THE BANG-FOR-YOUR-BUCK LIST
There has been an ongoing debate for decades regarding the top bang-for-buck mods for your e30. And even then, there is a subjective criticism on what is cheap and what is expensive. Here is your one-stop shop for the top 10 mods for your e30, including risks, benefit, and yes even persuasion into getting onto the track to give these products a try.
Don’t underestimate the value and importance of getting your E30 stock functions working! There are a wide variety of products available to get your car that modern look/feel, yet maintain that stock feel including ‘is lips, frequently burnt replacement LED OBC lightbars and Odometer gears. Gotta get that E30 working and looking good before doing any modifications!
There are many other items that are necessary including proper alignment, suspension refresh, and of course, no oil/coolant/fluid leaks!
- PERFORMANCE CHIP
A performance chip is probably one of the most impacting upgrades to your E30. Depending on your model, some benefit more than others. Here’s a short list of the gains you can typically see with a chip: These are ranges not specific to any manufacturer
|87-92 325i||90-91 318i||85-87 325e||88-91 M3|
|Engine Type||M20B25||M42B18||M20B27||S14B23 / S14B25|
|Horsepower||+15 @ 5,000 RPM||+13 @ 5,500 RPM||+23 @ 4,500 RPM||+25 @ 7,600 RPM|
|Torque||+15 @ 5,000 RPM||+15 @ 2,500 RPM||+28 @ 4,500 RPM||+18 @ 6,000 RPM|
|Rev Limit||6,900 RPM||6,900 RPM||5,300 RPM||7,800 RPM|
Chips typically range from $225-$300. Do Not Buy Ebay. Not only will you see no gains if you install one of these chips, you can also damage your engine. A small list of vendors that supply chips include MarkD, TurnerMotorsport (Jim Conforti), Bavauto, Dinan…etc.
Installation is a snap with a simple removal of the ECU, dislodging the chip, and inserting the new chip. Easy Peasy!
Note that to really experience these gains, you must install the 2 other important upgrades to your E30: Air Intake and Exhaust, both covered here!
- AIR INTAKE
The most popular, easiest to install, and cheapest mod is probably the cold-air free flow intake. And “Cold-Air” is the key word here. Commonly, people throw on a cheap free flow air filter but neglect to realize that it’s sucking in hot air from the engine bay! So if you’re going to do this mod, you want to ensure that you block the air intake from the hot engine air.
K&N is the most ubiquitous household name when it comes to free flow intakes. And lucky for the e30 enthusiast, they even offer a cold-air version as well!
This mod alone does not increase horsepower. But combined with a chip, and you now have an engine that wants to breathe, and actually, now can breathe!
Next, those old tired rubber bushings got to go! For the avid auto enthusiast, poly bushings are the new norm and dramatically improve handling and responsiveness. The best part? You can easily install this yourself without any special pullers or presses! Choose from 80A (soft), 95A (harder, race), or for the extreme Delrin. More information will be in a future blog, but see below for a sneak preview to choose what’s right for you. Best of all, there’s a lifetime warranty on the bushings!
80A – Perfect for the OEM Feel with a bit of responsiveness. Rest assured that there is no compromise for comfort here, yet your E30 will turn, brake, and accelerate much more precisely and predictively.
95A – Recommended for motor swaps, very aggressive drivers, or otherwise track use. These further increase the responsiveness of all aspects of driving and provide the ability to have a more spirited driving experience.
Delrin – Harder than 95A and one step below solid mounts. These will allow virtually no play between your engine, transmission, and subframes. The feel will be a very sporty feel recommended for race applications.
The options here are endless, including free-flow headers, catalytic converters, removal of resonators, or replacement of the heavy stock muffler with a light aftermarket. No matter what, you’re saving weight, which increases performance.
So let’s keep it simple for now: Replace that heavy rusty muffler with a free flow supersprint, ansa, tri-flo, or MagnaFlow, Remus, Scorpion…etc. You can get a cat-back exhaust system, which includes the pre-bent tubing with fittings, clamps, and hangers. Here is an example of MagnaFlow’s Cat-Back system.
These systems range in the price of $1200 (complete cat-back system) to as little as $140 (just a muffler). The cheaper you go, the more aftermarket modifications and welding you’ll have to do, so if you’re creative and resourceful, you can get better sound and more power for a fraction of the cost of a complete bolt-on system!
Do not get FlowMaster. They do not mate well to the exhaust note of these high-revving engines. The glass-packed (fiberglass) are the way to go for an E30 Mod.
