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Thread: DIY : Engine Rebuilds (Speciofically BMW S54)

  1. #1
    Registered User AndyMac's Avatar
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    DIY : Engine Rebuilds (Speciofically BMW S54)

    So I'm going to attempt to rebuild my own engine for the first time.

    Interested in any stories from people who have just said "fuck it" and rebuilt their own engine. I'm doing it for self interest, and to try and keep costs down (yes, if I fuck up I'm aware I could be up for ALOT more...)

    Engine/Car history.

    *Car was bought as a cheap E46 M3 - 230,000km. Came with books and serviced by BMW till about 220,000km.
    *Car was always intended to be tracked and leaned on.
    *It's been overheated a few times in search of a better lap time.
    *Performance wise, it's never missed a beat... Reliable enough to come away from all track days with a PB, clocked a 1.10.9 at Wakefield last time out - so it's still got power there.
    *Now has 245,000km & about 12-14 track days on it since I've owned it.

    Decided it was time to do a compression test, I noticed some water marks in the engine bay, suggesting coolant had been pushed out of the expansion reservoir.

    Coolant gas check from the same reservoir came back negative.

    Compression test (cold... just forgot to warm it up) was 105/105/147/150/149/149 (ideally they should be around 175 - on a warmed engine)
    -crack in head gasket between Cyl1 & 2 obviously.

    So : Plan is :
    -Redo compression test on a warm engine
    -If it comps up to 170ish & within variance tolerance to each good cylinder...
    *Have head machined & serviced, new head gasket, new rod bearings and bolts, new main bearings, new timing chain & guides, new water pump, new water hoses, sensors.

    Just curious if anyone else has had a crack at building their own engine, regrated it ? Or actually got something out of it.

    Ps. I have access to a few mechanic mates, so the tech help and specialist tools are there when I need them, but remember.... Doing this mainly for the experience.

    Yes... Pro BMW technical stuff and this and just pay a workshop... No...
    Panzer Wagen

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  2. #2
    Registered User Staples's Avatar
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    I've built so many of my own engines. Once you have done this one you will look back and wonder wtf you were worried about. Best thing I did was get friendly with a machine shop. I used them for the machining along the way and then I just used to ask them stupid questions whenever they popped up in my head.

    Manuals are good, you need good reference materials. Also when it's all said and done you doubt yourself at every oil drop and bit of smoke and waiting for oil pressure to get up first start etc etc. Take your time. Know what you are doing ie follow the manual. That's an enthusiast car so there should be loads of info out there. Clearances for bearings and piston ring gaps are all out there. Follow your manual and go for it.

    You can download engine build sheets so when you do it measure everything and write it down. It gives you a reference for later.

    Wait till you get to breaking in the new engine. How to run in an engine. Everyone has an opinion. They all contradict each other. I've done the cheapest dirtiest rebuild known to man and broken it in by doing a big 11 down my street and a track day a week later and it was fine and still is to this day.

    Few problems you are bound to come up against.

    Measuring tools are expensive. I borrowed them from friends the first two times I built engines.

    The piston ring compressor to suit your bore instead of the adjustable ones are worth their weight in gold.

    Its way easier putting it together with someone helping.

    You really need a clean place to build it and lots of table or bench space.


    Sorry I know nothing about bmws. Pity you are not in wa. That machine shop that helps me had a guy working there that used to answer my questions. Raced an e30 full bmw nut would be really helpful at this point in time.
    Last edited by Staples; 09-04-19 at 11:47 AM.

  3. #3
    Registered User AndyMac's Avatar
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    Oh cool.

    Yeap... All measuring tools available. I'll invest in some myself though as well.

    Machine Shop is one thing which I really need. Not sure if I need to buy into the hype of a machine shop with a good rep, or "you must only goto a shop that knows BMW engines, as anyone else will fuck it up"

    Again, few mates are into drags and will be able to get some feedback on the machine shops available around here.
    Panzer Wagen

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  4. #4
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    all of this^^^

    Its been fucking years, and I was only doing L series dattos and Kents and an RB out of a patrol, but non of the engines I built blew up.

