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Project BMW M3 Part 11: The Ultimate Braking System

Pablo Mazlumian
Nov 20, 2002 SHARE

When I think of the best sports cars on the market today, such marques as Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche spring to mind. For motorcycles, I put the Ducati 998 at the top of my most wanted list. There's something these dream machines all have in common: They're all fitted with Brembo brakes from the factory.

I also sought Brembo's assistance after Project M3 went through yet another radical engine upgrade. The former 13-in. front brakes were more than sufficient for the car when it was powered by the original 250-hp engine. They even withstood Active Autowerke's 355-hp+ Stage 2 turbo system. But with the car developing nearly 200 hp more than stock, I decided to investigate another path for stopping power.

My call to Brembo resulted in a visit to its massive California facility, which warehouses calipers and rotors for various makes and models. For the E36 M3, Brembo offers a 13-in.-rotor (332mm) front brake upgrade, but Brembo's Mark Valskis said it wouldn't be enough for Project M3: "With the kind of horsepower the car's making, and still weighing over 3,000 lb, you're going to have to use a 355mm (14-in.) setup for the front and a 328mm (12.9-in.) setup for the rear." So why does Porsche equip its 400-bhp+ cars with only 13-in. rotors? "The brakes we make for those cars are different," Mark said. "Not only is the rotor considerably thicker, but the air gap is narrower. This results in a heavier disc, which takes longer to heat up."

I picked up one of the two-piece, 14-in. discs from Brembo's Gran Turismo kit, thinking there was no way they would fit on my car. Somehow, they did. And they were designed to work with the stock master cylinder and emergency brake cables. Brembo engineers all its systems to ensure the vehicle's brake balance isn't compromised, so Brembo offers its rear brake system for only a select number of high-performance vehicles, including the E36 and E46 M3. Cosmetics get some attention as well: Calipers are offered with red, black or silver paint. I picked silver.

My next decision was in rotor design: slotted or cross-drilled. Cross-drilled rotors offer better cooling and lighter weight, but slotted rotors are less prone to cracking from hard use. I wanted to keep my pad wear to a minimum, so I opted for the slightly cooler cross-drilled rotors. Unlike some other cross-drilled rotors on the market, Brembo drills different-sized holes depending on many vital parameters. For instance, there are critical minimum distances from the edge of the hole to the inner cooling vanes, as well as from the edges of the holes to the outer edges of the disc. There is also a maximum number of holes for a certain disc area, and a minimum distance required from one hole to the next. Plus, Brembo specially shapes its holes to avoid any cracking around their perimeters.

"You wouldn't believe how many companies out there buy our O.E. replacement rotors, drill the holes themselves without any standards or any idea of what they're doing, and sell them as 'Brembo cross-drilled rotors,'" Mark said. "And after the rotors show cracks, they blame our rotors." If the rotor does not have the trademarked, machined Brembo logo, it's not a Brembo.

Before Brembo mounted the binders, I weighed the components, including the stock front units I'd temporarily installed for a few days. Used stock rotors weigh slightly less than new ones because of wear, but my stock 12.4-in. front rotor weighed 15.7 lb and the stock single-piston caliper was 13.0 lb. The stock rear rotor weighed 14 lb and the caliper 7.5 lb.

You'd think Brembo's much larger system would add a fair amount of weight to the car, but the front 14-in. rotor weighed only 16.8 lb, and the caliper weighed 9.8 lb without the bracket. Including the 1.0-lb bracket, Brembo's 14-in. front system saved 1.1-lb per front corner, with a rotating mass (rotor) increase of only 1.1 lb.

The rear system is also light. Brembo's 12.9-in. rotor weighed 13.3 lb and the rear caliper 9.1 lb, including the 1.7-lb bracket.

Before Brembo technicians Mark Valskis and Rick Solano installed the brake system, they fitted a set of BMP Design brake ducts, which draw air from scoops that replace the factory foglights and deliver it straight to the front rotors and calipers. The ducts fit behind the hub and replace the factory front dust shields. Installation of BMP Design's brake duct kit required a special socket to remove the front hub. With the hubs replaced, they went to work on the brakes. Aside from a little grinding on the factory control arm around the ball joint, everything fit like a glove. In the rear, Mark and Rick trimmed a small section from the dust shield to clear the rear caliper. Other than that, everything went on the car smoothly and hassle free. The 18-in. Fikse Mach V wheels cleared both calipers with no wheel spacers.

I first "bedded in" the pads with several repeated, hard applications of the brake pedal. Even though the M3 was rolling on narrower 225/40-18 S-03s up front, I could feel the tremendous power of the brakes. Around parking lots it was awkward, because the stopping power was so abrupt, causing me to jerk the car to a stop until I got used to it.

Brembo doesn't post 60-to-0-mph numbers, because that test primarily demonstrates the tire's grip on the pavement. The main advantages from a larger brake system are decreased braking distances from higher speeds and continuous, optimum performance during repeated braking.

Shortly after the brake installation, Project M3 went back to evosport for further engine modifications. But before the car was put on the lift, evosport technicians Frank Lopez and Steve Lee and I went for a ride. Once I got up to speed, I hammered the brakes without warning, and all I heard was laughter coming from my passengers. After repeated stops, Frank turned to me and said, "I tell you...I've been in some fast cars in my life, but I've never been in anything that stops this hard!" Steve just kept chuckling from the back seat and quickly agreed.

As for myself, the first hard application of these brakes had me wondering if my seatbelt would snap my collarbone. Any harder and I thought I'd be going backward in time. These brakes are absolutely amazing.

As Frank got out of the car, he had a concerned look on his face, his hand rubbing his belly: "Dude, I think those stops made me a little sick!" Sorry about that, Frank.

0209ec_m3project17_zoom Photo 16/16   |   A racing caliper like this eight-piston unit used in CART racing will set you back over four grand a corner.

Brembo in Motorsports

Many would say Formula One is the highest level of motorsports--and I would have to agree. But, other forms of racing, such as CART and the American Le Mans Series, are considered highly advanced in technology as well. And where does Brembo fit into all of this? Not only was Brembo on the 2001 championship-winning cars for each of the series mentioned, its braking systems are on the majority of the cars in these series.

Brembo was also on the 2001 championship car of NASCAR, NASCAR Craftsman Truck, SCCA Trans-Am, CART Toyota Atlantic and Speedvision World Challenge Touring Car--and most of these race teams actually pay for Brembo brakes, at over $4,000 per caliper for a CART application, for example. So, the next time you buy a pit pass and walk up to a car, squat down and look behind the wheel--chances are you'll read letters that spell "Brembo." It's one of the biggest names in motorsports, plain and simple.

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By Pablo Mazlumian
77 Articles

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