A basic 328is with the coveted winter package. That’s what 19-year-old Maxwell Lisovsky found on Facebook Marketplace several years ago. The car had been in a fairly serious incident that, as Lisovsky would later discover, mangled the front end, but he was, as he admitted, “too dumb to notice.” Or, maybe, he was just too distracted by the shape. “Style means a lot to me,” he declared. It was the classic boxiness that drew his eye, but it was the price tag which opened his wallet. It’s hard to ignore a running, attractive E36 for less than three grand.
His fun on the backroads gave way to track days and the ensuing financial dilemma. Lisovsky had been bitten badly, and his dream to build the car into a Time Trial machine kept him awake at night, but his teenage budget wouldn’t support the dream. Rather than commit to a life of dreaming and saving for a bigger purchase, he chose to drive at a modest level. Whatever the wallet allowed was fine if it helped him get to the next HPDE. A set of O’Reilly pads, BC coilovers, and whatever second-hand tires he could find were enough to run his first dozen track days.
Eagerness bordering on desperation, a teenager’s willingness to forgo sleep, and a frugal approach made it possible to develop the car at a rapid rate, but that wouldn’t make the difference if he hadn’t really learned his craft. Lisovsky was wise enough to recognize early on that seeking the perfect aftermarket parts wouldn’t help him go faster — not at this point, at least. Instead, he decided to immerse himself completely in the world of racing. He pursued a motorsports education to direct the build and, as the youngsters say nowadays, improve the “driver mod.”
He went a step beyond, buying an armful of Carroll Smith books and studying. Instead, he started his own speed shop — just like any ambitious young man with a romantic, obsessive temperament would. It proved to be the crash course he needed to get his E36 rolling down the right path.
Staying close to club racing helped him understand what mattered most in a fast track build, particularly one that stressed cornering speed. After witnessing a Toyota MR-S break a hub at Buttonwillow and go tumbling over Phil Hill, he saw the sense in strengthening a track cars’ footwork and the peace of mind it would offer.
So, for that peace of mind and a little extra poise, he fitted a set of E46 arms, which are lighter, longer, and stronger than the E36’s. Along with those, he stretched himself to foot a full cage from Kontrolle Engineering. While it might have contributed to his financial concerns, at least he was at ease inside the car.
One big purchase led to another. After fitting a set of ICS one-ways, he’d grown confident enough in his driving to curb-hop consistently. So, because the E36 is built a bit on the flimsy side, he started worrying about one of its frail spots failing during an ollie off a berm. Reinforcement of the spring perch mounts, sway bar brackets, trailing arm brackets, as well as both subframes came next. Following those, he added the rear end, axles, and trailing arms from an M3 — though these weren’t meant to handle the growing levels of grip as much as the additional power he had planned.
The M52 had been a dependable powerplant, but a little on the anemic side; fine for his track day foray, but limiting past a certain level of driving proficiency. When he found an S54 for a couple grand, he figured he’d take the risk. It ticked a little upon startup, but he figured it was nothing that a valve adjustment couldn’t fix.
Sadly, it had been priced fairly. The rod bearings were shot, the pistons were ruined, there was shrapnel in the oil feed, and the crank had been pummeled by a thrust bearing. Undeterred, he scraped some money together and set about rebuilding the new powerplant. He honed the cylinder walls, installed ACL bearings, Wiseco rods, and JE pistons. Then he had the crank polished and balanced to 1/100th of a gram. This one wouldn’t be the most powerful S54 on the grid, but it would run reliably and rev smoothly.
Its performance over the course of the subsequent two years stood as a testament to the S54’s stoutness. It endured regular redlining at the raised 8,900-rpm limit, as well as back-to-back sessions in July heat. It also made a Dynojet-verified 323 at the wheels, which Lisovsky decided would be best utilized if the differential was upgraded with 4.10 gears and an OS Giken 1.5-way. The resulting acceleration made it feel like he’d gained another 50 horsepower.
The package was perfect for a while, but his regular HPDEs — roughly two per month — took their toll on the engine. During one fulfilling day at Thunderhill West, he believed he’d broken some motor mounts. The disconcerting sounds didn’t deter him. He had hit his stride that day and kept pushing until he clocked a 1:19.
In fact, the motor hummed along sweetly and the occasional odd noises weren’t worrying enough to keep him from driving the car for another couple of events. Once he had a little downtime, he decided to determine the source of the clunking coming from the front end. After taking off the main caps, the crankshaft separated in his hands. “Well, I was able to run a 1:19 with a dual crankshaft,” he joked.
