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Features

Shawn Robertson's E46 M3 sedan

Photography by Shawn Robertson @shawnrphotography

When I first got back into a BMW from a couple year break (2009) I had chose an ‘03 330i sedan. I promptly stumbled onto the E46fanatics forum to dive deep into my new obsession and research everything that I possibly could about E46’s. It was pretty fast for me to realize that an E46 M3 was my new “realistic” dream car, but at the time it never looked obtainable. So I did pretty much what the majority of people do with non-M cars and upgraded with OEM+ modifications to make it look as much like the M as possible. At that time I dreamt of eventually building my car into an M3 sedan (because of JeppeJ's Interlagos Blue M3, look it up if you haven’t seen it before.)

Anyway, S54 swapped E46 non-M’s aren’t that uncommon nowadays… but a full out conversion is a little more rare. So I was extremely happy to see that Shawn was in the process of doing this to his ZHP. I was already a huge fan of his car in its ZHP form so I knew it was going to be great. The attention to detail and goal to build it as close to a factory M3 is very apparent. This is one of the cleanest conversions I’ve seen since JeppeJ’s, as I hold that to the highest standard in which one should be done in.

Shawn originally was in the market for a stock ZHP 6 speed. He bought the car sight unseen from a ZHP dealer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was excited to drive the car since it had been about 11 years since he last owned a BMW. His last car was in 2005 which was a 1995 Avus Blue turbo E36 (making 601whp). Once he started looking at forums like E46fanatics, ZHPmafia, and M3forum it didn't take long for the itch to set in and before he knew it he bought an M3 parts car from Copart… before he even knew how to do an S54 swap mind you. So Shawn had his buddy at Lins Specialty Automotive perform the full mechanical S54 swap since he had a lot going on in his life and he needed some help.

He drove about a year on that and during that year he decided to retrofit and equip the car with every rare option he could think of. Once he completed that he picked up a wagon and another parts car to make an S54 wagon to sell. Before he tossed that sell he scavenged all the body parts to start his M3 body conversion. He had Superstar Customs in Lilburn, Georgia do the rear fender flares and contacted 2M Autowerks for their fiberglass front M3 sedan fenders. Born2doit customs painted the car in Imola Red and then he decided he wanted something close to an E46 M3 CSL sedan.

Currently the car has 174k miles and though he wished he had started with a lower mileage chassis, he loves the car and the work that went into it. It’s his one of a kind car. For now he just wants to enjoy it and would love to eventually pass it down to his son in the future.


2003 E46 ZHP/M3

Chassis 165k miles when S54 swapped with 128k miles


ENGINE / DRIVETRAIN

- S54 (131k miles) with new OEM VAC Motorsport coated bearings installed

- E46 M3 cluster coded and modded for 4 doors and corrected mileage

- 6 speed Getrag Transmission (131k miles)

- 3.62 M3 LSD w/ axles and complete rear end

- GSR CSL Carbon Airbox with intake snorkel, CSL Map sensor and IAT

- OEM CSL Software with Oil Level readout

- ///M Track DSC System Enabled

- S54 Stock header

- S54 midpipe with Jones Universal Maxflow Muffler in place of midpipe

- Custom 3rd Rear section with Quad exhaust

SUSPENSION / BRAKES

- Porsche 996 4POT Brakes front and rear

- OEM CSL Rotors front and rear

- E46 M3 Coilovers (DGR Suspension)

- AKG Bushings: Spherical RTAB, Front Control Arm Bushing, Differential , Engine Mounts

- Turner Motorsport front and rear swaybars

- ZHP Steering Rack retained

- E46 M3 lower FCA

- E46 M3 Rear trailing arms

- SPC adjustable rear control arms for camber

- BMW Performance Carbon Fiber Strut Brace

WHEELS

- OEM CSL wheels (square) 19x9.5”

EXTERIOR

- Fresh repaint 405/3 Imola Rot II

- Seibon Carbon Fiber CSL Trunk

- M3 Body Conversion

- 2M Autowerks M3 front fenders

- Status Gruppe CSL diffuser for Mtech II bumper

INTERIOR

- N6NG Natur Braun leather M3 Seats (Custom LSeat covers installed)

AUDIO

- Eonon Android 7.1 Double Din Radio

- HK Amp audio system

Features

Jim Herrold's S54 E46 Touring

Photography by Dan Wagener @dan_wagener

I met Jim through a mutual friend and as soon as we talked I knew instantly that we'd get along. He's a die-hard BMW enthusiast and has an impressive collection of cars, most of which are bimmers. His company Kassel Performance (@kasselperformance) specializes in BMW DME ECU modifications. Jim tuned my E46 M3 and is my first go-to for all engine-related questions. My car was having a strange idle issue off and on all through 2017 with much confusion and frustration I asked Jim to take a thorough look at it.

Since we live about 45 minutes away from each other he let me borrow his wagon to make the vehicle drop-off more convenient. It's an Orientblau pre-facelift 323i touring with a little surprise under the hood. An S54 motor from the E46 M3 now powers this unsuspicious grocery getter. It also has the M3 6-speed manual transmission and diff to make it a proper swap. The work was done with the help of Bimmer Buddies.

A Rogue Engineering rasp pipe and an E36 Active Autowerke Gen3 muffler was modified to fit. Although it's a little on the quiet side, the exhaust note sounds great and has almost zero rasp that the S54 is notoriously known for.

Eibach springs and Bilstein shocks provide a nice drop that improves aesthetics while keeping it practical enough for daily duties. Out of Jim's car collection the wagon is used more as a "truck" for hauling larger items.

The exterior received OEM-plus upgrades like M-tech II "ZHP" front/rear bumpers and side skirts. Jim also changed the indicator lights to euro clears including the third brake light. The latest exterior mod that completed the look was a set of BMW Style 135 wheels from the E46 330i ZHP.

The car was a blast to drive around when I borrowed it. The handling was nice and the power delivery was spot on for an S54. The one thing that I really liked that my car doesn't have (yet!) was the Rogue OCTANE short shifter. Shifts felt more solid, precise, and smoother over the factory shifter.

I think everyone can agree that we all wished BMW would've made a real production E46 M3 touring... or at least a sedan. Oh well, at least there's people out there like Jim making them anyway.

Features

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.