“The E30 is a very popular chassis for an LS swap,” said Jamy Lippencott, vice president of Smokey’s Dyno & Performance. “Road course guys are taking stock LS motors and putting them right into an E30 because of how easy it is. Those cars are making well over 300 horsepower at the wheels just with stock swaps. The BMW guys are pretty much all over it.”
That’s why the guys at Smokey’s decided to turn things up a notch with a something a little wilder—a 600-horsepower, LS-powered BMW E30 known as Project GMW.
And they’re not stopping there. Once they achieve their goal of 600 naturally aspirated horsepower, the Smokey’s gang plans to add a couple of turbos and turn up the boost.
Lippencott invited us along for the E30’s initial dyno run so we could capture video and sound. Give it a watch and then read our interview with Lippencott below to learn more about the project. How much horsepower does he really think the BMW can make? What’s the biggest challenge on a project like this?
Read on to find out and then watch for tech stories on Project GMW later.
OnAllCylinders: Can you tell us how the project came about?
Lippencott: We had a friend that found this E30 BMW, and it was super clean—no rust, no dents. The car was the perfect candidate for some sort of swap. He brought the car to us and said,” I am interested in doing a swap.” He had other BMWs, so we ended up acquiring the car from him and doing a much bigger LS swap than was originally intended. We were going to do just an LS1—a basic transplant—to make the E30 about 300 wheel horsepower. And then we started having these ideas, knowing that the car’s chassis is very strong and can handle a lot of horsepower. There are a lot of setups you can put in an E30 chassis to handle the traction you’re going to need. So we contacted Summit Racing to inquire about specific performance build that we wanted to do and ultimately decided on an LS3 crate engine.
OAC: How did your project evolve from a standard LS swap to a 600-horsepower LS swap?
Lippencott: We had the idea to go bigger, and then Summit Racing and Trick Flow jumped on board with us to help make this project go to the next level. To do this swap is somewhat expensive if you start from scratch. And we buy every part brand new. If you were to do a swap on an E30 without buying every part brand new, it would be a much more cost-effective way to do it.
OAC: This is a actually a two-stage project—what is the next step?
Lippencott: The next step is to put twin turbos on it. We’ll do an STS rear-mount kit on it, and there will be nothing to change on the car except to add the kit. Everything else is ready for the kit to go on. We’re probably thinking between 10 and 18 pounds of boost, and we’ll see how it holds up.
OAC: What has been done to the car so far and how did the future modifications factor in to your choices?
Lippencott: The block is a standard LS3 block that was bored to 408 cubic inch. The crank, pistons, and rods are all forged. The engine was assembled by Trick Flow with Trick Flow heads—the 245 heads are on there—and the Stage 4 camshaft. We put the FAST 102mm intake on it, and built a custom cold air intake to feed the throttle body. The idea behind the swap was to make 600 wheel horsepower, which is not easy to do naturally aspirated. We knew it had to be a manual because, to do the things we want to do, we needed certain gears. We’re going to race the Standing Mile and race road course, so we went with a T56 transmission mated up to the LS3. We had a custom driveshaft built. And we had some M3 roadster 5-lug conversion parts put in the rear end of the car. That is a direct swap for an E30 so it was very easy to do. The wheels are custom made by Giovanna. They don’t make 18-inch wheels so they made them specifically for this project.
We had to build a custom transmission mount, we had to build motor mounts, and we had to have custom headers made. The entire exhaust from front to back is 100-percent custom made by Stainless Works. The idea was that you had to have a big enough system to flow the kind of air we’re going to need. The motor is built with the idea of putting boost though it, so the rings are properly gapped to handle the boost. The N/A horsepower is good, but when we put boost on that motor it’s going to be insane.
OAC: What particular challenges did you come across with a project like this?
Lippencott: The wiring was little bit of a challenge because wiring the headlights, taillights, and the reverse stuff—you’ve got to find a way to integrate that fuse box. Making our headers fit was very difficult because we needed the bigger size headers (for the upcoming turbo installation). We had to take the car to Stainless Works and have them make the headers on the car. So to take our headers off, you pretty much have to take everything off the car. But on a standard swap—no problem. Everything fits right in there.
Making the car run properly was a challenge at first with everything being so extensive—the big heads, big cam, aftermarket wiring, et cetera. So we had a couple glitches here and there, but that happens from time to time with swaps. Making 300 horsepower is pretty easy, but when you start talking 600 horsepower, it gets to be a challenge.
The fuel injectors were also a challenge. We wanted to get the right injectors for the future project (turbos), not just for what we’re doing today. We went with the 94.9 pound, 1000 cc injectors. They’re ball-bearing injectors, so getting the idle to work right isn’t as big of a challenge as it would be with standard injectors.
OAC: Did you have to do anything with the chassis to handle all the extra power?
Lippencott: To strengthen the chassis doesn’t take a lot because it’s a full chassis. We put some subframe connectors in to help hold from front to back. The transmission crossmember is also made to help strengthen the chassis system.
OAC: What type of tuning software are you using?
Lippencott: We are using two platforms for tuning software: EFI Live and HP Tuners. Both softwares have their advanatages, so depending on what we’re doing and how we want to log data, that determines which software we’ll use.
OAC: Your stated goal for this stage of the project is 600 horsepower, and you got 594 on your initial run. How much is left in the car and what will it take to reach your goal?
Lippencott: We can probably get to 615, maybe 620 horsepower. We’ve got the timing conservative right now. We’ve got plenty of fuel going to it; we could probably lean it out a bit if we need to. Right now, it’s in super conservative mode timing- and fuel-wise, so those are the two things we’d want to do to pursue 600 horsepower. We can also talk about a bigger camshaft or a few other things, if necessary. I think we’ll get there, though. I’m confident.
OAC: Any advice for those planning on doing their own LS swap?
Lippencott: If you’re going to do the standard swap, just take your time. It’s not really that (hard) to do. There are aftermarket parts on the market right now, so you can buy parts and the motor in. And then when you’re ready, you can go to the store and pick out the parts you want to make it go fast. Everyone knows LSs are made to go fast.