 is at the top of its game. An S54-swapped, supercharged, 600hp E30 M3 is about as good as it gets… Words: Elizabeth de Latour / Photos: Steve Hall
You know this is going to be good. You’ve seen the front cover, you’ve read the taster, you’ve probably not been able to restrain yourself and may have already been drooling over the pictures, so you know that you’re about to read about something special. Certainly it’s going to upset some people because there’s a lot going on here, including the RHD conversion and the S54 swap carried out on a genuine E30 M3, so in the eyes of many purists that’s it ruined, basically. But we’re open-minded here at PBMW towers and if you’re reading this mag then we’d like to think that you’re cut from the same cloth and can appreciate cars that might offend those of a more delicate disposition. And this is a car that most definitely deserves some appreciation.
BMWs have always been a big part of Sam Le Fevre’s life. The 31-year-old construction company director first fell for the Bavarian marque when his oldest brother picked him up from school in an E30 325i. “For me, it’s the four decades of motorsport heritage and the connection between driver and machine that makes BMW so special. You just don’t get that with other affordable marques,” explains Sam. And the E30 M3 is arguably the ultimate definition and concentration of that BMW essence.
He began his BMW journey with an E46 M3 Convertible and while his car history is mixed, with a couple of fast Fords in there for good measure, his passion for BMWs, and particularly for the E30 M3, has clearly bubbled to the top. “I’ve always loved the E30 M3; it is a true homologation model with a chassis that draws you in and gives you confidence,” he says. And with the means available, a purchase seemed inevitable, though it was not without some drama, as he explains: “I found the car on PistonHeads advertised at a trader for £16,000. I arranged to see it and travelled down to Sussex. I looked the M3 over and told the trader the car had been in an accident and that he needed to revise his price. I said the car needed to go on a jig as I noticed the passenger wheel was sitting back 15mm towards the skirt. He refused and said that it was just an alignment issue. I left my details and told him to contact me if he didn’t have any luck. A month passed and I got a call asking me if I wanted to come down and view the car again. I said there would be no point if he was still asking for the same sort of money. I went and viewed the car for the second time and told them I wouldn’t be coming back if we couldn’t do a deal on this occasion. We haggled and eventually agreed a sale for £11,000.”
Even with the potential chassis problem that was something of a bargain, especially considering the selection of #Alpina additions the car was sporting and the small matter of the freshly rebuilt engine, totalling a cool £6000 in bills.
Now all that was needed was some inspiration and, luckily, Sam’s favourite BMW magazine happened to provide just what he was after: “I was reading #Drive-My when I came across Del Sanchez’s masterpiece: the E30 M3 with a S54 powerplant. To me this was perfection – BMW’s best chassis combined with its best six-cylinder engine! So I thought I would have some of that in my flavour. As soon as I picked the car up I drove it straight to the transplant centre, aka Munich Motors in Wokingham, to see the man himself, Clive Sanchez. He checked the car over, said it needed some jig or bulkhead work and he booked it in for two months later. I got impatient after a fortnight and phoned Sue, his wife, and said I was dropping the car down because I was doing my driveway (a poor excuse, I know). He started doing the teardown ready for the S54 transplant and that’s where we ran into problems as the shell needed major surgery!”
The engine came first, though, and while Sam knew he was fitting an S54, he wanted to add a little extra spice: “The plan was to build something with forced induction, either a turbo or supercharger. I spent a Saturday at Munich Motors with Clive looking around the engine bays of the two S54 transplanted E30s that they had down there. After careful consideration, measuring and thinking about the driveability of the car, I decided that the supercharger route was the only sensible option. The engine came from Quarry Motors and while there was a problem with the Vanos system the guys at Quarry sorted it out with little fuss and we then added an ESS VT2-550 supercharger.” On its own the 550 kit makes an impressive 550hp according to ESS along with 340lb ft of torque. But, of course, there’s a lot more to a build like this than simply slapping a supercharger onto a stock engine. Sam’s powerplant has been beefedup with a few supporting mods to assist with its longevity and add some additional power because, you know, 550hp isn’t nearly enough in an E30…
On the sensible and practical front, the engine has been fitted with an M50 sump for space reasons and the Vanos was rebuilt with Z4 M bolts. The big end bearings have been uprated and fitted with stronger ARP bolts, there are custom crank and supercharger pulleys, a Storm Developments Garrett chargecooler, a custom E36 M3 Docking Engineering radiator, Denso iridium spark plugs, Bosch coil packs, Bosch Motorsport grey injectors, a Bosch 044 fuel pump and a Fuel Labs fuel filter. The secondary air pump and rear lambda sensors have been deleted and the engine has been treated to an Alpha N conversion and a Setrab oil cooler.
