Dan Wagener's E53 X5 3.0i

Photography by Dan Wagener

It was in 2002 or 2003 when I first saw the BMW E53 X5. It was a video uploaded to DTMPower.net of some friends drifting in the snow. Then I saw it in the "Powder Keg" episode of the BMW film series The Hire... and once the 4.6is model came out I was in love with the E53 aesthetics. It was one of the most inspirational pioneers for making the high-end SUV market what it is today. BMW disregarded what the average consumer wanted from a traditional mid-size SUV; reliability, fair on gas, and great snow / off-roading capabilities (speaking with the 20" wheels in mind). What they did instead was create a "soccer mom car" deserving of an M badge. At the time known as "the fastest SUV in the world" with over 300hp, 20x9.5" 275/40 front tires & 20x10.5" 315/35 rear tires, and agility that defies logic — it was almost like driving a giant M5. Good thing that BMW knows their people aren't the average consumer and can appreciate a vehicle of this caliber.

I've wanted an X5 since I was in high school and when I was looking to get my first SUV about four years later, they were still out of my price range. I ended up with a Lexus RX300, which was very reliable but had zero soul. During the ownership of the Lexus I always felt like something was missing in my life so after a couple years I decided that I needed a BMW again. This was when I got my E46 330i and all was right again. The problem with the E46 however, was that I caught the modbug bad. So fast forward through a couple years of crazy spending, I felt the need to take it down a notch and step away from the modding temptation all together. But learning from my mistake with the Lexus, I was assuredly sticking with BMW.

I was dead set on an E53 X5—though I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely worried while doing my pre-purchase research. From what I could gather through the Xoutpost forum and others' experiences with the E53, it sounded like a nightmare. It seemed like the V8 models were more problematic though, so I decided to go with a 3.0i model. BMW's straight sixes are solid engines and figured I'd play it safe. The only problem was most 3.0i models came with ugly 17" wheels and being that my goal was to get away from modding, I wanted to find one that wouldn't trigger my addiction.

I finally found a 2003 3.0i Sport in Sapphire Black on Black with the 18" Style 69 wheels. It had everything I wanted albeit xenons and a manual transmission, so I traded in the E46. I immediately had to address a ton of maintenance issues within the first six months. It was starting to look like the 3.0i models weren't safe from the notorious E53 gremlins and issues like I had hoped. To be fair, it was probably not well maintained before I took ownership and was just due for everything all at once. Eventually it stopped breaking (for a little) and that urge to mess with things came back again. I upgraded to the 19" Style 132 facelift 4.4i model wheels. I was able to snag the last available OEM skid plate in the U.S (thanks Jay). The odd looking turn-down, dinky exhaust tips were replaced with a 4.4 muffler. Halogen headlights were swapped for a DEPO pair with projectors that allowed me to convert to HID's. The interior received an E46 M3 wheel upgrade, AC Schnitzer style pedals, red sharpie mod needles, DDM silver gauge rings, and a titanium E90 shift knob.

One day Chris Roth of CRbimmers sent me a text with a set of 20" Style 87 4.6is wheels he had for sale. I couldn't resist as they're one of the best OEM BMW wheel designs ever. Still not 100% happy with it I added the 4.6is fender flares, which subdued the mod beast within. I had the looks of the 4.6is with the "reliability" of the 3.0 model.

Even though it looked great it still lacked my touch.  In my opinion adjusting the stance of the vehicle is one of the biggest things you can do to accomplish that. You could have multiple cars with the same exact mods, but the stance can make the difference of looking good, or amazing. It's something that I think reflects the owner's taste; something that can't be bought. Although nowadays specs are expected to just be handed out and things can always be replicated, but you can usually tell when something's done with originality. I decided to go with a set of BC Racing coilovers to ensure it sat exactly how I wanted. The coilovers were able to go extremely low and were fairly comfortable with all things considered. It was definitely stiffer/harsher than the stock sport suspension, but it greatly improved the handling and body roll in the corners.

