Project E46 M3: Part 1 - Dyno and Acceleration Testing - Can We Hit 300 WHP?

by Pablo Mazlumian

The E46 M3 is a dream car for many enthusiasts.  It's fast, has got great handling, and brakes well.  It also sports great looks inside and out, is now more affordable, and also is even fairly economical (for a sports car).  Lastly, it's got good aftermarket support.  Find out how our initial dyno and acceleration tests go on pages 3 and 4. 

While I'm familiar and uber excited about my little turbo Supra project, I've always been an M3 guy as well.  Having owned five (four E36s and this E46) over the last 16 years, including a 550whp turbo E36 I used to time-trial, it's the car I most closely identify with.

Thanks to the E46's 3.2-liter inline six's ability to rev past 8000 rpm, our first power quest—and I even wrote this before any dyno testing—will be to hit 300 whp.  If accomplished today it would be impressive, considering we're only changing fluids and adding a Macht Schnell intake kit and Epic Motorsports software. 

With more basic bolt-ons planned in the near future, we'll hope to exceed 320 whp before getting into forced induction.  That's 100 whp/liter—a feat that's shared only by the likes of highly tuned exotics like the GT3 RS, F430 Scuderia and F458 Italia.  Okay, I suppose you can count a modified S2000 or Integra Type R but, while still very impressive (and I love both), those are much smaller engines and easier to get revs out of. 

Before we get into any testing, let's talk about this actual car.  I picked it up locally in the KC area as a one-owner car in great shape, with only 46k miles.  But these cars have a couple of inherent issues, three of which this car was no stranger to.  First, the C-pillar upholstery was coming apart.  Fortunately, it's a cheap $45-per-side fix from Bavarian Autosport—my OE BMW parts store for the past several years. 

Second, the plastic, interior-door handles are starting to bubble and this, too, is a common problem.  More on that later, but we'll be looking for a good, aftermarket alternative because an O.E. fix requires an $800 replacement of the entire section, per side.

Lastly, all of the early M3 models had a recall for a rod bearing issue.  Fortunately, we verified this was fixed early on.  Other than that, the car's great and pulls very strong.


Our Project M3 “tune-up” products include stock replacement NGK Iridium DCPR8EIX (stock heat range) and oxygen sensors from Sparkplugs.com.  From Bavarian Autosport we ordered Liqui Moly engine oil, LM Engine Flush, LM Ceratec, LM “Valve Clean” and “Jectron” fuel additives, Redline 75w-140 gear oil (for the differential), Redline transmission fluid.  Bav Auto also sells differential and tranny magnetic drain plugs to capture any small shavings in the casing, as well as a new O.E. carbon-activated cabin air filter, O.E. fuel filter and an O.E. replacement Mahle oil filter.

When I start a project I like to start with the cleanest engine possible, as well as free up any lost horsepower due to friction or a lacking spark.  First, I flush out the car's fluids and use nothing but the good stuff.  I also start with new oil and fuel filters, flush out the engine oil with Liqui Moly Engine Flush detergent, and add Liqui Moly Ceratec—a friction and wear reducing engine additive—to protect the engine internals.  These German-made products I also get from Bav Auto.

Sparkplugs.com has a plethora of plugs with the cheapest pricing I've seen.  We'll be equipping this car with O.E. replacement NGK iridium DCPR8EIX plugs—the "8" being the stock heat range. Sparkplugs.com also has cheaper O.E. replacement 02 sensors, which we didn't end up installing due to time constraints but will soon when replacing headers. 

Before we perform this so-called engine tune-up, we'll need to establish a baseline to see how much the tune-up helped. 

The Macht Schnell intake (left) is inexpensive and a 10-minute install.  It features MS' own replacement air filter and a 90-degree silicon elbow that replaces the factory accordion piece (upper right).  The latter is known to create air turbulence and rob horsepower.  It's also evident it has a sharper bend, which isn't optimal for airflow.  As a result, several World Challenge series-type professional race BMWs use these silicone boots.  


I'm also excited to be testing Epic Motorsports' software upgrade.  Epic works in conjunction with Bimmerworld—those guys you see racing on TV who just captured a second-place finish at the 24 hours of Daytona.  Epic and BimmerWorld have tested nearly everything BMW, and bringing them onboard will surely maximize our project's performance potential.  


Before we start testing, there were some things needing attention.  First, we installed a new carbon-activated cabin filter from Bavarian Autosport to remove any interior odors.  It was a simple, 2-minute install.  Simply hand-loosen the three spring loaded screws holding down the cover, and the old filter pops right out.  