    Agreed you need a heap of space.

    Take plenty of pics to. Right from the start.
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  5. #5
    Registered User dave1600's Avatar
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    I bought my first car as an 17yo, and promptly blew it up a few months later (Datsun 1600). Didn't have money to pay for engine rebuild. Bought a Gregorys manual, borrowed dad's tools, pulled it out and rebuilt it. Worked fine, I enjoyed doing it and have built many since.


    Quote Originally Posted by AndyMac View Post
    Not sure if I need to buy into the hype of a machine shop with a good rep, or "you must only goto a shop that knows BMW engines, as anyone else will fuck it up"
    Nah, if you're doing most of the work yourself, the machine shop will only be doing general machine work (boring cylinders, machining valve seats, decking block, grindgin crank, head, etc). No difference between doing that work on my old Datsun engine or your fancy BMW engine. Pick one that you're happy with - its always good to find one that is happy to do stuff like measure up your bits for you to determine what you will need, on the understanding they'll get the job oce you have bought all the bits (tip - measure up, buy pistons, bearings in the sizes you need, then take it all to the machine shop along with details like clearances for them to do their bit)
    Last edited by dave1600; 09-04-19 at 04:03 PM.

  6. #6
    Registered User Daisy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AndyMac View Post
    Not sure if I need to buy into the hype of a machine shop with a good rep, or "you must only goto a shop that knows BMW engines, as anyone else will fuck it up".
    The previous owner always took my 36 to a workshop that specialised in BMW. They still managed to completely fuck it up - and sent him the bill for fixing said fuckup.
    Just find a good machine shop, no matter what their specialty is.


    And what Dave said. ^^
    Last edited by Daisy; 09-04-19 at 03:23 PM.

  7. #7
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    Building an engine of some kind is a right of passage for a car guy I reckon.

    I've built 2 engines and had good success.

    Extremely rewarding.

  8. #8
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    S54 isn't the ideal engine for a first-timer rebuild but don't let that scare you off.

    They do require a few special tools but you can make or improvise alternatives.

    Make sure you do a lot of research on Vanos system and do a full rebuild. Buy this guys kit and follow instructions: http://www.beisansystems.com/procedu...anos_procedure

    Oh and it will need crank and big end bearings.
    Last edited by katokid; 11-04-19 at 09:01 AM.

  9. #9
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    Go for it, it ain't rocket science

    From your list I see no mention of bores/pistons, in that case I would not remove the pistons from the bores. You may contemplate a bearing roll, removing each main bearing one at a time without removing the crank from the engine. Look it up on Youtube.
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  10. #10
    Purist, whats that? Jason Broadhurst's Avatar
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    It does feel good once it's all together and started up making all the right noises.

    Go for it, and take plenty of photos during removal of odd bits and the arrangement of springs, washers and spacers.
    Jason Broadhurst

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    Half Shafted. Madhatr's Avatar
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    Biggest problem is going to be needing valve locking and alignment tools to refit everything timing chain and cam timing related. Theres no fancy block/bore coatings to worry about as the S54 is a iron block, but the bore spacings are pretty tight if you have any issue with roundness, especially since you think its gotten hot a couple times. There are companies that have been sleeving them though if you come across issues, you probably wont find another spare block in aus easily, so it'll probably be worth pulling it all down and measuring before you plan on doing anything first. You wont get more than maybe 10 thou over out of the block without sleeving as they really arent designed for it.