With the motor opened, he arrived at a fork in the road. He could try to build the motor for even more power via hot cams and a carbon airbox, or he could choose to focus elsewhere. If he got the motor humming happily again, he could see it as a checked box on a long list of to-dos, focus on the other performance areas, and put together a fully sorted package. His long nights of studying were paying off.
Stripped and Svelte
The next steps of the holistic approach were cutting weight, stiffening the chassis, and bolstering the aerodynamic assistance. He had already stripped the car prior to installing the S54, but after Lisovsky recognized that any additional horsepower would cost exponentially more, he started to see the benefit in trimming those last few pounds. “Early on, cutting weight is cheap and easy — and saved weight turns into free horsepower,” he said.
After totally stripping the interior, he swapped the factory bodywork for lightweight pieces. The one big-ticket item was a full PTG fiberglass replica kit, but the weight savings, built in canards, and added width — wide enough to fit a set of 315s easily — justified the price. Along with that wider front end, he added fiberglass doors, hood, and trunk, then bolted on a carbon Bimmerworld GT wing in the location once occupied by a heavier 9 Lives Racing wing. In total, he shed another two hundred pounds; bringing the wet total to 2,420 pounds.
Then there was the matter of unsprung weight. His connection to a couple Porsche Cup teams gave him access to second-hand Yokohama A005 slicks at a reasonable cost, and, in addition to giving him a consistent amount of grip for numerous consecutive push laps, they save several pounds per corner when compared to popular 200TW tires.
Then he shelved the 135i six-piston front calipers in favor of a set of AP Racing 5000R Radi-CAL fronts. These themselves lose about 5 pounds per corner, and they save him time. “I’ve put 25 events on these APs, and I still have 8 mm of pad left. They’re pricey, but they pay for themselves over time.”
The quick-fix solution to complementing the added front braking power was bolting on a set of four-pistons from a Porsche 996 and E46’s. This budget bolt-on works well with the factory master cylinder and stock brake bias.
The last few pounds were lost through four major changes which, in aggregate, trimmed real weight. The lighter Alumalite splitter, a thinner Megan Racing header, a guibo-free Woodward racing steering column were the easier parts he handled over the course of one afternoon. The long-lasting labor-intensive bit was grinding off studs and removing other superfluous pieces of metal.
There’s a point at which the cost to shave any additional weight becomes too expensive for men of normal means to continue their diet program. So, as part of his holistic approach, he decided instead to drop a chunk of change sorting out the suspension.
The solution to his second-hand one-ways was a set of MCS two-ways, as well as a true coil conversion at the rear. The latter made the car “easier to corner balance, more compliant, and now there’s a bit more high-speed stability at the rear,” he said.
Seeing the immediate improvement from just throwing the MCS and the bigger wing made separating himself from several thousand a little less painful. “I just set them in the middle and drove, and I found three to three and a half seconds at all my tracks.
“Even being a little underpowered, it still works at the fast tracks. I set a 1:22 at Willow my first time there. I think my highest speed was in the middle of Turn 8 — a few miles an hour faster than at the end of the front straight.”
That unusual disparity might have something to do with the fact he’s running such short gears and his growing attention to gear selection. Avoiding unnecessary shifts after hitting an aerodynamic wall has helped him keep the brick-ish Bimmer moving forward at the faster places. “At Willow, I’m running in fourth gear all the way from the exit of Turn 5 through Turn 8. By the time I turn in, I’m brushing 8,900 revs. It’s a lot to ask from the stock valvetrain, but it’s held up so far!”
Funny enough, he’s determined most of his shift points by ear. “I can’t access the DME, so I can’t record the revs. I just rely on the engine note and the rev limiter to know when to shift. It’s not scientific, but it’s been enough until now.” Perhaps his intuition helped him advance rapidly, but it might not help as much anymore.
Faith and Finalization
After getting acquainted with the level of competition in TT2, Lisovsky entered another realm of performance — one where he’ll have to alter his approach again. He regards this as the stage in which he’ll finalize the package. “The car’s now fast enough to scare me; I have to have to trust it if I want to reach the limit. I can’t blame the car because I know it can handle whatever I throw at it. I’ve got to learn to drive it faster, and although that’s hard to accept whenever the times aren’t what I expect, at least I know the reason why.”
No longer limited by setup or the hardware, he’s had to start studying the finer points of his driving. When is it advantageous to stretch a gear? Does the line over the curb make that much of a difference? Will squaring off a slow corner cause the delta to drop? When will the sponsorship start coming in?
Data will pave the way to the next stage. He’s got a 1:46 at Buttonwillow 13CW in the middle of his reticle, and the last time he visited the track, he logged a 1:48 on tired tires. With fresh rubber and data acquisition, he should be able to find that last couple of seconds. At the rate this inspiring young man has advanced over the last few years, it’s almost certain.