All throughout the modding process there were little problems that would pop up with the vehicle. Problems that shouldn't have happened as often as they did (in my opinion). It was almost like I would fix one thing and two new things would break. While I loved my X5, this little game got really old. It seemed like it was never going to stop and I just wasn't up for it anymore. It was time to move on. Not to mention the whole time I had it, I really missed driving a RWD manual car. So I sold a few of the upgraded parts off of it and got rid of it for my 2004 E46 M3. It was bittersweet letting my X go; I loved her but the upside is that I'm no longer in an abusive relationship.


Jay Belknap's E53 X5 4.6iS S3

Photography by Dan Wagener & Ryan Lee

Traditional love stories typically begin with "once upon a time" and end with "and they lived happily ever after." Most people would hope that held true for every relationship, but through past experience we all know it to be an unrealistic expectation. Some relationships can start out as planned, but take a turn for the worst. Others may start out rough, but were all worth it in the end. For Jay Belknap and his 2003 X5 it was the latter.

Ever since Jay had a daily driver it's been some sort of truck/utility vehicle. It was something cheap and paid off which allowed him to sink money into his 1994 Mitsubishi 3000GT VR4. Well, once he was satisfied with how the VR4 turned out, he figured he'd get the truck he had always wanted—a Range Rover Sport (Supercharged). So he went on the forums and asked the owners how they liked them… half said they were awesome, and the other half didn't know because they were always at the dealer for service. He then started researching the runner-up, the E53 X5 (keep in mind this is before the X5M had made its debut). Jay found that the 4.6iS could be supercharged through Dinan for a modest cost (much more affordable than what G-Power wanted to supercharge the 4.8iS for) so he decided to look for a clean one in black. Months of searching showed no luck and he eventually gave up.

One day about half a year later he randomly browsed for X5's on the market and found a one-owner 4.6iS (with 85k on the clock) for sale in Texas. It just so conveniently happened to be Black Sapphire, supercharged, and come with Brembo brakes and an E46 M3 wheel already installed. Skeptical that it had to be some sort of scam, additional photos proved it was in fact the real deal. He took a flight out to Houston a few days later with a check in hand. 

As he walked out of Houston International the black X5 whistled down the arrival ramp. It was freshly detailed and ready for him to take on a road trip back to Virginia Beach. He got in, exchanged pleasantries, got the paperwork done, and proceeded to drive to drop the previous owner off at his work. But as soon as they left the airport, boom, check engine light. The previous owner said he had a guy who was an old BMW master that did all the previous work and that he would have it fixed, right then. So they headed over to the shop and found a boost leak from a clamp that wasn't tightened down all the way. Already 4 hours behind schedule, Jay was ready to head home. When he finally got onto I-10 East, he punched it and the supercharged M62B46 said let's do this. He was instantly hooked; forgetting that the Range Rover Sport even existed. 

After about an hour into Louisiana though, the supercharger belt decided it was no longer going to be friends with the engine. It took out every other belt and the A/C tensioner on its way off the motor. Jay shut the truck down and got a tow back west to Texas. That tow truck broke down so another tow truck took him the remainder of the distance West on I-10 to a hotel in Beaumont, Texas, two blocks away from Beaumont BMW. He figured he'd be the first one into BMW the next day, get it fixed and be on his way. Well, he was the first one onto the lot, but the secretary arrived and informed him that their service shop is closed on Saturdays. She invited him inside to call yet another tow truck, to get him further West to Momentum BMW in Houston. It was at that time the service manager, who was coming in to do his end of month reports, had overheard Jay's situation and started calling his techs. One was awake and said he'd be right in. They got him back on the road with just a new main belt (no A/C belt/tensioner or S/C belt). The previous owner called back and paid BMW for the work. Jay thanked him and said if anything else happened on the way home that he'd take care of it from there (nothing more did happen though). He later found out that the blower bracket tensioner needed an alignment.

Needless to say it was not a desirable first 24 hours of ownership. On a good note though, Jay later established a relationship with Dinan's after-sales support team. They got him set up with the parts needed to fix the tensioner rod, belt, etc. Like any machine, it needed maintenance, even the supercharger stuff.

