BMW E46 330i – Never Too Old
Normally, our customer projects come to us early in the car’s life…either right after being purchased, and the customer wants to make some changes, or later in life, as the objectives and use of the car change. This project was quite the opposite. This is Alex’s car, a daily driver, used for long commutes. When we first started servicing the car, the car had about 130k miles on it. When we then started the slippery slope of the upgrades, the car had over 230k miles on it. These 100k miles have been put on in just the last 4 years.
We had done the normal services and repairs..and the car was great. Very reliable, comfortable, just want you want from a car. Then Alex got bit by the track bug. He has been a great customer for many years, and kept seeing all the other cars at our shop, and started asking the question, “what do all these other guys do with their cars?” They take them to the track. “What is that, what is that all about? Can anyone do that? Can you do it with normal street cars, or do you have to have a special track car?” The answers opened the door to the slippery slope of going to the track. So, Alex took his high mileage, normal daily driver, to the track (went w Hooked On Driving (HOD) for his first track experience, a great group to start with). No upgrades, no changes, no special tires, notihing was changed. He thoroughly enjoyed the experience….way too much so.
So, this started the next phase of the slippery slope. Heh…my tires seem to be making a lot of noise, and are starting to overheat, and “chunk” in some locations. Can I get some better tires that will work well w both my commute and my occassional track day? Yep…can do. He had been running on Continental DWS06, our preferred tire of choice for our commuter customers, but definitely not the tire of choice for track use. We then upgraded his tires from the Conti DWS06 to the new Conti ExtremeSport. A good, solid value, and one that can endure both normal street driving (no noise, wears well, great all around traction), and can be abused at the track……but, this opened the question….Heh…if we are going to change tires, can we fit a slightly larger tire on the car, and are there other things we should consider if we do that?
Yep…we can fit bigger tires, and can change the symmetry of the tires as well….and there are other considerations that we should think about if we are going to make this change. It would be great to get a set of wheels that are strong (for track use), light weight, optimized for fitment to your BMW, and can accomodate bigger brakes if added in the future. Great…lets do that.
That led us to get a set of APEX ARC8 wheels, in a slightly larger size, in 18″ diameter, and we could now run both larger tires in the front and the rear, but also allow us to increase the tire size in the front even more than the rear, to get to a near “square” setup. Perfect.
Alex immediately noticed the difference in feel, “turn in”, handling and grip at his next track day. Wow…the grip was amazing….but, now the car really rolls in the turns, and the nose and tail dip under hard braking. Is there something we should consider suspension wise? Yep….we need to slightly lower the center of gravity of the car, we need to firm up the shocks….yet, we want to ensure that this can still work well for your daily commute. That brought us to the long discussion about shocks, springs, ride height…and dual purpose use.
Our “go to” solution for the dual purpose user is the Bilstein PSS9 coil-over system (adjustable front strut, front springs, rear adjustable shocks, rear adjustable spring perches, rear springs). Great value, EASY to adjust, adjustable ride height, right spring rates for this car. We have tons of customers who regularly use these on their track cars, so we know the shock valving can achieve the desired results there, but you can also QUICKLY change the setting to provide even a more comfortable ride than stock for daily driving. This is by far the greatest attribute of this setup…the ease of changing the setup (takes about 10 mins, no special tools, can be done by anyone). There are far more expensive and sophisticated coil-over setups, and they certainly produce a great track system, but for dual duty, we don’t believe there is a better solution that achieves the objectives for both daily driving and track use.
Next round of track days comes and goes. Alex loves the new better handing…but asks, ” the car still is a little delayed on turn in, and the rear feels like it has a mind of its own under hard cornering…..is there something wrong?” Nope….just more changes needed. The front lower control arm bushings and rear trailing arm bushings are worn out, cracked, torn, and these are allowing the car to move under load. They need to be replaced….and if we are going to replace them, we should upgrade them. Don’t want to bring in any downside, just improve the solution. Enter our other “go to” element for BMW suspensions….bushings. We use Powerflex polyurethane bushings….come in multiple “durameters” for the right fitment and hardness, and have a lifetime warranty. On this BMW, it will need the front lower control arm bushings (often referred to as LCABs or FCABs), and the rear trailing arm bushings (RTABs).
This was half the problem, getting crispness, confidence back into the car. But the other half is the alignment. BMW’s don’t come with front adjustable camber. They do however come with rear adjustable camber. But, to get confidence in “turn in”, and to get better grip, we need more camber in the front. Insert a set of front adjustable camber plates. We always choose Vorshlag camber plates, there are simply none better. Better made, better quality, lower stack height, lifetime warranty, no premature wear in the bushings. These allow both camber and caster adjustment, so we can dial in the proper alignment. Amazing what a proper, track oriented, alignment will do to the handling of the car.
The result? All things are better….even daily driving feels better. Steering input and reaction is much improved, car feels much more stable in the turns, even on just freeway on and off ramps. But, improvements at the track usually result in more things coming to light. Alex could feel the improved handling, the crisp reaction to his inputs…this allowed Alex to continue to drive the car harder and harder…he had far more confidence in the car, its placement, his control. Alex indeed drove the car harder….even deeper into the corners. However, as a result of this confidence boost, he also started braking much harder, more aggressively. The brakes were not up to the task anymore….the pedal would go soft, long travel, brakes starting to overheat. What can be done? Some think that changing the rotor type, stainless steel lines might be a good next step….NOPE. Those things will not help. Stainless steel brake lines are a good safety step, and will produce a more solid pedal feel, but they won’t solve the bigger brake issue. Alex needs bigger brakes…bigger rotors, bigger calipers, more stopping power, and a caliper that provides other pad choices for the future.
We can debate the brake choices…but our two favorites are either Brembo or StopTech. For Alex, we went w the StopTech front big brake kit. Four piston calipers, stianless steel lines, 2-piece rotors, and their “street / performance” pad set….we love this pad choice for daily drivers…as that is really what this cars main duty is, to provide a comfortable, reliable, car for his long daily commute. We could go w a more aggressive pad…but all more aggressive pads will likely result in horrible brake squeal….these do not.
While addressing the continued need for upgrades…..we have also addressed the other normal wear and tear items on the car…things like the cooling system (complete new radiator, all hoses, water pump, thermostat), changed brake fluid type (to a much more suitable track type….we have five different grades of brake fluid to choose from), frequent oil changes and sampling, differential / transmisison fluid upgrades…..and the car has been a champ. Who would have thought a 230k+ mileage car would make such a great dual duty solution, and still be going so strong! The way the car has been working, you would think it had only 40k miles on it….WOW.
Careful of that slippery slope…..but, if you want JOY in driving, then come over to the dark side.
Making cars AWESOME….BRracing