Daily-Driving An LS-Swapped Bavaria, Part 2: Road Trip, Breakdown, And Final Verdict
Photography by Andrew Golseth
If you missed the first entry, be sure to read Daily-Driving An LS-Swapped Bavaria, Part 1 to get caught up before proceeding. All up to date? Good. Then you’ll know that the first few days with the Bavarian sleeper were low-threat drives around town; a drive to lunch and a quick beer run hardly challenge a car’s mechanical reliability nor does it give an honest opportunity to explore a vehicle’s performance capabilities.
So, after getting acquainted with the GMW by driving the local San Diego landscape, I felt a longer, more strenuous journey was required for a proper road test analysis. Feeling confident in the car’s turnkey modern feel, it was time for an extended but conventional Southern California road trip: San Diego to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Lancaster, and a mirrored adventure on the way back. Here’s how all that went down:
Alex and Bryant assured me the car would make it to LA and back without issue. After all, they built it to compete in endurance rallies, so a highway trip to the City of Angels should go off without a hitch, right?
On Saturday morning, I grabbed my overnight bag and camera and apprehensively walked to the garage. I was nervous. Regardless of its performance so far, trusting any near-50-year-old car to carry me to Los Angeles and back is questionable, especially a custom one that I don’t own and, frankly, one I’m not all that familiar with.
“Fuck it,” I thought. I jumped on I-5 North and embarked on my journey—but not before stopping at my local Cars & Coffee. How could I skip my favorite weekly routine, especially when I could show off the Bavarian-American bastard build? While making my rounds, an enthusiast came up to me, smiling, “You’re the guy with the Bavaria? That thing sounds like it’s got two valve covers,” which might be the very best way to describe a V-engine. After C&C, I had lunch with some friends, including Alex who again reassured me not to fret about my weekend road trip to LA.
After topping the tank off, for the second time, I jumped back on the northbound 5. Smooth sailing. At the higher side of acceptable California highway speeds, the GMW churns at an idle-like 2,000 rpm. Bryant had mentioned how great it was on the open road, but this was my first real taste of extended tarmac consumption.
Plop the Tremec into sixth and the whole chassis sort of hunkers down as if to say, “This is it. This is what I’m made for.” Custom coilovers at all four corners—especially retrofitted to an older chassis—generally equates to a teeth-rattling game of intolerance, but I’m pleased to tell you the car rides surprisingly well.
Bryant was right: this thing devours highway miles effortlessly. It’s an autobahn missile with American plutonium under hood. I caught myself cruising much faster than I typically would in my own cars, due to the fact that there’s so much torque from the LS1, and so much gearing packed in the Tremec bell, that the car just wants to chug down the highway like a freight train.
I was welcomed to LA with 40 minutes of backed-up congestion. Worried, I thought the heftier-than-average clutch was sure to give my lower left appendage a one-on-one “leg day” workout.
Thankfully, traffic wasn’t so much stop-and-go as it was a consistent snail’s pace, which revealed another LS1 benefit: the engine makes so much immediate low-end torque, it’ll carry you at slow cruising speeds with zero throttle application; just ease your foot off the clutch in first and the car pulls steady like a locomotive leaving station.
Once through the LA traffic, I met up with my good friend Mike Adams for an early dinner and a pint. After chowing on some excellent Texas-style BBQ, Mike and I stopped by the Petrolicious headquarters in Culver City to attend the Camilo Pardo Art Show.
I parked the Bavaria between a Pantera and a custom Ford Falcon coupe: so far so good, and throughout the night I noticed the Bavaria garnering quite a bit of attention. I met a number of Petrolicious fans that had been following my Instagram posts since I picked up the car—naturally everyone wanted to see under the reverse-hinged hood.
I was staying at Mike’s place in the high desert, so we left the Camilo shindig a little early. Mike jumped in his 500-horsepower supercharged 2006 Pontiac GTO, and I strapped back into the blue Recaro-equipped angry 7-series precursor.
Soaking up the miles in our similarly prepared but very different pushrod V8-powered cars, Mike and I made it to his Lancaster home rather quickly. With the GTO parked, Mike hopped in the Bavaria’s passenger seat for a beer run ride along.
Curiously, and perhaps to demonstrate its liveliness, I attempted to feel the blue wool carpet through the accelerator pedal, to which Mike responded, “Wow, this thing is rowdy!” I have to agree, “rowdy” perfectly sums up this car from a zero-to-redline, first-through-third gear pull.
Back at his place, Mike and I had some brews and chatted cars as we always do—a six pack apiece until 2am. Our late night beer-fueled automotive-BS-ing perhaps wasn’t the wisest move on my part as I planned on waking up early to attend the Ferrari Enzo Birthday Cruise-In event held at the Petersen Automotive Museum back down in LA the following morning.
I woke up late on Sunday at 9am. A little over an hour away, I figured I could still catch the last couple hours of the Ferrari meet as it wasn’t scheduled to end until noon. I threw my overnight bag back in the massive boot, slammed the hefty lid, and crept out of the neighborhood. Two miles down the road, the car sputtered.
I thought, “Oh, must be low on gas,” as Bryant had warned me the car gets fuel cut below a quarter tank. I glance at the gauge and it’s reading more than half full. “Weird,” I thought, and assumed the gauge was off. I aimed the shark nose towards the nearest gas station to top it off just to play it safe, and then it started gasping like someone being waterboarded.
