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Project Money Pit - A 24v Swap Story

Discussion in 'E30 (1984-1993)' started by Guerc, Apr 27, 2010.

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    Guerc

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    This is to document my car build & engine swap, and to dissuade anyone foolish enough to follow behind me on a modest budget. I set out to build a simple, inexpensive sports car with ‘80's style, with enough power to be interesting, but with 4 seats to accomodate kids. A Porsche 911 was out of my budget, an Alfa Romeo GTV-6 was too finicky, and Camaros had no style. I settled on a BMW E30: With a sweet 6-cyinder, great handling, a nice sports package, it seemed ideal. I was intrigued by the Spec racing series and GrassRoots Motorsports project cars, and the Blue Book says they can be had for $2k or less. So I set out to find a nice example.


    (I originally posted this write-up on one of the E30 sites. I got a little tired of the negativity, trash-talking, and nitpicking, so I'm reposting here.)
    • Member

    Guerc

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    Money Pit

    After wasting time looking a thrashed-out beaters, I came across a great example: all-original 1988 325is, two-owner, with an inch-thick maintenance folder. It was a nicely optioned, Alpine White with black leather, sports package, maplight mirror, basket weaves, the works. The bad news: The suspension was worn out, shifter was like stirring paint, and it needed some deferred maintenance. It was also well beyond my target price, but… never wrecked, no rust, hey, it was all there.
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    Guerc

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    Money Pit - Chapter IV A New Beginning

    A word about objectives: Keep expenditures modest, and do most or all the work myself. I had moderate mechanical skills and limited tools. I didn't want to go overboard, so I set a goal of keeping the car within the limits of the SpecE30 series. If some solid tightening up and a few thousand in bolt-ons would make it raceworthy, then the only thing left would be to "tighten the nut that holds the wheel." Serious racing was out of the question, but I had an interest in trying autocross. Including the cost of the car, I set a hard budget at $5k.

    Finally, a word about the "Money Pit" title... It's tongue in cheek. This car won't put me into the poorhouse, but since I'm a CPA by background and a CAB (Cheap-*** B*stard) by my upraising, the financial aspect is how I keep score.

    First order was to clean out the interior, and patch up a few tears in the leather. A Z3 shifter and new bushings made a world of difference. A few months later, swapped to plastic bumpers. Tinted windows were necessary, given non-functioning A/C and summer temps over 110o. I bought a Bentley manual and "101 Projects for your BMW".
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    Guerc

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    Money Pit - First Blood Part II

    I had the undercarriage thoroughly steam-cleaned at a truck stop: best $50 I ever spent. And God Bless California… not a spec of rust. I used to live in Buffalo, NY and grew up working on rusted-out derelicts. I paid my dues, I deserve this luxury.
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    Guerc

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    I found a guy parting out a wrecked Cabrio and bought a package deal of stuff for $400. Nearly-new Bilsteins, BavAuto springs, and…. Oooh! A spare M20 engine! And a Dinan chip! At this point, the hard budget became more of a guideline.

    Installed the suspension and added 21mm Suspension Techniques sways. New bushings and rubber everywhere I could. Went with M3 springs and sold the BavAutos to keep it at reasonable height. This car is also going to serve as occasional commuter on crappy Bay Area roads.
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    Guerc

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    Begone, forty pounds of trunk tar, begone! With an air chisel, it took 30 minutes to chip the sound deadener out the trunk. I could measurably tell the difference in ride height.
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    Guerc

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    Spent quite a bit of time thinking over my M20 engine build. I priced out a full-on rebuild vs some simple head work, and everything in between. The stock engine ran fine, but… well, it wasn't overwhelming. A little extra oomph would make a difference. I was intrigued by the possibilities of a 24v swap.

    And then.... Wow! Came across a smoking deal on Craigslist! Found an M3 being parted out. Low mileage S50 engine… ZF Trans…. Close-ratio steering rack. Boom, I hit the ATM and hauled it all home. It all cost just a few grand. Yeah, this was the point where I first departed from my original objective of "within the limits of SpecE30." Budget, what budget?

