Product Review: E30 LS1 Conversion (Van Swearingen)

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

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

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

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3 of 24 comments
  • Ronnie Schreiber Ronnie Schreiber on Aug 07, 2010

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

  • Porschespeed Porschespeed on Aug 21, 2010

    Or one can simply put a 600+ HP force-fed 3.5 BMW in it. And still retain some measure of self-respect.

    • Erik Koppany Erik Koppany on Sep 13, 2010

      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 :)

  • Tassos surprise surprise.A VW owner is selling a van on Cars and Bids today, and his name is "My VW Sucks"True Story, and no surprise either.Alfas are infinitely more unerliable (if that's possible).Enjoy!PS Tim,tomorrow your series is due for another glorious member of the Fix It Again Tony family of FIAT POS'sA Yugo.
  • Tassos Despite the incomplete results, this article was the most useful, by far, of all TTAC articles for the entire Q3
  • Jkross22 Pedestrian.... trapped.... in San Francisco. Man, there's a lot of truth in this article.
  • Arthur Dailey What the heck is an 'influencer'?And who would buy or do something because somebody on a social media site told them to or recommended/flogged something?Maybe I am just too old and cynical to understand those who actually are 'influenced'? But then I also never trusted or was 'influenced' by celebrity endorsements or product placements.However I did know and coach a teenager who became extremely wealthy because he set up a Youtube channel where people paid to watch him and his friends play video games.
  • Dukeisduke $8,000 for this rustbucket? It's a '73, not a '74 ("Registered and titled as a 1973…it looks like a ‘74 to me"), and anyway, mid to late '60s Alfa Berlinas are much more desirable.Even if you kept it in a garage and didn't drive it in the rain, it wouldn't stop rusting, it might just progress more slowly. This looks more like a parts car than something you'd drive. It needs rear main seals all over the car, so that oil leaks can slow down the rust, like all the oil on the underbody.