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Anatomy of the Perfect SCCA Conversion

Invest $75,000 into a BMW 328i over the course of two years and you could end up with a brutal track beast that refuses to finish lower than the podium. We chronicle the trials and tribulations of a winning build.

2000 BMW E46 SCCA Improved Touring

When Anthony Serra was ready to resurrect his racing career after a seven-year hiatus, he wasn’t going to skimp on a new chariot. No stranger to the podium, with a decade-long stint as a club and pro driver in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, Serra could’ve called any number of tuners, builders or sellers to find choice wheels. Yet he turned to AutoTechnic Racing, a modest division of an independent repair facility in New Milford, Connecticut. Serra delivered a 2000 E46. Two years later, AutoTechnic delivered him a world-class racecar that won the first time it hit tarmac. Here’s the genesis of Anthony Serra’s dream car.

Exterior Exterior Exterior Exterior

Exterior

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Participating in the SCCA-backed Pro ITR (Improved Touring) series brings a host of modification regulations, per the thick General Competition Rules handbook. “For this class, you can only run a stock chassis with a stock motor,” Scott says. “Your max compression can only be 10.7:1, and you can’t get super crazy with the engine and drivetrain.” Serra, who won the SCCA NARRC and NERRC ITA championships two years in a row, was well acquainted with the rulebook, so he and Scott would bounce ideas off each other—all with a mindful eye on ensuring the car was fully compliant.  

 

Scott started by stripping the car down to the frame. Setting aside the motor, transmission and drivetrain, the sound deadening was cut out along with the dashboard. Out came the front and rear subframes, which were treated to a fresh powdercoating. “When you’re dealing with a 15-year-old car, you have to do that kind of thing,” Scott says. “Once we had it down to the bare shell, we shipped it to Precision Motorsports in Massachusetts for the roll-cage fabrication, since we don’t do that in-house.” Precision also painted the engine bay and the interior.

Powertrain Powertrain Powertrain Powertrain

Powertrain

“The engine bill adds up quick. It’s not long before you’re at $15,000, especially when you’re custom machining some pieces, like the pistons.”

 

The motor was next, a 2.8-liter inline-six with 120,000 miles on it. “We tore it apart until we were left with the block, the crank and the head, minus the springs and valves,” says Scott. The block was rebored and zinc coated, and new pistons were installed, along with a new water pump, seals, bearings, valves, retainers and a BimmerWorld oil pan baffle. “The engine bill adds up quick,” Scott shares. “It’s not long before you’re at $15,000, especially when you’re custom machining some pieces, like the pistons.”

 

While there’s no price limit for engine tweaks, you can’t stroke the motor, you can’t overbore past the stipulated compression ratio, and you can’t go too far into the custom fabrication realm to the point where the parts don’t still resemble stock components. “Our pistons had to emulate the original ones,” Scott says. Intakes are fine, so long as they’re not a ram air or a throttle body. Cold-air intakes are also allowed, so they dropped in an AFE E46 air filter. “The engine took three months to assemble, coming together piecemeal over the winter,” Scott says. “It can take a while to [receive] parts.

 

Serra acknowledges that the trade off for properly sourcing and building an engine in this manner is speed. “That’s a big challenge—trying to get everything you want in a timely fashion,” Serra acknowledges. “Anything custom is going to take forever. We’d say we’re going to start the headers now, and we were still working on them two weeks later.” By this point, Serra was popping into the garage with Scott at least once a week. “He’d bring us parts, and when he had ideas, we’d figure out a way to make them work,” Scott recalls.

Suspension Suspension Suspension

Suspension

With the engine squared away and the frame back from the cage fabricator, it was time to install the exhaust. Exhaust system options are unrestricted, so they ran a Kromer Kraft stainless race number with ceramic-coated headers into dual mufflers, Borla and Magnaflow units, which Serra loved. “It sounds incredible,” he says. Serra left the design on that setup to Scott, who utilized this system because it’s smaller, allowing it to fit more in the middle of the car. The dual mufflers also allow the decibel levels to be low enough for club days at certain tracks with noise restrictions. Serra did spec his own suspension, because he knew exactly how he wanted the car to absorb the shocks. In went MCS dual adjustable shocks and a Ground Control adjustable front sway bar with adjustable end-links.

 

When it was time to remount the rear subframe—the factory mounts are pretty weak and not suitable for the demands of racing—Scott opted for Turner Motorsport subframe reinforcement weld-in plates. “That took a fair amount of time to install properly,” Scott laughs. Not all mounts can be reinforced, however. “We couldn’t use solid engine mounts, so we had to use stock rubber mounts to keep it fair and legal,” he says.

 

"Serra’s prior experience with the Acura was a huge benefit. He’d show where we could snip bolts sticking out past a nut, or what plastic parts could instead be machined out of aluminum."

Interior Interior Interior Interior

Interior

An ongoing consideration was weight. The curb weight on the E46 is 3,197 lbs, and the weight for the class is 2,900 lbs, including the driver. “We looked to trim anything we didn’t need,” Scott says, noting that Serra’s prior experience with the Acura was a huge benefit here. “He’d show where we could snip bolts sticking out past a nut, or what plastic parts could instead be machined out of aluminum, such as the tray in front of the firewall—little corners we could cut here and there.” The car was approaching its goal weight, but Serra wanted it even lighter. This meant defragging the wiring harness. “You’d be shocked how much wiring weight a car possesses,” Serra says. A custom wiring harness was designed and immediately presented a whole new set of challenges.