Now to the untrained eye Jay's X5 may appear as if it came this way from the factory, but the finer details tell all to this rare beast. If you're not familiar with the 4.6iS model, it had a very short 2002-2003 production run. BMW had injected the standard X5 model with steroids metaphorically speaking, just like they do with the ///M models. These factory enhancements included larger fenders flares, massive 20" wheels, larger/louder exhausts, a unique variant of the 5HP24 transmission, aggressive camshaft profiles, the high flow intake manifold from the older M62 cars, bored, stroked and compressed to a 10.5:1 ratio producing 342hp/354lb·ft. What makes Jay's X5 even more rare is that it's 1 of 27 Dinan supercharged X5's in the world. The Dinan Signature 3 package consists of a Vortech V-2 S-Trim Supercharger (5.5psi), MAF, throttle body, DME flash, EGS flash, Delphi 37lb injectors, and E39 M5 fuel pump.

 One common goal of any true performance-oriented enthusiast is to put as much tire on the road as possible. With that in mind, the weight of the vehicle, the additional power and simply because he wanted the ability to rotate tires, Jay sourced another pair of 20x10.5" OEM Style 87 rear wheels. He then got a fresh set of four Bridgestone Dueller HP Sport 315/35/20's. The improvement in grip from the 12.4" wide tires up front was night and day. The concave design of the Style 87 rear wheels barely cleared the eight piston Brembo calipers but didn't require a spacer like previously needed with the 9.5" fronts. To accommodate the lower offsets, he also added the X5 LeMans edition front fender flares. The rear wheels were spaced out 25mm with H&R DRA style spacers to help balance the front-to-rear track width. A Dinan strut bar and camber plates were also added to help brace the seam welded chassis for the twisties. The Brembo GT brake system 380mm (15") front, 355mm (14") rear helps bring the tank to a halt on demand, without a hint of fade. 

At around 107k miles the supercharger's high speed bearings on the impeller shaft got a little noisy. With  help from friend & mentor, Tony Acker, they had sent the blower off to Vortech, and performed the M62 timing guide & valley pan job at the same time. Vortech returned the supercharger with a newer Si-Trim impeller which meant more mid-range power than before.

During the summer of 2011 Jay decided it was far too hot out and had lost trust in his OEM water temp gauge. He also wanted to be able to read and clear codes on the fly so he removed the cluster (fixed the infamous pixel problem while in there) and integrated a PLX Devices DM-100 into the cluster. In addition to OBD date, the DM-100 was installed with PLX Boost, EGT, dual WBO2, and oil pressure modules. Other installed electronics include a Tekonsha P3 trailer brake controller, and a hardwired K40 Dual front/rear RADAR detector and front LASER jamming system.

With the 107k refresh and monitoring equipment fitted, everything was working tip top. Then one day as he came up a steep on-ramp that had a sharp crest to it, the X5 got airborne for a split second. Unluckily for Jay, he was at the top of the engine's 6600 rpm range when it happened. Inertia took over and all the exhaust valves slightly mushroomed—two cylinders were bad enough to notice under load. Making matters worse, the intake cam gears spun about the cams slightly. With Tony's help, they did compression, piston height, and leakdown tests. They removed the heads and sent them off to VAC Motorsports for a Stage 1 upgrade including Stainless Steel Intake valves and Inconel Exhaust valves. While the truck was down, he got bored and looked for other parts. He happened to find a very rare, new 4.6iS Tubi Rumore catback exhaust with serial number 9 stamped on it. Tubi is mostly known for making exhausts for exotic cars so he was surprised to discover that they even made one for the X5. After receiving and installing the original heads, now blessed by VAC, a huge improvement in power and efficiency was found.

All told, this X5 produces around 475bhp. Although Jay's never taken it to the drag strip, he'd like to think it's possible to break 12's in the 1/4 mile. Not bad for a 10 year old German tank, which is the reasoning behind the name "Panzer".

Today, Jay’s 4.6iS S3 has 135k miles on it, and has been supercharged for 133k of those miles. He would like to thank Dinan Engineering for their outstanding after-sales customer support. Jay would also like to send a huge thanks to Tony Acker for his knowledge and time spent keeping this X5 running so strong. Stronger, in fact, than the day he first got it, many years and many miles ago. So does a bad start have to equal a bad finish to a relationship? In this case, it most definitely did not.


Bimmerfest East 2013

Photography by Ryan Lee & Matt Petrie

Video by Wes Van Heest