On the understanding that the E46 M3 chassis is, and always be, a benchmark, we set out to squeeze every last bit of performance from it. Sure, we wanted it to inspire confidence on the track and in the twisties but, most of all, we wanted the car to be well balanced.
Inevitably, we lowered our M3 substantially, making driveways, potholes and speed bumps a chore, but that's the sacrifice we were completely willing to make - we simply wanted our E46 to look mean and have a lower center of gravity.
Once again, we enlisted the expertise of EAS (european auto source), in Anaheim, CA. With a full alignment rack, tons of track car preparation experience and their familiarity with the E46 chassis, we knew our M3 would be set up correctly.
Bushings & Mounts
First things first, we wanted to check the bushings before adding more stress to the chassis. Fortunately, with only 68000 miles on the clock and a full service history, we only needed to replace the front control arm bushings (FCAB), rear trailing arm bushings (RTAB) and, since we'd have the suspension apart anyway, we upgraded the rear shock mounts (RSM).
As with almost any job on this car, you need to remove the undertray and reinforcement plate to access the goodies. Once it's off, the FCAB are easy to locate. The job took about 30min for EAS to complete, removing the factory lollipop housings to press out the worn rubber bushings.
Basic tools aren't enough to complete this job. You'll need a lift or jackstands, a bushing puller and a press.
Once the factory bushings were out, new aluminum housings from the guys at Rogue Engineering were installed into the lollipop, followed by the new urethane bushings hammered onto the control arms. The housings were reinstalled to finish the front-end.
The RTAB were just as straightforward, except there were four bushings, and no aluminum inner housings were required. The process took another 30min at EAS.
Remember that after dropping the front control and rear trailing arms, an alignment is needed, so EAS put our M3 on the rack.
With so many suspension options for the M3, choosing the right components was the hardest part of the process. Some coilovers are geared towards track use, while others simply provide height adjustment with a greater emphasis on comfort. Having used KW products on previous cars, we ultimately decided to fit its Clubsport kit.
At $3529.99, they weren't the most affordable option, but when you want the best performance and parts that will last, it seemed a small price to pay. The shocks are two-way adjustable for compression and rebound damping, and adjustable front camber plates are also provided.
With the car on a lift or jackstands, removal of the stock suspension components was relatively easy. No modifications were needed to install the KW parts; it's a simple swap, taking roughly 30min per corner with basic tools.
Once installed, altering the ride height is easy with the included spanner wrench. For the damper rates, we initially set everything at medium and we'll fine-tune it with the supplied hex key.
With our ESS Tuning supercharger intake manifold, the factory strut brace no longer fitted. And since the factory bar is known to crack at the tower welds, we decided it was time to find a stronger bar that would also clear the manifold.
We selected the competition bar from Strong-Strut, which is machined from aircraft-grade 6061 aluminum alloy, and heat-treated to T6 for extra strength. The bar incorporates a pivot-less design to remove weak points.
It's a beautiful, simple piece that does its job well and, as an added bonus, is easy to remove.
Unlike some of the more decorative bars on the market, the Strong-Strut piece is the best we've seen for the E46 and is fitted on many track-purposed M3s.
Since our M3 would see plenty of track time, along with increased speed thanks to the 550hp ESS VT2-525 supercharger, we opted for a four-wheel big-brake conversion.
For a change, we steered away from the regular aftermarket brands and looked at Performance Friction - a name that should be seen more widely in the aftermarket. It's a mystery why some people haven't heard of the company but, for those in the know, PFC makes some of the best brakes available. In fact, it's the official partner of Porsche Motorsport, and official supplier to the new 911 GT3 Cup cars. The company is also a long-time supplier to Grand-Am, the Rolex series and World Challenge, to name a few.
Taking its motorsport prowess and translating it to road cars is something we were excited to explore. As it turns out, putting the brakes to the test was possibly the best upgrade we made.
We opted for a pair of four-piston front and two-piston rear aluminum monobloc calipers that reduce weight while increasing strength. They were mated to dimpled rotors, measuring 355mm front and 321mm rear.
Some people are pre-occupied by numbers, claiming more pistons are better. But as it turns out, a properly designed four-piston caliper addresses pad taper issues by properly staggering piston bore diameters, and PFC's four-piston calipers outperform other six-piston units in the class. All of its motorsport applications, aside from NASCAR-mandated six-piston designs, use four-piston calipers.
Once again, EAS tackled the installation effortlessly,completing the entire swap in about four hours. All necessary hardware was supplied, including steel braided lines and Performance Friction DOT4 fluid. The factory rear heat shields did need trimming to fit the rear calipers, so a powered cutting wheel will be needed.
As always, fitting the hardware is straightforward, but bleeding the brake fluid to remove air locks was the most essential part of the process. Do this wrong and you'll get a mushy, dangerous pedal. Take the time to bed-in the pads to ensure effective operation. A few 80mph stops did the trick for us.
Wheels & Tires
The M3's fenders are both big and beautiful. So we chose an aggressive setup, running wide tires on some of the lightest, strongest, and arguably most attractive wheels available; Rays Engineering Volk TE37.
In the Titanium Grey finish, some have commented that the color is too close to the car's Silver Grey Metallic paint, but we're into it.
At 18x9.5" front, 18x10.5" rear, the wheel size is common for wider M3 fitments, but most people run stretched tires and lower their rides drastically to achieve their desired stance. Show cars have their place, but our project car wasn't one of them. It gets driven harder than a John Deere in Kansas, so we chose Falken RT615K tires sized 265/35 front and 275/35 rear. With the TE37's +22 offset all around, this gave us the deep concave face we love and plenty of grip up front.
EAS rolled the four fenders to accommodate the wheel and tire combo. As a result, the car doesn't rub, not even a little! With that said, we did give it some extremely aggressive front camber angles (-3.7° front and -2.5° rear), but the result is exactly what we wanted - a truly responsive, gripping and drifting machine.
Next Month We peek inside at the interior upgrades, from seats to gauges