Project BMW E36 323is, Building the Poor Man’s M3 Part 1

Project E36 323is: Part 1, Building the Poor Man's M3 Part 1
– Suspension Overhaul Basics

By Jonathan Lawson


The BMW 3-series has been widely accepted as one of the best handling cars for many decades.  That holds particularly true for the E36 chassis, which had some nice technological advances in suspension layout over its E30 predecessor, and could also still be considered fairly light and “tossable” by modern standards.


E36 323is
Prior to starting our modifications, the 323is had H&R Sport springs on OE dampers and AC Schnitzer replica wheels.  It looked OK, but it was definitely not up to MotoIQ performance standards.  With the shot dampers and worn out bushings making the car feel less than fun to drive, we started the hunt for some suspension goodies to bring back our ultimate driving machine's steering feel and give us the adjustability we crave.  Our end goal is to exceed the handling capabilities of the coveted M3 without breaking the bank or compromising daily driving comfort.  Regular E36's are cheap and plentiful on the new car market and best of all rear wheel drive.  This makes them excellent candidates to build track, autocross and drift cars out of.  Good aftermarket support also helps the cause.


Of course, ending production in the late-90s, the E36s have grown a little long in the tooth.  Regardless of how well they've been cared for, age rears its ugly head when it comes to many parts, specifically anything made of rubber that sees stress in the form of heat cycles or load-based usage, like suspension bushings and dampers. 

That's what we're focusing on first with our 323is project.  The car has been sitting for a couple of years and we wanted to get the handling back to where it's supposed to be, but with upgraded components geared more towards performance.  We decided to start the suspension rehab in stages, which allowed us to feel exactly what was going on with the new and upgraded parts we were using. 

Another goal is for us to build the “Poor Man's M3”.  The price of regular old 323's is very reasonable, within the range of budget minded enthusiasts and we feel it will be easy to exceed the performance of the coveted M3 with some well considered mods.



Whiteline rear trailing arm bushings
Whiteline's rear trailing arm bushings have the benefit of being stiffer than OE and thus keeping rear toe changes in check a bit more.  You'll be happy to know that they are also much cheaper and easier to install than the factory rubber pieces – now that's a win-win situation!  Note how big the bushings are in relationship to the inner sleeves.  Now picture that made out of soft rubber.  Now you can get an idea how much geometry altering movement the stock suspension allows back there, not good for sticky tires and high speeds.


The first stage of the project's trip back to greatness would be to tackle the badly worn OE bushings.  Lucky for us our friends at Whiteline have quite the extensive offering of E36 parts and were a great source for the bushings we desperately needed to replace.  For the rear of our E36 we opted to use their lower inner, lower outer and upper outer rear control arm bushings to get the rear end back under control.   


Whiteline rear control arm bushings
Whiteline's upper outer bushings for the rear control arms are not only helping keep our rear alignment settings in check, but the eccentric inner sleeve will also allow for camber adjustments.  The kit also comes with all the new hardware you see here.  Notice that the hardware is treated with yellow chromate.  Yellow chromate is one of the most corrosion resistant treatments for steel bolts.  Corrosion resistance is very important for an all season daily driver.


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