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Modifying E30s: A Starters Guide for Fun

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    Modifying E30s: A Starters Guide for Fun

    I figured I’d take a little time and type up some thoughts on getting started playing with E30s. They are fun and well built cars, and with a little effort, planning, and some thought, they can be very capable on the back roads, around the cones, and at the road course. Instead of going through a long list of what can be done, I’d like to point out some ultra basic stuff, just to give people some ideas of where to start.

    First things first, if you have any desire to modify an E30 or drive it aggressively, please, for the sake of your own safety and that of others, make sure the car is in good mechanical condition right off the bat. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and definitely not pretty, but make sure the major components WORK. Brakes, steering, clutch, tires, etc should all be in usable condition. Wear items under the hood (vacuum hoses, paper seals, etc) should be inspected. If you are not willing to take the time to do this stuff, or alternatively pay someone else to do it, I strongly suggest you re-assess your decision to have an E30. They are good cars, but certainly not for everyone. The newest E30 is 13 years old, and as such, stuff goes wrong, stuff that needs to be fixed. Now with that out of the way, I’ll get to the more fun stuff.

    For me personally, a car is a compromise. It should be fun, but it should also be practical and reliable. Keeping that in mind is important when choosing what you want to do with a car, modification wise. Just as important is deciding exactly what you want the car to do for you. Fun, quick commuter car? Balls out gutted track rat? Somewhere in between? Whenever making choices, keep your goals in mind. It’s very easy to get caught up in the ‘rat race’ of buying and adding parts, just to buy and add parts. Any time you change part of the cars mechanical equation, you should be aware of the consequences.

    The first thing I suggest doing for an e30 owner (assuming you have a 5 speed manual transmission) is a clutch stop and short shift kit. You can do both with ~$60 invested, in about an hour, with basic hand tools. Using an OEM BMW shift lever, a few new bushings, a few nuts and bolts, and the clutch and shifter will feel much shorter and quicker. You use these controls every single time you drive your car, so you’ll notice the difference right off the bat. These are little mods, but IMHO two of the most rewarding in so far as driving fun. They add no horsepower, and arguably don’t make the car any faster, but they do aid in the fun factor.

    Suspension:
    Now we’re getting into bigger territory. More money, more involved work, more possibilities to screw up. However, if your suspension is in good shape as is, meaning the ball joints and bushing and such are in good condition, adding a set of aftermarket struts/shocks and springs can make a world of difference in the handling of an E30. BMWs for the most part are good handling cars. They are well balanced and have great steering. Adding a little stiffness and lowering the center of gravity a bit can make good handling E30s handle wonderfully. However, you can go too far with suspension. Too low and too stiff, and you’ll find yourself scraping all the time, or breaking oil pans, or worse. So keep in mind if you plan to drive your car on the street, you don’t want suspension that is too aggressive. There is a reason the H&R Sport spring and Bilstien Sport shock combo is so popular. It handles well and looks good, but is still streetable. Whatever you decide to go with, I’d advise you to get an alignment after the install to maximize tire life and handling.

    Power: This is probably the most talked about subject amongst the E30 community. However, I’ll tell you this, take it for what its worth. About 90% of the crap you read about that says it gives you power, doesn’t. It might make noise, or “feel” faster, but usually, it doesn’t work as advertised. Another 5% of stuff does work, but costs a helluva lot (strokers, turbos, etc), and that’s the subject of a whole ‘nother thread. In all actuality, a tune-up will offer just as much performance gains as many so called power adders. But that’s not to say they don’t have their place. If you are like me, you enjoy the sounds of cars. An intake and exhaust system, while maybe not adding much HP (if any), can definitely make a car more enjoyable to drive and listen to. ECU programs “chips” are one of the few mods that actually do something. With a quality chip, an E30 can gain a little horsepower and torque, increase its redline, and rev a little quicker. They are a subtle gain, but help nonetheless. As they sit, most E30s are quick enough to have fun with, so focusing resources elsewhere is a smart idea.

    Brakes: Often overlooked unfortunately, but brakes are a critical component of driving. A good set of pads, quality fluid, and maybe some stainless steel braided lines can go a long way to lowering stopping distances, fighting brake fade, and increasing confidence.

    The Most Important Modification: Spending exorbitant amounts of cash on a car does not necessarily mean it will be better, which brings me to what I believe to be the most important modification possible: You. That’s right, you, the driver, the nut behind the wheel. All mods are for naught if the driver doesn’t know how to utilize them. The old saying “a poor carpenter blames his tools” is oh so true in the car world, with people spending thousands of dollars when a little more skill would garner the same gains. So how do you gain skill? You aren’t born with driving ability, you have to learn. The best way is to practice in a controlled environment. Autocrossing is a fun, cheap, and safe way to learn car control and handling skills. Beyond that, there are many organizations that offer High Performance Drivers Education (HPDE or DE’s), which allow you to take your car to a real race track. These are harder on the vehicle and more expensive, but the skills you gain at the track will truly make you a safer, faster, and all around better driver.

    That’s all for now, I know I left tons of stuff out, but I hope you got something out of this. Keep in mind, this is one guy's thoughts on the subject, there are tons of opinions and options out there. Its up to the individual to make their own decisions, for personal responsibility is paramount. Please ask questions, that’s what car forums are for. It may be tough at first, with the bitter old members being harsh on new folks, but that will pass.

