With Project 325's reliability addressed in Part 2, the first performance modification was serious braking ability. Over the last few years, that has gradually come to mean big brakes for most enthusiasts: massive, 13-in. rotors (or larger) with four-piston fixed calipers, requiring 17- or 18-in. wheels. With companies lining up to provide such systems, I stuck to this project's mission of attainability and selected performance components designed to work with stock-size brakes. Big brakes work great, but the goal for this phase was to see how far one could get without that significant investment. Serious pads and fluid, braided stainless-steel lines and ducting to force cooling air to the front discs were the heart of the plan. Unfortunately, the ducting was back-ordered and didn't arrive in time to meet my deadline, but I'm pleased with the performance I've seen so far.
The trickest thing I did was swap on the rear brakes from an E36 328i Convertible. They are the same diameter as the 325 brakes and use the same pads, parking brake shoes, backing plates, brake lines and all other hardware. It's a direct bolt-on swap of the calipers, brackets and rotor. The 328ic rotor is thicker and vented, helping cooling, and the caliper has a larger piston, moving brake bias rearward just about the right amount for optimum stopping performance. This plan was hatched in consultation with Stoptech's Steve Ruiz and Centric Parts Inc. engineers. Bavarian Auto Wrecking provided used calipers as well as a replacement for a flaky headlight switch, both of which have worked perfectly.
Steve Ruiz has often mentioned the Pagid 4-2-1 compound as a "cheater" pad that offers superb characteristics, combining overall friendliness with awesome performance numbers in brake system tests. The only real downside is cost and the fact that it likes to be warmed up before being asked to work hard. Pagid reported that the 4-2-1 compound is stable up to 1,000*F and loses some friction above that but does not fade until 1,200*F. Pagid uses the same description for Sport street pads as for the 4-2-1 racing compound, because in many cases, they are the same. Street pads include anti-squeal shims and other required extras; racing pads do not. Pagid referred me to Bavarian Autosport, one of its warehousing distributors and a well-rounded BMW performance and accessories supplier in its own right, to provide front and rear Pagid Sport pads. Bavarian Autosport also sent new wear sensors, which should always be replaced if they have made contact with the disc.
Stoptech began assembling street-legal braided stainless brake lines to include in its big brake kits, and it was a natural step to expand the brake line activity to include stock-compatible upgrade lines. Sister magazine Sport Compact Car was happy with Stoptech lines on one of its projects, so I tried a set on Project 325. Bimmerworld builds some of the fastest SCCA ITS 325s in the country, usually using the same Advance Design suspension chosen for european car's Project M3. Bimmerworld's James Clay said he runs plain, stock replacement discs on many race cars, even for World Challenge at some tracks, with no problems, recommending the money for anything fancier be spent elsewhere.
Bimmerworld provided a set of solid caliper guides to replace the rubber ones on Project 325, stating they will provide significantly longer pad life and more consistent brake system feel. Import Parts Specialists sent a set of Balo-Motortex discs, once again having parts in stock and following through with what it said, when it said.
Speed Bleeders are a tiny detail I've wanted to try for some time. They are brake bleed screws with internal check valves to prevent expelled fluid and air bubbles from reentering the caliper. They allow brake bleeding to be performed reliably by one person with no extra equipment, rather than being the two-man job it usually is. Be cautioned that there are short and long versions of the screws. If the short version bottoms out the hex against the caliper body, it won't seal. I reused the stock bleed screw dust covers, which can't get lost and include provision to locate pad wear sensor wires.
I've come to dread changing brake lines, because it seems there is almost no way to do it without dripping brake fluid all over the place. Stoptech's front lines are no problem at all, but it is not obvious how the rears fit with the various stock brackets. It took me awhile to determine that the most elegant solution was to tie-wrap the extra fitting to the trailing arm near where the stock intermediate hard line bracket was attached. Have a large, flat pan with edges to catch the drips, and keep a close watch on the master cylinder reservoir during this process--chasing bubbles out of the ABS system can be a challenge. I prefer to keep the reservoir topped up with inexpensive (but still from a fresh bottle) brake fluid to replace what leaks out, then flush the system with good stuff later. The cool part about this brake setup is it's mostly stock. Installing the brake guides made it take longer than a normal service. Take time to thoroughly clean the rust off the hubs to ensure the rotors run true. It is recommended to bolt the rotor to the hub and check runout with a dial indicator before proceeding any further; Balo's specs are more stringent than the Bentley manual's.
Pagid's Sport pads are sensitive to proper bedding procedure. They are baked during the manufacturing process to prevent green fade, but the pad/rotor interface must be initiated very carefully. Pagid's Web site has three different bedding procedures; I printed out and followed the one for street pads. The blue powder coating on the friction surface of the pads is worn away during the initial bedding and has no effect on friction performance. On the street, the pads exhibit excellent initial bite even from cold, good modulation, no squealing whatsoever and less dust than stock pads.
