Tuesday 15th January 2013


PH FLEET: BMW 328I (E36)

Spending time home at Christmas also meant spending lots on suspension - was it worth it?


As an ex-pat it tickles me pink to say that this winter, I went on holiday to the UK. But I did! Packing a suitcase and spotty dog (and tools, and four 17-inch wheels with semi-slicks) into the roll cage of my trusty BMW Project 328i, we bumped and droned along the Belgian highways the 'wrong' way compared to that taken by holidaying petrolhead Brits every summer.

Donington was a before and after test
Donington was a before and after test
Of course, I had some damn good reasons for taking on such a journey, buying a set of 15-inch wheels, winter tyres, and subjecting the poor old E36 to another winter's worth of salt.

The first was trackdays. Two of them, to be precise, at Donington Park. I couldn't resist. Just 99 quid to tram around one of my favourite tracks all Saturday. Most of the first half of December was spent with the BMW on the ramps at Jaco's Paddock. Rubber bits had started to split, and one lower arm was hung out completely. So in went a set of new OEM Lemforder E30 front arms (they have a uniball joint instead of a rubber bush, for more feel) and a whole bunch of OEM-type BMW M3 uniballs in the back and some M3 'lollipop' bushes in the front.

So no sooner had we landed in Blighty than we were lining up in the pitlane of Donington Park for a 'Thunder in the Park' session ready to test these parts.

Gold anodising attracts Midas-like attention
Gold anodising attracts Midas-like attention
Having spent more than the initial purchase price of the car on the arms and rubber bits I was very keen to feel how the car went. Happily, the answer was pleasingly awesome, my only gripe being the excessive body roll of the cheap H&R Cup kit. For 250 euros I could hardly complain and it was at least 10 times better than stock. But still, I wanted more.

So to Nitron Racing's headquarters in Oxfordshire. I love fast stuff, and I love engineering ,and I absolutely love gold shiny anodised things. Nitron is, therefore, heaven. It definitely operates right at the top end of the suspension tuning spectrum, with lap records at the Nordschleife safely under its belt. I'd arranged to pick-up a custom-sprung and custom-valved R1 kit to test this season on my 328i. But what was supposed to be an in-and-out pickup turned into a proper guided tour - shock dynos, gas cartridges, assembly lines and all. I asked to see everything. When I'd drunk enough tea and slowed down the slick production line sufficiently, I was guided to my car and sent safely on my way...

At Spires to get the dampers installed
At Spires to get the dampers installed
...to Spires. You know I mentioned that my Nitron kit is actually custom sprung with custom damping? That's because one half of Spires is a chap called David Pook. PistonHeads has met him before at his day job, which over the years has seen him do rather a lot of Nurburgring laps. And he had some rather interesting ideas for the Nitron kit going on to my BMW.

A whole day later, David, and business partner Matt O'Hara, had got the Nitrons in place, fixed my disintegrating front ARB mount and had even carried out a four-wheel alignment. We squeezed a healthy 2.4 degrees of negative camber on the front and 1.6 degrees on the back. A smidge of toe-out up front was complemented by a little bit of toe-in on the back. Insane turn-in countered by a safe rear-end. Or something. And a few turns of the preload collars had the corner weights nicely balanced along each diagonal as well. The passion and professionalism of these guys working on my slightly-rusty 1997 shed brought a tear to my eye. Or maybe it was just the thought of how my old E36 has had more money spent on boingy bits than the rest of the car put together

Custom valving and a proper set-up too
Custom valving and a proper set-up too
The very next day I took my not-so-budget-anymore BMW to Donington Park and wept buckets. Of joy, it should be pointed out. Words fail to express how awesome my car felt that day. It was cold, it was wet and I was running some seriously knackered AO48 semi-slicks. But the confidence in my 328i was unflinching. Any corner, any speed, any angle. Nothing felt impossible, and Craner Curves was a hunting ground for the slightly-sideways E36 each and every lap. Lap times are tough to compare day to day in these conditions. But the 328i was over two seconds quicker with the Nitrons in and my dear old Mum in the passenger seat.

I've told her to come over to the 'ring this summer and we'll see what we can lop off that 8min20sec BTG time...


Fact sheet
Car:
1997 BMW 328i SE
Run by: Dale Lomas
Bought: September 2012
Purchase price: 950
This month: Replaced all rubber bits with more expensive M bits, fitted E30 arms, Nitron R1+ suspension, four-wheel-alignment, two days at Donington park and a whopping 2,200 miles!





Author: Dale Lomas
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