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Wednesday, March 13, 2013 11:10 PM
Good article, can`t wait to read more on the development of the car! Nice gains on the intake, but wouldn`t you get a bigger gain from an CSL airbox (of course costing more even for a used one) or you definatly want to force-induct later on?
I mostly hear good things about Liqui-Moly Ceratec but there are some claims that it will clog-up the grooves on your cylinder-sleeves making the piston having less oil to operate with.

Thursday, March 14, 2013 4:41 AM
Two BMW articles in two days? Awesome. I have been going back and forth on which M3 I would like to purchase (e36 or e46) but there are some great advantages to both.
Thursday, March 14, 2013 5:18 AM
That low-end torque kick is impressive and explains why the E46 M3 doesn't "feel" as fast as it really is in stock form. The torque is just always there!
Thursday, March 14, 2013 6:34 AM
Will a header fix that horrible angry bee rasp the E46 M3s all seem to have? :)

Looking good so far. Does the car call for 10w-60 stock?
Nick B
Nick Blink
Thursday, March 14, 2013 7:17 AM
@Rockwood - By "Angry Bee Rasp" you mean European Awesomeness yeah? lol
Thursday, March 14, 2013 7:27 AM
@ nick: those E46s sound like they swallowed a Honda. :)
CID Vicious
CID Viciouslink
Thursday, March 14, 2013 9:28 AM
Pablo, are you going to be buying Epic Motorsports headers to go with the car? I just received mine and they are very well fabricated.

@Rockwood: Headers only enhance the rasp sound. In order to rid the S54 of the rasp, you need race cats in the section 1 and a resonator in the section 2. Custom Performance and Supersprint both make exhaust pieces for section 1 and 2 that get rid of the rasp.
Thursday, March 14, 2013 2:19 PM

Choosing between E36 and E46, I think, comes down to how much you want to modify the car. If you want to leave the car mostly stock then stick with the E46. It responds incredibly well to basic stuff like they did in this article. An E46 can be made amazingly better than stock by simply adding tires, brake pads+rotors+hoses, uprated fluids, and basic maintenance. Do only those things to a good-condition E46 M3 and you have yourself an amazing, amazing car.

An E36, on the other hand, is going to need a lot more love (money) to bring it up to a solid base-line. But it is a lot cheaper to buy so that mitigates some of the cost. Still, any used E36 M3 you have will need many things. The stock clutch configuration is completely unacceptable. It RUINS the car. There is a massive (near 30 lb!) dual-mass flywheel and moronic self-adjusting clutch mechanism with spring-assisted pedal. You have to throw all that shit away. We went with an ACT streetlite flywheel & HD pressure plate paired to a Clutchnet Kevlar friction disk. One should always throw in a metal clutch pedal with brass bushings as well (stock one wiggles everywhere). With this pedal conversion you can just shit-can the spring-assist mechanism. If the car has miles on it the shifter bits and bushing will need replacing to get that perfect, clicky BMW feel. Doing this work transforms the car. It is so, so much better than stock. It revs like a banshee in neutral and you practically can't shift it too quickly. However once that is done you are just getting started.

If you buy an E36 that has been tracked with sticky tires but hasn't had chassis reinforcement done you are fucked. You must find a correctly modified or gently street-driven example. Neither are common. I would recommend chassis reinforcement even on a street-only driven car.

ALL of the bushings will be rotten. All suspension, subframe and diff bushings MUST be replaced with uprated units. The S52 engine is strong and it will slowly destroy an E36 chassis if upgrades aren't done. The shocks will be dead. New shocks are a must and springs should go in as well. Ideally you should just get a whole new coilover kit from KW.

Brakes will need an overhaul and are still only single-piston once you've done so. You need all new uprated rotors (2-piece is a must) and multi-piston calipers in order to have braking like the E46. There is a decent middle-ground solution. Performance Friction makes a 2-piece rotor that works with the stock caliper. Combine these rotors plus re-built, swain-coated stock calipers with brass slider bushings, teflon hoses and high performance fluid. Do all that and you can just about get away with the single-piston caliper.

The S52 engine only makes 240 horse (make sure to get a 3.2) and it doesn't take kindly to high revs due to it's hydraulic lifters. If you want substantially more power then forced induction is the only way to get it. That said, the stock exhaust is super-heavy and restrictive. Completely replacing it, the intake and throwing in an aggressive ECU flash will make a stock E36 M3 much more lively. This gives it a lot of torque for the stock (short!) gearing and you will have grip problems. The E36 has bad axle tramp unless uprated parts are used to mount the diff.

