Daily-Driving An LS-Swapped Bavaria, Part 1: Getting Acquainted
Photography by Andrew Golseth
Cryo Werks founders Bryant Nguyen and Alex Singer have some pretty rad cars. They’re both Porschephiles at heart, but Bryant has a thing for old Bavarian machines, and Alex digs customs ranging from rat-rod pickups to hot-rod Minis. So when the two friends decided they wanted to enter the 2015 Targa Baja, it was totally up in the air as to what they’d wheel.
Somehow, the dream team came up with the brilliant idea of packing a 2000 Pontiac Firebird’s powertrain into a 1973 BMW Bavaria. They were originally considering an E28 5-series, but realized that an LS1 swap in a post-1975 model year car would pose a smog dilemma. So, a Bavaria was apparently the next logical choice.
A quick Craigslist search returned a promising example listed in Long Beach. Being a California car its entire life left it rust-free, and the older blue respray was in fair enough condition. The BMW was mostly complete too, but the anemic inline-6 was a tired old thing, so an LS1 and Tremec 6-speed transmission pulled from the trusty GM were implanted in its place. The rear-end was swapped out for an E28 unit with a 3.91-ratio’d LSD along with an E36 subframe reinforcement that was grafted to the underside for additional strength. In order to cram the LS1 under hood, the brake booster had to be removed, so the brakes lost their power assist, but with four-wheel discs they still get the job done just fine.
Once I saw the car, I connivingly suggested the two let me borrow the car for the day for a thorough road test, assuming they’d decline. Instead, they threw me the keys and told me to take it for the week. A week later, they told me to hang onto it for another week, and, as of writing this, there’s still a blue LS1-powered Bavaria in my garage. Perks of the job, I suppose. So, here’s what it’s like to daily drive an LS-swapped Bavaria.
Bryant picked me up from my place and we zipped over to the Cryo Werks garage to pick up the Bavaria. On the way, I asked, “What do you call this thing? The Bavarivette? The Corvaria?” To which Bryant brilliantly responded, “The GMW.” Laughing, we pulled up to the garage to find Alex fixing a minor coolant leak.
Once mended, the gents threw me the keys and made me chauffeur them to lunch—I swear these guys are friends, despite the abuse. Naturally, I was apprehensive about just dropping it into first and rolling. “Is there anything I need to know about this before we take off?” I just assumed, considering the majority of engine swaps that are far from perfect, that something wasn’t going to work right.
“Uh, not really,” Alex says. So, I fired it up, squashed the clutch and grabbed the metal “TREMEC”-labeled 6-speed shift ball, and notched my way into first. The first thing that struck me was that the car was surprisingly quieter than I thought it would be. We pull out of the industrial park and as we make our way to Miramar, I’m thinking “Something has to give; something must not work, right?”
I was immediately taken back when I realized it still had power steering. Even the air-conditioning works. As I’m driving along, keeping tabs on the instruments, I realize all of the gauges work and all of the lighting equipment works as it should too. Hell, they even have a modern radio in the thing.
Sure, the older resprayed paint is a little faded with a few minor dings and scratches, but aside from a lack of front bumper, four plugged mirror mount holes on the wings from a previous owner’s odd attempt at trying to be JDM, and a missing “tooth” from the driver’s side kidney, it’s all there and it all works.
I made a left turn and it sputtered. “Oh, yeah. When it gets below a quarter tank, it’ll cut fuel when making lefts. So, let’s get gas ASAP,” Bryant says nonchalantly. We pull into the gas station, and Alex pulls out his wallet. I insisted on paying, but just to reiterate how nice these dudes are, they attempted to hook me up with a tank of gas before I abuse borrow their car for an extended flogging review.
The second day with the Bavaria was pretty uneventful. I was pretty tied-up with work, so I only had time for a quick night drive. It’s worth mentioning that I pulled up to a stoplight alongside a Subaru STi owner who hollered, “What’s in that thing.” I just smiled and replied in sarcasm, “It’s stock.” He laughed, “No it is not!” We may or may not have rapidly departed when the light turned green. I’ll just say he got his confirmation that the Bavaria was, in fact, not stock.
I had some extra time on my hands so I decided to head out before traffic could suppress my eager driving spirit. Where to go at 2pm during the workweek in San Diego? Coronado Island, of course.
I opened up the garage, hopped in the blue cloth Recaro SRD, and turned the key over to summon a satisfying rumble, drama free—fuel injection is a beautiful thing in a classic sometimes. I hit the highway and made my way south, past downtown, and caught the Coronado Bridge to the wedge of paradise that’s home to the Hotel Del and my favorite brewery, Coronado Brewing Company (or, CBC).
I was having such a great time driving that I decided to head south along Silver Strand Beach, which takes you down Coronado “Island” (which is really a peninsula) to Imperial Beach, where I stopped at the south side CBC location, had a pint with a late lunch, and called it a night.
I know I just finished telling you how I ended Day 3 with a beer, but Day 4 was Friday. I worked all morning writing other articles for you to read while procrastinating at your place of employment, so by Friday evening I jumped in the “GMW” and went back to CBC to get my growler filled.
It was just a quick trip there and back, but I brought my camera along to snap a few sunset shots of the car just off of Sea World Drive. There was no need to drive for the sake of driving yet, as Saturday was going to be the first big test with a weekend road trip.