Additional photography by CaliPhotography
I've owned my new-to-me e36 M3 for just about three months now, so by all rights, I've really just begun to scratch the surface. Spend half an hour online and you'll see that pretty much anything you could possibly want to do with an e36 has been done, some of it nice, some... not so much. This wealth of knowledge has helped a lot with the planning phases of my build; I've been able to get a pretty good feel for the strong and weak points of this car by driving myself and, of course, with a lot of help from forums and research. I stand by my original goals still—restoration and preservation, moderate 50-state-legal upgrades, street-friendly suspension and braking overhaul, and period-correct European market aesthetic goodies to satisfy my need for style points.
Around town, the e36 M3 is quite comfortable and doesn't leave a whole lot to be desired. Even by 2016 standards, the car drives well and generally has a "doesn't suck" vibe, aside from a fairly antiquated sound system. I'm using one of those 3.5mm-to-audiocassette-tape adapters to play music through blown speakers, and let's not forget the too-small-for-anything-made-in-the-U.S. cupholders. Maybe I sound like I'm defending the car, but I can honestly live with these shortcomings. I'll address the sound system later, and I'll grudgingly learn to live with less coffee to go.
The one thing I thought the car needed desperately was a new set of tires. I turned to Yokohama for its S.drive in the factory sizing, 225/45R17 and 245/40R17. I chose the S.drive because it's a true street tire with 300 UTQG, and thus will make for a good baseline and around-town tire for daily driving. In the very rare case that it rains in Los Angeles, I will have a good amount of traction with the S.drive as well. I'd be heading to the track in a few days to see how the car acts under a very different set of circumstances than normal street driving, but a bit of inspection was in order first.
Somehow I managed to stuff the four new tires into the back seat and trunk and headed out to Garagerz Automotive, a European and Japanese specialist shop in Burbank owned by my longtime friend Robby Perez. Before mounting and balancing the new tires, Robbie and I threw the car up on the rack and gave the underside a good look. The entire cooling system has been replaced already, and we didn't find anything outwardly wrong or in immediate need of replacement underneath; yes, of course, there are a number of bushings that have seen better days, and the brakes are worn within the expected amount, but all things considered, nothing jumped out as a must-do before tracking. I had an OEM cross brace lying around so we threw that on. I made the decision to leave the car alone, aside from the crossbrace and new tires, and hit the track as-is.
Bottonwillow Raceway Park is a fun track located just off I-5 in the smells-like-cow part of Central California. In spite of the odor, the clockwise 13-turn configuration of this track is a pretty well used Time Attack setup, and a perfect baseline for project car builds like mine. There are a number of ways to get on track with your own car; in case you are wondering, I booked a single day through Speed Ventures and headed north well before sunrise. On this particular day, it was forecasted to hit a peak temp of 110 degrees F, so I was glad to have a freshly redone cooling system. During what would turn out to be my only session of the day, I was able to gather that the S.drive tires are not the perfect tires for track driving, but to be honest, the balance between street and light track use is acceptable. There's a good amount of grip with predictable falloff and as it gets warmer, you can't really ask for more from a 300 UTQG tire on track. The stock suspension was given a thorough thrashing. As you can see in the photos, the body rolls quite a lot, and the suspension actually bottomed out at the apex exiting Phil Hill. Brake performance was, how shall I say, "less than ideal" as well. Stock pads are just too soft for track driving no matter how you look at it. I experienced significant fade after only a couple of laps.
My best time of the session was an entirely irrelevant 2:27 with traffic and a bit of rusty driving on my part. I would have loved to trim that down some over the course of the day, but an oiling issue forced me to throw in the towel early. During my session, I lost oil pressure a number of times during hard cornering and braking, and there was a very loud ticking sound coming from my engine. The normal valve lifter ticking issue is partially at fault, but the timing chain tensioner is loose, and the oil pump itself may turn out to be the real issue. I had seen the oil light flicker once or twice under normal street driving conditions, so this did not catch me entirely off guard.
Back at Garagerz Automotive, Robbie and I have plans to replace the chain tensioner and play it by ear on upgrading the rest of the oiling system. After the oiling issue is resolved, we will move forward with the suspension and brakes, with hopes to hit the track again in another two months or so... A bit better prepared this time!