S54 X3

BMW purists, avert your eyes. Things are about to get…unconventional.

Everyone has their own definition of what makes a car the ultimate sleeper. For some, it is a stock Mercedes station wagon that you wouldn’t have expected to be quick, let alone fast. For others, it’s a heavily modified Nissan Altima that will lap you around the track. I never truly understood the term until a Volvo V70 R flew past me on the interstate. After frantically searching online for a spec sheet, I learned that the Swedish station wagon was commanding 300 horsepower and a 6-speed—I wished my old VW wagon had that kind of setup. I remember thinking, “Wow, now that’s a sleeper. The Swedes have it figured out.” So did the BMW community, I’d soon come to realize.

Corey Dabler, seller of the S54-swapped X3, snaps a pic of his SAV fleet.

Prior to the twin-turbocharged mall crawlers of late, a fast minivan or wagon was, at least to me, the most unsuspecting, under-the-radar foundation for a crazy build you could find. Although we may have beefy SAVs pushing serious power numbers today, a seriously quick, unconventional SUV build will always get my attention, whether that be with the OEM power plant or without.

I already hear some of you—but wait! Just because we can swap out an engine, doesn’t mean we should. I hear you, loud and clear. You can make the argument that in some instances it is cheaper (and easier) to just put your time, money, and effort towards buying a complete, from-factory Bimmer that checks off most of your enthusiast boxes, forgetting about the swap altogether. But that’s no fun, is it? We live in an automotive age where the desire to be different is important to a lot of enthusiasts, and as a result, we’ve bore witness to the birth of a new era of mechanical ingenuity. While everyone has their own opinion, I like to be surprised every once in a while when someone pops the hood—and I certainly was when I saw this E83 X3.

The 130,000 mile X3 showed up on Facebook Marketplace this month, and the community was quick to take note of its existence. This first-generation X3, however, is no ordinary E83, despite what its plain silver exterior may imply. No—it’s an S54B32-powered all-wheel-drive grocery getter, with a three-pedal setup. From the classified ad it also appears that it was enthusiast-owned, as evidenced by the details in the listing description. The owner also claims that the S54 had recently undergone a vanos rebuild and benefited from a new set of rod bearings, while also possessing a fully functional sport mode, courtesy of an MSS54 ECU. Perhaps the most interesting facet of this build, however,  is the custom oil pump and pan setup, which is mated to a fuel system that has been coded in preparation for a future of forced induction. In other words, a future buyer could very well slap a turbo (or supercharger) on the 3.2-liter straight-six, mess around with a few tuning maps, and easily end up with an over 500 horsepower grocery-getter that screams to 8,000 rpm with that unmistakably raspy, high-pitched exhaust note that we’ve all come to know and love.

An interior shot of the proper three-pedal setup on this S54-powered E83.

But for many, the question still remains—why?

Why not though?

S54s have found themselves in everything from E46 Tourings to E36 M3s, and the community shows no signs of quashing this trend. Engine swaps are by no means new to most enthusiasts—the longroof community, among others,  have experimented with S62s, S55s, and everything in between—and it’s not likely end any time soon, either. With the current debate regarding the overuse of M badges on non-M models and subsequent, “dilution” of the M division, many enthusiasts have turned to making their own builds altogether, and I for one hope the creativity continues. Sometimes, we need a little dose of the extraordinary.—Malia Murphy

[Photos courtesy the seller.]



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