“Once the engine had been put in the bay, that’s when we hit the serious problem,” Sam continues. “We realised that the chassis legs and bulkhead had been repaired very poorly. I was in utter despair thinking I was going to have to scrap the car but I decided that the car was not going to beat me. I couldn’t find a decent E30 M3 shell anywhere so I figured that, as #BMW had built every other M3 in RHD, I’d make my own RHD E30 M3. I managed to source a clean 316 shell that had covered only 50k miles and had blown a head gasket with a plan to re-shell the car completely and take all the quarter panels etc. off. But after dropping the shell off to Eddie at Crash Repairs in Edmonton he said just bring in the front end from the 316 shell and he would take care of it. To say that I was a little apprehensive was an understatement. I went up to Big Bavarian Beauties on a Saturday morning with my petrol disc cutter and set about cutting the front half of the car and roof skin off, and putting it in the back of my van, ready for the journey back down to London. I dropped the front end down to Eddie and he said that he’d need the car for four weeks and that the shell needed two new inner and outer seals and a few other parts. I got all the bits and dropped everything off with him on a Friday.
When I got a call on Monday asking me to come over I was expecting the worst, but I was amazed to see the car complete and sitting on jig pins. Eddie had basically drilled out all the spot welds from the A-pillars, bulkhead and floorpans and grafted the 316 front end straight on back in the factory spot welds in a weekend. I was gobsmacked. We picked the shell up and drove straight up to SPL for a full acid dip and e-coat session.”
With the chassis drama dealt with, Sam and the guys could get on with the task of getting everything running right, but that wasn’t an easy process either, as he explains: “Once Clive had the car running we started coming across numerous problems. The biggest one was that the car was down on power dramatically compared to what it should have been making. Clive suggested I visit Storm Developments in Aldermaston so I drove over there where owner Andy and I instantly clicked.”
Andy used his engineering superpowers to diagnose the problem and had Sam removing the front bumper to access the chargecooler, which Andy duly whipped off and bypassed before telling him to take the car for a spin up the road. “Well that’s exactly what happened,” laughs Sam. “I pulled out of the workshop, stabbed the throttle and the rear wheels lit up! The car had rocketed from 260hp to 325hp in an instant but it was still down on what we were expecting.”
So Andy’s next plan of action was to fit a Garrett chargecooler. This helped take power up to 410hp but now the exhaust wasn’t pulling its weight. “Andy suggested getting the exhaust modified,” says Sam, “so I contacted Hayward & Scott and dropped the car off with them along with a drawing Andy had produced so they knew what sort of system was required. It now sounds amazing.”
Exhaust sorted, Sam headed back up to Storm Developments where Andy changed the plugs and coils before strapping it onto the dyno. “We were very disappointed when it only made 450hp,” says Sam, “so Andy measured the boost and it was way down on the 7psi it should have been producing. He worked out the sizes for the pulleys we needed to get the boost we were aiming for and I went off to get them made up. I popped back to Storm a few weeks later.
Andy took the pulleys off me as soon as I got out the car and fitted them on the spot before he told me to put the car on the ramp.” This was the moment of truth and the numbers didn’t disappoint: the M3 putting down a seriously impressive 580hp and with a few tweaks to the map the final run produced 604hp. That’s more like it! So, Sam now had a RHD E30 M3 running one hell of an engine setup. But that alone does not make for a complete package. It was time to address the suspension, and Sam was very particular about his upgrades in this department. “I took a ride in some cars with H&R and KW coilovers and found them all to be uninspiring with both manufactures unable to do custom damper designs,” he explains. “I was recommended a company called AST by Demlotcrew who raved about the products so I contacted them and spoke to Curtis Woodman who told me to bring the car up for him to have a look at and see what we could come up with. After driving over to Cheltenham and discussing the options we nailed down a damper design for the rear, which is basically an inverted wasted shaft DTM replica with custom valve and spring rates.