    Most importantly, BE SAFE, and HAVE FUN!
    Last edited by RCWells; 12-03-2005, 10:59 PM.
    BEERTECH

    #2
    If you haven't already, go out and buy a decently equipped tool set, a jack, and at least two jack stands. There are tons of jobs you can save a lot of money by doing yourself if you just have these basic items.

    Comment


      #3
      The Bentley Repair Manual, best spent 36 bucks. Answers a lot of FAQ's


      http://www.cardomain.com/ride/657387

      Comment


        #4
        Originally posted by Rob
        First things first, if you have any desire to modify an E30 or drive it aggressively, please, for the sake of your own safety and that of others, make sure the car is in good mechanical condition right off the bat. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and definitely not pretty, but make sure the major components WORK. Brakes, steering, clutch, tires, etc should all be in usable condition. Wear items under the hood (vacuum hoses, paper seals, etc) should be inspected. If you are not willing to take the time to do this stuff, or alternatively pay someone else to do it, I strongly suggest you re-assess your decision to have an E30. They are good cars, but certainly not for everyone. The newest E30 is 13 years old, and as such, stuff goes wrong, stuff that needs to be fixed. Now with that out of the way, I’ll get to the more fun stuff.

        . . . .

        The Most Important Modification: Spending exorbitant amounts of cash on a car does not necessarily mean it will be better, which brings me to what I believe to be the most important modification possible: You. That’s right, you, the driver, the nut behind the wheel. All mods are for naught if the driver doesn’t know how to utilize them. The old saying “a poor carpenter blames his tools” is oh so true in the car world, with people spending thousands of dollars when a little more skill would garner the same gains. So how do you gain skill? You aren’t born with driving ability, you have to learn. The best way is to practice in a controlled environment. Autocrossing is a fun, cheap, and safe way to learn car control and handling skills. Beyond that, there are many organizations that offer High Performance Drivers Education (HPDE or DE’s), which allow you to take your car to a real race track. These are harder on the vehicle and more expensive, but the skills you gain at the track will truly make you a safer, faster, and all around better driver.

        . . . .

        Most importantly, BE SAFE, and HAVE FUN!

        Amen, brotha.

        Make sure the car is safe and well running and that the idiot behind the wheel is working on learning how to drive before you worry about the latest buy racer mod. you dont need the IE Stage IIIs/headers/chip/ss exhaust/big blinging wheels, etc. You need to have a car that won't fail and a commitment to learning to drive it.
        Current Cars
        2014 M235i
        2009 R56 Cooper S
        1998 M3
        1997 M3

        Comment


          #5
          thanks for the insight rob. you'll always be a stupid fucking ricer in my heart.
          sigpic

          Comment


            #6
            Not a bad read for the new guys. I'll give you a :up: and hopefully some of the new guys will actually take the time to read it. Oh, you left out one imortant thing: the tool is one of the most invaluable tools, USE IT!


            [THE 501 club - Founding Member]

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by nefarious7907
              The Bentley Repair Manual, best spent 36 bucks. Answers a lot of FAQ's
              Werd, one of the best things an E30 driver can ever spend their money on.

              Something I always try to remember with these cars (and mine) is that I don't care that it's not blazingly fast. I care that it's fun to drive, handles well, and performs well, even with the slightest modifications made to the suspension, engine, and interior. It's a fun car, it's cheap to buy, easy to work on, and is very reliable.

              Comment


                #8
                I really agree with the points made. You can go outrageous on these cars, but there's little point when you can get just as much fun out of a few simple mods.

                I understand that most people will have a hard time affording the big daddy track days, and you should be spending your money there versus the rims. I know all to well about spending too much money on mods. If you can't get the track days, try the Autox scene. Autoxes are some of the most fun moments I've had in the E30. Cheap, fun, and competitive - what autox is all about.
                The BMW 318 is back. With a vengeance.

                Comment


                  #9
                  where can i get the bentley repair manual for an '87 325i ... what does it have uin it?
                  My e30's older than I am... but that doesn't matter, it still has a lot of spunk. And that's all that really counts. spunk.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    The Bently manual covers all E30s. I bought mine from Amazon, just google Bentley Repair Manual and look for the E30 version.

                    It has step-by-step instructions on anything you'd ever need to do with your E30.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      bentley covers all E30 chassis, but not the m42 engine. need an e36 manual for that.
                      BEERTECH

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Great read, thanks!

                        BTW where in the Bentley does it show how to mod the nut behind the wheel?

                        [IMG]https://cimg4.ibsrv.net/gimg/my350z.com-vbulletin/550x225/80-parkerbsig_5096690e71d912ec1addc4a84e99c374685fc03 8.jpg[/IMG

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Great work Rob, thanks for that
                          BimmerHeads
                          Classic BMW Specialists
                          Santa Clarita, CA

                          www.BimmerHeads.com

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Nice, haines manuals are also good to tho. Covers the whole strip down and rebuild of the e30 bmw. Ive heard the bently is much better, but im doin fine with the haines.
                            -Mitch

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by Rob
                              bentley covers all E30 chassis, but not the m42 engine. need an e36 manual for that.
                              yea, according to Bentley Publishing, my car doesn't exist.

                              Comment

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