Extracting More Horsepower From Our E46 M3 With ESS Tuning And AEM

Every track day enthusiast wants more from their vehicle(s), that’s why they’re constantly tuning and trying out different parts and setups at the track; its an ever-changing pursuit.

Our E46 M3, project M-Track3r, has had a host of upgrades in the handling department, including Bilstein coilovers, APR front splitter and rear wing, and two sets of lightweight Forgeline wheels with Falken Azenis RT615Ks and Toyo Proxes RRs.

Project M-Track3r still has a stock engine, with the exception of a K&N short ram, cold-air intake that was already on the car, and we figured it was time to address power output. We wanted something that wouldn’t overpower it to the point where it is all wheelspin, so we got in contact with ESS Tuning to find out which supercharger kit would best suit our wants and needs.

ESS Tuning sent over its non-intercooled VT1-475 supercharger kit, and AEM Electronics sent us a water/methanol injection to chemically intercool the system. We also talked with Asbjorn Bohn of ESS Tuning to talk about the kit, how it was developed, and its benefits.

The VT1-475 Kit

ESS Tuning provides everything you need for the install in a nice package.

ESS Tuning’s VT1-475 supercharger kit comes with everything you’ll need to complete the install, which means that you won’t have to make an unnecessary trip to your local autoparts store. The kit, with all stock internals, at 6.5 psi, is good for 470 hp at the crank, which is a significant bump in power over the S54 engine’s 333 crank horsepower.

The crown jewel of ESS Tuning’s VT1-475 kit is the Vortech V-3 Si trim centrifugal supercharger. With all supporting modifications done to the engine, this Vortech blower is capable of producing up to 775 hp. It features improved flow and efficiency at high boost levels, which provides completely new levels of power gains. The gear design is a 3.6:1 step up ratio good for turning the blower at a maximum of 52,000 rpm and a max boost level of 22 psi.

“This is the base level kit; it’s designed to be a very cost-effective power upgrade, and we’ve eliminated everything that’s not necessary from a functionality standpoint, so a low boost kit like this doesn’t require an intercooler, even in a hot state like Arizona,” Bohn explained. “The way we calibrated the VT1-475 kit allows it to have more fuel available at wide-open throttle than the intercooler kits, so we use fuel to actually cool the combustion process.”

One of the best parts about the Vortech V-3 Si blower is that it has an oil drain line installed on the casing that allows for the fluid to be drained without removing it from the vehicle. Also, it can be mounted to any existing Vortech V-1, V-2, V-4, or V-7 bracketry. Integrated gear case baffling is another standard feature of the V-3 Si blower, which helps control the oil’s movement within the casing, providing proper fluid delivery for the gears and bearings. There’s also a nifty little dipstick integrated into the blower for quick fluid checks between rounds at the track, and for the ease of routine maintenance.

“It is very easy to upgrade. The kits are all based on the same engineering platform, so you can go from the 475 kit to the 525 kit just by changing a few minor components,” Bohn stated.

Integrated air temperature sensor and BOV.

The other major part of developing a supercharger kit for a car like the M3 is airflow. The M3’s S54 straight-six engine is built with an individual throttle body setup that connects to a large plastic intake manifold. Seriously, the factory intake manifold is huge. ESS Tuning’s kit ditches the cumbersome factory intake manifold for a sleek cast-aluminum unit with a sleeper satin black finish.

With a kit like the VT1-475, quality is key, and that’s why all of the bracketry and pulleys are hard-anodized CNC-machined aluminum. All of the hoses included with the kit are five-layer super-strength silicone, and you can bet that they are hard to rip or tear under harsh conditions. Also included with the kit is a K&N cold air intake that sucks air from the factory brake duct due to space limitations in the engine bay, and also to provide cooler intake air temperatures.

ESS Tuning really thought of everything with this kit. The car definitely wouldn’t run properly without a tune, so they included the ESS E-Flash tune so the car can run at its most optimum performance. A set of Bosch fuel injectors ensures the engine has no shortage of fuel with the blower installed, and are also included.

