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Old 04-09-2016, 08:52 AM   #1
John V
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The death and rebirth of a DSP E46 330Ci

I bought this car halfsies with a friend of mine back in 2011. We actually picked it up at the Solo Nationals in Lincoln, Nebraska, having negotiated a sight-unseen deal with the caretaker of the car. The owner had gotten into some marital strife that caused the need to divest himself of the car. That buying process has taught me a lot about trust and what questions to ask when buying a competition car, but I won't get into a lot of that.

The car was originally built by a shop in Colorado called Bimmerhaus. I'll say no more about that, other than the only parts of the car that are the same as when they left that shop are the VIN tag and most of the interior.

Here is the bottom line up front:

2002 BMW 330Ci 5-speed Sport, sunroof delete
Miles: 7,825
Japan Red / Tan
A/C removed
3# lithium battery in trunk
Custom spoiler and front splitter
Recaro SPG 8# seats (on sliders)
Momo 320mm steering wheel
Deleted radio and speakers
Competition weight (no driver) 2,930lbs

Blueprinted, bored 0.2mm over with factory overbore pistons
Skimmed cylinder head for max compression, thin factory head gasket, decked block. Calculated 10.4:1 compression ratio
Balanced rotating assembly
Baffled oil pan
ATI harmonic damper
Kromer-Kraft equal-length headers, custom Burns collectors, 3" exhaust ending in two straight-through mufflers
Cylinder head port matched to M50 intake manifold
ZHP Cams
Lightweight pulleys
Megasquirt 3 engine management
E85 Fuel, with flex fuel sensor
Innovate LC-1 wideband O2 sensor
M50 intake manifold
Custom big bore 68mm M50 throttle body, E46 323i pedal assembly and throttle cable
Bosch "green giant" fuel injectors
Walbro high volume fuel pump
E46 M3 in-tank fuel baffle
Deleted A/C, air pump, catalytic converters, fuel tank ventilation
Stewart water pump
252rwhp at 5,900 RPM

Junkyard 5-speed trans (original grenaded in 2015)
ACT 10# flywheel, six-puck sprung disc, competition pressure plate
AKG short shifter
Solid delrin transmission and engine mounts
Custom-fabricated solid aluminum subframe and differential bushings
Replacement rear subframe (original cracked at diff mount in 2013)
Jim Blanton-built differential, 40/90 ramps, 60# static preload, 3.23:1
18x11" Forgestar wheels with 315/30/18 Hoosier A7 tires

Moton Motorsport aluminum-bodied struts and rear shocks, remote reservoirs, custom valving
Vorshlag camber plates
Custom rear shock hats with spherical bearings
Treehouse racing "eyeball" front control arm bushings with custom Delrin inserts
ZHP front control arms
Stock BMW Z4 rear trailing arm bushings with delrin limiters
-3.2 degrees front camber with 1/8" total toe-out
-2.0 degrees rear camber with 1/8" total toe-in
ARP wheel studs

Wilwood ultralite four-piston calipers front / rear
Custom front rotors with aluminum hats
E46 M3 ZCP rear rotors
Hawk HPS pads
Braided-steel flex lines

Last edited by John V; 04-09-2016 at 04:53 PM.
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Old 04-09-2016, 08:53 AM   #2
John V
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The beginning:

Starting chassis: This car started life as a Japan Red no-sunroof 2002 BMW 330Ci 5-speed with sport seats and no other options, and the picture above is how it looked when we picked it up, at Nationals, in 2011. It was dirty as all hell when we got it. The previous owner had built a racetrack out at his ranch in Wyoming, and it's very dusty out there. I spent about a week cleaning it when I got home and it still isn't really clean. Being a non-sunroof car was important; the sunroof adds about 40lbs high on the body shell.

Differential, Suspension, Wheels and Tires

SCCA Street Prepared lets you do lots of stuff to the car, but the bang for your buck starts here, so it's what I wanted to focus on first. Here's the thing. You can build a 90% complete DSP car by getting these three things correct. Everything else is great for a top-tier car, but if you do these three things your car will be capable of amazing feats in the hands of a talented driver.

The differential is the item that makes these cars so magical. Stock non-M E46s come with an open differential. Plenty of aftermarket companies sell performance differentials. The diff that came with this car was my first lesson learned about buying competition cars that someone else built. It was supposed to be a custom Metric Mechanic differential with 40/90 ramps - essentially making the differential lock up very hard on acceleration and open on deceleration.

