The last ironman.
"In this Special Series, I document the bulletproofing of my S54 with a slight detour in internal performance upgrades.
On this first entry, I take a detour in the archives, make a few poor parallels with Marvel, headliners sag, we say to hell with family feuds, and we all owe a big thank you to Gordon Murray & Paul Rosche.
This Special Series is in collaboration with InnovAuto, Beisan, EuroPowerParts and TurnerMotorsports."
The E46 was the first of a few things to come
The E46 M3 CSL marked the introduction of carbon composite body panels and performance products that would become the hallmark of M years yet to come.
The carbon roof panel is the most obvious differentiator between a contemporary BMW AG and BMW M car.
[...] and the last of many things.
The E46 M3 most notably represented the last generation of many BMW M design philosophies and material utilization from the previous decade.
When you start tearing into an E46, you see many designs and materials taken straight from the E36 - and deservingly so on a few components.
The suspension configurations, metal body panels construction and the naturally aspirated straight 6s are a few that come to mind.
The front control arms and rear trailing arms bolted into the unibody were fitted with bushings known to fail prematurely.
The E9x M3 was the arrival of massive front and rear subframes along with multi link aluminum suspensions arms all around.
BMW M wants us to forget how they did interior backs then.
The E36's historical importance.
With its US commercial success following up to the abysmal E30 sales figures, the USDM E36 allowed the E46 M3 to just be.
The USDM E36 convinced bean counters the M3 could be a commercially viable chassis by cutting on production costs and the retail price.
The main cost cutting measure was the powertrain: BMW used a revised version of the standard M52 engine found in the 325i.
It had the same heads and block - but revised bore, stroke, cams valve springs that gave it 240hp. They also fitted a 5 speed ZF manual transmission.
My short E36 experience.
I got the opportunity to daily drive a sort-of-sorted USDM E36 for a week or two in the Summer of 2022.
The steering column's tumbler broke, the headline sagged, a few trims were popping off. I wasn't quite ready for another fixer-upper in this my life and I let the opportunity slide.
Still, they were simpler cars: a tad slow, a lot cheaper, missing a 6th gear, poorly assembled yet they were are mechanically reliable - and arguably just as fun to own as any M car all considering.
7 years separate the last E36 M3 that rolled off the production line and the first E60 M5 ever produced. It might as well be a lifetime. The horsepower wars were full on.
It's a family feud
Marvel's iconic superhero has always been a half truth: there's no way he does the things he does if he was actually fully made of iron and if he actually hated his father.
For as much Tony Stark despised Howard Stark, Howard was still his father - Tony was still a Stark.
I've been in tune with many internal M community warfare over the years: the 335i versus E92 M3 debate, the V8 vs S55, DCT v ZF, 6spd v SMG, etc.
I've always felt the E46 M3 versus V8 M3 was the most irrationally bitter of them all, until I landed on E36 versus E46 M3 rivalries.
[...] crossing borders
The S50B32 found in the Euro-spec and Canadian-spec E36 M3s was one of BMW M greatest and most reliable BMW M naturally aspirated engines for very particular reasons.
Using the same displacement as the USDM S52 version, the Europeans and Canadians enjoyed 80 more horsepower at 1,500 RPMs higher, and a 6th forward gear using the Getrag 420G.
It was major departure from the S38B34 found in the E34 M5 where BMW M resorted to increasing displacement 3x times during its lifespan to increase performance while remaining below 7,000 RPM peak power.
[...] and bloodlines.
If it wasn't for a Brit, what would the Germans have set their mind to?
Paul Rosche, BMW M engineer and lead on the S70/2 engine found in a very special car.
We got 50% of a McLaren F1 engine.
The myth has been validated - it's true. Gordon Murray said it himself in a podcast with Chris Harris.
Murray: We worked really well together [BMW & McLaren].
Harris: Is is true that it's [the V12] 3.2 liters or siamese?
Murray: No, not true at all. There is no truth whatsoever, it was from scratch. In fact, the M3's straight six came from engine. It was the first one with variable valve timing.
It marked a new shift.
The S50 B32 was spec'ed with a 86.4mm bore and a 91mm stroke on a 11.3 compression ratio. In 1996, the S50B32 most notably pioneered the high pressure double VANOs in BMW M engines.
The S50B32 marked a technological shift that would enable the combination of revs and high horsepower per displacement we've come to value.
It was the first BMW M engine making over 100hp per liters - making 321hp at over 7,500 RPM from a 3.2 displacement.
It was reliable.
A new Siemens DME integrated 3 knock sensors to optimize and protect the S50B32. It has proven to be extremely reliable outside of the usual air and oil leaks,
The sample size is smaller, yet you'll be hard pressed to find documentations of catastrophic failures from the usual culprits.
The S54 is a flawed Ironman.
Unfortunately, the S54 had potentially catastrophic internal failure points and introduced M owners to VANOS and rod bearings nightmares.
The underpinnings of the bulletproof S50B32 were still here: the block was cast from iron, the heads were aluminum with an improved single piece casting.
Up next: I watch as Phil at InnovAuto opens up the head and we inspect the VANOS system.
I planned for the worst with fingers crossed.
I'll take you on the status of every Mission Critical and Mission Survival components of my S54's VANOS.