The BDC Engine Wars – The M50

Inline sixes are inescapable in drifting. A huge amount of the BDC grid is powered by engines of this configuration.

Naturally, a drifting fan’s immediate call-to-mind when thinking of this style of engine is the hugely popular offerings by Toyota and Nissan, the RB and the JZ, respectively. But, another six-pot powers a good chunk of the Bavarian rides on the grid, and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the M50.

The M50 is a family of inline six engines which were first introduced in 1990 to replace the outdated M20 for the E34 5-series, and eventually found their way into the higher trim level of the BMW E36 3-series too, until it was phased out in favour of the more modern M52 in 1996. The engines came in 2.0 and 2.5 litre configurations, and the single version (intake camshaft only) of BMW’s VANOS (variable valve timing) systems were available on both engines later on in their production cycle. Later, this engine morphed into the S50 which powered the fabulous E36 M3.

This engine never came turbocharged from the factory, however, the engine appears to respond rather well to turbocharging. BDC drivers Josh King, Mark Chapman, Josh Moore, Ben Parry and even Wunderkind Archie Harmer all sport a turbocharged M50 in their car. Indeed, it’s the fifth most popular engine setup on the 2020 grid. So why is that?

Well, the early M50, surprisingly, is actually a pretty tough little engine. In stock form they can withstand roughly 400 horsepower, and with some internal work, over 600 is possible, as is the case with Josh King’s mighty 650hp M50 turbo. 

In addition, the engines are happy to rev up to over 7000RPM too, which means that hitting the limiter isn’t a huge concern for those running the engine. And, to give them their due, they do sound pretty damn exciting on the limiter!

Pro 2 driver Josh Moore is a man committed to the M50 turbo setup in his awesome tin-top style E36 saloon:

The engine I am running is the original engine the car came with 29 years ago. I had seen Josh King’s making reliable power and thought it was a good idea. Once I got in contact with Hopwood Motorsport who supply full turbo kits for the M50/52/54 Engines and they came onboard with me it was really a win win. 

The earlier M50 engines can take big power with just a head gasket and head studs like mine. I have covered 15,000 miles in it as I still street drive it, and all it has ever needed is servicing! Next year I’m hoping the forged engine I am building will be ready to crank it up some more!” – Josh Moore

E36 drivers in the championship are very quick to ditch the stock lumps for either an engine from an M3, a V8 or even a Toyota JZ. But, from some drifters’ perspective, the expense and complication is simply not worth it, so they work with what they have. A Turbocharged M50 is a good budget solution to a 2JZ, and if all the parts in your E36 will handle 400 horsepower, why not give it a try?

If you’re not Team M50, which other engine is dear to you?

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