“The base software is the same; it’s calibrated for a standard S54 engine. The tunes are catless compatible as well,” explained Bohn. “The only time you’ll need to tweak the software is if you have some hardware modifications to the engine that are significant.”

All ESS Tuning supercharger systems are tested and tuned for more than 50,000 street and track miles on multiple vehicles throughout the world, 60-plus hours on a load dyno, full-load top-speed endurance testing on the Autobahn in Germany, and final certification laps on the Nürburgring. The supercharger systems are also OBD II-compliant and come with a two-year unlimited mileage warranty.

AEM’s Water/Methanol Kit

Our VT1-475 kit doesn’t require an intercooler, however, we still wanted to be safe and make sure our intake air temperatures were cool and not heat-soaked out on the track.

We remedied this by obtaining AEM’s water/methanol kit for forced induction gasoline engines. This kit is proven for effectively reducing engine inlet air temperatures, as well as suppressing harmful detonation, allowing for a reliable increase in boost, and more advanced ignition timing without using high-octane race fuel.

The kit comes with one injector nozzle and three jet sizes. We chose to use the largest jet for our application, which is a 1,000 cc jet.

AEM offers two versions of its water/methanol kit for forced induction gasoline engines. The kit that we have (Jegs PN 30-3300) is boost-dependent for vehicles up to 35 psi. Needless to say, our car isn’t producing nearly that much boost, so this kit worked out perfectly for us. The second kit (Jegs PN 30-3350) features a multiple-input controller that enables users to install the kit on ultra-high boost vehicles producing upwards of 35 psi using a 0-5V voltage-based external MAP sensor.

Some great features of AEM’s water/methanol kit are the simplified wiring and the integrated “boost safe” feature. The kit’s wiring harness is terminated with a positive-lock connector on one end and has color-coded wires to ease the installation. Power and ground wires for the pump are included in the wiring harness, which not only simplifies the wiring process, but eliminates any chance of the pump activating if there is a short in the system.

Integrated in the controllers for AEM’s water/methanol kits is a “boost safe” feature. It monitors the entire injection system and triggers a ground signal via an output if it detects a voltage-related error, which could be anything from a short, bad connection, broken wire, an overheated pump, etc. The feature also allows users to define their failsafe strategy from something as simple as a warning light, to more advanced strategies such as pulling boost, ignition, or even switching fuel maps on a standalone engine management system. Thanks to a low-fluid sensor in the tank, boost safe can also put your engine in safe mode before the whole injection system runs dry. AEM’s water/methanol kit is a serious piece of work, it’s no wonder why racers choose to use it.

Installing The VT1-475 Kit

Moroso's E46 M3 Coolant Tank

While we were installing ESS Tuning’s VT1-475 supercharger kit and AEM’s water/methanol injection system, we also replaced the factory coolant reservoir with this aluminum Moroso coolant reservoir.

Moroso’s expansion tank for the E46 M3 is a premium race-quality reservoir with a sight glass for easy fluid level inspection, and drops right in place of the brittle, plastic OEM tank. It even has a provision for securing the windshield washer fluid filler neck and comes with a two bar reservoir cap.

Moroso’s coolant reservoir provides no additional performance gains, but gives us the peace of mind knowing our 10-year old M3’s factory reservoir won’t fail. Definitely look into this if you haven’t tampered with your E46 M3’s coolant system yet!

When you step back and take a look at all of the components that come in ESS Tuning’s VT1-475 supercharger kit, it can be a little overwhelming. Luckily, ESS Tuning ships every supercharger kit with a detailed, illustrated instruction manual. Every little step is covered, so you won’t miss a beat.

Before we started to tear the car down, we tested it on our Dynojet to achieve some baseline numbers. The M3’s S54 proved its worth and put down an admirable 275 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque at the rear tires on 91 octane. It won’t be under 300 hp for long, though!

After the baseline dyno runs, we got the car on our two-post Bendpak lift to get the wheels off the ground and the party started.