    The next morning, I was physically sick... I spent far too much and I'm way beyond my original constraints. The "Nut that holds the wheel" is still mediocre at best. I put an ad up on Craigslist and within days sold the whole S50 + Trans package for a few hundred more than I spent. I cried a little inside when the seller rolled away with my new engine.
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    Guerc

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    I found that once you go down the 24v rabbit hole, it's hard to stop. I found myself obsessed with doing an engine swap. I set up a spreadsheet and tried to find a way to do it cheap(er). I searched Craigslist and found a nice complete E34 M50. Add M3 cams, and we're almost there. I figured I would keep my original Getrag 260 and 3:73 LSD to keep costs down.

    I did all the maintenance on the engine myself. New water pump, oil pan & valve cover seals. Degreased and painted everything. Compression was good, so I left the head gasket alone.

    Despite best of intentions, this is where the costs went horribly awry. I questioned my ability to pull off an engine swap. I didn't have the flexibility to leave an engine-less car sitting in the garage for weeks/ months (years?!?) on end. After talking to different shops and a few independents, I made an appointment at Valley MotorWerks in Sacramento. They have a solid reputation in the E30 world, and field a car in the SpecE30 series.
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    Guerc

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    I dropped the car off, with promises that it would be done "in a few weeks." This is where time and budget completely got away from me. VMWerks treated me right, but a race shop doing custom work doesn't exactly keep costs down. I lost the ability to source parts off Craigslist. We had all sorts of delays and the incidentals really began to add up. As they pulled the engine out, various deferred maintenance issues became apparent. Heater core, steering rack, etc, etc, all had to get replaced. Replaced all the tranny seals. Added Treehouse lollipops. With costs escalating, I was starting to panic. Nearly two months rolled by before I finally got the following in my email:

    http://guerc.shutterfly.com/pictures/54

    Outstanding! Another week or two of finishing work and I picked it up. Here's the engine final product. Impressions: They did a great job. The swap was professionally done, and is very clean. It starts, runs, and idles like a new car. I've been surprised that it is so reliable, and I've been commuting with it all winter long. I don't think twice about jumping on the highway at 5:00am in pouring rain.
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    Guerc

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    The power from M50 with M3 cams + chip is nice, though not overwhelming. It has a nice powerband and is very responsive. I regret not going with my original S50, but that would have added another thousand or two to the smoldering checkbook. The little 195/14 tires are barely adequate, and I've found myself even unintentionally shredding rubber. Again, the constraining factor is the "loose nut holding the wheel," and it's about as much power as I can reasonably handle. At this point, it's fair to say that we've eclipsed the $5k budget I originally set for this car.
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    Guerc

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    Baby got a new set of 225/50/15 shoes and period-correct rims. I searched for proper 15" Euroweaves, but couldn't turn down a great deal on these wheels. The 225/50/15's fit great, no rubbing or interference issues even at full lock. Unfortunately, they do kick up a lot of road grime onto the lower panels though. Maybe a set of "Keep on Truckin" mudflaps?

    At the same time, I talked the tire shop into throwing in a fifth tire to replace the original Pirelli P6 spare tire. The original spare was nice for nostalgic purposes, but the 22-year-old rubber was as hard as a rock. It was basically unsuitable as a spare.
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    Guerc

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    Smog Legal!

    A visit to the California Smog referee, and….. WOOT! Smog-legal! For smog purposes, the car is listed with Uncle Schwarzenneger as a '95 325i. It helps to have the entire engine from a single car. I brought a neat folder of documentation, VINs, BMW docs, purchase receipts, smog history, etc. It also helped to show up with kiddie seats in the back instead of a a 4-foot wing and "Thug Life" stickers.

    The Smog Ref spent about 20 minutes pulling up engine specs on his computer, and 5 minutes looking over the car. He did a quick visual check to make sure the required smog gear was installed. Glanced underneath to make sure there was a cat (the high-flow M3 cat that took me two months to find and cost me a small fortune). Shrugs shoulders and says "looks good to me" and he slapped the sticker on the shock tower.
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    Guerc

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    Now that smog technicalities are taken care of, I popped out the chip and replaced with a Turner unit, tuned for the M3 cams. I haven't yet done a dyno run, but this setup is supposed to put up just shy of 200hp at the rear wheels, or 225-230hp at the crank. A dyno run will eventually tell the tale.