    Id be buying a 87mm torque plate for machining though, and if you are going to upgrade all the fasteners to arp stuff, especially the mains, id buy it all before machining so you can fit the mains and check to see if it needs line boring. Long engines and the added torque of the arp bolts can see some distortion through the caps as they are pretty narrow. Normally you can probably get away without torque plate on a cast block, but it's added peace of mind after its already been run hot and beat on. It'll need facing for sure, so all that combined is probably a good start for finding a good machine shop. If they arent asking questions about the condition of the block, line boring the mains, bolt upgrades, etc, then it's probably not the place to use.
    Last edited by Madhatr; 12-04-19 at 06:22 PM.

  12. #12
    Registered User AndyMac's Avatar
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    Thanks Madhatr - awesome post/feedback.

    I've managed to buy some good measuring tools (measuremax from Hare & Forbes), and the cam alignment and locking tool off eBay (https://www.ebay.com.au/itm/BMW-E46-...53.m2749.l2649).

    Hopefully the machine shop I'm using will have the torque plate, will confirm.

    Engines from the UK seem to be about $6k delivered... Food for thought
    Panzer Wagen

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  13. #13
    Half Shafted. Madhatr's Avatar
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    Ok. cool. That makes it a little easier if you have the timing/locking tools.

    Even if you arent comfortable building the engine, Id say go ahead and pull it down yourself and start cleaning up any parts/covers/etc you want to reuse. Just take photos as you go and grab yourself some plastic zip lock bags and some cardboard boxes and bag up things as you go and throw the bags into seperate boxes for each area of the motor. Example one box could be cylinder head, so it will have all your cam parts, followers valve gear, etc related parts bagged in it. Each bag belongs to a specific part or component you removed, each box is an area. Make sense? I used to just bag things up and throw it all in a box before I started working on amusement rides, now it makes even more sense to not only bag things up into specifics, but also to divide those bags up into areas or components too. Makes it easier to track down something missing, or to sort through only a dozen or so bags looking for fasteners, instead of a giant box full of everything (even through its labeled).

    Im pretty sure a torque plate from m50/m52 works as they normally have a greater bore than than what the motor actually has, so they can fit multiple models that share bolt spacings. Surely someone in the bmw community will have one, all those workshops out there. Otherwise, even VACC sell them for like $350, so they have to be out there somewhere cheaper than that.

    Is that 6k for a rebuilt bottom end or just another engine? If it's used, im pretty firm on believing in the devil you know. So if it came down to rebuilding what I have, vs buying another basically unknown proposition, ill always try to budget for sticking with what I've got. You know what you're in for.

    Id check with precision international for parts like bearing and ring packs before looking overseas too. They distribute king and glyco brand bearings, including the racing ones, along with elring stuff for vrs kits and even cometic gaskets. Some of the prices have been pretty good too.

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    only tips I would give are use a good machine shop who know their shit, get them to do the measuring and machine work on the crank/bearing/rod/piston clearances and balancing. Likely you will have to clearance rings yourself (time consuming so probably too expensive to pay the shop?).

    1000000000000% buy either a non-adjustable compressor set for the exact size piston you are installing or one of these in the right range;https://www.summitracing.com/int/par...4000/overview/

    I have used the adjustable one before and its great. Im sure the solid non adjustable are even better. You can press the pistons in with your fingers, this allows you to really 'feel' the rings slide into the bore. Someone not experienced can have a rings snap too easily with old school compressors and a hammer technique.

  15. #15
    Tyre Smoking Nobody Crash Dummy's Avatar
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    Hey Andy. As above. When you start stripping it, zip lock bags with very specific labelling. It might feel tedious while you're doing it but when you come back in a year or two (I'm deliberately pessmistic on this subject) time to put this all back together you'll be thankful you took extra care with bagging and labelling all the little parts.
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    Registered User AndyMac's Avatar
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    Yeap.

    So far I'm collecting bags and tubs with white/pink/yellow markers. Also collected a shit load of measuring devices.

    Setting up the shed and pulling the motor over the weekend.

    Idea is to measure it all up to max. tolerances - confirm it's usable. Have the crank micropolished, block and head skimmed and measure up bearings and head gaskets.

