By on August 5, 2010

For its day, the BMW E30 3-series was an impressive blend of German craftsmanship, understated and cohesive style with remarkable performance. Then again, the E30 may lack straight line performance but the handling remains stellar. And the look is almost timeless. But it needs more than 200 horsepower to truly shine outside of its numerous wins at the 24 Hours Of LeMons. Perhaps 345 horses will help the cause. So let’s put a lightweight, torque intensive V8 under the hood to fix that singular shortcoming.

Steve and Garret Van Swearingen found me via Piston Slap, and showed us all they had the resources to make it happen. Furthermore, these gentlemen possess the foresight to realize that others are similarly demented: though perhaps not as adventurous. Enter their self-published PDF document, E30-LS1, the definitive record on how to install a Chevy LS-X into the near perfect BMW E30.

Because of all the maniacal, pro-Chevy LS swap Piston Slap rants I’ve bestowed upon TTAC readers, Steve gave me a copy of the conversion article, gratis. No, I didn’t rush out and buy an E30, a late-model Pontiac GTO donor car (preferred) and clear my garage of my current projects, though his work is so detailed and intriguing that I considered it. Too bad the conversion isn’t a walk in the park: and his document is complete information overload.

With that in mind, legal liabilities come with this knowledge. Like anyone who lives in a cubicle, Steve and Garret understand CYA statements, which occupy the document’s first chapter. Such is life.

Without giving away the entire bill of sale, let’s hit the highlights of the E30-LS1 instruction manual. Most noticeably, the document is filled with CAD drawings of everything from the (modified) Pontiac GTO oil pan, brake booster linkages and transmission mounts. And that’s only a short list. While I didn’t make any of the parts to verify accuracy, anyone knowledgeable in CAD sees that Steve and Garret did their homework.

There are impressive hand drawings: while some are crude enough to require a second look, all are clear, detailed and valuable.  Take the custom intake tube leading to the LS-X’s centrally located throttle body: decent renderings, but with valuable notes that add to the document’s (somewhat) easy to read nature.  You know, for a deeply technical discussion.

Photographs abound, showing how the finished product looks: I especially like the photos of the rethought, re-engineered brake booster/master cylinder at the firewall, as that is a fairly complicated component to make for your average weekend wrench turner. But the stunning 3D renderings of the redesigned transmission mount might be the coolest diagram. Other renderings show how the T-56 6-speed transmission bolts into the E30 body, step-by-step. While not showing an exploded view diagram, this looks cleaner and easier to digest.

But pictures and drawings aren’t gonna get it done.  So they wrote easy to understand, somewhat un-technical copy explaining what parts are needed. It even tells you where to buy them. This saves a tremendous amount of time, even in the Internet age.

And even more details are sweated, telling you where a certain GM part fits under the E30’s bonnet, and what modification (hose, screw, clamp, etc) is needed to make it right. If words take too long, odds are there’s a picture to speed up the process. A great example is the content given to fabricate the GM-BMW hybrid A/C system under hood.  Yes, you have OEM levels of refinement here too.

Not every idea is set in stone: I imagine one can cut a corner or two with a zip-tie.  That is, if you’re a complete slacker. And that’s your call: everything needed to make that judgment is available.

But, on a limited production basis, Steve and Garret are offering a number of parts for the E30-LS1 swap. They went as far as removing the real-world tested parts on their personal E30: engine and transmission mounts, brake booster linkage system, second differential mount and the radiator mount.  The parts are removed to build welding fixtures from them, and many of the parts were redesigned to be laser-cut, in order to make it feasible to produce multiple copies.

Why is that relevant?  Because, much like a regular shade tree mechanic, Steve and Garret originally made these parts with crude tools like a hacksaw and file. So they are hoping to sell the kit (including the document reviewed here) for between $1200 and $1500. The standalone document is $99, which is certainly the best use of your time and money, should you buy into the E30-LS1 value proposition.

I see the light, and would take the plunge if I could. If this kind of mechanical mayhem is up your alley, pick up an E30-LS1 guide or the conversion parts by emailing [email protected].

Steve and Garret Van Swearingen provided TTAC with a complimentary copy of their E30-LS1 Guide for evaluation purposes.