Before we removed the K&N intake that the previous owner installed, we removed the stabilizer bar, and pollen filter assembly. We won’t be needing the K&N intake, though, as the VT1-475 kit comes with a K&N cold air intake. We knew we needed to modify the brake duct eventually, so we removed the bumper as well. Next up, we unbolted the radiator fan shroud. Then the crank case vent hose going to the intake manifold was removed along with the plastic hose coming from the brake booster.

We continued to free up the intake manifold by unbolting the oil dipstick tube. Once that was out of the way, we unclipped the idle control valve from the underside of the manifold.

From left to right: disconnecting the drain hose, removing the throttle body clamps, and pulling the intake manifold.

With the dipstick out of the way, we unbolted the manifold from its steel bracket, but before we took it out of the car, the oil drain hose connected to the bottom, and the clamps holding it to the throttle bodies needed to be removed. With the intake manifold out of the car, we removed the mounting bracket for good as it will no longer be needed.

Before we went any further into the instructions, a plug that was supplied with the kit was installed in the oil drain that runs to the intake manifold. Since the VT1-475 kit doesn’t require an intercooler, we completely skipped those steps and moved right along.

Removing the power steering reservoir.

The 400 mm power steering reservoir relocation hose in place.

Next, was to loosen one of the tensioners to get the main drive belt off. After that, we proceeded to remove the power steering reservoir, spilling as little fluid as possible. It was inevitably going to leak onto the floor, so we put an oil drain pan under the car for good measure. Once the power steering reservoir was loose, we installed the supplied 400 mm hose that allows the reservoir to be relocated so its out of the blower’s way. When all is said and done, the power steering reservoir will sit just above the alternator, leaving an ample amount of room for the blower.

With the power steering reservoir relocated, we could begin the blower install. The main bracket was the first item to be installed. On the top bracket bolt, one idle pulley is installed with a spacer, and then another short-distance spacer goes between the bracket and alternator. The second bolt uses a larger spacer. For those who may be confused, the bracket mounting bolts replace the OEM alternator bolts.

The blower bracket installed with the power steering reservoir bolted to it.

The blower bracket already made the engine bay look 10 times better. A few steps back, we relocated the power steering reservoir, and with the blower bracket in, bolted the power steering reservoir to the top of the bracket. With the reservoir sitting snug on the bracket, we installed the second idler pulley in the threaded hole at the bottom of the bracket with a spacer so it doesn’t contact the bracket itself. Finally, we installed the blower to the bracket with the three supplied bolts, and also the third Koyo pulley.

The kit comes with four pulleys total, and the last pulley gets installed on the blower. Next, we installed the supplied belt according to the diagram, then reinstalled the belt for the air conditioning and tightened the tensioner pulley. With the supercharger secured to the bracket and the belts in place, we reinstalled the radiator fan before moving on moved on to install the new fuel injectors.

The stock injector on the left, and the supplied Bosch injectors on the right.

To access the fuel rail, we removed two bolts, unclipped the idle control valve hose from the vacuum rail, and lifted the vacuum rail aside. Replacing the injectors was easy from there; we just removed the clip holding the fuel rail to the fuel line and disconnected the electrical connections. Just pop out the stock injectors and replace them with ESS’ supplied injectors; and reinstall the fuel rail, fuel line, and vacuum rail to ensure all of the electrical connections are correct.

The 190 mm 3/4-inch hose in place with the supplied clamps.

The next step was to install the supplied 190 mm 3/4-inch hose with the supplied clamps. To do this, we removed the plastic clip holding the water hose to the engine mount, removed the plastic quick connector located on the idle control valve, and installed the hose. Modifying the MAF sensor is also required for this kit to function properly. Wiring may seem a little scary to some of you, but it’s really not bad at all.

From left to right: cutting the wires of the factory MAF sensor and splicing them to the temp sensor on the intake manifold.

We cut the wires going to the MAF sensor connection about two inches from the connector to prepare them for connection to the temp sensor located on the intake manifold. The wires from the temp sensor need to be connected to the yellow wire with blue line, and orange wire with brown line. We then soldered the connections and isolated them using heat shrink. The wires should be insulated all the way up to the temp sensor connector to ensure any elements don’t affect the connections.

