How to Increase BMW Performance with an Engine Management System
From Carburetors to Electronic Fuel Injection
For decades, BMW has used electronic fuel injection in its street and race cars to provide optimal engine performance. BMW had previously used carburetors and forms of mechanical fuel injection. While vintage cars can still be found on the road and track using these fuel delivery systems, most of the cars racing today have electronic fuel injection (EFI) with an electronic engine management system.
Carburetors were used on the earliest BMW models like the prewar 328 and up to the classic 2002 and are the simplest form of fuel delivery. With the proper tools and knowledge, they can be dialed in for a specific purpose and work well on vintage cars but are limited when it comes to upgrading and tuning. Mechanical fuel injection and continuous injection were developed to provide greater performance, especially under racing conditions, but mechanical injection can be expensive to repair and tune. Race cars from the ’70s and early ’80s, such as the M1 and 3.0 CSL, are some of the most famous BMWs to use mechanical fuel injection. The ’80s and ’90s saw BMW move to electronic fuel injection for their street and race cars. This type of injection uses an engine management system that can be modified or tuned to provide greater performance.
An engine management system, in simple terms, is a Digital Motor Electronics (DME) that is responsible for fuel delivery but can and often does control other aspects of a vehicle's operation. It takes information from various sensors which measure engine temperature, air and exhaust measurements, engine component timing, and pressure. The DME uses this information to control the fuel injectors and ignition or spark in some cases. BMW’s stock engine management systems are set up to provide maximum fuel efficiency, performance and compliance with different emission regulations around the world.
Reasons to Replace and Upgrade your Engine Management System
There are several reasons to upgrade to a do-it-yourself autotune engine management system, and all of them involve improving engine performance. If you have already upgraded your car with BMW performance parts like high-performance brakes and Condor suspension bushings and your car is handling and stopping great, then it might be time to look at modifying your engine next. BMWs come out of the factory with a power plant that was designed to provide maximum performance and efficiency, and their engine management systems do a great job. As engine modifications are made in the name of speed and performance, the system that manages fuel delivery and spark needs to be modified to keep up. This proves that you can increase engine performance without sacrificing reliability, but you will need an upgraded engine management system to accomplish this goal.
Some of the most popular BMW models to modify and race include 3 Series models like the E30 and E36, and just about any BMW racing part and BMW engine part that you can think of are available for these cars including engine management upgrades. Any serious enthusiast knows that you can’t just bolt on an aftermarket turbo and exhaust manifold purchased from the fringes of the Internet onto your E36’s cylinder head and expect it to be reliable (or safe). Chances are, if you are serious about BMW performance upgrades, you are purchasing the best BMW parts available, and these need to be managed properly to maximize performance, efficiency and longevity. If you add a turbocharger to your car, you will need a tunable DME to make the most of that upgrade. Upgrading to high-flow fuel injectors or building an engine with stronger internals might not make as much of a performance difference as you think unless you’re making changes to your engine management system as well.
While there are plug-and-play replacement DME options available for BMW engines like the M20, M50 and S50, stand-alone engine management systems can be adapted for use in almost every BMW model that features electronic fuel injection. If you have the engineering and fabrication skills necessary, any engine can be converted to run an aftermarket DME.
Choosing the Best BMW Engine Management System for You
When it comes to choosing a new engine management system for your BMW, there are basically two options. One is a plug-and-play (PNP) stand-alone engine management system. This comes in the form of a new DME and software that is fully programmable or tunable. The plug-and-play term comes from the fact that this new DME is a direct replacement for a factory control unit, with very little or no modification to your car's wiring harness as it is made for a specific engine family or car model. This allows for quick installation, and once installed, you can change settings and tune your engine for your specific modifications. The Megasquirt PNP systems include a base tune, and installation is simple enough that you can plug it in and drive, but you will still need access to a dyno and a knowledgeable tuner to properly set up your new engine management system to its full potential. Condor Speed Shop has two popular choices when it comes to PNP engine management systems, the first being for cars powered by M20, M30, and S38 engines found here.
They also feature a PNP system for the popular E36 and E34 chassis with OBD1 engines like the S50 and M50, which can be found here.
Condor Speed Shop was one of the first BMW performance parts suppliers to develop, dyno test, and track test a PNP engine management system and the products they offer are the best in the business. Here's a video of that track test at Virginia International Speedway, 2011 UTCC, Condor Speed Shop, GRM Challenge Car, Session, 1 Turbo BMW E30.
For chassis and engine combos that do not have PNP systems available, the other option is a universal stand-alone engine management system. Like our PNP systems, this system is the ultimate tool for fine-tuning your BMW. It includes a new DME and software but is not tailor-made for a specific application, engine, or car model. This option provides you with great tuning ability but will require custom wiring and in-depth knowledge about engine tuning and car customization, not to mention dyno and harness fabrication time. It’s an excellent option for street or an all-out competition car as it allows the most amount of tunability and customization. Check out this one offered by Condor Speed Shop.
Upgrading your car’s engine management system is one of the best ways to see and feel performance gains, so get the best BMW performance parts available at Condor Speed Shop, install them yourself, or with the help of your favorite independent BMW shop or local tuner, and head to the track!