With 610bhp from its twin-turbo N54, this E46 is an absolute performance beast, not that you’d ever be able to tell…
Over the years we’ve seen so many different E46s that trying to take them all in would be enough to scramble your brain. Both the E46 and PBMW launched in 1998, which means that both mag and car have co-existed for nearly two decades, which means that over 218 issues of PBMW there will not be more than a handful which haven’t featured a modified E46 of some sort, and many which have featured a couple. As a rough guess we could be looking at maybe 300 different iterations of E46 featured in PBMW over the past 19 years, no two the same, which is kind of incredible. But, and we say this with a degree of confidence, we don’t believe we’ve ever featured an E46 quite like this one before, that being an E46 with a twin-turbo N54-swap.
It is, whichever way you look at it, an incredibly appealing proposition; the performance and tuning potential of one of BMW’s greatest-ever engines wrapped up in one of its best-ever cars. While the E9x family is great, the E46 is that little bit smaller, lighter and more involving, a little less crowded by technology, a little simpler, and undoubtedly one of BMW’s finest hours. We, and the vast majority of you out there, have a lot of time for the E46 and this swap really brings together two absolutely fantastic components in a match truly made in heaven.
The man behind the car we’re looking at here is Maxim Rakut; if that distinctive name rings a bell to regular readers that’s because he’s been here before. We saw him in the April 2015 issue with his 535whp turbo E24 and, before that, in the October 2014 edition with an M62-swapped E24, but while those two were awesome builds, this is probably the one with the greatest all-round appeal and the one that really gets our juices flowing.
Maxim is clearly no stranger to BMWs or modifying them because this is no casual undertaking. He’s been into cars ever since school, he says, and after finishing his education he set up his own small car repair shop. These days you will find him running IXT Workshop in his native Latvia, which caters specifically for BMWs, both maintaining and modifying them. He himself has worked his way through a wide selection of Bavarian metal, mainly focussing on the classics, having enjoyed the company of E30s, E28s and E21s over the years, and has spent many of his adult years modifying them. IXT Workshop has been responsible for countless projects including turbo E30s, V8-swapped E36s and E46s, the conversions including official approval to enable them to be driven on the streets of Latvia, which tells you a lot about the quality of the work.
The car you’re looking at here started out life as an M52-equipped 328Ci, which Maxim picked up from Italy back in 2007 and for the first two years of ownership he used it as it was, as a completely stock daily, and honestly we’re surprised it stayed standard for that long. When the mods did come, they came thick and fast, which we’re a lot less surprised by. “It all started with the wheels,” he says, “a set of 18” Alpina Classics, the same wheels that are on the car now, as proper rims work wonders for a car’s appeal, and Bilstein coilovers. The engine was stock so I installed a straight-through exhaust, E46 M3 tubular exhaust manifolds and remapped the ECU. As the regular E46s didn’t come with a diff I also installed the LSD and final drive from an M3 and after that I finally understood that the M52 was not the way to go, so I decided to set a new destination and build a hybrid of E92 335i and E46. This was in 2013,” he continues, “and I would never have imagined that it would take us three years to finish it completely. Okay, the N54 I bought didn’t come with everything I needed and I had to order many parts, but still it was a long journey…”
What you might not realise is that this wasn’t just about the engine swap, which itself was a massive undertaking. Maxim and his team have carried across a lot more than just the N54 from their E92 donor car to the E46, as you’re about to discover… “It all started with wiring from the E92,” Maxim explains, “we had to integrate it to make sure the airbags would work, windows opened and that the climate control from the E92 would work in the E46. All the temperature monitors and servos have been integrated into the E46 climate body. The heater’s rheostat has been placed above the glovebox, which resulted in a rearrangement of electronic relays; the fusebox is behind the glovebox now, the FRM and CAS are below a panel on the left side, the key lock has been cut into the panel on the right side of the steering column (taken from an E90) and the Start-Stop button found its place above the key lock. The SZL module itself is from an E90 but the steering wheel is still the E46 one. The left side of the multi-function controls are still connected to the audio system through iBus, while the right side operates the cruise control functions through a custom microprocessor. To initialise the audio system, it had to be modified with part of the comfort relay from the E46, as otherwise it was impossible to make it work in the E90 environment, and the car thinks it is an E90 now,” he grins.
“The light switch and climate panel frames are custom made on a CNC machine, to make sure they will look like they’ve been fitted from the factory,” Maxim continues. “E90 instruments were modified to fit and installed into the binnacle, the door mirrors are from a 1 Series, wired up through a LIN interface bus. To make sure you can control them, the original switch received eight microswitches that, through 16 wires, forward commands to an E92 mirror control board. The windows are controlled through two microprocessors that transfer E46 button signals to an E92 control board. The rear quarter-lights also have two microprocessors, allowing you to fully open or fully close them by pushing the button once. DSC, central locking and hazard light buttons were also adapted to the E92 electronics. The airbag system consists of E92 sensors and pyro shells from the E46 while the fuel pump is still in the fuel tank, but its controlling unit is beneath the right rear wing cover,” explains Maxim. That is an absolutely insane amount of work and effort that he and the IXT Workshop team have gone to for this swap and you can instantly see just why this project took three years to complete. What you have to remember is that all that was just to get everything working and we haven’t even touched on the mods that have been carried out on top of the swap, and there’s an awful lot of those.
