E46 BMW M3 Turbo: Part 1 – Introduction plus wheels and tires

Meet Chris’ white E46 BMW M3.   In the back is our own Project E46 M3, which makes a healthy 328 WHP.  Well, the white car makes well over twice that.  Check out how we add our own finishing touches to this magnificent crotch rocket-challenging machine!

E46 BMW M3 Turbo: Part 1 – Introduction plus wheels and tires

Introducing one of the sweetest BMWs around.  How on earth could we make it better?

by Pablo Mazlumian

The E46 M3 is an absolutely awesome car in its own right.  It handles extremely well and the brakes are strong enough to outperform street tires in any situation.  But the engine’s performance is where the car really starts to commands respect.


Here’s the sleeper white M3 at Modified by KC, taunting some other very fast cars at the shop.  The BMW's been tuned at MKC by owner and tuner, Chad Charlton.

Thanks to BMW ingenuity, the S54 engine makes a boat-load of power and torque (rated 333bhp/262 lb-ft) for its relatively small 3.2-liter engine that includes a long crankshaft capable of over 8000 RPM, a supreme-flowing cylinder head, six-throttle bodies, and infinite cam-timing through its double VANOS system.  And with basic bolt-on upgrades, one can easily take that power level to over 100 wheel horsepower per liter, as we’ve demonstrated in our own Project E46 M3 series, which almost equals the factory “bhp” rating with it's dyno-tested wheel-hp.  Remember, we’re talking no turbo here.

So what happens when you turbocharge one of these bad boys?  Well, you can pretty much go from the land of “fast”, right to the rolling hills of “stupid”.  HorsepowerFreaks (also known as “HPF”, and now sadly out of business) pretty much pioneered this around 2005, taking the tuning world by storm.  I was fortunate enough to experience two of their cars nearly 7 years ago, and both with crazy Azuka widebody kits, which HPF had brought down to Southern California from its Portland, OR headquarters, for me to drive for a magazine feature.

The two cars represented HPF’s Stage 2 and Stage 4 turbo kits.  With Stage 1, HPF retained the S54’s factory 11.5:1 compression, which was tuned to a modest 330 lb-ft of torque to the wheels at 6 PSI.  That may not sound like a lot, but considering the high-revving nature of the S54 motor, it meant that power maxed out to 450 WHP—not bad for stock compression and 91 octane on a stock 3.2-liter!  With 110-octane race fuel, however, that power figure rose to over 620 WHP, which is how I experienced that first car.  Frankly, it was awesome.  Even with a journal-bearing turbo, there was power all over the place, and with very little lag.  For a motor this size, that was unheard of at this power level back then, due to older turbo technology.

Stage 2, brought the power figure up to nearly 600 WHP with 91 octane and the addition of methanol injection.  This was a very popular upgrade stage, not only because it provided so much bang for your buck, but also because most drivers with anything more would literally kill themselves!

Stage 2.5 is where things got really fun with the addition of a fully-built motor, which beefed up the internals and lowered compression down to 9.5:1.  Using the same PT67 turbo, the package’s power rose to 630 WHP on pump/methanol, while racing gas provided numbers approaching 700 WHP.

Stage 3 used a Precision 74-mm turbo with a GTS turbine, and was rated at 780 WHP with pump and methanol injection.  And the crazy Stage 4 cars used a 76-mm turbo, making over 900 WHP.  I got to experience the latter with a detuned 800 WHP.  While didn't have all the ponies in the stable it still–with 345-mm wide tires, 4000 feet of altitude and 3 guys in the car–was causing the traction control light to flicker in every third-gear pull through redline.  My experience with these turbo M3s was featured in eurotuner Magazine, where I wrote it under an alias name I used to use, Paul Piola.

The white car you see here today was purchased by a good friend of mine, Chris, who also happens to be in the same line of full-time work as I am (we're both Directors of Tennis at different tennis club's here in the greater Kansas City area).  We both share a passion for cars and, more specifically, fast BMWs.

Chris previously had a B7 Audi RS4, which was rated at 414 BHP and tested 320 all-wheel HP on the dyno.  We took that figure to 361 AWHP with some basic bolt-ons, including downpipe-back exhaust, GruppeM intake, and software, and featured the test in european car Magazine.  The car was one of the best sounding cars I'd heard at the time (you can see a video of this on Page 7).  However, Chris was bit by the power bug, and wanted more (I don’t think his ride in our Project MKIV Toyota Supra helped matters).  So, he was left with either plunking down nearly several thousand dollars for a supercharger kit (we were looking at the APR unit at the time), or selling his car and picking up this E46 M3 turbo he'd found instead. 

Well, he’s got the M3, and hasn’t regretted it since.  In fact, it makes way more power than his Audi RS4 would have made with that supercharger.  But we’ll be discussing those power levels later.  Let’s first take a look at this sweet ride.


Even from the front, there is no indication of any heavy upgrades unless you spot the black intercooler.

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