As the MAF sensor was deleted during the install, the car now runs off of Alpha-N tuning, which means alphanumeric. It’s not a mode created by ESS, but rather a built-in safe mode, should the car’s MAF sensor fail. ESS’ ECU tune for the kit is in Alpha-N, meaning that Instead of reading the MAF sensor, the computer now reads the throttle position sensor to calculate the mass of air entering the combustion chamber. This is also known as “speed density tuning.”

With these tasks out of the way, we were ready to drop in the new intake manifold, making sure that the throttle body clamps didn’t conflict throttle body operation. After that, we plugged the connector into the temp sensor, connected the 3/4-inch hose from the idle control valve to the outlet on the manifold, and reinstalled the dipstick tube to the provision on the intake manifold.

Next, we located the vacuum hose going into the back of the vacuum rail, just in front of the firewall. The hose is for the fuel pressure regulator located under the car. The kit came with a T-connector with two vacuum hoses preconnected, so we pulled the vacuum hose and connected it to the free outlet on the T-connector. The shorter preconnected hose was then connected to the now free outlet on the vacuum rail, and the longer hose routes to the bypass valve located on the intake manifold.

The pressure tube installed.

The pressure tube setup was the next piece, and to install it we had to move the power steering hose slightly to make room for it. Also, when installing the pressure tube, make sure the blower is clocked correctly; if it’s not, it won’t fit correctly.

Remember when we removed the bumper earlier? Well, we had to modify the brake duct for the cold air intake to fit properly. To do this, we removed the brake duct and routed the flex hose and filter through the brake duct so we could see the top of the hose in the engine bay, where it will later connect to the blower inlet. The brake duct needed quite a bit of material cut out of it to accommodate the air filter, but the end result works perfectly.

Before installing the plastic inlet tube on the blower, there was a little bolt sticking out from the inner fender that needed to be cut, so we grabbed a cutoff wheel and removed it. With the blower inlet fitting nicely, we secured the inlet to the blower and connected the flex hose to the inlet. At this point, we knew that we were on the home stretch.

From left to right: installing the 700 mm 5/8-inch hose and the 90-degree hose.

The next step was to cut the plastic hose loose from the quick connector on top of the valve cover and install the supplied 700 mm 5/8-inch hose from the quick connector to the inlet on the plastic blower inlet. There is also another supplied 90-degree hose, which we installed from the bypass valve to the plastic inlet.

The last of the cutting to be done while installing this kit involves the plastic tube going into the brake booster line. We cut that tube, pulled it off the connector, and installed the supplied hose from the brake booster outlet to the plastic inlet secured to the blower.

The breather plug installed.

After that, we secured any loose wires and hoses with some Zip Ties and swapped the transport plug on the blower with a breather plug. With the breather plug installed, we checked the oil level in the supercharger using the built-in dipstick. If there is too much oil in the blower, adjust by draining some oil out of the blower via the attached drain line, which makes changing blower oil a lot easier without a huge mess.

On the left is the factory fuel pressure regulator, and on the right is the new supplied FPR from ESS Tuning.

Before we got everything all tidied up and put back together, we lifted the car up to locate the fuel pressure regulator, which is conveniently located right next to the fuel filter on the driver’s side. To access the FPR, we had to remove some of the metal underbody covers protecting the area. Once we had the covers off, we popped out the snap ring, installed the supplied fuel pressure regulator, and reinstalled the snap ring along with the vacuum hose. There will be a little fuel present during this step, so make sure you have paper or shop towels on hand. After that, we reinstalled the covers, lowered the car down, reinstalled the front bumper with the modified brake duct, and reinstalled the fan cover under the hood.

Once the negative battery cable was reconnected, we uploaded the tune via the E-Flash cable. Now that the car had a tune uploaded to the ECU, we started the car to let it idle for a good 10 to 15 minutes and checked the belt loop to make sure everything was correct.

The complete VT1-475 supercharger kit installed.

The last pieces we installed were the strut tower brace and the pollen air filter assembly. Overall, the install wasn’t really painstaking. ESS Tuning did a great job with the instructions; all of the photos are in color with arrows pointing to the correct components. It really was a hassle-free install, and we couldn’t be more pleased.

