380hp BMW S54 E36
By day, Jamie Morley works on the railways. Fittingly, his S54-propelled E36 has the power of a freight locomotive and is faster than an InterCity 125…
Words: Graham Leigh
Photos: Gregory Owain
Pulls Like a Train
With an S54 sitting under its swollen bonnet, this E36 track car is a supremely focused, full-on beast that deliversultimate driving thrills.
It’s funny how a person’s job can affect their hobbies, and Jamie Morley (@s54jam) is a case in point. The 25-yearold Monmouthshire-based petrolhead earns his keep on the railways driving, operating and maintaining tamper machines.
These are the hefty beasts that compact the ballast under the rails and keep us mere mortals safe as we trundle up and down the line on the daily grind. These behemoths move along the track slowly as their hydraulic rams periodically compact the ground below. Perhaps the slow and steady pace at which they move means that Jamie is compelled to have a car with significant get-up-and-go on his days off. Tamping is a fine art that corrects track geometry, longitudinal level and alignment.
Could this be why he has a keen eye for fitment, track and stance? Who knows? Allow us to bring today’s amateur psychology lesson to a close, and let’s open up our Total BMW books to sprechen sie Beemer. Jamie’s automotive journey started at the tender age of 17 in the shape of a Polo 6N2 he cut his teeth on while in possession of his provisional licence.
Once he had passed his test, he was quick to upgrade to an R50 MINI Cooper, which was duly slammed. The modified bug bit with a Mk1 MX-5, which he equipped with a Flyin’ Miata kit that added a turbo to the roadster recipe. By 19, Jamie had grown tired of Japanese sill rot, and a night of browsing Facebook Marketplace bore fruit when he managed to find a lesser-spotted rust-free E36 in nearby Bristol back in 2018. Gurt lush, as the locals would say. His plans were originally modest, as he explains: “Ever since passing my test, I had a BMW itch that I needed to scratch. E30s and E36s were on my radar as I love the boxy look of classic BMWs, with their naturally aspirated inline sixes, and I take inspiration from their motorsport history,” Jamie enthuses.
“The 328i had finally become insurable. When I viewed this one, it was pleasingly solid and already had some choice mods, including the all-important M3 limited-slip differential. I only had eyes for a coupé, and this was just 30 minutes down the road,” says Jamie.
“The car was missing the interior, but that made it easier to thoroughly inspect, and it needed a bit of tidying, but I was hungry to get on the tools and use some of the skills I’d learnt on my apprenticeship. The original plan was to clean up the car and carry out all necessary maintenance.”
Jamie remained true to his basic maintenance plan. For three months. After this, the call of more horses was loud and a considered package of modifications was carried out on the trusty M52. A bit of six-cylinder research resulted in a parts haul that included US M3 cams, M3 exhaust manifolds and M3 Evo individual throttle bodies fitted. With the parts added, the trip up north to DervTech was well worth it with a resultant 258hp after a mapping session on their rollers.
The first year of ownership was productive, with Jamie reining in the newfound power with an E46 330i brake conversion with 325mm front discs and Ferodo DS3000 discs and pads all-round. He also changed the differential ratio from 3.15 to 3.45 for improved acceleration and installed a pair of Sparco Sprint V5 bucket seats onto tried and tested Driftworks fixed mounts.
Outside, Fitment Lab Phase 2 fibreglass over-fenders allowed for wider rubber and track with the benefit of saving some weight, a pre-facelift nosecone and kidney grilles were more to Jamie’s retro tastes, and an E36 GT low-rise spoiler and front splitter better suited the aggressive widened silhouette.
Power and pace can be addictive, and by the third year of ownership, Jamie was clucking for some enhanced sixcylinder thrills. Before making a final decision on the engine of choice, he opted to carry out some strengthening work to the shell. A Protezione Autoworks 3mm steel reinforcement kit was ordered, and Jamie got busy with the welder, adding strength to the suspension turrets, front and rear subframe mounting points and trailing arm pockets.
With his mind finally made up, he sourced a legendary S54B32 motor that had covered just 52k and set about getting it to fit. Jamie explains: “Other setups were considered, such as turbocharging the M52, but I went with the S54 as it follows the classic BMW setup of an inline six-cylinder naturally aspirated motor, which I feel is much more responsive and fun compared to other options,” he says with a smile. “It allows 8400rpm, making 380hp and 270lb ft of torque in a 1200kg car. The noise is pure historical BMW Motorsport, and the E46 M3 powerplant is generally considered as BMW’s naturally aspirated straight-six swansong,” adds Jamie with a grin.
The hike in S54 figures is thanks to a map that makes the most of the E46 M3 CSL ECU and carbon fibre airbox. Despite the low mileage, Jamie was keen to make the engine as robust as possible. It was treated to ACL Race rod bearings and ARP bolts, a VAC high-flow oil pump with billet internals, the VANOS system was overhauled and upgraded by Redish Motorsport, and all new gaskets and seals were the icing on the high-revving cake. The S54 breaths through E46 M3 exhaust manifolds and centre section, which are mated to an E36 M3 back box. The Driftworks catalogue was hit up once more for their 4.5kg flywheel, which is connected to a Sachs M3 unsprung clutch. The coupé retains its tough ZF five-speed gearbox, which feels precise thanks to a chassis-mounted shifter. A 3:73:1 differential improves acceleration, and the Racing Diffs 40% locking three-clutch plate provides a predictable aggression to the rear end.
The E36 is poly-bushed throughout using Powerflex items, including the engine and transmission mounts. The power bulge bonnet was fitted just after the engine conversion as the stock item wouldn’t clear the airbox. It suits the purposeful styling of the car, and its fibreglass construction means that it saves a chunk of weight. Jamie recalls: “The engine swap took around six months to carry out: I did the swap myself and carried out all work apart from the VANOS work and machining. It was my first engine conversion. I worked alone, which meant many late nights sorting wiring problems, but I’m delighted with the outcome,” he says with a smile, and so he should be.