    On the head itself, what do I do ?
    *Send it stripped or with some hardware (valves/cams/springs)?
    *I assume skim is is just facing the head within tolerance, and service is skimming + checking all the springs, valve train and so forth.
    *I'm keen to use all the existing hardware, but refresh the seals and maybe springs (and the retainers).

    Hopefully I'll get to the stage of taking some photos of where the headgasket has failure over the weekend.

    Ps. Crash D, can't be 2 years! I've set a goal of having it back on the track, at the latest!, by Oct (this year).... but perfer to have it done by the start of August.
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    Registered User Staples's Avatar
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    Machine shop or cylinder head shop will most likely suggest valve job and skim. They usually dip it and it comes back looking and being as good as new. Valve job involves cutting the seats and the edge of the valves for a perfect seal and they also cut the top of the valve again to make it perfectly square. (The bit the lifter sits on) When they dip it they will clear out any crap in any oil galleries and replace guides as well. This makes sure that the valve stays square when it's being slammed closed and opened.

    They do that because carbon build up and just general crap getting in there can pit the valve seat when the valve is smashing about. Sometimes the guide can be worn meaning the valve wont close square or seal properly. This will all become super obvious once you take it apart. Skimming it makes the head surface perfectly flat again. The finish becomes really important if you use metal layered head gaskets. It needs to be really flat.

    I dont know the specifics of your engine so I could be a little off but that should help you understand it. Things like guides, bearings, valve seals, replacement valves if required etc etc I find it best to get the machine shop to supply. There is no reason you cant know everything there is to know about what's inside your engine but these guys do this shit every day. Starting out it's not so bad to let them do a bit more.

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    The unfortunate thing about this exercise is, that after all the time, effort and money that goes into it. The improvement will be barely noticeable. Yes the hot oil pressure is a smidge better than it was and the compression pressure a little higher and maybe you can convince yourself it is a little crisper but you'd be barely able to measure it.

    I've seen engines go back together where you could see light through the gap between valve and seat, with 2nd hand used bearings, a selection of used rings from random engines and you couldn't say it made any more or less power than a good one.
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  19. #19
    Registered User glenn's Avatar
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    Fuck all this shit makes Rotaries sound easy. Time to go back to a FD Andy!

  20. #20
    Registered User AndyMac's Avatar
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    So...

    Re-did the compression test on a warmed engine, with two different compression gauges (both Repco branded, from Repco).

    Test 1 : 105 / 105 / 155 / 155 / 140 / 140
    Test 2 : 120 / 120 / 175 / 175 / 160 / 160

    It's still showing the leak, and a distinctively different sound during the comp test of Cyl1 & Cyl2, compared to doing the test on the other cylinders. Interestingly it shows a fairly noticeable difference between 3&4 and 5&6 now.

    Does anyone know if that sort of pattern is consistent with anything? ie. Warped head? Or does it even swing an analysis back the other way and just say head gasket 100%.

    Thanks.

    -Got some more tools today. W&B torque wrench, cam lock and tools.
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  21. #21
    Half Shafted. Madhatr's Avatar
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    anything more than 20% is cause for concern normally, but on a performance engine, closer to 10% really. So even a small change in calibration between those two gauges, the gaps are still basically the same with 1,2 as 40-45psi is a big jump. Difference between 3,4 and 5,6 could simply be chalked up to the battery turning over the engine slower or not holding the throttle open long enough. Especially if you did a wet test afterwards and readings changed again. It's really only the drastically low ones you need to be looking for, its only a tool to help decide if something is off and you need to pull the motor down. Its not really something 100% accurate to what the issue actually is.

    You can send the head with everything if you want, but you'll need to run it by the machine shop first as a lot of places have stopped fitting cams and/or cam gears unless they are doing the complete rebuild as stupid people have assumed that everything is timed properly, its lined up and ready to go, only to mess up the valve timing and blame the shop. So a lot of places just avoid it completely.