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24 Comments on “Product Review: E30 LS1 Conversion (Van Swearingen)...”

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Wouldn’t simply buying and driving a clean used GTO make so much more sense?

  • avatar

    Very, very cool. I hope they next tackle an LSx ==> RX-8 swap.

  • avatar

    To build on John’s comment, I pray that no one ruins a rare e30 M3 with one of these frankenstein builds. A regular e30, go to town. The e30 M3 w/ the wide body and high strung 4 cyl is almost impossible to find in clean condition without a $15k+ price tag now… and I really, really want one some day.

  • avatar

    Well, Sajeev, I can’t help but use interwebz memes to express what I think about this badass work: FTMFW!1!!!1!

    Even for informational purposes, I think it’s worth the $$$.

    Go and check a place in which there are drawings of the LS series and other components. Google it since I don’t remember the name, only that it was featured in a HotRod article that showed a Camaro which Lingenfelter (if my memory is right) swapped a ZR-1 (again memory et etc) crate motor.

    Check yesterday’s Jalopnik article on engine swaps. Also, when they made the question and someone posted the über cool BMW V12 swapped Caprice. Pic:

    And then I read about the Ford 5.0 32V crate engine… and thought how cool that thing would be swapped in (heresy of the heresies) a C3 or C4 Corvette. And I’m a Corvette fan.

  • avatar

    Great car. I had a 325ix that I never should have sold

  • avatar

    I doubt the LS1 engine weighs 1 ton more than the stock e30 6 cylinder engine:, cites 50 lbs heavier.
    The M3 of that era looks killer, but like Quentin said, 15 + grand for that car, and with a 4 cylinder! The regular M20 engine of that time would have much more potential with a rebuild or a turbo.

  • avatar

    Wonder what this does to the weight distribution? Some cars are ripe for this type of conversion, this is not one of them.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s the info from the horses mouth:

      “The LS1 added 85lbs to our car, as measured on a 4-corner scale. Final weight 2865lbs with a half tank of gas.”

      Yeah, I think the extra 85lbs would be worth it. Especially considering the center of gravity of a OHV V8 compared to a OHC I-6.

    • 0 avatar

      “The LS1 added 85lbs to our car, as measured on a 4-corner scale. Final weight 2865lbs with a half tank of gas.”

      Anyone else picturing Elwood saying that?

    • 0 avatar

      @Detroit-Iron, LMAO. I just “Wikiquoted” the orginal lines to make sure I remember them correctly and damn if it doesn’t work.

  • avatar

    “The LS1 added 85lbs to our car, as measured on a 4-corner scale. Final weight 2865lbs with a half tank of gas.”

    That is amazing. I would have bet real money that it would have come in much heavier. In that case I agree that the extra horsepower is all gain, no pain. Must be a real rocket.

  • avatar

    Have you seen the video of the kid almost crashing this beast? It’s on youtube. Looks like fun!

  • avatar

    Steve and Garret chose the ultimate platform for an LS-swap, but check this out:

  • avatar

    When I drove the M3 what most impressed me was the wonderful balance and willingness to throw itself into a corner. It’s only an extra 85 pounds, but I can’t help but think that it will detract from that.

    I wonder how far back in the engine bay they were able to set it to help offset that. And how much you could lighten up the front end to compensate.

    • 0 avatar

      From the looks of the PDF file, the LS1 sits lower and far deeper back than the I-6. Improvements to center of gravity and polar moment of inertia could very well be good enough to offset the extra 85lbs.

      EDIT: the M3s motor is probably way lighter than the LS. The LS is 85lbs lighter than the stock I-6. Still, while the M3 owner is enjoying the curve, the E30-LS1 blasted by him after hitting the apex, dipping into the LS’s massive torque.

  • avatar

    If you’re going for low weight, here’s a Locost/Se7en based around a LS1

  • avatar

    Or one can simply put a 600+ HP force-fed 3.5 BMW in it.

    And still retain some measure of self-respect.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed! Sorry mate, but an OHV american V8 into a BMW? Horrible, horrible idea. If anything, put in a bigger BMW I-6, like a 3.0 or 3.5 from that era. May be a v12 :) (it’s done), but don’t put an OHV engine into a European car! That’s just simply wrong like a four banger muscle car with independent rear suspension :)

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