WhichCar
Powered by
  • WheelsWheels
  • MOTORMOTOR
  • 4X4 Australia4X4 Australia
  • Street MachineStreet Machine
  • Trade Unique CarsTrade Unique Cars

LS1-powered 1989 BMW E30

By Iain Kelly | Photos: Chris Thorogood, 06 Sep 2018 Features

LS1-powered 1989 BMW E30

BMW's E30 is a small, light, rear-drive platform begging for some proper grunt, which Shayne coote was only too happy to provide

This article on Shayne Coote's BMW was originally published in issue #7 of Street Machine's LSX Tuner magazine, 2018

THERE are several reasons why BMW’s preeminent 1980s small car, the E30, is a prime candidate for having an LS V8 jammed in the front. Size-wise it falls roughly between a Gemini and a Torana, with a suitably generous engine bay and pertinent rear-drive layout, and it is known for its excellent handling. As an added bonus, the aftermarket and second-hand parts market for these three-box sedans is huge.

BMW E30While the E30 wore an aftermarket Reiger front spoiler for the photoshoot, Shayne normally drives it on the street with a more subdued BMW E30 318iS lip spoiler. This saves the Reiger from all the regular hazards of street driving 

The second-generation 3 Series model sold millions of units from 1983-1991, including sedans, convertibles, wagons, and coupes. An E30 M3 even won the 1987 Aussie Touring Car Championship in the hands of ‘Gentleman’ Jim Richards.

Read next: Pro golfer Stuart Appleby's custom-built 2003 E39 BMW M5 ute

But, while Jimmy’s car only had four pots up front, Shayne Coote’s 1989 325i coupe has eight. Arranged in a vee and totalling 5.7 litres (more than double the displacement of the M3’s 2.3L), the LS1 heart transplant has given Shayne’s inconspicuous white four-door enough thrust to push out 270rwkW (362rwhp) and 720Nm on the GM Motorsport chassis dyno.

BMW E30 rearShayne and his family are well-versed with E30 BMWs, going right back to the 80s! “I’ve always had E30s, even when they were new,” he laughs. “At one stage in the family we had six E30s!” 

“I got this E30 in Mount Gambier from Carsales,” explains Shayne. “It was a standard 325i but ended up with a worked twin-cam 2.5-litre M50 BMW six from a later E36 3 Series. At the time my son James had an LS-swapped E30 but his car’s body was all rusty. He bought another shell to swap the LS into but lost interest, so I bought the LS-converted car and swapped the parts into my 325i.

Read next: Retrotech E9 BMW

“Originally it went in as a standard 5.7 just to make sure everything worked correctly. Later on I decided to paint the engine bay and, as you do, started thinking: ‘While I have the engine out, I may as well do a bit of work.’”

BMW E30 engine bay“I just wanted a bit of lope to give it a nicer idle sound,” says Shayne of the cam he purchased from GM Motorsport. “I got the heads and cam as a Torque Master package from the guys as I wasn’t interested in huge power or doing burnouts. It probably suits a 6.0L bottom end or bigger, though”

The Gen III donk runs a stock bottom end, save for a GM Motorsport Torque Master bumpstick, with Higgins CNC-ported cathedral-port heads fitted up top, all controlled by a re-flashed LS PCM. Shayne nipped any potential oil-supply problems in the bud by using a Melling pump with a custom pan fitted with Improved Racing baffles.

Read next: LS1-powered 1976 Porsche 911

BMW E30 engine bayThe engine bay is a very neat place thanks to Shayne respraying it while also tucking away the wiring, making up a custom carbonfibre airbox, and fitting black Aeroflow fuel rails and Edelbrock black coil covers 

While there is plenty of space between the E30’s strut towers, fitting the LS where a 2.5-litre inline-six once sat did present a couple of challenges. Firstly, a conversion was done to move the starter motor to the left-hand side of the engine, while the T56 six-speed scored a braided clutch line and remote bleeder. The biggest issues in the E30’s engine bay are the stock brake booster sitting where a cylinder head needs to go, and a steering shaft cramming space for the exhaust.