    If you dont want to be touching it again, you may need to budget for a new set of valves too to be honest. I havent seen many sets of bmw valves that werent trashed given high km or a hard life. Even if the stem is ok, the grooves for the keepers/collets wears out and they dont fit as tight in the grooves as they should. I was/am always paranoid about dropping a valve because of it. So id be having a good look at the grooves around the top of the valve stem, they should be even and nicely defined, but they shouldnt be sharp. When they wear they tend to leave sharp edges on the ridges of the groove. Normally you can confirm just how bad the wear is visually when you try and fit a new collet to one side of the stem and you can see the gaps between the groove and the collet. So id probably look at them closely. If you end up doing valves, 100% do a set of valve guides and see if the shop thinks the seats need replacing or if they will be ok to recut. If your valves are ok, check the guides for any wear. Very basically you can try rocking the valve when fitted and you'll get a feel for how tight they are, just remove the valve stem seal and grip the valve just above where the seal was, shouldnt really have any detected play, otherwise the shop should be able to check wear in the bore with a dial gauge.

    Supertech and ferrea do aftermarket replacement valves if you need them. BMW used to use osvat or queen for a lot of their factory valves, but aftermarket is fine.

    You will need a shim kit for doing the valve clearances, or the shop may need one if you have someone build it for you. Bank on replacing the cam followers, they are more or less a consumable at this point and you will normally find wear on the pads even if the cam lobes are ok. This really applies if you are fitting new cams or valves during the rebuild too as you can get some tapered wear on the follower.

    Id probably replace the vanos oil feed line from the accumulator too if you havent already. There are a bunch of companies selling flexible braided ones now instead of the brazed hard line of the factory one which can crack.

  22. #22
    Registered User AndyMac's Avatar
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    Someone else has suggested that I've probably smashed the valves & fucked the seating.
    Panzer Wagen

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    Unlikely, there'd be more noise and carnage....
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  24. #24
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    DIY : Engine Rebuilds (Speciofically BMW S54)

    I had a look at a 4AGE recently with similar compression readings.

    Except it was 2 & 4 with the low figures, so cracked HG was a long shot. Squirting oil down the bores for a wet test didn’t raise the readings appreciably, either. When it was running there was massive blow by.

    On stripdown it turned out that overheating damaged a couple of ring lands, hence the super low comp in a couple of the cylinders.
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  25. #25
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    If you have a look at Bennys video, his cappuccino had low compression, was even lower when the plug next to it was removed, would at least remove a issue between cylinders
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    As there is no grinding noises or anything to suggest there's been a failure, remove the spark plugs and put a squirt of oil in each cylinder, then give it a "wet" comp test. If the results are the same as no oil, it would suggest there may be an issue with valves/guides. If it improves the results, it would indicate rings etc.
    Last edited by rxfc3s; 01-05-19 at 12:12 AM.

  27. #27
    Boldy going nowhere rolin7's Avatar
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    Not sure where in NSW you are, but I have used a engine shop called Leons Engineering in Artarmon for a few head rebuilds/services.

    Old school guy, that gets stuff done when he says he will, will be using him again for what I tackle an engine assembly as well!
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  28. #28
    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ burn is weird's Avatar
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    Has anyone suggested a leakdown test and a stethoscope?

    That might give you a better idea of where getting out

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  29. #29
    Half Shafted. Madhatr's Avatar
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    At this point I wouldnt worry. Its coming apart for a rebuild, so it's kind of a moot point when you'd be using these tests as a way to determine if you need to pull it down, not actually what the problem might be. A visual inspection will tell you all you need to know when you start measuring and checking things.
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  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by rolin7 View Post
    Not sure where in NSW you are, but I have used a engine shop called Leons Engineering in Artarmon for a few head rebuilds/services.

    Old school guy, that gets stuff done when he says he will, will be using him again for what I tackle an engine assembly as well!
    Another vote for Leon. Shop looks filthy but he delivers. Often the way in my experience

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