After months of work and dozens of late-night wrenching sessions, I can finally enjoy this car.
It’s been awhile since I’ve written about my high-mileage E46-generation BMW M3. I bought it last summer with the hopes of turning it into a solid daily driver, even though I knew it needed a lot of work. While the body was in good shape, the suspension was trashed, with most of the rubber bushings underneath long past their useful lives. I spent the better part of my winter doing some much-needed maintenance, including a refresh to the brakes and suspension systems. Since then, I haven’t driven it much… until this past weekend. Now, I think it’s safe to say this car drives like it’s supposed to.
A friend invited me to a drive through upstate New York he was putting on, and I saw it as a perfect opportunity to see if my seemingly endless hours of DIY work had paid off. Last time I drove this car hard, it fell over itself, all of its individual parts sloshing around on worn bushings and trashed dampers. Sure, the engine worked just fine, but everything else about the car couldn’t live up to my admittedly high expectations. In addition to the brakes and suspension, I also replaced the engine mounts, the tie rods, the sway bar links, and the tires. Theoretically, I figured, it should perform somewhat like an E46 M3 should. And it did!
Not a bad group, right?
For the first time, I enjoyed taking this car on a proper drive. No longer does it feel like I’m flinging a pile of junk with one foot in the grave through a corner. It has the poise and balance that an M3 should, with fantastic steering and excellent chassis control. The shifter, with its new ring bushing, feels wonderful to use, as do the grabby brakes. Gone are the days when I’d have to brace for every bump. Thanks to the Bilsteins I put in, I can hit potholes and not worry whether the shock towers will fail. The ExtremeContact Sports Continental sent me performed admirably as well. Now I understand why so many people hype up the E46. It’s one of the best BMWs I’ve ever driven.
That being said, the car still needs a fair bit of work. My biggest concern lies with the differential bushings. They’re one of several pieces of rubber I have yet to replace, and judging by how loudly the diff “thumps” each time you let off the clutch, my guess is they need to be replaced soon. There’s also the oil temps. When I’m really on it, the temps climb to as high as 240 degrees Fahrenheit on warm days, which isn’t ideal. It’s not necessarily bad, as the car and the oil are designed to operate at those temperatures. Having it sit at 210 or lower would give me more peace of mind; this is an old car, after all. I might upgrade the oil cooler sometime soon, but there’s also a chance the oil temp sensor could be acting wonky. I doubt it, though, as that’s one of the first items I replaced when I bought the car.
Once I address those items, I want to do more things with this M3. An autocross event is on my list, as is some sort of real road trip. If this M3 is going to finally be put together like a functional car, I might as well use it as one. Stay tuned.