BMW E30 engine bay“Thankfully, Ryan Thorne, one of my son James’s friends, is a good fabricator, so he did the custom engine mounts and handled moving the brake booster,” says Shayne. “We took the standard bellcrank for the brake booster out and moved it 45 degrees, so now the booster mounts straight behind the glovebox.”

The standard radiator was turfed, replaced by a large Aussie Desert Cooler unit wearing a 16-inch SPAL thermo fan, which does its darndest to keep everything cool.

BMW E30 wheelsA stock clutch was never going to survive in this car, so an Exedy HD unit was fitted in front of the T56 six-speed, while the tailshaft behind is obviously a custom-made piece. Gears are rowed through a Ripshift shifter that features a custom lever, while a Quaife LSD replaces the stock diff, centered inside a six-pot E30 medium-case housing. Because these little cars were never expected to deal with a burly V8’s torque, you can’t just bash an LS into an E30 and expect the rear end to live happily ever after. This is why custom driveshafts and a Garagistic diff mount were installed into Shayne’s car.

Thankfully, handling has always been a BMW strong point, and Shayne only had to make a few choice upgrades to really get his Bavarian hustling in the turns.

BMW E30 interiorAlthough the lower-end cars had cloth trim and manual-winder windows, up-spec models like Shayne’s 325i featured sumptuous leather upholstery, power windows, trip computers and more. The owner prior to Shayne fitted the factory sports seats, which are super-comfortable Recaro adjustable buckets 

Ground Control, featuring Eibach springs sitting over Koni Sport shocks. The stock plush rubber suspension bushes were replaced with urethane items, with urethane bushes also used in the new engine and transmission mounts.

While almost all E30s came with large four-wheel disc brakes, Shayne’s V8 example runs monstrous Wilwood 310mm discs all ’round, with matching six-piston and four-piston calipers on the front and rear, respectively. They’ve been hidden behind 17x8.5-inch BBS RS replica wheels, wrapped in super-sticky Federal 595 RSR semi-slicks, which do their best to get a tonne of grunt to the tarmac.

BMW E30 exhaust“I’ve only done one track day in it and it was fun,” says Shayne. “There were a couple of VF LSA cars and they couldn’t keep up with the E30 leaving the pits. Because it runs on semi-slicks, it hooks on the corner exit and just goes.

“Touch wood, before I pulled it out to do the heads and cam it would average eight litres of fuel per 100km, which is less than my daughter’s 318i! It would have been mint as a car to drive every day. Even the engineer said it drove like a factory car.”

BMW E30SHAYNE COOTE
1989 BMW 325i E30

COLOUR
BMW Alpine White

ENGINE
Brand: Chevrolet Gen III LS1
Capacity: 5.7L/346ci
Heads: Higgins CNC cathedral-port
Cam: GM Motorsport
ECU: Stock GM LS1 PCM
Sump: Custom pan, Improved Racing baffles
Oil pump: Melling
Fuel system: Walbro in-tank
Cooling: Aussie Desert Cooler radiator, Davies Craig 16in fan
Exhaust: Custom
Ignition: Stock

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox: Tremec T56 six-speed manual, Ripshift shifter, custom lever
Clutch: Exedy HD
Tailshaft: Custom
Diff: Quaife LSD, custom driveshafts, custom diff mount

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Springs: Ground Control coil-overs (f & r)
Mods: Strengthened crossmembers, Ireland Engineering sway-bars and end-links (f & r), Z3 BMW quick-ratio steering rack
Brakes: Wilwood six-piston calipers, 310mm discs (f); Wilwood four-piston calipers, 310mm discs (r)
Master cylinder: Relocated under dash

WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: BBS RS 17x8.5 (f & r)
Rubber: Federal RS/R; 215/45 (f), 235/40 (r)