Mods and Con­se­quences BMW 3 Se­ries (E36)

These cars are cheap and af­ter­mar­ket parts preva­lent, but the E36 also has weak points that the prospec­tive mod­der needs to ad­dress be­fore cre­at­ing their own ul­ti­mate driv­ing ma­chine

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - THIS WEEK - Char­lie Calder­wood

’A big bonus is that the E36s is the cheap­est 3 Se­ries you can get’

Oh, to be the mid­dle child. That’s cer­tainly where the E36 seems to have found it­self, sand­wiched be­tween the sought-af­ter E30 and the newer E46. The E36 owner should see this from the op­po­site per­spec­tive how­ever, as the car blends older, more dainty looks with mod­ern per­for­mance. Added ap­peal is that E36s are the cheap­est 3 Se­ries you can get, with six-cylin­der cars less than £2000 in de­cent con­di­tion.

As a de­sign, the E36 was light years ahead of the E30, mod­ern com­puter modelling al­low­ing BMW to pre­cisely cal­cu­late the steel thick­ness for each body part. This poses a prob­lem to the mod­i­fier as just a small in­crease in sus­pen­sion stiff­ness can cause the ar­eas around the front and rear sus­pen­sion to de­form and crack. BMW was per­haps too pre­cise, leav­ing lit­tle breath­ing room. For­tu­nately, off the shelf re­in­force­ment plates for both the front and rear mounts are easy to in­stall. In some cases, a strut brace will dou­ble up as re­in­force­ment, no bad thing, as many re­gard the E36 to be lack­ing rigid­ity. With this is­sue sorted, the world is your oyster when it comes to han­dling up­grades, with a be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of af­ter­mar­ket op­tions.

When it comes to power how­ever, there’s a lot you can do with stock com­po­nents be­fore turn­ing to ex­pen­sive third party op­tions. Putting a six-pot engine into a four-banger E36 is easy; the wiring is com­pat­i­ble and the front half of the drive­shaft will bolt onto the four-cylin­der’s rear half. That’s handy, as only the 318is of­fer sport­ing per­for­mance among the four-cylin­der cars – stan­dard 316i and 318i suf­fered from the E36’s weight in­crease over the E30. Hav­ing said that, six-cylin­der mod­els are so cheap you’d have to find a very nice four-cylin­der that’s worth drop­ping a six-pot engine into.

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