Unfortunately, that was not what I found in the car when I tore into it. What I had was a roadrace differential, also known as a "one way" differential. It was locked up hard on both acceleration and deceleration. On a track this makes the car stable. On an autocross course this makes the car pushy on turn-in, which is undesirable. You can see this ramping in the picture below.

I ended up swapping this out for a used Jim Blanton-built diff that would serve me well for many years.

Because of the SCCA rule set, many rear end ratios are available. Stock for this car would have been a 2.93 rear end. When I bought the car it had a 3.46, which would have come in an automatic 330. I ended up swapping it for a 3.15, which when paired with 285/30/18 hoosiers and a 7,000 RPM redline gives about 66MPH in second gear at redline, perfect for most Solo courses.

Setting up an E46 differential is not hard, but it requires some special tools. I started a thread here which details how you do it.

For shocks, I run custom-valved Moton Motorsport adjustable dampers with remote reservoirs. They're adjustable in a relatively narrow window around my base valving for high speed compression and low-speed rebound. They have aluminum bodies and are very light. If I were to do this all over again, I would run Ohlins shocks. They're much more durable and offer the same performance. These need to be rebuilt every couple of years and it's getting harder to get parts. I run 60mm I.D. race springs that are 140mm long and use a variety of rates. Most of the time I have 140n/mm springs up front and 120n/mm springs out back. I don't run a rear sway bar, but I do have a large, hollow Hotchkis bar up front. The front camber plates are from Vorshlag.

Wheels and tires: Prior to 2016, I ran 285/30/18 Hoosier A6/A7 tires all around on 18x10" wheels. This size is readily available in the aftermarket and they can be made to fit under a 330 with very lightly modified fenders. The fenders of this car were originally flared using fenders from an E46 M3 so that the tires had plenty of clearance.

Back in 2014 I actually bought a pair of 18x11 wheels and borrowed a pair of 315/30/18 Hoosiers to see just how much modification would need to be done to fit these tires.

The answer is "a lot" and so I shelved that idea. But I revisited it a few months ago after the 2015 Solo Nationals.
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Old 04-09-2016, 09:04 AM   #3
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Round Two: Making it faster and more reliable

I found a beautiful set of Kromer Kraft equal length headers a couple years ago and jumped on the opportunity to pick them up. There were only a handful of these made for the E46 and honestly, I did this mostly for the sound. An inline-six through an equal length header sounds absolutely phenomenal to me.

The collectors that come with these headers calculated out to be way too voluminous to maximize torque, so I had a set custom made over the 2015-2016 offseason. They are yummy.

I ditched the intake that came with the car and custom made my own long-tube 3.5" that goes down into the bumper.

The E46 Megasquirt was “figured out” by Peter Florance and Doug Keiler. We have learned a lot setting this up as it's tremendously powerful. It controls the electric fan, VANOS, everything needed to make the car run properly. I needed to eliminate the drive-by-wire throttle to make this work. I figured an M50 throttle body from an OBD-1 E36 (among other cars) would be ideal, but its stock 63mm size might be a little small for the engine, so I bored it out on my buddy's lathe. We mulled over how to cut the throttle plate, since it requires a complex profile. We came up with a really simple solution.

I run stock rear trailing arm bushings from a Z4 (yep, rubber bushings), with “limiters” from Vorshlag. There are stiffer options, but in my experience these work the best.

Up front, the front lower control arm bushings are pretty soft from the factory. I recommend either the bushings from an MZ4, which are offset to allow more caster, or the Treehouse “eyeball” bushings, which are solid delrin. Both work very well. The Z4 bushings are only around $100 for the pair.

I run the ZHP’s front control arms. They have reinforced inner ball joints which make them more durable. The geometry is the same as the stock pieces.

For engine and transmission mounts, I like the Vorshlag Nylon pieces. They’ve never given us an issue in three years of abuse, and they’re reasonably priced.

