Not Your Mom’s Regular “grocery getter” – Joe’s E46 Wagon

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Almost two years ago, Jayson featured an immaculate S38B36-powered Diamond Schwartz E30 M3 from Joe Barrios’ BMW collection.  To refresh your memory, Joe has a garage, or better yet, his own man-cave equipped with a couple of lifts.  This man-cave houses two E30 M3s, a twin screw supercharged E36 S52B32-powered 332ti, an E31 850i being built for Bonneville, a 1974 2002tii stocker, an E46 332it wagon (featured here),a BMW G450X supermoto, and a 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth.

I know it may be every BMW enthusiast’s dream to have more than one bimmer, but Joe is no ordinary enthusiast.  He is the owner/operator of The M Shop in Eagle Rock.  The M Shop specializes in the service and performance of BMWs, Mini Coopers and Fiats.

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This time, we decided to feature Joe’s 2000 BMW E46 323it wagon.  Looking at it, one might ask if the vehicle is even modified beyond the lowered stance and the mesh wheels, but don’t judge a book by its cover.  If you ever see and hear this car on the street, it will definitely make you look twice. To understand, one has to know what’s going on underneath the skin of this wagon. We bring you Joe’s grocery getter!

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Around 2005, Joe was presented an offer he couldn’t refuse – a totaled 2002 E46 M3 with SMG sequential gearbox once owned by friend, Jon Caldito.  This particular M3 met its demise when it got sandwiched between a fwy center divider and a FedEx truck.  It was the perfect case scenario.  Both sides of the car were destroyed, but everything within the frame rails was untouched.  Joe didn’t hesitate and immediately paid the insurance company for the whole car.

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After about a month spent looking for a BMW he could drop the M3 drivetrain into, a customer of The M Shop informed Joe that she wanted to sell her Diamond Schwartz E46 323i wagon. Joe thought how cool and different it would be to have an M3 wagon as a daily driver.  The deal was made and the journey began.

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First, Joe was thinking of using a conventional manual 6-speed transmission that would have made this swap a slam dunk.  At the time, another BMW tuning company on the east coast had just completed an S54 swap in an E46 wagon with a conventional 6-speed transmission.  Joe thought he’d do it one better and transplant the whole drivetrain including the SMG transmission with complete SMG logic.  In order for this all to work seamlessly in the wagon, everything from the E46 M3 donor car had to be transferred, including front and rear subframes, LSD, suspension, brakes, complete body wire harness, engine harness, instrument cluster, ABS/DSC hydraulic pump, speed sensors, and yaw sensors.  Yes, folks!  The SMG transmission, ABS, and DSC traction control logic is all M3, and it all works just as it did in its original home.

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The cool thing about running the SMG transmission in the wagon is the automatic mode which becomes a blessing when fighting the L.A. traffic, but when the roads are clear, toggle the shifter to manual mode and you can bang through the gears via paddle shifters or shift knob.  “Kinda’ like a video game” as Joe describes.

Since the M3 donor car was equipped with many options, Joe went ahead and transferred over the factory navigation units, Harman Kardon sound system, Xenon headlights, IHKA automatic climate control, and M3 front seats.

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For added rigidity and to prevent front shock tower flex, the upper strut tower bar from the M3 was also transferred over.  Joe could have gone with an aftermarket strutbar but wanted the engine bay to look as factory as possible.

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Joe stated that around the time this swap took place, many BMW owners would have never thought to put Japanese parts on their German made cars.  Joe came from the ‘Old School’, right around the time when HKS was starting to bring their products into the US (mid/late 80s) and when his friends from HKS USA told him of the products they were importing for the E46 based BMWs, he was all over it.  Joe stated, “HKS is known for their quality and I had no doubt in my mind that their stuff would fit correctly and perform as claimed.  The Hypermax coilovers are perfect for the street and can be adjusted for weekend track duty if needed, and the Ti exhaust sounds perfect behind the E46 M3 euro headers and euro cats.”  Needless to say, Joe installed a 30-way adjustable HKS Hypermax coilover set and HKS Ti exhaust system.  As you read this, Joe is trying to get the vehicle BAR labeled so that smog inspections are not an issue.  Yes, all emissions control devices for the S54 engine are installed and working as designed.

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The wagon is currently sitting on HRE 3-piece mesh wheels – 19×9’s in the front, 19×10’s in the rear.  Wheels are wrapped with Continental Extreme DW tires.  Behind the front wheels sit Brembo 6 piston mono-blocks and 380 mm floating rotors.  Behind the rear wheels sit Brembo 4 piston calipers and 345mm floating rotors.  The stopping power of the Brembo’s is right on par with the 350 bhp that the S54 engine is putting out.

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Joe kept the exterior modifications simple but still unique to the wagon body style by adding a color-coded front M Tech bumper and M Tech splitters.

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Joe managed to complete this project over a 6-month period working on it off and on after work and on weekends in his backyard.  This swap isn’t for everyone and Joe states that he would probably not want to do another S54/SMG swap like this one anytime soon, but would definitely swap one with a conventional manual transmission anytime.  Joe has accomplished building a stylish, quick, fun, CA emissions legal daily driver M3 wagon that can get groceries like no other Bimmer wagon can.  Big ups to Joe!

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Until next time. Enjoy.

1 comment for “Not Your Mom’s Regular “grocery getter” – Joe’s E46 Wagon

  1. foolio
    July 17, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    Awesome, man…just awesome. I have a 2001 325xiT I have been thinking about converting to an s54 with SMG. It’s good to hear you can drop and swap the entire front and rear subframe (I of course would lose the 4wd but that’s cool). One of my main hold backs is that it is a cherry wagon. I hate to mess with it. That and I bought it for a daily driver and winter duty. My other car is an e92 M3. The wagon is supposed to be my sensible, gets good gas mileage, daily, winter car. We’ll see.

    Anywho, sick car.

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