No, Project M3 doesn't sound like Darth Vader's Tie Fighter, but when I look at the car now, I can't think of anything else it reminds me of. It's sleek, aggressive looking and strikes a nasty little pose. And it's as black as the inside of a piece of charcoal inside a closed box at the bottom of an empty missile silo with steel plates welded over the opening. Things don't get much blacker.
Before we get further into the looks of the car, let's talk about brakes. First of all, I knew four-piston calipers and 13-in. rotors were going to be needed given the plans I have for Project M3. I turned to Stoptech for its big-brake upgrade kit (for information on Stoptech, see the August 2001 issue).
I met up with the Stoptech folks at their test site and gave them the okay to trash my stock brakes for testing purposes. After all, readers need to know what the stock system is capable of. Within the next hour I witnessed my car go through brake lock, brake fade, fluid boil--you name it! But this is what impressed me the most: All the testing they did with the stock system, and then theirs, was to improve brake bias and overall brake performance. (With respect to Stoptech's intellectual property, I won't describe all of the tests performed.)
The stock brake system performed very well in the 60-to-0-mph tests. The M3 definitely did not come poorly equipped from the factory. Temperatures didn't rise dramatically, and braking distances remained consistent. Considering the fact that at the time of testing Pirelli P7000 Supersport tires were being used, braking distances were slightly greater because of decreased grip when compared to the Michelin Pilot MXX3 tires found on a stock M3.
In the 80-to-0-mph tests, Project M3's stock brake fluid boiled, and the pedal went straight to the floor by the fourth run.
Stoptech cofounder Steve Ruiz and his technicians quickly installed the new calipers and rotors on Project M3 and bled the brakes. Since this was going to be a test against the stock system, non-race brake fluid was used.
As they were working on the car, Steve told me more about the company's products. Stoptech's big-brake kits are not just about putting the largest possible brakes on a car. They are about improving overall braking performance, including stopping distance, brake fade and front-to-rear brake balance. The racing AeroRotors are cast at AB&I, a 75-year-old foundry that is QS-9000 qualified, and machined at a QS-9000-registered facility. Stoptech has the latest CNC machinery featuring active tooling at its Southern California location. Calipers, hats and brackets are also machined to the same standards at Stoptech.
Although the kit for the M3 was designed to fit the factory control arms, a very small amount of grinding was required on the front left control arm. Unlike other big-brake kits, Stoptech's was designed to work with the M3's stock rear brakes, save for the pads, not transferring too much brake bias to the front. In addition, a stock M3 master cylinder will suffice.
A set of red calipers briefly went on the car for testing, the fluid was flushed, and the car went back out. Measurements were taken with a pyrometer and a Stalker radar gun. In the first six 60-to-0-mph runs the temperatures stayed lower than with the stock brakes, with a maximum temperature difference of 70*F after the sixth run. Looking at the chart, you'll notice the Stoptech brake system performed better the hotter it got, leaving DOT 4 brake fluid as the only weak link.
After testing, Project M3 was supplied with a fresh new set of two-piece front rotors, calipers (black, of course), Pagid Blue front pads, stainless-steel lines and Motul 600 brake fluid, which has a dry boiling point of 593*F compared to the minimum requirement of 343*F for DOT 4 fluid. Of course, after testing and a few track days (not to mention the 48k miles on the odometer), the stock rear pads and rotors were just about finished, too.
Thankfully, BMP Design shipped out a set of original E36 M3 rear rotors. I wanted the rear rotors to match the front slotted units, so I had them sent to Armand Fallert, founder of Astro Tech Engineering, who flawlessly reverse slotted them using CAD engineering. Based here in the Southland, Astro Tech specializes in CNC milling and turning of steel, aluminum, titanium, brass, copper and plastic, and has been manufacturing, slotting and cross-drilling rotors for various cars and trucks, including for motorsports, for the past 12 years. Although I will have this new brake system track-tested soon, it was already obvious why Stoptech was awarded one of european car's Select Gear awards for 2001 (see ec, 12/01).
Now that I had the brakes installed, it was time to get the right set of wheels. I wanted a set of lightweight, multi-piece, forged aluminum wheels. The advantage of forged wheels is the density and grain structure of the aluminum, which allows for a wheel that is much stronger and lighter at the same time. Having a multi-piece wheel can save money on possible damage costs, usually eliminating the need to replace the entire wheel. The choice of Fikse wheels was an easy one.
Fikse USA doesn't need a whole lot of introduction. It builds thousands of first-class custom wheels that speak for themselves on some of the sweetest cars and race cars to hit roads and racetracks. It is well represented in road racing, particularly in the American Le Mans Series, Grand Am Series, Grand Am Rolex Cup, Speedvision World Challenge, European Le Mans Series and club racing.