    I wired in an auxiliary fan, to keep it cool before summer temps start rising. So far this winter, I've been surprised at how cool it runs, even without a mechanical fan. I didn't reinstall the air conditioner, although all the plumbing is still there. I've taught my kids that the car comes equipped with "Two-Eighty Air Conditioning" (2 windows / 80mph), much to my wife's horror.
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    Guerc

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    I'm working my way down a list of minor projects… the driver seat cushion was worn down with 169k miles and 22 years. I pulled a passenger-side seat cushion from a parted-out 318is. An afternoon of disassembly, and Voila! supportive seats like the German Gods intended.

    The interior is nicely equipped, with all the little extras: maplight mirror, cassette storage console, 13-button OBC, sport seats & MTech steering wheel. I don't have the window sticker, but I do have a Car & Driver road test from October '88. C&D's similarly-equipped car priced out at $29,275. Around that time, in '87-88, my dad bought a new Chrysler LeBaron Coupe for about $10 grand. Of course, that LeBaron didn't exactly have a competition pedigree and was probably broken down, crushed and recycled years ago. And that fine Corinthian leather was always a little suspect, Ricardo Montalban notwithstanding.
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    Guerc

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    I took the car to an exhaust shop. Believe it or not, the car uses an aftermarket E36 M3 exhaust from stem to stern. It fits "almost" but had a few minor interference issues. The shop welded up some additional hangars, and massaged out some rubbing issues. I also had them weld on some new chrome tips a jaunty side angle.

    Notice the pink crossbrace, towards the front. That is a custom-welded brace, to accommodate the original Getrag G260 with the M50 engine swap. The tranny/engine bolt patterns lines up, but the transmission is rotated ten degrees to the right, requiring a custom brace and a custom shift selector rod. The vendor who makes the brace painted it bright pink. Maybe I should have repainted it, but the pink/green Miami Vice thing works with the '80's theme.

    In the second pic, you can see the 'S' painted in white on the diff, to designate a Limited Slip unit (3.73 gearing). Once again, God Bless California and the rust-free environment.
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    Guerc

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    So that's where we are now. I've long since eclipsed the $5k budget, by many multiples, and well beyond the constraints of SpecE30 series, my original goals. I have yet to take the car onto the track. I've signed up for autocross and driver skills events with my local BMWCCA chapter (Golden Gate) but I've ended up canceling at the last minute due to unpreparedness, work commitments, or whatever. I will eventually get to the track this summer.

    I'm really not a "show car" kind of guy, but I'm going to get the car shined up for the local EuroSunday events. From the outside, the car looks essentially stock, except for the wheels. (I'm still looking for a set of 15" BBS weaves.) I'll be interested in what kind of reception a car like this gets... There are some real exotica at those events (a Lamborghini Jalpa, really?), but the E30 contingent is represented as well.

    From a day-to-day perspective, it's a great car. The exhaust note is unobtrusive, and you wouldn't know the engine is anything other than stock. I drive it almost daily to drop off at the local BART station without a thought. Ultimately, it's a $2,000 KBB car, and gets no attention among a sea of SUV's, Benzes, Bimmers, and Audis.

    There's still a list of work to do, but the list is slowly getting shorter and shorter. At this point it is details, details, details. It has been a fun project, as I've re-lived my high school auto shop days. My 4 year old likes to call himself a "grease monkey" like his dad, and he will wash and "work" on his Z3 pedal car in the garage with me.
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    az3579

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    Amen brotha. I know how you feel.
    And MUCH respect for DAILY DRIVING that car. I hate it when people do swaps and never drive the darned thing.

    z31maniac guest

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    Ouch! It's why you gots to do the work yourself! You probably were flamed on the forums for outsourcing the work?

    But what can I say, I don't even own a BMW anymore.
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    az3579

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    And what compelled you to commit Bimmer-blasphemy? :eek:
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    bcweir

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    Maybe he bought into the myth about Toyotas being superior cars

    LOL! Cheers!


    :p

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