Ever play Cars? Although there are no real guidelines, playing Cars has a few unspoken rules.
Rule one: The closer your face is to the floor, the better everything looks.
Rule two: Cool cars must be parked close to each other.
Rule three: Make sure the sound you make matches your car (a 396 Chevelle doesn't go "Zingzzzzingzingzning" like a Honda).
We are still playing with cars. And although they're a bit larger, we still follow unspoken rules. Perhaps the most sacred rule is: Don't fix something that's not broken.
Project M3 has been host to a few well-placed modifications that have made big improvements. The most visible changes are the 19-inch BBS RGR modular wheels. Light and strong, the RGRs and Toyo T1-S rubber (235/40 and 265/35) have considerably sharpened the handling and response. At first I resisted going from 18- to 19-inch wheels, worried the ride would deteriorate into a teeth-rattling experience. I was wrong. The combination of the new running gear and the Koni adjustable sport shocks and struts have proven to be an awesome set-up. In my opinion, this is the way the BMW should feel.
The M3 had good brakes. The front rotors measure 12.8 inches and the rears are 12.9. Tied into dual-circuit ABS and DSC, they rarely felt wanting. So why fix them by swapping in a StopTech system?
The answer played out one recent Tuesday afternoon. The editor of a sister publication (he will remain nameless for fear of reader reprisals... we'll call him Jason Mulroney to protect the innocent) purchased an E46 M3 just like mine. Like me, he loves to drive it daily and searches for places to test its capabilities.
In addition to the zero to 60 mph testing, I thought we'd analyze more dynamic parameters. Mulroney followed me through the Streets of Willow circuit, mirroring my lines and braking points. Although both cars make within 5 hp of each other, my car tended to pull ahead, especially on the long uphill straight. I can only think the reduction in unsprung weight played a part here, as both cars have completely stock engines. Into the first series of turns, it was obvious Mulroney's car lacked the grip. His was fitted with older Bridgestone S0-3s, while mine wore the grippy Toyos.
Although drifting is popular with his readers, it's not the ideal way to produce fast laps. Yes, he was having a blast powersliding through the corners, but I was pulling far ahead, which in effect screwed my testing methodology. The second session was more serious and although Mulroney's M3 couldn't maintain my cornering speeds (tire-related), he was doing an admirable job. Around the ninth or tenth lap of the 1.2-mile course, he could not maintain my corner entry speeds. His brakes weren't gone, but they were really hot and unable to shed heat like the big StopTechs.
This is where big brakes really prove their worth: no matter what anyone says, a well-engineered big brake system will out-perform a stock system over time. Yes, pad choice can make a significant difference, but ultimately, pads compromise one area to excel in another. StopTech uses a moderately aggressive street pad that gets up to optimal temperature in a fairly brief period. Former ec tech-geek, Dan Barnes, now StopTech engineering rep, described the pads this way:
"The standard pad we ship with kits is the Axxis ULT. It is a high performance street pad with good initial bite, modulation and release. It has a higher maximum operating temperature than most OE pads, but is not recommended for powerful cars to do extended lapping sessions on the track. The ST-40 caliper uses an FMSI #D372 pad shape, which was once used as original equipment on a popular performance car and is available from most brake pad manufacturers. We carry 19 different performance street and race pads for the caliper from eight different manufacturers and there are many more we don't carry."
But it's not just their track performance that makes StopTech brakes so good. It's also pedal feel and their modulated response, the linear way pedal force translates into braking force. Simply put, the StopTechs feel better than the factory system. They feel more connected and visceral.
In any case, I'm pleased with Project M3. I'm becoming more comfortable with its capabilities and am ready to take it to the next level.
OK, I lied. Two months ago I mentioned Project M3 was being fitted with a supercharger. The truth is, I wussed out and cancelled the install. I feared changing the M3's character would kill it. During the 2006 SEMA show in Las Vegas, I queried every single person I met-even complete strangers-if they'd like a supercharged M3. Everyone, including the polyester jumpsuit-clad guy playing the nickel slots, said yes. And then there are guys like Aaron Neumann, guys I respect who say it's a solid idea. And even if it doesn't work out, the supercharger system (and everything else for this matter) is easily reversible. That's the beauty of bolt-on performance parts.
Sex On Wheels, Bro. Sex... On... Wheels.So says the stoned surfer-dude near Huntington Beach. Narcotic-enhanced perceptions aside, he's right. The 645i is damn sexy no matter what your state of mind. We've made a few changes since you last saw the 6er, namely the hood and brakes.
The former was a risky move at best. Regarding aftermarket body panels, our experience has been mixed. For every decent panel we've purchased, there have been twice as many returned. The few we ended up keeping required so much work, they ended up costing three times the price of an OE piece. And angels cry when gorgeous cars are fitted with second-rate parts. Although there are many aftermarket carbon fiber body component manufacturers, few can replicate the quality of an OE supplier. The folks at Vorsteiner got pretty damn close. Although this was to be a temporary mod, we've decided to leave it in place. It looks that good.