To clear the Stoptech brakes I had to use one of Fikse's 18-in. wheels to avoid using a wheel spacer (my previous 17-in. IFG wheels needed 15mm spacers to clear the brakes). My original idea in purchasing a black 1995 M3 was to make it all black, to "Vader" it, if you will, so any color other than black for wheels was not an option. Fortunately, Fikse offered a Race Black anodized finish for the Mach V wheel I chose.
Simply put, these wheels are stunning. Prior to mounting, I spent parts of my days slapping coworkers' hands out of the wheel boxes sitting in the office: "Get off! Get your rat claws out of there!" (Those were some of my friendlier remarks.)
I chose to go with 8x18 in. in front and 9x18 in. at the rear, in anticipation of even more power. I figured more rear traction would make this car safer to drive on the street. The Fikse wheels were wrapped with Bridgestone's new Potenza S-03 Pole Position tires, sized 225/40/ZR-18 front and 255/35/ZR-18 rear. Of the 18-in. sizes offered, these were the ones that came closest to the overall diameter of the stock wheels, which is very important. As the ultra-high-performance tire in Bridgestone's line, the S-03 was an easy choice. It's an improvement on the successful S-02 tire, plus I'm a big fan of Bridgestone's results in Formula One. It's no wonder the S-03 was another inductee to 2001's Select Gear pantheon.
When first pressing hard on the brakes at a good speed, I could immediately feel the added traction of these new tires. It took a lot more pedal effort to kick in the ABS than when I had the Pirelli P7000 Supersports; apparently those tires couldn't handle the power of the Stoptechs. Acceleration? No wheelspin--the S-03s really hook up nicely, even with the newfound power (that's a secret until next issue). Cornering performance of the S-03 is just short of an R-compound tire--it takes a lot of low-speed throttle and/or high cornering forces to break them loose, and you don't even have to warm them up! The handling and turning response is also superb, but I will have track-testing impressions of the SO-3s in an upcoming issue for you. (To learn more about these Bridgestones' technology, see ec's June 2001 issue.)
Thanks to Big O Tires of Redlands for mounting and balancing the Fikse wheels and Bridgestone tires, to evosport for the rear rotor and pad installation, and to BMP Design for helping me complete the Project M3's "Vadering" process with its easy-install black grille inserts.
One might at first think Fikse's headquarters, just south of Seattle, would be a better location for a berry patch than for a high-tech industry. One soon discovers, though, that many of the small businesses dotting the green landscape are independent contractors for Boeing.
When they started their business in 1992, brothers Jim and Matt Fikse saw a need for a U.S.-based supplier of quality wheels, familiar with U.S. cars and conditions and able to respond to customer needs and market demands quickly. By using a modular structure and CNC machinery, it is as easy for Fikse to build a wheel to fit a specific car as to build a standard wheel. Fikse wheels have achieved TUeV certification on Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Porsche and Volkswagen cars.
Each Fikse wheel center begins as a 12-in.-high, 7-in.-diameter aluminum slug, which is pressed into a disc shape using a special forging process. The forging process creates a fine, radial grain structure in the metal, with tensile strength 20-25 percent better than a traditional forging. After heat treating, one hundred percent of center forgings are hardness tested by Fikse.
The radial contour, rim register and mounting face are cut on a CNC lathe to a basic shape that is identical for all Fikse wheel designs. These blanks are then loaded into a CNC mill, which, with 40-hp, 14,000-rpm capability and about 40 interchangeable tools, takes just 20 minutes to create all the features for the wheel center. Parts go through a six-step cleaning process before being polished bare, clearcoated, anodized or powdercoated Speed Silver. This new finish looks very similar to the dark silver used on the new M3's factory wheels, and we find it very attractive. Both clearcoat and anodizing will withstand a 1,000-hour salt-spray corrosion test. An expensive architectural anodizing process is used, which is colorfast for a long life when exposed to the elements. Jim Fikse says anodizing is best for high-heat racing environments--the coating has a Brinell hardness of 70 to withstand aggressive scrubbing and cleaners. There are some differences among suppliers, he noted, and only one can be trusted with the Race Black used on Project M3's wheels.
Astro Tech Engineering
18314 Oxnard St., #7
Tarzana, CA, 91356
Fax: (818) 776-8379
Big O Tires
525 W. Redlands Blvd.
Redlands, CA 92373
3208 Park Center Dr.
Tyler, TX 75701
Fax: (903) 581-8206
P.O. Box 148900
Nashville, TN 37214-8900
Fax: (615) 872-1414
(888) 520-9972 (order)
Fax: (888) 520-9972
Fikse USA Inc.
6851 S. 220th St.
Kent, WA 98032 USA
Fax: (253) 437-0187
G2-Performance Engineering Inc.
29 W. Cimarron St.
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
(877) G2Leads (877/425-3237)
3541A Lomita Blvd.
Torrance, CA 90505