Let’s kick things off with the engine, because that’s what this project was all about and what all that work was in aid of. Initially, Maxim ran the N54 with some mild mods, which is enough to give the engine a significant boost in performance thanks to how well it responds to upgrades. But, when you have an engine with so much potential, it’s impossible to resist seeing just how much of that you can tap into, and the spec is now pretty formidable. The biggest change is the addition of a pair of Vargas GC Lite turbochargers and these ferocious hybrids are capable of producing up to 700whp with the right selection of supporting mods. Maxim has mated these to a pair of high-flow air intakes and a Vargas silicone charge pipe, which has been modified to fit in the E46’s engine bay. Up front there’s a Wagner Motorsport intercooler along with a larger oil cooler and the fuelling has also received some pretty substantial mods. There’s a Vargas Double-Barrel Shotgun kit, which adds a second high-pressure fuel pump to the system, and twin AEM 640lph low-pressure fuel pumps. What’s perhaps most interesting is that while you would likely expect the car to be running some sort of aftermarket management setup, Maxim has retained the stock ECU and has instead had a custom map uploaded to it by Speedmotors. The result of all that under-bonnet fettling is a heady 610hp at 1.7bar of boost, accompanied by 592lb ft of torque, which makes this one outrageously quick E46.
The transmission has been bolstered throughout and the gearbox itself is actually from an E60 530i, mated to a custom 7kg flywheel, with the addition of an E63 650i clutch and Z4 M shifter. An E46 320d prop shaft sends power to the aforementioned E46 M3 LSD at the back, with an E92 M3 final drive ratio of 3.15. Meanwhile the chassis has also received a raft of modifications, as the standard setup just wouldn’t have been able to cope otherwise. On the suspension front, Maxim has fitted a set of HSD coilovers, which offer plenty of adjustment and a tasty drop while the brakes have been seriously beefed-up all-round. At the front you’ll find a sext of six-pot M Performance calipers wrapped around M3 CSL discs while at the back sit Porsche 996 911 calipers and another set of CSL discs.
As far as appearance is concerned, both inside and out, Maxim has kept things looking pretty stock throughout, which gives this E46 even more sleeper appeal. On the outside, it wears its standard SE styling, with just an additional front bumper lip adding a touch more aggression while at the rear sits a CSL-style boot lid, but beyond that it’s business as usual. Inside, meanwhile, aside from the numerous E90 additions, the audio has been upgraded with the addition of a pair of Mystery free-air subs, though you’ll only see them if Maxim wants you to, as they are hidden behind the folding rear seats.
This E46 is an absolutely magnificent build and one which delivers an incredible amount of appeal. Bringing E46 and N54 together was an inspired decision and it has resulted in an absolutely sensational car, packing some serious power and, while this was not an easy build by any stretch of the imagination, it was undoubtedly worth all of the time and effort that Maxim and the IXT team put into it. Maxim has built perhaps the ultimate E46, one that he’s definitely going to have a great time with, and one hell of a sleeper.
3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six N54B30, Vargas GC Lite turbochargers, modified Vargas silicone charge pipe, high-flow air intakes, custom 76mm intake pipe, Wagner Motorsport intercooler, Komak blow-off valve, larger oil cooler with bypass in place of thermostat, 2x 90mm downpipes, straight-through Scorpion exhaust system with twin 63mm resonators, Vargas Double-Barrel Shotgun kit, AEM twin 640lph low-pressure fuel pump setup with 80amp relay, AEM low pressure fuel regulator with custom spring, AEM high-flow fuel filter, 12mm Teflon fuel linings, stock ECU with custom Speedmotors software, E85 fuel POWER AND TORQUE 610hp and 592lb ft @ 1.7bar.
E60 530i six-speed manual gearbox, custom 7kg flywheel, E63 650i clutch, Z4 M shift kit, E46 320d prop shaft, E46 M3 LSD with E92 M3 3.15 diff ratio.
8.5×18” (front) and 9.5×18” (rear) Alpina Classic wheels with 215/35 (front) and 245/30 (rear) Falken Azenis tyres, HSD coilovers, F10 brake master cylinder, BMW M Performance E90 six-pot calipers and E46 M3 CSL discs (front), Porsche 996 911 calipers and E46 M3 CSL discs (rear) EXTERIOR Front lip, E87 1 Series door mirrors, LCI LED rear lights, CSL-style boot lid.
E90 headlight switch, E90 dials, E90 HVAC controls, E90 Start-Stop button, carbon fibre trim, twin Mystery free-air subs.
This feature was taken from Performance BMW magazine. Words by: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos by: Deniss Podnebess