Since the time I was sixteen up until recently, the only BMW’s I had really driven or owned were all six cylinder cars. From M20 powered cars to S52 swapped e30’s and e36’s, I was always a six-shooter fanboy. In recent years, finding a clean e30 has proven to become a challenge, so when the ad popped up to buy my painfully original 1991 318is, I had to act quickly.
The four-banger Bimmer is definitely a different animal. It’s rougher, louder, and really likes the snot revved out of it. This also means the car makes substantially less power, comparatively to an e30 325i, let alone any of the 24 valve motors. Like most penny pinching e30 owners, I like searching for deals on parts and pieces for the car. When Black Friday rolled around this year, Turner Motorsport had a sale on all software upgrades. So a C-note discount plus free shipping on a $250 Conforti Chip meant add to cart, and proceed to checkout.
Software upgrades have always been a marginal gain as far as I’m concerned. The most tangible thing I remember from my M20 days is the bump up in redline (gotta ’69 the tach!). The M42 isn’t horrendously slow, but it could certainly do with some more pep.
Once I got home from work one Friday, I pulled the car into the garage, undid the battery, and started disassembly of the glove box. Being that I’ve been around these cars my whole driving career, one could say ECU removal has been slimmed down to a ten minute task. With the ECU out of the car, I opened up the cover and installed the JC chip in place of the one that had probably seen the Berlin Wall come down.
I was eager to see if the chip made a difference, so I buttoned up the glovebox and proceeded to go out for a hamburger and a beer with my friends. Three and a half hours and 1200 calories later, I fired up the car and took it for a spin.
One of the first things I noticed the idle was smoother, even for a cold December evening. The car needed to warm up, so I putted around the neighborhood for a bit before romping on the accelerator. Once the needle was situated at normal operating temperature, it was time to put the car through its paces. Off the line wasn’t anything to write home to mom about, but the delivery was much more linear. Before the chip, the 318 would only make a bunch of noise until 5,000 RPM, then it would start moving. Now the power delivery comes on a bit earlier and smoother.
While not immediately impressed, I had figured that I wasted my money for something making slim to no difference. As I drove the car more, I noticed that downshifts into the power band were much more responsive once I got back on the gas, and the buzz bomb M42 would keep pulling to 7,000 RPM if I wanted to make that commitment. An autocross would probably see the most benefit from the extra revs.
The Final Verdict
For $150 I don’t think you’re going to get any other easy power related bolt-on part. An e30 325i is still going to pull down low better than a 318, but this certainly dials in the 318’s fuel mapping to get it off the line easier (especially when the average minivan or Prius will blow the doors off a stock e30 at a stoplight). The next move forward would be a lighter flywheel to complement the chip, but that’s also a more involved job.
Chipping an e30 is nothing new, as tuners have been doing so since the 1980’s. Being this is a fun car for nostalgic purposes, so are the modifications I plan to make to this car. Everything will be fairly subtle with the intent of making a well-rounded package. In the case of the 318 specifically, it will never be a fast car, but rather an update of the original 2002’s spirit…sideburns optional of course.