If you decide to go with aftermarket headers, steer clear of the ebay OBX headers. Even though they are cheap, they have had confirmed fitment issues, they use inferior thin walled steel, and have been known to corrode. But most of all, they are not equal length headers and have no testing to back up the claims of increased power. In fact, you will likely decrease your power!
When it comes to headers, stick to the brand names… headers are one part of a tuned system and they do show more power with a chip, because they provide a tuned back-pressure to extract exhaust gasses, creating negative pressure on the exhaust stroke.
This is an incredibly broad topic, and will be discussed in further dedicated blog posts. But to keep things simple, here are the things you need to know about the E30.
- 57.1 – This is the centerbore of the E30. If you get aftermarket wheels with a different centerbore, you will need hubcentric spacers
- 4x100mm – This is the lug pattern for the E30 and is a must-have when fitting new wheels, unless you have a 5 lug.
- Low Offset – Anything above +20mm is likely too high and you’ll have rubbing issues and/or need spacers.
- Diameter/Width – 15″ diameter is appropriate for an E30. Many go with 16″ and if you want more extreme, you can go 17″. 18″ and up is not recommended.
Tires is just as broad a topic and there are certainly tradeoffs no matter what you decide to go with. Some questions you must ask yourself before buying tires is:
Will I be racing? I might want a softer rubber compound.
Am I looking for max gas mileage? Then an all-season with a 400AA treadwear is most appropriate.
Remember that no matter what wheel/tire combo you go with, you will be sacrificing one aspect for another. Larger wheel/tire combos rob the car of more energy as they are heavier and have more mass to spin further away from the center of rotation whereas smaller wheel/tire combos have less rotational inertia and can effectively increase the acceleration of the car. 17’s just look cool though!
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal agenda for use and your preference.
With more power and stiffened suspension comes an increased need to provide additional bracing. Suspension reinforcements are not only popular, but they’re an indication that you not only care about going fast, but doing so reliably and safely. Garagistic offers a wide array of subframe reinforcement kits for both the front subframe, the rear subframe, both, and strut bars. You can either weld the kit on your own subframe or send your subframe to get completely welded for you! For those looking for some insane support underneath, check out the X-Brace, race proven reliability and performance.
A new product that just came out to further reinforce the flimsy stock E30 front subframe is the clever front control arm ball joint reinforcements. These are critical for race applications and ensure that your E30 is always on the straight and narrow. Installation is easy and accessible, so give it a try!
- COOLING UPGRADES
There are a couple of upgrades that can help your engine run cooler, especially in those hot summer months waiting in traffic! Stock thermostats close at 99C (or 210F). But you can adapt a plug and play thermostat that opens at a lower temperature to allow the hot coolant to get to the radiator earlier. Here is an example of an 92C, 80C, or even as low as 71C thermostat. These can be found many places in the $20-$30 range.
If that’s not enough, you can always turn those cooling fans on earlier with a lower temp fan switch, mounted conveniently in the radiator itself. It monitors the temperature of the coolant and activates both the low and/or the high speed radiator fans to activate the cooling earlier as well. Again, stock switches open at 99C, so having a switch that opens at 80C/88C (3 prong below), or 82 degree (2 prong for older models) can help immensely in keeping your M10, M20, or M42 cool
Be aware that there is a shortcoming to earlier opening thermostats and switches: The lower degree thermostats open at lower temperatures for better cooling but can reduce heater output when outside temperature is colder.
One of the best ways to improve the feel is to upgrade one of the most widely used components on your car: the shifter! Changing the length of rod below the cup actually, allows a shorter shift throw and a notchier feel. As a result is one heck of an improved driving experience with every-single-shift. Driving becomes sportier and more connected with the road than you ever have before. The most popular mod here is the Z3 Shifter, which positions the shifter perfectly in the E30 and provides the sporty feel that all Z3 owners currently enjoy. While you’re at it, you might as well upgrade the bushings for your shifter assembly. More detailed technical information about the dynamics of a short shift kit is in an upcoming blog, so stay tuned!
This will not only be covered in many more detailed blog posts, it will be covered in so much detail that you’ll be considered an expert in the subject yourself! Garagistic specializes in many engine swaps including E30 M30, M60, M62/S62, and LS1. There are many parts supplied by Garagistic to get you started on the right foot!
The list goes ON!
Want to be the ultimate specialist in your community? Purchase the E30 M30, M60 and M62/S62 write-ups with hundreds of annotated pages, tables, diagrams, and wiring schematics showing you how to get your swap done, from start to finish. These can be found at our partner, www.macalent.com for your convenience. All swap parts are supported and supplied by Garagistic to get your swap started, moving, and completed so you can move on to the next big project!