The Tire Rack distributes Speed Star Racing wheels in the U.S., which achieve high strength and light weight through a semi-solid forging manufacturing process. I used the SSR GT-1 on Project Tarmac Rally MINI and was very impressed. After consulting with The Tire Rack's Woody Rogers about fitment, I decided that 235/40-17 tires on 8x17-in. wheels (stock on a 1995 M3) would be the best way to go, providing balanced handling and enough rubber on the ground without the need to roll fender lips or otherwise compromise a street car's niceness. SSR Type C wheels look great and weigh just 15.5 lb in this size, with a 40mm offset. Their spoke design also provides clearance for the widest four-piston-caliper big brakes without spacers, leaving that avenue open for the future.
We had used Continental's ContiSportContact 2 on european car's long-term Audi A4 3.0 but I still wanted to sample it in a car with better suspension and more handling potential. For more details, see ec's online introduction at www.europeancarweb.com/tech/0207ec_nero/. Since that was written, the ContiSportContact 2 has begun to show up as O.E. on sport-focused German models from Mercedes and Porsche, underlining its refinement. It is not generally available in 235/40-17 in North America, but since the ContiSportContact 2 is produced entirely in Europe, Continental just put in an order for a set in this size with the next shipment. Continental said it would do the same for any regular customer. Many sizes not listed in North American literature can be found on the international Web site, www.conti-online.com. With new wheels and tires mounted, Project 325 immediately rode better. Steering response, handling and grip are dramatically improved as well, and braking is phenomenal. The tires make little noise on the freeway, but their ribbed tread pattern does jump in and out of rain grooves as much as any other tire.
The proof is in testing. I did our regular 60-to-0 mph test, looking for two repeatable stops for minimum distance. In ambient temperatures around 100*F, the test was repeated seven times. With factory backing plates in place and no ducting, there was no trend of increasing distance. The average was 123 ft, and the average of the best two was 122 ft. Very few standard-issue stock cars can match the distance for two stops, and almost none have this fade resistance. After the seventh stop, a slightly spongy pedal was noted, but this was with the inexpensive brake fluid used to chase air out of the system, not the high-performance Motul RBF 600 that will be used for the serious tests.
There are a few nice-to-have accessories that make life with a BMW better. Older BMWs tend to appeal to do-it-yourself types, and there are two things that will make working on an E36 much easier and more pleasant. One is Peake Research's R5/FCX Fault Code/Service Reset tool, assisting diagnosis of problems and allowing one to properly complete routine maintenance. The other is AC Hydraulics DK13HLQ long-reach jack from Automotive Service Equipment. It makes jacking the car a one-step process rather than requiring a corner be lifted so a normal floor jack can reach the crossmembers.
Having a black car calls for either serious commitment or a willingness to appear slovenly. Avoiding the latter means a lot of washing. Automotive journalists' personal cars can sit undriven for weeks at a time, and it sucks to wash a car and then have it get filthy without even driving it. The solution is a car cover. I chose a gray Superweave cover from the California Car Cover Company. It protects against dust and moisture. Because of its thin weave, it stores in a small bag that takes hardly any trunk space and, its maker says, is the only cover on the market that can be washed and dried in home machines.
Thule, a Swedish company specializing in racks and extra cargo hauling capacity for automobiles, is partnered with several European marques to provide O.E. accessory racks such as that used a few years ago on the Jetta Trek. Too often, I step outside on perfect weekend mornings, thinking what a great day it would be to ride my mountain bike. Then I look at whatever car is in the driveway and decide there's no way I'm putting the bike in it. Though Project 325is' rear seat folds down, I don't really want to scrape up its interior, either.
Thule's basic rack package, wind deflector and Big Mouth mountain bike carrier installed easily on the BMW, clamping the drip rails securely. A matched set of locks helps ensure that my toys stay mine. I added a surfboard carrier from The Sports Rack, a retail chain, to transform Project 325is into the ultimate all-activity vehicle.
Thule's Big Mouth bike mount is less rigid than a fork-clamp mount I have used in the past but has the advantage that the front wheel doesn't have to be removed. That feature saves time and is the main reason I chose the Big Mouth. Just clean any dirt from the bike's down tube before clamping it, or the paint will be ruined.
Thule's rack seems to be designed around a Swedish "leave it installed all winter to go skiing" paradigm, as the attachment mechanism requires loosening and resetting the tensioning screws each time it is removed from and reinstalled on the car. This takes several minutes, whereas racks from Thule's main competitor, Yakima, generally use a cam-lock clamping system that can be removed from the car in seconds and installed almost as quickly once dialed in. However, Yakima doesn't believe it can clamp onto the 325is' drip rails safely, so it does not support the application.
The UUC tranny mounts and enforcers installed last month became completely acceptable when properly retorqued to 16 ft-lb. My torque wrench starts reading at 20 ft-lb, which is why I didn't do it right the first time. One of the technicians at evosport had a Snap-On in.-lb torque wrench and got it all dialed in. UUC's tranny mounts and enforcers reduce excessive twisting of the engine and transmission in its mounts and the potential for missed shifts and the catastrophic engine damage that could result when driving hard. Just follow the directions and you'll be happy.
TC Kline Racing will be installing its double-adjustable, Koni-based coilover street/track suspension system on Project 325. If you haven't heard of TC Kline, watch more Speed Channel or check out www.tcklineracing.com. We'll report on daily driving and track testing, and we'll torture test our brakes with Bimmerworld's cool-air ducting installed.