The car has also had the front subframe reinforced, aluminium control arms, Eibach anti-roll bars, Treehouse Racing front control arm bushes, dual diff mount and BMW Motorsport bushes as well as countless other additions and tweaks.” The brakes also needed attention and for some serious stopping power Sam turned to AP Racing, fitting the car with a set of sixpot front calipers with 330mm discs and four-pot rear calipers with 315mm discs, which are more than enough to slow the E30’s lightweight frame down from silly speeds. The drivetrain has also been beefedup, with the S54 mated to a ZF five-speed gearbox from an E36 M3 3.0 that’s been fitted with a TTV lightened flywheel and Sachs Hybrid HD clutch. A CAtuned modified chromoly driveshaft (this E30 M3 has a bit of an appetite for driveshafts) and a Demlotcrew 3.15:1 Motorsport diff with a Z3 M modified diff cover were also fitted.
While the performance modifications are absolutely full-on and barely contained, the styling is the complete opposite and Sam has kept things very subtle, allowing the E30 M3’s iconic good looks to shine through with only the slightest smattering of visual tweaks. We’ve got to go for the wheels first.
They are genuine BBS LMs – one of the Holy Grails of the wheel world – and are pretty rare to boot. There’s quite a story behind Sam’s acquisition of them. “I’ve always loved BBS splits rims,” says Sam, “and couldn’t have the usual BBS RS type of wheel as they wouldn’t fit over the AP Racing BBK, so the hunt started for a set of staggered LMs. Well let me tell you, you have more chance of your numbers coming up than you do of finding a set. After being let down by a couple of sellers, I was contacted through one of the forums by a guy called Angel from Toledo in Spain. He had the wheels I wanted but wasn’t willing to post them; no problem, I said, I could come and collect them myself but that ended up being rather sooner than I anticipated as I received a call after work one Friday from Angel saying that I needed to collect them before the next weekend or he had another buyer lined up.
So my brother and I rushed home, picked up the family 335i and told my wife that I was going to Spain for the weekend, leaving her to cope alone with our four-month-old baby boy. We’d also been burgled just two days previously, so she was not impressed! We booked the tickets anyway, chucked a case of Red Bull in the car and set off on a mini endurance race from London to Toledo and back again!” Now that is dedication and shows just how far some people are willing to go for the right set of wheels, but the impromptu road trip was absolutely worth it as these wheels look insanely good on the car, especially after their recent refurb and darker centres.
For the outside, Sam looked to BMW’s other M3 offerings for inspiration, opting for an Evo 2 chin spoiler with carbon splitter and an Evo 3-style spoiler with a carbon gurney flap. A set of smoked Hella front lenses and indicators were added and Sam tinted the rear indicators for the finishing touch. Inside, the car already had a set of very rare Recaro LS seats in mint condition but covered in the very dated check pattern that Sam was not a fan of. Having seen an E30 Europameister and fallen for that interior, Sam took his interior over to Adam at B Trim. The seats have been trimmed in black Nappa leather with silver stitching, with B Trim also making a non-sunroof black headlining in BMW fabric and recovering all the pillar trims in black vinyl. You’ll also find an M Tech 2 steering wheel and an E36 M3 3.0 gear knob.
It’s taken Sam three years to get to this stage with the car and we wager that back when he was struggling to decide whether or not to even keep it he couldn’t have imagined it ending up like this. For a lot of people, their projects seem more like a sprint rather than a marathon, with owners desperate to meet show deadlines for the big reveal. This build, however, has definitely been the latter. And while it’s been far from plain sailing for Sam, the journey has been well worth every hardship as the end result delivers the sort of pleasure and enjoyment nothing else can. “The look on a Ferrari F430 owner’s face after being wasted by my scrap yard survivor was priceless! I was laughing like a child!” Sam says. For some, this car might go too far but for us, going that bit further is what it’s all about.
“I pulled out of the workshop, stabbed the throttle and the rear wheels lit up!”