 

They’d chosen a MoTeC m130 ECU with an LTC-D NTK wideband controller as the CPU to run the motor. With a list price close to $8,000, it’s not a cheap piece of hardware, though the high cost reflects its true power: unlimited tuning abilities. The AIM MXL2 Dash Data Logger display rang in around $2,000, and then it came time to make all these high-end components flawlessly integrate with one another. “That was the hardest part of the build,” Serra recounts.

 

“We had a wiring harness based off the stock wiring harness, which meant all the plugs we weren’t using had to be trimmed out. That took a week,” Scott says. “Then we had to run everything through the stock fuse box and the stock wiring while integrating our MoTeC unit. It took a while to get everything flowing right.”

 

They finalized the wiring harness and ferried it to German Performance Service in Massachusetts for a week of tuning on the dyno. They made a fuel map and ignition map, honed the air mix ratios and declared it finished this past May. When all was said and done, the E46 barely cracked 2,600 lbs, without a driver. The power plant’s power is a bit of a secret, but Scott points out “it’s pretty much a brand-new BMW E46. It’s one of the best ITRs in the country.”

Details Details Details Details

Details

"It’s pretty much a brand-new BMW E46. It’s one of the best ITRs in the country.”

 

Serra couldn’t have been happier: “Right out of the box it was fantastic.” It has flawlessly competed on eight tracks in the Northeast, and Serra plans to campaign it in Florida over the winter. Getting used to a rear-wheel drive after a career spent piloting front-wheel drives has taken a little practice, but Serra’s only about a second off pace. “I achieved all my dreams. I won the first weekend out, and the worst finish I’ve had all season was third,” he beams. Scott can tell his client is happy “because he keeps it in his own garage. Usually, we take care for our customers’ cars, but Anthony doesn’t want to let this one out of his sight,” Scott laughs.

 

Serra’s still tinkering, though. “We’re working on a front air dam for next year. It’s allowed so long as it contours to the factory line,” he says. “The splitter has to match the bumper line, which is a little difficult, but I’m going to make a mold, send it to a fiberglass fabricator and have it added and trimmed.”  

 

Ask Serra for advice on entering into SCCA racing and he immediately suggests test-driving a ride. “Go to the regional races, find a classic you like and rent it. You can always buy a racecar for less than building one, but it won’t be as nice,” he says. “It’s not cheap and it’s not quick, but if you have a professional build your dream car, you won’t be disappointed. This car is the best.”  

Extras Extras Extras Extras

Extras

2000 BMW 328i Spec List 

 

Interior:

  • AIM MXL2 Dash Data Logger
  • MOMO steering wheel
  • NRG Quick release
  • RaceTech RT40009 seat
  • VAC floor adapter plates to mount seat
  • OEM E46 CSL radio delete panel
  • VAC aluminum floor pan
  • OEM ZHP shift knob
  • 3M carbon-fiber textured vinyl covering OE wood trim
  • Racing Electronics radio box

 

Engine:

  • Heat-reflective gold foil on intake
  • AFE E46 air filter kit
  • AeroMotive fuel pressure regulator
  • -6AN fuel line with Russel AN quick-connect adapters to easily adapt to stock aluminum fuel tubing left in place because it is already very lightweight
  • MoTeC m130 ECU with LTC-D NTK wideband controller, oil temp sensor, coolant pressure sensor, oil pressure, fuel pressure, water temperature, steering angle, GPS speed, lateral and longitudinal sensors
  • E46M3 oil filter housing
  • Turner Motorsports AN adapter plate for remote oil cooler
  • Setrab 16-row oil cooler with -10 AN lines
  • Turner PowerPulley underdrive pulley kit
  • BimmerWorld oil pan baffle
  • Custom catch can with -8 AN line
  • Turner Motorsport subframe reinforcement weld-in plates

Chassis

  • Turner Motorsport brake ducting kit
  • AEROCATCH hood pins
  • FireSense fire extinguisher system
  • Dual in-tank fuel pumps to help with fuel starvation while still using the stock fuel tank for better center of gravity
  • BimmerWorld rear subframe bushings
  • Turner Motorsport steering rack stops to limit steering lock and protect brake ducting
  • Tilton Brake bias lever to adjust front to rear brake pressure
  • Ground Control E46 bushing and mount kit, including front control arm bushings, rear trailing arm bushings, front outer lower ball joints, front racing camber caster adjustment plates, rear upper and lower solid inner ball joints
  • Steel braided brake lines
  • Performance Friction 11 compound brake pads

Suspension

  • MCS dual adjustable shocks
  • Ground Control adjustable front sway bar with adjustable end links

Exhaust

  • Kromer Kraft stainless race exhaust with ceramic-coated headers
  • Dual muffled Borla and Magnaflow mufflers

Wheels/Tires

  • APEX Racing ARC -8 wheels
  • 17x8.5 et40
  • Turner Motorsports 17.5mm wheel adapters
  • BimmerWorld Bullnose wheel studs
  • Hoosier R7 245/40/17
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