Can a 15-year old BMW 330Ci be a contender on track? After some thoughtful modifications, it would appear the answer is a resounding ‘yes’
|Price when new in 2001
|Inline 6cyl M54B30, 2979cc
|228bhp @ 5,900 rpm
|300Nm (221lb ft) @ 3500rpm
|Kilometres this month:
|Costs this month:
The time has come. I’ve been waiting patiently for the track-days season to kick in and now that the weather has finally gone cooler, I can finally take Project Black to its first muscle flexing session.
I didn’t want to head straight onto the track without any preparations, especially as there were some things that my online research had recommended be done before doing any dynamic driving in the now-15-year-old E46. For now, I’m not focusing on engine performance, as getting more output will cost too much and I probably wouldn’t get the power I’m looking for, which is why I’ve been considering an engine swap.
So for the time being, I intend to get all the mechanical bits ready, and improve the handling as much as I can.
My first step was purchasing new brake discs, pads, and high performing racing brake fluid, so they do what I want them to when the temperatures get high on track. I also replaced the stock rubber lines with brand new shiny stainless steel items, which provide a much better braking feel.
Although these jobs can be easily done at home, where I usually do most of my work, I decided this time to not get my hands that dirty. Instead I thought I’d make life a bit easier by taking it to a garage I could trust. My biggest concern, being a bit ‘OCD’ was to properly flush out the old brake fluid, just so it didn’t mix with the new. And after getting all the parts fitted, I felt inspired to keep going so I drained the engine oil, installed a new magnetic drain plug which can help collecting any metal residue, and filled up with fresh new 5w40 oil.
With one of the major jobs completed, it was time to sort the control arms. E46 BMWs are notorious for their front lower control arms failing – not something I wanted to risk if I was to start taking it on track. The outer ball joints connecting to the hub have a tendency to fail, and they cannot be replaced on their own so you have to change the whole arm. The control arm bushes that can actually be replaced on an E46 are the rear mounted ones, which I’ve replaced with strong polyurethane ‘powerflex’ items. They feel stiffer and I consider them a lifetime upgrade.
Control arms replaced, my baby was, I felt, complete – for now at least. And I was elated driving to the track the following day to join the evolve.ae fun runs, barely able to wait to see how it performed after the upgrades. My BMW was, by far, the oldest car on the track but that didn’t bother me because I was safe in the knowledge that I’ve kept it properly maintained and sensibly modified to cope with circuit driving.
As I queued up with the rear-wheel drive group I wasn’t at all apprehensive and it performed exactly as I expected it to. And I was able to hold my head high regarding the old timer’s performance, it proving to be as fast as brand new Nissan 370Zs and just three seconds slower per lap than a new Porsche Cayman S. Not bad, eh?
I will continue to improve my car with further modifications and I’ll keep on top of the maintenance. And after that first session I definitely intend to do more track days in it but, most importantly, I need to keep it useable for the road as it’s still my daily ride.