The diff WILL be weak and it wasn't that strong when new. It's internals should be swapped out for an uprated after-market solution. A nice finned diff cover is a necessity for extended hard driving.

The stock E36 M3 wheels are crappy, HEAVY, cast-aluminum units. They're only 17" and there's nothing really good about them. The stock 225 section front tires induce a LOT of understeer. A stock E36 needs all new wheels and tires with a minor bump up in sizing.

The cooling system is only so-so and the mechanical radiator fan should be swapped for an electric one immediately.

The headlights SUCK, especially on low-beam. They must be swapped for correctly installed and re-aligned HID retro-fit units.

The list goes on and on. A nice E36 M3 costs $7,500-10,000 and then it needs almost that much spent on it over again in parts and labor to really bring it up to its full potential. That is NOT including anything crazy like forced induction or race brakes. Now, once you've done all of these things you have one HELL of a car! I would take an E36 M3 modified in this way over a super-nice, but all-stock E46 M3 in a second. An E36 in this configuration is so much more hard-core and delivers a WAY more exciting driving experience. In my book it SOUNDS a zillion times better. More low and growling; none of that raspy, honda-sounding bullshit you get from the E46.

The E36 is lighter, more chuckable and a lot more forgiving at the limit. You can take insane liberties with an E36. You can just PILE into corners at ludicrous speed and you can always punch out the other side. You can completely spin it 360 degrees at 120 miles an hour and recover it no problem-O. It will go sideways in fifth gear at triple-digit speeds with no real fuss at all. The E46 is bigger and heavier, it just doesn't feel this way. A USA-model E36 M3 can be a gob-smakickingly wonderful machine that, for pure driving pleasure, compares well to any car ever made. BUT! It takes a LOT of work to get it there. So the choice between E36 and E46 comes down to if you're the sort of person who enjoys taking the time to put a car through that transformation.
Pablo Mazlumian
Pablo Mazlumianlink
Thursday, March 14, 2013 10:25 PM
Gents, thanks to all for reading!
@vmax: thanks, and I don't have info on what final path we'll take with power yet. I have considered both you mentioned, however. For now, this was a good/easy start. haven't heard the Ceratec probs yet, but will keep eye out, thanks.

@JL: indeed, a very flat torque curve kinda shows all of your cards upfront upon pedal stomp--but it makes for a truly nice car to drive, too. And this is coming from a decent-turbo Supra guy as well.

@Rockwood and NickB: lol you guys are funny. Since 2001 I have always hated the rattling tin can 'rasp', but have recently started to not mind it. However, with full exhaust these cars sound awesome--I just tested another one with full exhaust on dyno and it sounds great. Very different/deep.

@jones83: Next article should have our full exhaust test featured soon! :)
congrats on the piece, btw. Epic is a high end company.
Also, actual with the E46, when you replace the headers you replace the cats--it's all one piece. Section 1 isn't necessary to replace except for fitment purposes of either the headers or Section 2--depending on the company. As an example, the E46 I tested 2 months ago had headers, section 2,3...stock section 1. rasp gone, big power, no cats.

@drunken: are you trying to the one who heads up our next E36 M3 project? I kid, sounds like you know a lot about these cars, and your comments bring lots of memories of my E36 pasts, which include two project cars for two different magazines that totaled exactly 40 articles--no lie.

The gent doing our next E36 M3 is also someone I'd considered very knowledgable with the E36, and he's a seasoned racer, having had his own very nice race M3, and having owned a couple of street M3s himself (this next project will be his 3rd street E36 M3).

I miss my E36s, but really love the E46. I've driven several supercharged and turbocharged E46s, Z4 M and Z3 S54 roadsters, including a 900whp HPF car, and I never am not amazed by a stock E46 M3 car still, and I couldn't wait to get this project going! :)
Friday, March 15, 2013 11:27 AM
Nice to see a KC guy writing for MIQ.

