Our plucky little E36 M3 has been beaten to death for more than 200,000 miles. Just for a little perspective, that's enough distance to lap the globe nearly eight times at the equator, and after all that abuse, it drives like it. While we'd still put our money on the beleaguered German over most recent offerings if it came down to a street fight, the car's suspension isn't quite as sharp as it used to be. In its old age, the coupe has grown from carving-knife quick to rusty butter-knife lazy. Before we hit any kind of track, something has to be done with the suspension bushings.
It's always easy to overlook the squishy parts of a car's suspension when it comes to modification. Standard rubber bushings degrade so gradually that it's hard to feel the difference between how the car drove from the factory and how it feels under you 15 years later, but swapping the stock parts for more advanced pieces can have a huge impact on how well the car handles. We decided to go with polyurethane bushings in place of the original hardware, and eventually settled on a kit from PowerFlex.
Manufactured in England and distributed here in the good-old US of A by outlets like Bimmerworld (bimmerworld.com), the bushings are made with a special polyurethane that's supposed to decrease noise and vibration while keeping suspension flex to a minimum at the same time. Naturally, we thought that sounded like a bunch of PR drivel when we first heard it, because our run-ins with urethane bushings in the past have been filled with squeaks and a kidney-busting ride. After swapping in the PowerFlex pieces, we've been impressed.
The company offers two grades of bushings depending on how hardcore you want to be with your build, and we opted for the stiffer of the two on the front and rear control arms of the project E36 M3. The subframe got the less stiff pieces, and despite what the suspension gurus crawling the forums say, the car is completely drivable on the street. We were biting our nails worrying that the new bushings would give us a buckboard ride along with scalpel-sharp steering, but we were surprised to have the car feel more like a factory-fresh car than a track rat. -James Tate