Last weekend I drove an STU Prepped E36 M3 and was immediately reminded what a proper set up E36 feel like. Perfect seating position, great linear inline six sound track, and amazing chassis balance really hit home in the “rawness” of a chassis that I look for in a car. I’ve known Doug for a couple of years, and while I still had my STX 325i 4 door, and we talked setup quite a lot. This month’s Euro feature focuses on Doug’s lovely Avusblau E36 328is. Daily driven racecar? Why not!
What type of car do you have?
Our autocross car is a 1998 BMW 328is, Avus blue, beige interior, 2.8-liter, twin-cam six. My wife and I both drive the car in SCCA’s STX class. Our kids compete in a go-kart.
A lot of people give their cars nicknames/actual names. Do you have one for your E36?
The car’s official name is “Shifty.” For the first year or so, it sported “shifty” emoticons in place of the roundels. But usually we just call it “the blue car,” or “the loud car.”
Is this car your daily driver? If not what is your everyday car?
Yes, I daily it. I teach school and my students get a kick out of it. “Yo, that’s tight!”
Mod List! Let’s have it!
The car is built to the letter of the law of SCCA’s STX autocross class:
- TC Kline double-adjustable Koni suspension with camber/caster plates and Ground Control rear-shock mounts
- H&R/Turner front sway bar
- Ground Control rear bar
- Mason Engineering strut brace
- Poly urethane bushings pretty much everywhere except the rear-trailing arm bushings, which are OEM with limiters.
- 2.93:1 Limited Slip Differential
- Stock brakes with Hawk HP Plus pads
- Sparco Evo driver seat
- Sparco 320 passenger seat
- Odyssey PC680 battery with the BimmerHaus battery box
- Single-tube 3-inch exhaust with cat and Magnaflow rear can
- aFe intake
- Shark tune
- 17×8.5″ Kosei K1 or D-Force LTW5s.
- We have run Hankook R-S3s, BFG Rivals, and Dunlop Star Specs.
- We’ll probably run the Bridgestone RE71R next season.
What was the biggest “surprise” obstacle you faced when you worked on the car (as in what was maybe supposed to have been an easy task but ended up being a pretty huge undertaking)?
Aside from obvious answers like “replacing the clutch,” or “welding in the chassis reinforcements,” the thing that really vexed me most about this car was getting the suspension dialed in. I came to this car after years in an e30, and it seemed like everything I had learned for that platform was wrong for an e36. I’m exaggerating a little, but that’s how it felt. After three seasons, I think I’m starting to get some stuff right.
Oh, and the vacuum system. Rotten little hoses everywhere!
Have you always wanted to build 328is? If not what other cars have you built/modified?
My previous autocross car was a 1989 325i, “Little Red.” I had sponsorship from Elephant Motorsports, so the car eventually got a prototype set of AST 5100 dampers and lots of other cool goodies. like Stahl long-tube headers. It didn’t make much power (about 150 whp, which is fairly typical), but it made beautiful tailpipe music.
But I got tired of being trounced by the e36s, so I found one this one, and my friend (former CSP National Champion) John Hunter and I traded cars. He took my e30 and I took the e36. Right about that time, SCCA classed the Twins into STX …
We saw that Herbst proved that BMW’s aren’t dead in STX. Do you feel that the E36 can compete in the class with the 128i having the power advantage?
Hahaha! Depends on who is driving. Put Heitkotter in my car and we’ll see!
But realistically, no. I don’t think the e36 in most hands (including mine) can hang with the Twins or a well-driven 128i.
Let’s talk suspension. Given the geometry what do you think is one thing the car could do better (i.e. sweepers, hairpins, transients)?
Very tight hairpins kill the car’s speed. You have no choice but to give it up. There was a turn in the East Course at 2015 Solo Nationals where the BMWs went right to push, but the Twins just carved through it.
We’ve really struggled with the setup on this car, and the thing that gave me the most trouble was finding turn-in grip. Working with dual-adjustable shocks felt, at times, like trying to conjure up black magic, but we’re slowly getting it sorted out. Our big revelation of 2014 was finding good shock settings. A few small tweaks we tried in 2015 show promise as well.
What would you say the car’s primary strength is?
Having driven a fully sorted Twin at a local event, what’s the one thing that the FRS/BRZ can do better than the E36. What do you feel is the advantage of your E36 to a twin?
I’m not sure there is an advantage, other than it’s WAY easier to kill traction control in the BMW. No pedal dance and no secret BR-Z handshake! Just push the button and voila.
Seriously, the Twins seem like they do everything very well. They turn in like nobody’s business. It was a revelation when I drove the car, and they power out of turns so well, taking that slip angle and just … going. They transition like crazy. You could argue the BMW makes a touch more power, but the Twins are lighter out of the box, so that’s a wash, in my opinion.
Have you had your share of the BMW woes aka cooling system, subframe issues, etc?
We’ve had an e46 Touring for about 13 years, so we know the whole routine — the cooling system ritual, the wonky window regulators, &tc. At one point, we were warned the e46 might be showing signs of rear subframe failure, but when we had the reinforcements welded in at another shop, they detected no signs of impending damage. The e36 has given me the whole laundry list of silly stuff: window regulators, false low coolant warnings, intermittent taillight failure warnings, vanos weirdness, etc. And yet, I don’t hate the car.
I still get people — OK, guys, and almost always young dude-type guys — who come up and tell me how cool they think the car is. We show it a little bit too, and little kids always swoon over “the racecar.”
Are there any sponsors you would like to acknowledge for their assistance in getting your car to the way that it is?
We don’t have any true sponsors at this point, but the guys at Santa Fe Garage in Independence, Missouri, have done amazing things for the car … They are my go-to shop for autocross prep and routine maintenance.
As most of raced cars undergo continuous changes, what are the next plans for the car?
We’re going to try a couple little tweaks in the suspension, along with getting another corner balance and alignment. Mostly I hope to tackle some cosmetic issues with the car — some rust blooming in the trunk lid and passenger door, repaint the front bumper cover … Little stuff.