Engine Swaps

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This is our run-down of all the common engine swaps you can do with your E30. At the moment we're only listing swaps that use BMW engines, but there's nothing to stop you from fitting any engine you like to your E30. Nothing except time, skill and money, of course.

We've paired up the Swaps to the Technical info for each engine; that way you can read up on all the tech specs of the engines to help you make your choice. For a review of the pros and cons, have a look at our comparison table.

The Standard Engine swaps are the easiest; parts are common, and the E30 was designed to have this engines fitted from the factory so, on the whole, they drop straight in. In contrast the Motorsport engines are the real hero swaps; some serious fabrication will be required, as well as a big fat wallet to cover the parts you need.

And remember, you'll need other upgrades to help you make use of all that power. Make plans for changes to your Brakes and Suspension to keep your improved chariot on the tarmac.

If you get stuck along the way, the Zone will always help.

The Swaps

Standard Engines
M20 info Swap me! M42 info Swap me!
Other BMW Engines
M30 info Swap me! M50/M52 info Swap me!
M60/M62 info Swap me!
Motorsport Engines
S50/S54 info Swap me! S62 Swap me!

Making Your Choice

It's important to know why you're swapping the engine in your E30 before you spend a single penny on the project. Engine swaps can quickly spiral out of control, and it all starts with being offered a cheap engine from a friend of a friend. Before you know it, you've spent thousands and you've got two engines, a broken car and nothing to show for it. So let's sort out the reasons of an engine swap before you get in over your head.

The reasons for doing a swap are plenty. The most common ones are Repair, Economy and Performance. However, these are counterbalanced by Skill, Parts and of course Money. With enough money you can do anything you want, but for most of us mere mortals money is limited, so we have to reign in our dreams and be a bit more reasonable.

So here's a handy table to help you weigh up the pro's and con's of each swap:

Swap Positives Negatives
M20
  • Easy parts availability
  • Cheapest hp per pound
  • Very quick installation
  • Very simple swap
  • Very thirsty engine
  • Donor parts are now 20+ years old
  • Still relatively slow by modern standards
  • Very expensive for young drivers
M30
  • Easy parts availability
  • Very cheap parts
  • Torque that could terraform worlds
  • Lots of documents technology
  • Dinosaur technology
  • Donor parts are now 20+ years old
  • Very heavy compared to newer engines
M42
  • Quick installation
  • Simple swap
  • No increase in engine capacity if upgrading from M10 or M40 engines, translates to low insurance
  • Modest performance boost
M5x
  • Significantly increased torque
  • Cheap engines
  • Improved fuel economy
  • Better parts availability due to younger engine age
  • Relatively expensive installation costs
  • Requires welding skills or expensive third-party parts
M6x
  • Hero levels of performance
  • Relatively low parts cost
  • Large fabrication skills needed
  • Requires interior to be largely stripped
  • Significant number of custom-made components
  • Terrible fuel economy