Corvette Powered: 1991 BMW 318is

While BMW’s classic E30 3-Series platform is a competent performer right out of the box with its silky inline-six powerplant, many enthusiasts have sought better performance while preserving the classic shape. The most popular swap tends to be the larger inline-sixes taken from the later E36 M3 cars, which at least keeps it in the family. However, the grandaddy of engine swaps is the venerable LS1 V8 that turns the light E30 chassis into a monster. This example comes with the complete Sikky swap kit installed, one of the foremost engineers in the art of modern-day engine swaps and fabrication. Find the 1991 BMW 318is here on eBay with the reserve unmet.

Bidding has risen to $12,400, which is well shy of what the seller contends the owner prior to himself had invested before waving the white flag on the project. The listing claims the previous owner embarked on the LS1 swap to the tune of $26,000 before conceding he didn’t have the funds to finish the job. It’s hard to fathom spending that money on one aspect of a vehicle’s restoration, but I’m guessing the current owner has far less money in the swap than the previous caretaker. It had to have been a case of a shop performing all of the labor, as I find it hard to believe parts prices alone come out to nearly $30K – there are enthusiasts doing this swap in their garage over a few weekends.

Regardless, the swap is complete and said to run extremely well. The seller did not stop the big money spending, as they embarked on a windows-out respray, new interior, new wheels / tires, and numerous upgrade parts from Sikky. The interior looks to be in fine shape, and as it was originally a 318is, it would have been equipped with the preferred sport bucket seats, three spoke steering wheel, and most likely perforated vinyl surfaces. This example has been re-trimmed with a fresh upholstery kit and benefits from a European-market three-spoke steering wheel. The swap also included the Tremec T56 manual transmission, and the seller notes the drivetrain has 78,000 miles.

Looks like it belong there, doesn’t it? Headers, short-throw shifter, coilover suspension, Sikky Hydro-Booster kit, custom exhaust, balanced driveshaft – the list of enhancements goes on and on. The seller and the previous owner clearly spared very little expense in creating this high-performance E30, which would certainly dust most recent M3s with ease. While you may not call it a sleeper, I would – as there are loads of E30s running around with aftermarket wheels and suspension, but very few with this kind of horsepower. I’d dial back the wheel and tire setup a bit further to enhance the discreteness, but it’s hard to fault the level of work done otherwise.

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  1. Steve R

    This is a very common swap among drifters. Of course, those cars were built for considerably less and are often beat to death.

    Steve R

  2. Wolfgang Gullich

    So, I love the idea of an LS swap into an E30, they should have chosen a variant that was not rare or sought after.

    The 318is was one year only for the US and is known as the poor man’s M3. The drivetrain from the trans back was M3, as was the suspension and interior. The engine was also mostly M3, known as the M42, the only substantive difference between it and the M3’s S14 was the head.

    So, IMO it’s kind of sad a fairly rare car was ‘ruined’ by an LS (Pro tip: Ford Barra I6 is way cooler than the LS)

    • djjerme

      I think you may be getting the 318’s mixed up.

      The 83-85 318 M10 powered cars were (from a drivetrain perspective) closer to the M3’s. The S14 block is based off the M10 – well technically, the M88, which is shared with the M30, which was an M10 with 2 cylinders stuck on the back (the head components are the same.) As well the M10 came with usually a Getrag 240 5 speed vs the M3’s G265 – again, closer to what was used behind M30’s.

      The 318is’ M42 was actually a new design (as was the single cam M40 version), probably having more in common with the M50 of the time. It used the same bolt pattern as the M20, M50 and most 24v since. The drivetrain behind it was similar to the 325is of the time. The only difference really being the weight balance of the lighter motor. You could order them in a purely stripper model to try and go lighter, but the body shell, wiring, interior, and everything else on the car was just the same as a 325i/is.

      So, ya, all the hype on them is purely been generated more recently and mostly based off BAT speculation. There’s a reason so many got 24v swaps to begin with.

      That being said, they are fun to drive and a little easier to live with than an S14 powered car (my buddy has both the Italian 320is and an M3 for comparison), but in stock form are not nearly as much fun as a proper 325is.

  3. local_sheriff

    As much as I like the hum of BMW’s sixes I got to love that 357 ls badge… such a subtle warning there’s something extra lurking under the hood

  4. Joe Haska

    I like this car allot ,and it looks like the next owner might get it, at a fairly reasonable price, for the amount and quality of the swap. I am not an expert on BMW’s so, I just have to assume, this somewhat of a rare model. Fact is, what is done is done, no going back, but it is well done. As for the expense to do it, I have no doubt the owner who contracted the work spent the money. Having a car built by a pro builder, is not for the faint of heart and the type and model of the car dosent have anything to do with it. This past year I bbought a 53 Ford F-100, that had beed in a So-Cal Hot Rod Shop, with reciepts adding up to 50K. Was it worth, I would say yes for me, no for the seller. I bought the truck for a 1/3 of his bill and still had to finish it. I knew ,I paid less than the parts bill, but would another 10 to 15K to finish it? Was it worth it? It should be done soon and I will know. My guess yes and no. A very nice truck ,but not cheap, and maybe worth a little more than I have in it. Maybe?

  5. Gaspumpchas

    Beautiful job, nice craftsmanship, and there’s no doubt that the guy spent 26 large before he pulled the plug, especially if he was paying someone by the hour to build. Imagine going to a BMW show full of purists and roasting the hides….oh yeah a fine moment for a sleeper! Stay safe.

  6. CCFisher

    This was a four cylinder right out of the box, and as Wolfgang noted, a desirable one. Let’s not be too hard on the builder, though, as we do not know what state the original drivetrain was in when the swap was performed.

  7. Jon

    Seller wants 25k. Would cost much less to create if you are capable in terms of $$. In terms of time… another story. Seems like pre-covid price to me.

  8. Poppapork

    Ok so whats the weight difference between the stock engine and this? I mean it looks like 3/4 of the engine is ahead of the strut towers. Might be a fun burnout machine but i dont see this carving corners. Hope the diff is up to par

  9. Troy s

    I have No knowledge of Beemer’s outside of what I’ve seen on the road, however, once I heard the Corvette engine growling out of this it would be all thumbs up. Nice machine both performance wise and in looks….I say why not build it outside of the expense.
    You just never know anymore what lurks beneath some hoods, like this one.

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