“I’ve always loved the E30 M3; it is a true homologation model with a chassis that draws you in and gives you confidence”
DATA FILE 2015 #BMW-E30-S54B32 / #BMW-E30 / #BMW-M3-E30
ENGINE: 3.2-litre straight-six #S54B32 / #S54 , #M50 sump, Vanos rebuilt with Z4M bolts, uprated big end bearings with ARP bolts, custom #Vortech-V3Si supercharger kit, ESS inlet plenum, custom crank and supercharger pulleys, Storm Developments Garrett chargecooler, Docking Engineering custom E36 M3 radiator, Denso Iridium Racing IXU01 spark plugs, Bosch coil packs, Bosch Motorsport grey injectors, #Bosch-044 fuel pump, Fuel Labs fuel filter, secondary air pump deleted, rear lambda sensors deleted, #Alpha-N-ECU conversion, #Setrab oil cooler, Hayward and Scott stainless steel custom exhaust with 3” piping and crosspipe.
TRANSMISSION: E36 M3 3.0 #ZF Type C five-speed gearbox, #TTV lightened flywheel, #Sachs Hybrid HD clutch, modified Rogue Engineering short shifter, #CAtuned chromoly driveshafts, #Demlotcrew 3.15 Ratio Motorsport diff, Z3 M modified diff cover.
CHASSIS: Summer wheels: 8.5x17” (front) and 10x17” (rear) #BBS LM wheels with 235/40 (front) and 255/40 (rear) Michelin PS2 tyres. Winter wheels: 8.5x17” (front and rear) BBS CH wheels with 235/40 (front) and 255/40 (rear) Michelin PS2 tyres. AST 5100 and 5200 custom coilovers, Sparco front strut brace, Ultra Racing rear strut brace, Eibach anti-roll bars (front and rear), E46 Clubsport steering rack, #Siemens #VDO hydro-electric power steering pump, reinforced front subframe, rear beam modified with camber and toe correction, aluminium front control arms, Treehouse Racing front control arm bushes, E46 M3 guibo, #BMW-Motorsport Group N rear beam bushes, #AKG rear trailing arm bushes, AP Racing six-pot calipers with 330x28mm discs and PFC Z-rated pads (front), #AP-Racing four-pot calipers with 315x25mm discs and #Ferodo DS2500 pads (rear), Stainless steel brake lines.
EXTERIOR: Shell acid dipped and e-coated, full bare metal rebuild and RHD conversion consisting of RHD front end, new inner and outer sills, non-sunroof roof skin, rear light panel, front slam panel, Sport Evo front wings, BMP carbon/Kevlar bonnet & front bumper, Evo II brake ducts, Evo II front chin spoiler, Sport Evo carbon fibre front splitter, Sport Evo rear spoiler with carbon fibre adjustable gurney flap, full respray in Alpine white, smoked Hella headlights, smoked front indicators, smoked side repeaters, red tinted rear lights, US rear numberplate filler, pop-out rear window conversion.
INTERIOR: Full retrim in black Nappa leather with silver stitching on Recaro LS front seats, rear bench, centre console, handbrake and gearstick gaiter, #M-Tech II 370mm steering wheel, Z4 M sport button, black carpet and mats, map reading light, rear blind, custom dials, BMW premium rear shelf speaker shells, under seat front fire extinguisher.
AUDIO: #Alpine CD-177BT CD head unit, Focal poly glass 5.25” components front and rear, #JL-Audio 12W3V3-2 12” 500W RMS 2ohm subwoofer, #Alpine-PDXV9 4x100W plus mono 500W digital power amplifier.
THANKS: Munich Motors, Jay at NV Workshop, Storm Developments, Sol at E30 Parts, Big Bavarian Beauties, Crash Repairs Edmonton, Surface Processing Limited, Lee at Quarry Motors, Fab Recycling, Hans at ESS Tuning, Alan at Docking Engineering, Jody at Atec, Andy at Streamline Motors, Dips at Custom Cars, Adam at B-Trim, ESP Blasting & Powder Coating, Nigel at Moseley Motorsports, the parts department at Stephen James BMW Enfield, Park Lane BMW Battersea, Kirby at C3BMW, Vac Motorsports, David at BG Developments, Curtis at AST Suspension, Ian at Hayward & Scott, Igor at CAtuned, Nick at Alarms N Sounds Chingford, Paul at Glasstec, Xworks, Pete at PMW, Andrew at Demlotcrew, Andrew Johnson, Kos, my wife Aleyna and my son Leo.