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Old 04-09-2016, 09:11 AM   #4
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Round Three: Pointy-end stuff

The stock BMW brakes are fantastic, but they’re not light. A simple upgrade is to swap out the stock rotors for the lighter ones available at That will save about 4-5lbs of unsprung weight. For more savings, I did a brake upgrade. I like the Wilwood setup that UUC sells. It uses E46 M3 rotors, and if you pair the lighter Wilwood calipers with lighter rotors (RacingBrake, ECSTuning or UUC sell them), you’ve got some big weight savings. These brake kits do come up on the used market, which is how I bought mine for $750.

Bushings: The rear subframe and diff bushings are very squishy rubber, and they’ve been known to fail. I made my own on a lathe, using $100 worth of aluminum and Delrin stock, but aftermarket companies like AKG, Bimmerworld and Turner Motorsport sell them as well. It would have been a piece of cake on a real commercial lathe (like, the ones that weigh 4,000lbs) but I did it on a small Chinese mini-lathe. It took a looooong time, but I like doing things myself.

Besides headers and tuning, nothing really makes much power on these cars. One thing that DID make more power, consistently, was an intake manifold change. The M50 manifold has been a common upgrade for later E36 chassis cars like the 328I and 1996-1999 M3 which came with a restrictive stock intake manifold. It will bolt up to an E46 M54B30 head with minor modifications. It does require taking advantage of the port-matching allowance in SP, as the runners are oval whereas on the factory M54 manifold they are D-shaped and smaller, as you can see in this pic with my porting template over the stock intake port.

It’s worth about 10 peak horsepower over the M54 manifold, with tuning but the big gains are from 4,000-6,000 RPM where it picks up a whopping 20hp over the stock M54 manifold. It does necessitate running the M50 cable-actuated throttle body. The other plus side to this upgrade is it drastically improves access in the engine bay and it saves a bit of weight. M50 manifolds are cheap – I picked mine up for $100.

Aero: Honestly, not sure this is worth the effort. But the guys at JoeFis racing have done such a great job making aero for the E46, I had to do it.

Balancer: SP allows aftermarket crank balancers. I highly recommend it. VAC Motorsports sells an ATI balancer that drastically reduces harmful harmonics that plague the M54B30 engine, with its long, heavy crankshaft and aluminum block. It’s $700-$800.

Cams: The aforementioned ZHP option included higher-lift, longer duration camshafts than the regular 330i. These are good for about 5 horsepower on a stock car, and since they’re reasonably affordable (new from $500, used around $250) and easy to swap, it’s worth doing.

Engine internals: SP allows up to a 1mm overbore, but BMW only offers a 0.2mm overbore piston set and only specifies a max overbore of 0.25mm. In my opinion, this less than 1% increase in bore isn’t worth the effort unless you already need an engine rebuild. The factory manual allows the head to be decked 0.3mm, again, not worth it unless you already have the head off to do port matching.

Now, I ended up needing to do a complete rebuild of this engine. Towards the end of the 2014 season I struggled with high oil consumption and lots of oil getting sent to the catch can. After some less than stellar compression test and leakdown test numbers (about 8-10% on each cylinder) I decided to yank the motor.

This engine was advertised by the previous owners as being rebuilt with BMW factory overbore pistons. A quick look inside the cylinders showed that was indeed the case - I could see the markings indicating they were +.2mm pistons. So what gives? After tearing down the motor, I got my first clue

That's the top piston ring near TDC, measuring more than 0.5mm clearance. The BMW spec is 0.2 to 0.4mm, so not too far off. But this was the best cylinder. Most were 0.6mm or greater. The cylinders themselves looked OK, good crosshatch and no scoring. I measured them with a bore gauge for size, roundness and taper and found that there was essentially no ovaling or tapering of the cylinders. That indicates to me that the engine had low hours on it, consistent with the story of it being rebuilt. Measuring the piston skirts and comparing them to the bores was the dead giveaway. The nominal spec for piston skirt to block clearance (how the bore size is determined when boring the engine) is 0.02mm. The maximum wear tolerance permitted is 0.15mm. My cylinders were 0.20 to 0.25mm. My guess is the previous shop that did the work just bored the cylinders too large before the final hone, or didn't use a torque plate, or some other fuck up.
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Old 04-09-2016, 09:11 AM   #5
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So I sourced a new (used) engine block with a stock bore and had Abacus Racing in Virginia Beach do all the checks, machinework and cleanup. They also file fit the piston rings for me and installed them on the pistons. So all I had to do was do a final soap-and-water cleanup, wipedown and re-assemble.