“Uh oh,” I said out loud as I watched the fuel gauge needle start to plummet towards “E.” Still sputtering down the road, I look in the rearview mirror to the surprise sight of four thick stripes of fluid trailing as far back as I can see. I had planned on eating a bacon-stuffed hangover cure burrito for breakfast, but instead I was about indulge in an 89 octane all-you-can-drink brunch buffet.
I managed to limp the car into a strip mall parking lot and kill the engine before it decided to die of thirst. Interrupting his most important meal of the day, I called Mike and asked him to help me figure out where the fuel was gushing from. Of course, he dropped everything and quickly showed up in his truck with tow straps.
We get the car strapped to his Dodge, carefully get the Bavaria back to his pad, and get underneath it. We quickly discovered the fuel return line/filter combo had come loose from its bracket, which yanked the primary fuel line from the filter housing. Mike clicked the line back in place and tightened the bracket—you’re the man, Mike!
I missed the Petersen Ferrari meet, but was thankful for Mike’s assistance and was relieved that it was a quick fix. On my way through LA again, I stopped at my aunt’s place, reeking of petrol. Then I made my way to Orange County, and stopped for a late lunch at CoCo Ichibanya—Japan’s finest curry house chain. An hour later, I made it back home to San Diego without issue.
Day 7 was an uncharacteristically stormy day in America’s Finest City, so I left the slide-happy Bimmer in the garage. The next day brought the return of sunshine, so I thought it’d be a good idea to check the usability of the four-door German Camaro (plus, my wife so kindly left me a honey-do list). Does it grocery? Yes it does. Though, admittedly I put the goods in the back seat after opening the trunk to the potent stench of fuel—apparently fumes found their way inside the boot from Sunday’s spill.
Day 9 was all work from home, so I didn’t get a chance to take the car for a drive, so I made up for its garage dormancy on Day 10. On Thursday afternoon, I filled the petrol tank for a spirited drive to Julian, California, home of the world’s greatest apple pie. I had covered plenty of long, smooth, and straight highway miles, so it was time to see how it handled.
The drive to Julian is nothing but moderately-paced switchbacks with quick elevation changes and banked turns, an all-new testing ground for the Big Blue Beast. Here’s some digits: 3,000-pound curb weight, 5.7-liters making around 350 horsepower/350 torque, and a 6-speed manual. The car is quick, but the power isn’t trying to outrun the chassis. The overall balance and neutrality of the E3 with this swap is surprising.
Swiveling the large 3-spoke steering wheel through the mountainous back roads, I found the car to be inherently honest. It’s definitely not a sports car, but despite its four-door understated bodywork it moves well for its size.
Going through the curves, I found myself being lazy with the power, leaving it in a higher gear than optimal because of the torque accessibility. I didn’t need to downshift to gain mph between the bends, just roll onto the throttle and hear the head’s internals quietly clack away with a burly exhaust note trailing behind.
This car has really grown on me. The Bavaria design is fairly restrained, even with the 8-series-spec M-System wheels devoid of their “throwing star” or “turbine” inserts. The car rides firm but it’s not jarring; it’s lowered but totally livable. The only thing shouty about this car is the engine note at wide-open throttle, and even that’s louder from inside the car than it is outside.
The Recaros are almost invisible when peering outside-in and they don’t really look all that out of place once you’re in the cabin. Aside from the black dash and off-white headliner, the carpet, rear bench, and door panels are blue, so the matching cloth SRD buckets suit the overall stock look while complementing the sleeper attitude.
This car, as wild as it may sound on paper, is far more practical than I thought it would be. Everything I thought it would struggle to do, it excels at. I thought it’d be overpowered, but the power isn’t intimidating or untamable. I assumed various things wouldn’t work due to mating a modern fuel-injected GM V8 into a half-century-old BMW, but everything functions seamlessly. All of my presumptions about this beautiful abomination were wrong.
Because it’s a sedan—not an E9 or some other highly-desirable classic Bimmer—it generally seems to get an exception from the anti-LS-swap crowd. If you’re a diehard BMW purist/not sold on the brilliance of this build, it’s worth mentioning that the aluminum block LS1 is only around 75 pounds heavier than the original iron block inline-6 the engineers in Munich originally fitted in the Bavaria. So, the weight gain over the front is negligible and has been corrected with a bespoke set of coilovers with custom spring rates to compensate for the new configuration. Still not feeling it? Consider this: the LS1 is shorter than the original M30 engine, meaning the weight is more evenly distributed post-swap, improving the center of gravity. If anyone cares to Internet-argue their opinion against these facts, by all means be my guest—that’s why we have the comments section.
If you still don’t care for the powertrain—I understand engine-swaps aren’t for everyone—remember this car was on its last leg when Bryant and Alex saved it, and now it’ll blow the doors off just about anything from 1973. Blasphemous or not in the eyes of “Ultimate Driving Machine” fanatics, there’s no arguing with the fact that this German saloon is now more reliable, cheaper to maintain, and a hell of a lot faster than it used to be. Seriously, what’s not to love? I’m such a fan of the GMW, I’m curious as to why anyone would drive a stock Bavaria. Honestly, this car really is a classic you can drive everyday for any occasion. In terms of practical chassis application, a Bavaria might just be the world’s best LS-swap victim.