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Garrett Goldfinger's S54 E36 compact

Photography by Matt Petrie

As we get older we begin to realize that not everything is what it seems, but perhaps more importantly is that things don’t always work out as planned.  While these sound like adages your guidance counselor would tell you in sincere consolation accompanied with a pat on the back, it really pertains to the life led by this little 4 cylinder E36 compact.  Beginning as a rather insipid commuter car turned parts hauler, even Garrett didn't expect to find himself building a 300+ wheel horsepower monster on this chassis. 

The E36 compact is probably best known for its “Kardashian-less” rear end.  When asking someone what an E36 ti is they usually can’t visualize it until you explain that distinctive characteristic.  As soon as it is revealed, however, they know exactly what quirky BMW you’re talking about.  The ti may not have a big booty to be proud of, but that doesn't mean she isn't dignified in her own right.  She proudly sports the shortened wheel base and body due to its design homage of the Neue Klasse compact sedans that saved the brand in the early 60’s.  While that factor may not be enough for those in the states to fall in love with the styling of a compact, its whopping 138 horsepower made for a practical German commuter car in the late 90’s.

Garrett is no stranger to the E36 community; he has parted out dozens of M3’s and Z3 M’s.  If you had an E36 M3 just outside of the New York City region and you needed to find a specific part, Garrett was the man you came to see.  In need of a car that was fuel efficient and had storage space, this 3-door hatch met all of the criteria. This paired with the knowledge he had of the E36 platform made it a simple decision, the California rag top sunroof was just a plus. 

He replaced the stock interior with an M3 steering wheel, black vaders, and gutted out the entire rear of the car for transporting parts such as axles, doors, drive shafts, you name it.  If it was the original equipment of an E36, it was moved in the back of this car. 

As an engineer and a lover of speed, Garrett was interested in building his own project car, but he wanted to go a different route than most.  It was one of those moments of epiphany you see in the movies when the character is trying to come up with a plan, looks around the room and then eureka!  There it is right in front of him: his modest 1997 318ti.  Tearing down and parting out all of those E36’s, Garrett was well aware of the saturation of M3’s.  The unsuspecting size and nature of this car was perfect and the weight savings was already there.  Now it was time to explore just how far he wanted to push himself and his car. 

It is nearly impossible to find a compact in great condition.   These cars are often beat up and used solely in a utilitarian manner; exactly why it makes for such a great sleeper.   He celebrated the one year anniversary of ownership of the car like anyone else would - by pulling the motor in preparation for the new one.   He drove 500 miles north to pick up an S54 engine and 6 speed transmission from an E46 M3 and then drove 500 miles back on his own all in one day.

The engine swap was also done solely on his own, nearly every day after work and on the weekends from February until July.   I don’t have to tell you residents of the North East just how cold it gets in those dark months leading up to Spring, but there he was on his back giving the ti a new life.  Aside from the motor he also installed a Z3 M Roadster rear subframe along with an upgraded 4.10 differential.  For the front, he installed an E36 M3 subframe with PSS9 suspension and finished off the interior with a Z3 M Roadster instrument cluster.  Thanks to their E36 interchangeability, it made for a quick, two minute drop-in.

He lowered the car aggressively on square 17x9 BBS RC305’s with 245/40 Potenza tires. The fronts needed a 12mm spacer to clear the struts and the Brembo 4 pot calipers he installed from a 996 Porsche.

Focusing on the fundamentals of power to weight, the Alpha N tuned S54 motor puts down 325 horsepower to the rear wheels while the car weighs in at only 2700lbs.  Helping to make that horsepower, Garrett cut open the stock air box exposing the factory trumpets hidden inside, allowing it to breath and perform better, but in actuality he’s just addicted to the sound it makes; in all honesty, I can’t say I blame him.  While we are on the topic of performance and sound, on the other end of the engine he opted for E46 euro headers in conjunction with a Bimmerworld merge pipe, 3” Active Autowerke race resonator and an Active Autowerke E36 M3 muffler to make his unique setup just a little more of his own. 

As you are thrown into the back of your seat with a smile plastered across your face,  the gutted visceral shell of an interior reverberates with S54 exhaust notes unlike any I've ever heard.  The differential out back takes on its own character and makes for one hell of an experience.  If you’re not lucky enough to be riding shotgun in this car, you’re most likely trailing behind it.  Worry not, the reality of you losing to a 318ti will quickly be forgotten as you’ll get to enjoy a show while it spits blue flames through each gear.  His dedication to the execution is what is truly extraordinary about this build, to see more about it in detail check out his build thread: http://www.forums.ultimateklasse.com/showthread.php?33-Ragnorak-s-8000-RPM-318ti-Build-Thread-(E36-S54-Content)