I'll have my Mazdaspeed3 at MKC in the next couple weeks.
Friday, March 15, 2013 1:38 PM
The only thing missing from your tune up kit is a valve adjustment. I have been doing a lot of those lately and by using "used" shims, along with new shims to fine tune the tolerances as close to factory as possible has shown to yield 15-20 whp on a dyno dynamics dynomometer.
This service should be performed about ever 12,000 miles on the s54 as it seems the shims, valvestem, and rockers all tend to wear out of spec by then.
Friday, March 15, 2013 1:45 PM

Geeze. The shims make that much of a difference? 15-20 whp seems like a lot. I am amazed that valve adjustment goes out of spec in only 12,000 miles. What a pain in the ass. I've complained about the S52's hydraulic lifters in past because they limit rev potential, but they also mean adjustments like you describe are unnecessary. I guess I'll just shut the hell up with my complaints in the future.
Pablo Mazlumian
Pablo Mazlumianlink
Friday, March 15, 2013 2:38 PM
@Darooda: perhaps we'll run into each other some day. my supra project should still be sitting there at MKC--going into the shop on Tuesday to start shooting the motor finally going into car.

@Brap: interesting, never heard of this! Will have to look into it. If true, that's not a bad thing since it'll only mean more power. But, as far as I know, my car's at 49k as of today and never had it performed. The last E46 M3 that I tested 289whp stock on another Dynojet in Calif (at EAS--and they tested another one this week at 274whp so it is still indeed the strongest) had 82k miles and it, too, has never had a valve adjustment (it's my dad's car). Would be nice if these cars were able to crank out even 10more whp from that, though! ;).
Friday, March 15, 2013 5:00 PM
@Drunk: Maybe I have the sickness but that rant made me want an E36 even more. That being said, I was hoping to start with a DD so the E46 is looking more like the right path.
Friday, March 15, 2013 5:24 PM

Don't let the amount of work it needs put you off the E36 for daily driving duties. My father purchased his with 110K miles on the clock and did NOTHING to it for the first 20K miles he drove it. The clutch was completely shot when he got it (it was the original unit), but it STILL lasted nearly 2 more years. The brakes where shot when he got it as well, but he managed to make them last even longer than the clutch! The E36 M3 is an extremely robust car in most respects and you could easily drive a stock, un-loved example with 100K miles for a long time before you did any of the things I mentioned. You just wouldn't be able to drive it super-duper hard for extended periods.
Friday, March 15, 2013 6:54 PM
You are going to love building the E46 M3! Such a great car 100% and with a few light mods, you can truly transform the car.

Randy at Epic Motorsports is one amazing tuner. One of the best in the industry. I am looking forward to seeing what exhaust mods you do.

Would it be possible to see your DynoJet results in SAE?

Keep up the great work!
Saturday, March 16, 2013 9:01 AM
@DrunkenMessiah and Pablo Mazlumian

BMW Calls for this service at every inspection 1, which if you follow that absurd oil change interval, is every 15,000 miles. Most of our customers change oil between 5,000-7,000 miles, so a valve adjustment at every other oil change is recommended for them.

I've seen cars at all different intervals between valve adjustments. From: cars that are 20k out where the feeler blades slip just a little too easily between the shim and rocker, and also cars that are 40-60k between adjustments where a flat-blade screwdriver can be used as a feeler gauge.
Fair warning: cars serviced at the dealer fall prey to the morality of the dealer tech. If he/she feels that the tension is OK, they won't even bother to pull the shim to try another. (read flat-rate) A couple customer cars that I have seen have had 1-4 valves that are OK, the rest being very far out. These cars however, were dealer serviced, and it shows.

The other pitfall with the dealer shim kit it that sizes are in .04mm intervals. When you have "used" shims available, you are able to further fine tune the tolerances to as close to .01-.02mm to factory specifications.

Talking about the specifications, they are as follows:
Intake: .15mm
Exhaust: .20mm

The last bit of advice I can offer is that of spark plug coils. I did not see a picture of what was installed back into the car, but there are two iterations of coils for this car (factory speaking, not those stupid aftermarket jobbies with the red aluminum "bridge" on top)
The original Bremi coils that are very failure prone and the newer Bosch coils that are much more robust.
The Bremi coils are fully rubber coated and have, what I can only describe as "longitudinal ribs" molded into the coil housing.
The Bosch coils come in two different versions. The first has a grey metal sleeve around the coil housing, the other, which I believe is the newest version, is fully coated in rubber/silicone, but it is completely smooth.
If you have the extra money to spend, I highly recommend upgrading to the Bosch Coils.

