While it may just be a jumble of letters and numbers to some, to BMW enthusiasts in the know like Chris Leonida, a Z3 M with an S65 V8 is the most delicious kind of alphabet soup. Leonida, a management consultant (and avid BimmerLife reader) based across the pond in North London, enjoys modifying classic BMWs as a hobby. And while his V8-swapped E30 3 Series, E36 3 Series, E38 7 Series, or E46 3 Series are all proper enthusiast-spec cars, his 1998 Estoril Blue Z3 M is the one that caught BimmerLife’s attention.
Leonida has had his Z3 M for a whopping fourteen years. He laughs, “I was thinking it was ‘finished’ with the upgraded wheels, sound system, Recaro seats, exhaust, flywheel, differential and other modifications. Then two years ago I decided to swap in my favorite engine.” Originally equipped with the Euro-spec S50B32, the factory individual-throttle-bodied—unlike the S50 we received in the U.S.—3.2-liter six was removed in favor of an S65 4.0-liter V8 from an E90-series M3.
Not one to shy away from getting his hands dirty, Leonida did the work himself. “I did the swap from my ‘workshop’ at home with relatively basic equipment,” he says. He recalls his unfortunate inspiration for tackling such extensive automotive projects, saying, “This is the first swap I’ve undertaken myself. There was a turbo Ford Focus swap fifteen years ago that a (bad) tuner undertook for me. It was probably one of the motivations for me to teach myself to build cars.”
Leonida’s Instagram account (@old.skool.beaming) has acted as a build journal for his Z3 project and others. Scrolling through posts, you can see pistons laid out in preparation for engine assembly, much of the Z3’s front clip apart so that its frame rails could accept the larger S65 engine, and all of the metal fabrication necessary to mate the engine and chassis together. Despite all of that, Leonida says the most challenging part of swapping an E90-series M3’s V8 into a E36/7-series chassis was “the steering needed rework to navigate around the headers. This is especially tricky on the Z3 Vs an E36 / E46 S65 swap as they are wider vehicles.”
Projects like this take a village, so Leonida credits his brother Dino (who is V8 swapping his own E30), MAR Motorsport In Birmingham for their specialist advice, and Crest Automotive in Bournemouth for supplying the Schrick valve train components. When you’re building an S65 from the ground up, you can’t just use stock parts, right?
As for Leonida’s favorite part of the build, he says, “that’s a very hard question to answer. I feel each part has had a significant impact—the lightweight flywheel makes heel and toe an absolute pleasure. I can’t take my eyes off of the wheels or how low the car sits. The suspension takes care of body control and bumps so well and it feels so direct with immense feedback from both the front and rear ends. The Recaros are far, far more comfortable than the OEM seats.” Then he jokes, “And when the V8 is fully running, the sound will be a favorite item for sure.”
One great thing about enthusiasts like Leonida sharing their automotive passions via easily accessible social media, is that the rest of the world can follow along and share that passion. So, follow along with Leonida’s projects, see some unique BMWs, and feel free to reach out to him—I’m sure he’d love to chat about BMWs. —Mike Bevels
[Photos courtesy Chris Leonida.]