Installing AEM’s Water/Methanol Kit

As we stated earlier, the VT1-475 supercharger kit from ESS Tuning doesn’t require an intercooler. Because project M-Track3r is a road race car, we also didn’t want a large intercooler blocking precious airflow to the radiator, so we opted to chemically intercool the forced air.

Before we could install the system, we had to find a nice place to tuck it, and being that our M3 isn’t equipped with an SMG transmission, we decided to mount the whole system where the SMG pump would normally be. The area we chose to mount the system was also really convenient because there is a power source right outside the area for the SMG pump, and there’s even a firewall pass-through for us to run the wires to the controller, which we decided to mount under the glove box.

The tank and pump secured in their mounting locations normally where the SMG pump would be.

The tank and pump fit great in the location we chose, so we drilled out the holes to mount the components. It’s important that the tank is mounted vertically and not at any weird angle that would starve the fitting located at the bottom of the tank. The pump, however, can be mounted in any position, horizontally or vertically.

Once the tank and pump were snug in their locations, we cut the appropriate length of tubing needed to connect the outlet fitting on the tank to the inlet fitting on the pump. When doing this, you’ll want to make sure there are no sharp bends or kinks in the tubing. Also, make sure the ends of the tubing are clean and square. From there, we inserted the hose into the push-lock fitting on the tank and the push-lock fitting on the pump.

The injector nozzle that we mounted in the blower’s pressure tube.

Next, we ran the hose from the pump to the 1,000cc injector nozzle, installed in the blower’s pressure tube, wired up the controller, and tested the system. An important note to make is that the controller is not waterproof and it should not be mounted in the engine bay. Ideal locations for the controller are either in the glove box, or under the dash beneath the glove box. There is also a little LED indicator light that tells you when the system is spraying, and we mounted that little light in the ashtray.

From left to right: The controller wired and mounted, the LED indicator in the ashtray, and the completed kit installed. We set the start boost at two psi and full at 14 psi.

We were really pleased with the ease of install of AEM’s water/methanol kit. The kit is pretty self-explanatory, but the instructions had a really helpful diagram which should make the install pretty painless at home.

The Gains

ESS Tuning recommends that you drive the car softly for the first 200 miles to break the blower in, and we did just that. When the break-in period passed, we got the car right on the dyno to see what kind of power the car picked up from the kit. On our first pull, we noticed our air/fuel ratio was off, so we adjusted the duty cycle of the AEM water/methanol kit. On the second pull, we were seeing awesome gains. It’s all about trial and error when setting up a water/methanol kit with a forced induction system, especially without the kit not being configured into the tune just yet.

As you can see, project M-Track3r gained a great amount of power over stock – 127.62 hp and 42.40 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels, to be exact!

Before we installed ESS Tuning’s VT1-475 supercharger kit, project M-Track3r made 275.24 hp and 243.31 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels, which was good power, but we wanted more for our road racing endeavors. After installing the supercharger kit and water/methanol, the car made a healthy 402.86 hp and 285.71 lb-ft of torque at the tires – a serious gain over the factory numbers.

As you can see, when we ran the car on the dyno with the supercharger installed, the air/fuel ratio was a bit lean at 11.202. With the AEM water methanol injection installed, we were able to tune the system so it barely affected the air/fuel ratio, making it half of a point richer to suit our needs. When we ran the car, the air/fuel ratio was at a comfortable 11.728.

We couldn’t be happier with ESS Tuning’s VT1-475 supercharger kit paired with AEM’s water/methanol injection system. We are ecstatic to get the car out on the track to test its limits and see what it’s really capable of. Stay tuned for more updates on Project M-Track3r.

Article Sources

About the author

Josh Kirsh

Born in Van Nuys, Raised in Murrieta, Joshua Kirsh is a SoCal Native. With a love for anything on wheels since the ripe young age of two, Joshua Managed to turn his love for automobiles into a career. As Power Automedia's newest writer, he plans to bring you some of the industry's hottest news topics while he's not out in the shop wrenching on some of our badass in-house project builds.
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