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Tuesday 13th November 2012


PH FLEET: BMW 328I (E36)

What doesn't kill a car makes it stronger, or at least that's the hope


It's been a hectic month with the BMW. Since my first instalment the car has broken down. Three times.

The first to fail was the alternator, a whopping 80 miles from home. To be precise, the red 'not charging' lamp actually illuminated at around 110mph on the way down to Eau Rouge. By 80 miles from home, I do mean whilst lapping Spa Francorchamps.

Enlisting E36 expertise from Jaco's Paddock
Enlisting E36 expertise from Jaco's Paddock
A look under the bonnet confirmed the belt was still attached, and the problem was the alternator itself. I had actually just finished instructing some of the Mission Motorsports chaps, and it was gutting to do only a few laps before heading home for an early bath.

So then imagine my disappointment doubling when the E36 threw up another problem as we limped back home on the remaining battery power. Over a bump whilst overtaking a truck and the car made a bang and steered itself towards the truck, and then away, and then towards and then ... you get the idea.

A change of pants later it appears that there were some rather important washers missing from those "ready-built" H&R suspension units I'd bought.

Dale's E36 and friend chill out at the 'ring
Dale's E36 and friend chill out at the 'ring
The rubber bushing on top of the damper had severed neatly into two pieces, and the damper was totally free. It was a slow, scary and dangerous drive back to the shop. On extension (rebound) the damper was held by the top washer, so the wishbone couldn't open up enough to let the spring escape. But due to a missing washer below the bush, every compression stroke jammed the damper into the rear shelf speaker with a wince-inducing crunch.

A day later and I'd fitted new BMW rear-shock-mount bushes (upgraded RSMs would be nice, but they were a week away) and a new alternator, but then the power steering started to sound funny. In a fit of denial, I ignored it. Bad idea. Half way around a lap of the Nordschleife and the steering went heavy. Pump dead!

By this time I was pretty sick of failures, so I decided to try and find some E36 experts. Not a problem when you live next to the 'ring. Every week I go through the village of Barweiler and see a bunch of orange and silver E36 325i racecars parked in a lot. What I'd seen was Dutchman Jaco Velders' racecar fleet for VLN and RCN at the Nordschleife. He runs a little one-man business called Jaco's Paddock and has been racing E36s at the 'ring for nearly 10 years.

Jacos recommended beefing up bushings
Jacos recommended beefing up bushings
After knocking on his door, my first question was obvious: "Do you have any spare steering pumps?" My second question maintained the trend: "What's going to break next?"

The answers to both questions were surprisingly positive. Yes, he had a steering pump and a deal was struck. And what did he expect to break next?

"Not much, they're very reliable track cars," was his curt reply. "But there's a few things that I recommend replacing as a precaution, based on my own experience. Lots of standard bushes will need replacing with upgraded items if you want the car to do lots of laps."

So that's exactly what I did, ordering a complete rear axle's-worth of purple and black poly bushes directly from Powerflex. And while the back end was apart, I finally managed to coerce my buddy John Moffatt from Ohlins to 'lend' me his built 3.23 ratio LSD.

'Borrowed' limited-slip diff installed
'Borrowed' limited-slip diff installed
Well, I bought it actually (don't tell the Mrs) and, boy, that livened up the car a treat! John had built the diff himself and reckons the LSD effect is slightly stronger than normal, at about 30 per cent (ie, in wheelspin about 30 per cent of the torque is transferred to the wheel that's gripping from the wheel that's spinning). Being shorter in ratio means I've got more effective torque at the wheels in every gear. That's good, but puts more emphasis on the power delivery of the motor closer to the redline, which is rubbish. The 2.8 is all torque right now, power above 5,000rpm is strangled by the unusually narrow diameter intake manifold. So the next instalment here on PH will include a 325 M50 inlet manifold swap and (hopefully) the arrival of my rollcage I blogged about before. Can't wait.

Until then, this is what my 328 looks like with an LSD fitted on a wet track either onboard or shot on chase cam by my buddy Dave in his E36 compact.

Lead pic: Martin Stollenwerk (www.tourifotos.de)


Fact sheet
Car:
1997 BMW 328i SE
Run by: Dale Lomas
Bought: September 2012
Purchase price: £950
Second month: Thrashed it, broke it, repaired it. Three times. Also added LSD and some polybushes.

Previous reports:
Dale gets over the loss of his RX-8 by buying a new car

 

 

 

Author: Dale Lomas
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