Story by Zach Mayne • Photography by Steven Nawrocki • www.bsaintmedia.com
When it comes to getting dramatic power gains from of an E36-generation BMW M3, the most common method is without a doubt the implementation of forced induction, either by turbocharging or supercharging the car’s inline-6 engine. But what if you want something different, something that will stand out from the sea of boosted M3’s that have been built over the years? Steve Nawrocki ran into just that conundrum when he decided to modify his Estoril Blue M3 coupe. “I knew I wanted to do something different than just a turbo or supercharger,” he says. “Most of my E36 friends had forced induction M3s and I didn’t just want to ‘number hunt.’ I wanted something fun but different.” Ditching the BMW’s original Motorsport-inspired inline-6 for a 5.7-liter aluminum-block LSx V8 easily accomplished both of those goals. It was an approach that no doubt rankles the purists, but in this case, it was the perfect solution. A V8-powered E36 is both fast and unusual, not to mention the fact that it transformed the M3 into the perfect steed for track days. For this owner, the union of the E36 chassis and a stump-pulling V8 is automotive heaven. "There is something so raw about the E36 that I love," says Steve. "It's a true driver's car and it responds and handles how you would want a daily and track car to be."
Steve originally acquired the BMW in 2009 after the Alpine White E36 M3 he had bought while still in High School was totaled by a distracted driver. The replacement for his beloved M3 was an Estoril Blue coupe he found on Bimmerforums. The blue BMW had the two most important attributes he wanted. The first was the striking color and the second was the lack of a sunroof. The latter is relatively rare on an M3, as the cars were usually sold new with a generous number of options. “It was in decent shape," says Steve. "It had some terrible MVR reps and a lot of pitting on the front bumper and ruined ‘Vader’ seats.” Overall though it was the perfect starting point to begin building his ultimate dream machine.
The V8 swap would end up stretching to three years as Steve was an early adopter of what has become a popular swap. “At the time there was only really one company doing LS swap stuff, which was Vorschlag,” he says. As is often the case with a build of this magnitude, it took a village of enthusiast friends to get to the finish line. “Clay Sanderson had already installed a supercharged LS1 in an E36 M3, and he was a big help," says Steve. “Without him it wouldn’t have happened. I shipped my car down to him in Virginia to tie up the loose ends, the wiring, AC relocation- pretty much everything.” The V8 swap also entailed dealing with countless small changes and modifications to allow the BMW chassis to live in harmony with the motor. "I had to piece together a lot of the things needed for the swap, including the engine mounts, the drive shaft, steering shaft, headers, etc." In the meantime Steve had moved to Florida and was without the car for two years.
When all was said and done, Steve ended up with a 2800-lb E36 M3 motivated by 422-hp to the wheels and over 400 lb/ft of torque. That’s roughly double the power over what the car originally had. “It drives like any slightly modified E36 M3,” says Steve. “It’s tight, nimble and agile but with a ton more torque. It’s so nice being able to literally take off in any gear at any RPM.” The LS is controlled with a T56 6-speed equipped with a sturdy LS7 clutch. The M3’s chassis has been sharpened up with Bilstein PSS9 coilovers, adjustable camber plates and a Rogue Engineering strut bar. Rolling stock currently consists of 18x9.5-inch VMR 703s, a design similar to the BBS wheels that were used on the special edition E46 M3 CSL. Restoring the rest of the M3 was a relatively straightforward process that involved a lot of cleaning, scrubbing and refurbishment of the original paint. Inside, the M3 gained a pair of Sparco EVO race buckets and a headliner covered in printed money- perhaps a nod to the generous investment this project no doubt relied on.
Future plans for the M3 include turbocharging the LS engine as well as a larger wheel and tire package that will add much needed traction. In the meantime though Steve’s been entering the E36 in track events and has even ripped it down the quarter mile at the local dragstrip. And of course there’s lot’s of local street driving. “The best part of the swap is that the LSX aluminum block actually weighs less than the iron block S52 that was in the car originally,” he says. “So to the contrary belief of the purists that I ruined the car, it maintains a 50/50 weight distribution.”