I decided to re-use the bearings, but checked all of their clearances, of course. I am re-using my old crank, rods, and pistons as well and transferring them to the new block. New stretch bolts are used everywhere.

Bearing clearances were right in the middle of the spec throughout the engine.

I took this opportunity to get a baffled oil pan. This engine tends to oil starve in sustained turns, like every other BMW. This should help.

Installed the stock oil pickup and scraper.

Got all the pistons pushed in and the rod caps torqued. Engine spins over nice and smooth.

Picked up an upgraded water pump. The BMW water pumps are pretty notorious failure points.

Cylinder head and cams re-installed. I had the cylinder head checked and then decked to the factory minimum. We had been told that this was done when the engine was rebuilt the first time, but it measured out as being a stock thickness head. Just another in a long line of disappointments with this car.

More assembly. You can see the intake port work done to accommodate the M50 manifold we run, with its larger runners.

I took this opportunity to make better brackets to adapt the E46 fuel rail to the E36 manifold. My buddy has a pretty small end mill that you have to go slowly with, but it can crank out little parts like this.

And finally back in the car. I replaced all the cooling hoses and power steering lines since those were all leaking badly before the swap. I hate fluid leaks. I probably shouldn't own a BMW.

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Old 04-09-2016, 09:13 AM   #6
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I felt like I had a good season last year and made a lot of progress on the car, but ended up finishing the year frustrated. In 2014 I finished second (to Doug Rowse) at nationals, 0.017s back, not that I'll always remember that number or anything. After all the improvements in the 2014-2015 offseason I figured the car would be much better in 2015 and it was, but some unfortunate breakages cropped up at the wrong time and hurt my overall chances. I ended up putting a boneyard transmission and a new ACT clutch in it right before nationals because the original transmission let go at the Wilmington Pro. I broke in the clutch driving around paddock before the Pro finale. Going into Sunday I was a tenth out of the lead when this happened:

The output shaft on the differential, which had been machined for a small snap ring to retain it inside the LSD, sheared off on my first launch attempt on Sunday morning. That series of DNS's marked three years in a row of breakage at the Pro Finale, eliminating any chance of an overall win for Shelly or I. Fortunately, Mike Brausen is awesome and was able to weld that bolt onto the remainder of the stub, and Tom Bleh and Peter Florance were awesome in getting me a replacement stub so I could compete at Nationals. the car worked great and I ended up driving with Eric Campbell, who managed to finish second in the car, behind Doug Rowse. I, on the other hand, ran fast enough to finish second by thousandths (again) but coned out on day 1, so blah to that.

Talking with Eric throughout the two days of competition, he mentioned that the car made good power, the suspension worked really well over the bumpy Lincoln concrete (better than his car) but that the ultimate grip wasn't there compared to his car. He runs 315/30/18 A7s. I run 285/30/18 A7s. You see where this is going.

When I got home from Nationals I started taking measurements and marking where I could legally cut and bend metal under the SP ruleset. I ordered a set of Forgestars from Strano in 18x11 and claimed four 315 A7s from Nationals, and got to work making everything fit. The front and rear of this car had been flared using E46 M3 fenders (cut and welded in) but they had gotten pretty beat up over the years so I didn't have too many qualms about taking an angle grinder and body saw to them. Still, I made a lot of really gradual cuts so I didn't cut too much structure away. I had to cut quite a bit more after the picture below before everything fit.

Once I was confident that nothing would rub, giving everything about 1" of clearance at full lock and full compression I took the car up to the guys at Joefis and had them bend me some rivet-on flares. I kind of like the look but it's certainly not as pretty as Eric's car with the welded-on fenders.

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Old 04-09-2016, 11:03 AM   #7
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Wow, just wow! You should never sell this thing.
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Old 04-09-2016, 02:54 PM   #8
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OH NOES!!!!!1 MY CAR HAS T3H UND3R5T33R5555!!!!!!1oneone!!!!11

Team WTF?!
What are you gonna do?
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Old 04-09-2016, 04:03 PM   #9
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yep, very impressive
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Old 04-09-2016, 05:46 PM   #10
John V
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I really can't imagine driving anything else at this point. Nothing is nearly as much fun. It's fun driving something that can do things it shouldn't be able to do.
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