Wheels maketh the car and all that, and the Apex ARC-8 always hit the spot. Aping the look of the legendary BBS RC but with a more sensible price tag and no worries of historical damage, they are lightweight and strong too, thanks to the flow-formed manufacturing process.
These beauties fill out those wide hips perfectly, measuring 9x17” ET30 up front and 9.5x17” with an ET35 offset at the rear. Tyres are 255/40/17 semi-slicks all-round, with Jamie currently running Accelara 651 Sports on the front and Zetinos aft. Jamie confirms that he is happy with his choice: “I’d watched videos on YouTube with E36s running the Apex wheels, and once I had clocked them, I just had to have them. I think they look great with a wide tyre. They’re also very lightweight, so it’s a win-win.”
Inside, the Sparco seats are now joined by Sparco harnesses and an SW Motorsports halfcage, with a Nardi steering wheel, rear deck-mounted fire extinguisher and DEPO Racing oil pressure gauge adding to the track-ready package. Jamie has retained some creature comforts, like the black leather door cards, centre console and armrest, black Alcantara headlining and stereo. As such, the interior has an OEM+ Clubsport feel about it, allowing him to enjoy a track session but not hate the trip home. We love the way the extended alloy shifter makes its intentions known, while the walnut veneer surround serves as a reminder of the coupé’s gentleman’s express origins.
The exterior styling of the Frozen white two-door makes no secret of Jamie’s obsession with retro race cars, with the M3 mirrors, extended sun strip, and fog light blanks all doffing their cap to the heyday of Touring Cars. The BMW Motorsport International door trim badges match the heritage bonnet roundel and the oh-so-’90s M tricolour chequered flag graphics that adorn the right rear quarter, boot and passenger front wing.
Halo headlights, M3 rear clusters and amber indicators complete the well-considered look.
The E36 represents six years of Jamie’s hard work, a lot of which is documented on his excellent Instagram account. As with all the best modified cars, he describes it as an ongoing project: “I’ve just bought a house, so my car spending is currently on hold as we prepare to make the move. My first job once in the new place will be to replace the ageing coilovers that came on the car with some BCs, maybe get some Recaros, and treat it to a respray. For now, though, I’m so pleased with it. The combination of the sound, power, throttle response and rev range without the traction control and driver aids of modern machinery is a whole lot of fun,” he grins. With the BCs on it will handle like it’s on rails. Probably at a slightly faster pace than Jamie’s tamper…
This might be a hardcore track build, but it packs in plenty of details. The interior has been stripped, but some creature comforts have been retained, giving a Clubsport vibe to the cabin.
I’d watched videos on YouTube with E36s running the Apex wheels, and once I had clocked them, I just had to have them. I think they look great with a wide tyre. They’re also very lightweight, so it’s a win-win
When I viewed this one, it was pleasingly solid and already had some choice mods, including the allimportant M3 limited-slip differential. I only had eyes for a coupé, and this was just 30 minutes down the road
It allows 8400rpm, making 380hp and 270lb ft of torque in a 1200kg car. The noise is pure historical BMW Motorsport, and the E46 M3 powerplant is generally considered as BMW’s naturally aspirated straight-six swansong
TEHCNICAL DATA BMW S54 E36
- ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION: 3.2-litre straight-six S54B32, Powerflex engine mounts, carbon fibre airbox, ACL Race con rod bearings, ARP con rod bolts, VAC high-flow oil pump with billet internals, VANOS system overhauled and upgraded by Redish Motorsport, all new gaskets and seals, E46 M3 exhaust manifolds and centre section, E36 M3 back box, remapped E46 M3 CSL ECU. ZF five-speed manual gearbox, chassis-mounted shifter, Powerflex transmission mounts, Driftworks 4.5kg flywheel, Sachs M3 unsprung clutch, 3.73:1 LSD with Racing Diffs 40% locking clutch plate kit
- MAX POWER: 380hp
- MAX TORQUE: 270lb ft
- CHASSIS: 9x17” ET30 (front) and 9.5x17” ET35 (rear) Apex ARC-8 alloy wheels with 255/40 Accelara 651 Sport tyres (front) and Zetino semislicks (rear), coilovers, Protezione Autoworks 3mm steel reinforcement kit (suspension turrets, front and rear subframe mounting points and trailing arm pockets), Powerflex poly bushes throughout, E46 330i brake conversion with 325mm front discs and Ferodo DS3000 pads (front and rear)
- EXTERIOR: Frozen white, pre-facelift nosecone and kidney grilles, halo headlights, power bulge fibreglass bonnet with aero catches, heritage bonnet roundel, extended sun strip, fog light blanks, Fitment Lab Phase 2 fibreglass over-fenders, M3 mirrors, BMW Motorsports International door trim badges, M tricolour chequered flag graphics, E36 GT low-rise spoiler and front splitter, M3 rear clusters, amber indicators
- INTERIOR: Sparco Sprint V5 bucket seats, Driftworks fixed mounts, Sparco harnesses, SW Motorsports half-cage, Nardi steering wheel, rear deck-mounted fire extinguisher, DEPO Racing oil pressure gauge, black leather door cards, centre console and armrest, black Alcantara headlining, Pioneer CD head unit, extended alloy shifter, walnut veneer gear surround
This S54 develops a mighty 380hp thanks to some serious fettling, and sounds glorious, thanks to that airbox Jamie has spent six years putting together this awesome E36, and it never fails to put a smile on his face.