Bremi- http://www.dasautosport.com/khxc/media/ecom/prodlg/E46_M3_Ign_Coil.bmp

Bosch #1- http://www.turnermotorsport.com/image/ignition/wp_12131712219_ignition_coil_E46_E39_5_3_X3_X5_Z4_BMW_E60_E63_E65_OEM.jpg

Bosch #2- http://www.bekkers.com/Merchant2/graphics/00000001/12137594937400.jpg
Pablo Mazlumian
Pablo Mazlumianlink
Monday, March 18, 2013 12:57 PM
@Flip: thanks. For SAE you just multiply any STD number by .9792. The curve will look the same. So, our 304whp run would make 298whp. Is that 300whp? no but I'm sure Randy could have squeaked out another 5-8whp if we needed. I just literally ran out of time at the shop. We're waiting to hopefully 'work' some tunes with him when we run an ECU tune we'll keep for longer, like after the full headers/exhaust test soon.
@Drunken: thanks for the info! I could only open one of your links but looks like I do have the Bosch's.
@Brap: thanks for the info, too. I will definitely stay on that.
Good to see such knowledgable BMW guys reading!
Monday, March 18, 2013 1:01 PM
@Pablo Mazlumian: Thanks for the reply! Randy will definitely help you pull out some big numbers after you do the full header/exhaust upgrade. He has tuned quite a few of my friends E46 M3s, both street and track application. I am looking forward to further updates! Best of luck.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 9:08 AM
FWIW, I run an E36 in time attacks and general track days (my car is just a pure toy--no commuting involved). What was summarized above for E36 maintenance is correct--primarily in the case of track use.

If the car is utilized for street, then some bushings can be looked at, but the brakes are actually more than adequate (I actually run stock brakes for competition), and the cooling system is the general BMW achillies heel.

All else is in the clear. The car is rock solid, rewarding to drive and agreed--the car is very chuckable.

In the case that the car is being prepared for serious track use, the following items should be considered:

1) Weld oil pump nut
2) Oil pan baffle
3) Reinforced front subframe
4) Rear shocktower reinforcements (can use bolt in plates)
5) Rear trailing arm reinforcements
6) Rear trailing arm/subframe/diff bushings (front diff bushing wears prematurely and can shear a differential bolt)
7) Front LCA bushing
8) Tranny mounts (minimize money shifts!)
9) Harder motor mounts (to minimize the steering rack hoses from being pulled during engine movement)
10) Dual fuel pumps (fuel starvation at 1/2 tank)

It hasn't been cheap to do the above mentioned track preparation items, but I absolutely love the car. Best car I've had (from a driving perspective), and I simply cannot ask for more. The chassis feedback is spot on. I've got the handling to suit my preferences (PSS9 with a season of playing with alignments)... the car is forgiving at the limit, it's fast enough, has gobs of torque, gearing is spot on...etc etc. The list goes on.

And perhaps I'm in the odd here, but I find the E36 more attractive than the E46. It retains more of the classic BMW styling cues, and has aged well. Aesthetics aside, I appreciate the lower running costs of maintaining the S52...and a narrow car can work well in a number of situations.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 6:21 PM

A very accurate appraisal mate. I couldn't agree more. My own suggestions where for what I think should be done to an E36 so that it can be driven HARD, on the street or a track, without there being any worry of things going wrong. I tend to be very conservative when building a driver's car and so my opinion always strays towards an automobile that is over-braked with a chassis that is stronger than necessary.

You are right about the stock E36 M3 brakes though. They are surprisingly good, especially with a high-performance 2-piece rotor swapped in. Best single-piston brakes I've ever experienced. My main concern with them has nothing to do with total stopping power (which they have plenty of). The main issue with the stock brakes has to do with limited heat dissipation and high heat transfer into the brake fluid. A stock E36 M3 is preternaturally disposed to boiling its brake fluid; especially in a low-speed, brake-heavy, auto-cross type setting. This is especially catastrophic because the clutch runs off the same fluid resivoir. This is why I STRONGLY recommend Swain's caliper-coating service for stock E36 brakes. This treatment dramatically decreases the rate at which the stock calipers absorb heat off the pads and rotors while also increasing its ability to release what little heat is absorbed.

Like the rest of the car, the E36 brakes can be dramatically improved with the application of some modern tech: (Teflon hoses, swain coating, Performance Friction rotors+pads+fluid).

Glad you love your E36 as much as we love ours!
Sub Boy
Sub Boylink
Friday, March 29, 2013 5:34 PM
PLEASE when you install headers install some catalytic converters too. i see too many fools putting on test pipes just to free up a few horsepower it's so irresponsible
Tuesday, October 29, 2013 5:44 PM
It's ironic that Liquimoly has no Moly in it.
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