Utilizing aerospace composite technology, each Vorsteiner body component is labor intensive and takes some three days to be fully realized. Multiple layers of aerospace-grade carbon fiber material are laid over steel or high-temp epoxy-based molds, after which injected resins are compressed via a high-pressure vacuum chamber. The curing process takes 24 hours, then the unit is put into an oven for additional heat-treating. The dry carbon fiber vacuumed plastic (DCFVP) uses far less resin than traditional hand-laid components, making it some 30 percent lighter and much stronger due to the fully impregnated carbon fiber. DCFVP also eliminates air bubbles and irregularities while the high-temp (and expensive) resin is far more robust than the standard stuff.
Peter Nam, a Vorsteiner partner, describes the difference between his components and those made elsewhere: "We sub-contract for several aerospace companies using the same technology that's used in building your 6 Series' hood," Nam says. "Although Vorsteiner products tend to be more expensive, they are the best in the business. Have you seen what happens to hand-laid carbon fiber after a few months in the hot sun? It ain't pretty. I guess that's why BMW Motorsport is interested in our components." According to Nam, Vorsteiner will be building prototype body parts for BMW's E90 racecar. Not a bad product endorsement.
Our good friends at EvoSport recommended Quality Craft in Huntington Beach, California, for painting duties. Turned out to be a good tip. Quality Craft has been painting high-end vehicles for 20 years and its clients include Orange County's ubiquitous Lamborghinis, Porsches, Mercedes and Ferraris. Ray Gallagher of Quality Craft rated the Vorsteiner hood in the "upper echelon" of its species.
And for the record, it's guys like Gallagher who are the authority on aerodynamic packages. They are the unsung heroes in beautifying automobiles. Anyone who's tried to paint a car will find it a labor-intensive, skilled art-and that's just the prep work. So if Gallagher's happy, we're happy.
"We don't need to spend too much prep time on the Vorsteiner stuff," Gallagher says. "A few hours and it's ready for color."
Quality Craft custom mixes all its colors in-house, using PPG or House of Color paint. The company recently replicated the burnt orange metallic of the Lamborghini Murcilago, a paint that requires multiple toners, three different pearls and lots of skill to re-create.
According to Gallagher, the secret to making black look good is all in the prep work. Even the slightest imperfections are magnified, so it's especially important to ensure a clean foundation. The flawless paint on our 6 Series is testament to Quality Craft's outstanding work.
Brake What's Not BrokenDespite its undeniable grace and beauty, our 6 Series had one aesthetic blemish: its brakes. Although their functionality are never in question, stock BMW brakes look rough and unfinished. The 6er's binders were raw steel calipers that appeared to be culled from a tractor. This just wouldn't do.
A few months ago, I was lucky enough to flog the M3 belonging to Evosport's Brad Otoupalik-a nice example with sharp-looking Rotora binders. I drove the piss outta Otoupalik car and they stood up admirably. So they could surely handle braking duties on our 6. Moreover, if Evosport uses Rotora brakes, they've got to be good.
I was nervous about going with Rotora. I had never heard of them and big brakes seem to be the hot new thing for many aftermarket manufacturers. Although an intake of questionable quality may leave you stranded on a mountain road, questionable brakes will put you over its edge.
My concerns were unfounded. The company's done its homework and assembled a system for the 645i that looks good and stops just as well. Loren Ho of Rotora has put in lots of time and talent designing and bringing to market a gigantic 12-piston big brake kit for the larger Euros and domestics. We were going to go for this system: the brakes look like they come from a Le Mans advanced prototype. They are beyond huge. And as it turned out, too huge for our 20-inch AC Schnitzer Type IV wheels. Although most 20-inch wheels will clear the Rotora 12-piston calipers, our ACS wheels don't. The problem was just a few millimeters, material I suggested we shave from the caliper. Ho put the kibosh on that idea, and rightly so. Rotora brakes are made to precise specs, dimensions that lend both lightness and strength. So we took the eight-piston front/four-piston rear system with 15-inch ventilated and cross-drilled rotors all round.
Rotora offers a full line of big brake upgrade kits for most European applications. The kits include new calipers, rotors, pads, mounting brackets, lines and hardware. Depending on application, the kit has either four-, six-, eight- or 12-piston cast aluminum CNC machined calipers. Unlike some other high performance caliper manufacturers, Rotora uses dust boots on all its calipers, meaning less servicing and more reliability for street driven vehicles. Each kit has custom-sized pistons to match the application. Rotora does this to ensure that its kits will improve stopping performance without upsetting the car's factory brake balance. All kits come with drilled and slotted rotors.
Depending on the vehicle, either a one- or two-piece rotor is used. The one-piece rotors come 'e-coated' to protect against corrosion. The two-piece kits feature an iron rotor mated to a CNC machined aluminum hat to reduce unsprung mass. Ceramic pads keep dust and noise to a minimum while providing excellent stopping power in all conditions. A more aggressive pad is available for track applications. The braided stainless steel lines (included) work to improve pedal feel and clamping force. All Rotora kits are direct bolt-ons, requiring only minimal modification, although some kits will require larger than factory wheels.
A well-engineered big brake system is largely transparent-it should feel and behave like the factory brakes with a slightly firmer pedal. There should be no grabbiness or non-linear pedal modulation. And after hard use, big brakes should remain functional after the factory binders have given up.
Essentially, that's an accurate description of what Rotora big brakes have done to our 645i. They feel exactly like the factory brakes only better. And we haven't even mentioned the look of them. The blue anodized calipers (visible between the black spokes) look awesome.