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This Mad Genius Built The Strangest-Running BMW You Have Ever Seen

Illustration for article titled This Mad Genius Built The Strangest-Running BMW You Have Ever Seen

There’s a reason why I’m not even mad at this dude building the visually worst-running BMW I’ve ever laid eyes on. It actually has to be one of the most ambitious engine builds I’ve heard of. This dude put rotary valves in his ‘90s 328is.


No, not a rotary engine. That would be child’s play compared to rotary valves. It’s a term that doesn’t even make sense to most casual car enthusiasts, as it just never comes up. All normal cars have valves that go up and down. They could have pushrods that actuate them. They could have an overhead cam that actuates them. They could have hydraulic actuators that, uh, actuate them. No matter how high the tech, the principle for a valve is the same in just about every internal combustion design.

But there are a few oddballs out there. I don’t have time to praise the smooth quietude of sleeve valves and other weirdos, but I can say that rotary valves are one of the stranger ways to get air into an engine and exhaust out of it.


Rotary valves aren’t all that complicated in theory: they themselves are cylinders with passageways in them. The cylindrical valve rotates, and as it rotates in time, these passageways open up to function in the way that a normal engine’s intake and exhaust valves would. Reading the wikipedia for them might be better than my explanation, but hey, I dunno.

Why do car companies not choose rotary valves? Well, watch this guy’s BMW test run and decide for yourself.

He said he was spinning tires in second, at least until the oil on his exhaust caught fire.

Why is there oil everywhere? Our intrepid rotary-valver explains in another YouTube description:

All the smoke is from the oil going to the valves as a precautionary measure to prevent any seizures.


Here’s the system up close. Do I have a clear understanding how this particular system works? No! This guy’s nuts!

Watching fuel get injected into these spinning valve-balls, opening and closing as they rotate, is completely tearing the folds of my brain apart:

Right now you’re probably thinking to yourself damn I wish I had some CFD graphics of this. Well you’re in luck! Here’s one from pizzaman09 himself:

I have no idea why one would go through the effort to do this, other than for I suppose some benefits in smoothness, some real engineering points and presumably a desire to asphyxiate yourself in your garage.

I only noticed this guy’s work when he commented on our post of the worst cars and trucks we’ve driven this year to nominate his own car. He definitively showed us up.


This guy wins the internet for today, I think.

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.

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I am honored that you made a post about this. You did a lot more justice to the topic of rotary valves than most people do. Most just assume it is a Wankel rotary engine.

The basic background is, my twin brother and I are mechanical engineers. We started out with the rotary valve thing as a senior design project for the Penn State Behrend Supermileage team. If you go back in our videos you will find videos of that engine. We further refined the design on a 1950 vintage Briggs and Straton Model N that ended up on our one friend’s go-kart. Then last year my brother, unfortunately, found himself out of work, so we decided to try and do the rotary valve thing on the grand scale on a real car. We are both BMW enthusiasts and love the e36. We wanted to start small and find a nice little 318ti, but then got pulled into the idea of doing an M3. Ended up finding the perfect 328is on Craigslist for the project 300 miles away in Fairfax, VA. Had an epic road trip that is an article in itself to go pick it up with 4 friends and an e39 M5 that desperately needed new rear tires. We modeled everything up in Inventor, then got to work building it. We machined about half of the components ourselves on our own equipment, and the big stuff and high precision stuff we sent to two local tool shops. Back in February we got all of our friends together and spent all day installing it in the car. It ran for the first time a month later and to this day we are still working on getting it running well.

It would be nice if we had started with a car with carbs and points, but we are doing it on a BMW with a surprisingly tolerant stock ECU. I am astounded that it runs this way with a completely stock ECU.