Over the past year and a half my 2003 E46 M3 has suffered the worst kind of neglect, sitting unused. Worst still it has been sitting outside and time and New Englad weather has taken it's toll. The toll has been rust, rust in a big nasty, four letter way. The time has come to take action!
This restoration is now months in the making. It all started out with as a simple project with my friends at BimmerWorld to refresh the M3 for the spring. The spring came and went but my car didn't. Sitting firmly on it's winter tires occasionally getting taken around the block or to the store. Little did I realize just how busy my summer would be and just how bad my poor M3 had become.
This thread will chronicle the return to greatness of my M3. With 100K miles on the clock it will never be a new car but by the end every major system will have been replaced, renewed or recovered to give me another 100K miles. The major restoration points include:
- Derustification of everything
- Complete front suspension overhaul
- Complete rear suspension overhaul
- Complete brake overhaul
- Complete fluid refresh
- New wheels and tires
- 4 wheel alignment
- S54 valve adjustment
This isn't going to be an open the wallet and promise you first born child build with no expense spared. It is a common sense, replace what you must, restore what you can enthusiast build! Aftermarket parts will be used where the cost makes sense, OEM parts will be replaced when rusted and expensive parts will be salvaged and restored.
Subscribe to get updates as I make progress, get parts in, screw up or find something else that needs replacing. Lets get into the nitty gritty and get going.
How it started
The rear suspension is to blame for this transforming this from a few DIYs into a massive rebuild project. In the spring of 2013 I noticed the lower rear trailing arm ball joints (part 3 below) had gone bad. While replacing the lower joint it also makes sense to replace the upper joint as well (part 2 below).
BimmerWorld supplied me with the new ball joints and Mango, the resident maintenance guru, lent me his awesome $500 rear ball joint tool. With parts and tools in hand you're looking at a 2 hour tops job. I dive into the project and am assaulted by the first onslaught of rust. The entire rear rotor, caliper and caliper bracket are a disaster.
My heart breaks a little seeing this, but I have a job to do so I plow on with the rear ball joint project. Little did I know the entire scope of this project was about to change. I dig deeper in and the rust just keeps on coming. The pictures do not do justice for how much rust has taken hold of the car. By the time I get down to the dust shield I know I can't let this go and something drastic must be done.
The dust shields are more rust then metal, they must be replaced. When I made the decision to replace them I didn't realize that meant removing the rear hubs and replacing the wheel bearings. But it must be done, my anger at the rust was driving irrational decision making at this point. I get a beer and hatch a plan to replace or restore everything that is rusty. The following is the result of several beers and lots of emails with BimmerWorld about bringing my baby back to glory. The restoration has been broken out into the major mechanical systems.
Rusty and neglected the entire brake system is being ripped out and replaced. A big brake kit was considered but this is a street car and while a set of Performance Friction, Brembo or StopTechs would look great the costs could not be justified. The stock M3 brakes are great for the street, they just needed to not look like they came from the bottom of the ocean.
A set of used OEM M3 rotors from an E46Fanatics member was a cost effective way to get new rotors. The calipers are AutoZone Duralast rebuilds that will be painted black with G2 epoxy caliper paints, stainless steel brake lines from BimmerWorld replace the factory rubber lines and a new set of Performance Friction brake pads, also from BimmerWorld round out brake system.
The mounting brackets have been removed, sand blasted and painted with G2 Brake Caliper Paint. So far I've been extremely impressive with the G2 paint, stay tuned to see how it holds up over the winter. In the rear the rusty dust shields will be replaced with new OEM parts. Thankfully up front the rust is limited to the rotors, calipers and brackets so no additional parts are needed.
The E46 chassis is notorious for it's need of front end suspension maintenance. The control arm bushings are a constant replacement item and the ball joints on the control arms go out in 50K miles or less. New control arms from BimmerWorld and a set of new style (more on that later) Powerflex bushings take care of the main front end maintenance with an added bonus that Powerflex bushings are lifetime bushings and won't need replacing. The steering arm ball joints are also likely on the way out at 100K miles so those will be replaced as well.
The stock front struts are well past their prime so the springs and struts will be replaced with a set of Bilstein PSS10s. This is one of the few places I sprung for high end aftermarket parts. The E46 M3 is old and out dated in many regards but still a blast to drive because it is visceral. I wasn't going to skimp on parts that make the driving experience, and I've always wanted a set of coilovers.
Starting with new upper and lower trailing arm ball joints this project has spiraled out of control. In the process of trying to remove the rusty ball joints I burnt and bent the factory lower arm and it now needs replacement. Replacing the arm requires removing the rear diff, making for another parts order and more wrenching. What I am going to replace the arms with is still to be determined. Look at how rusty the lower ball joint was. That is two pieces that have fused into one rusty mess.
With the diff coming out it will have the leaking output seals replaced and will be cleaned up. As I will have access to the upper control arm as well the inside bushing will also be replaced. At the front of the trailing arms the trailing arm bushings (RTAB) will be replaced with Powerflex poly bushings. All said and done every suspension bushing on the rear suspension will have been replaced. The handling improvement will be substantial.
As in the front the rear factory shock have seen 100K miles and are done. Billstein PSS10 springs and shocks will replace them. My nemesis rust was busy with the rear suspension as well, look at the condition of the rear spring.
As mentioned above the brake shields in the rear were completely rusted and will be replaced. That project requires the removal of the rear hubs so the rear wheel bearings are being replaced with OEM *** units from ECS Tuning.
One of the easiest and most effective forms of maintenance is to keep your fluids in good shape. With this much work being done on the brakes a full brake fluid flush is a must. Brake fluid from BimmerWorld will complete the brake overhaul.
Under the hood I'm leaving the engine stock but all the fluids are being replaced. Red Line from BimmerWorld is my fluid of choice and it is going everywhere. 15W50 Red Line will keep the engine happy with a new OEM filter. Red Line power steering fluid to go with the suspension overall. In the middle the transmission is getting Red Line MT-90 as I have a UUC lightweight flywheel and clutch. Out back the diff gets Red Line 75w140.
Wheels and Tires
The factory 19"s are a great set of wheels but I wanted something to make this stand out as a modified M. Wheels are one of the easiest ways enthusiasts identify each other and I felt wheels were a must. I've been a huge fan of VMR wheels ever since getting one of the first sets of CLS style rims from them for my E46 330i almost 10 years ago.
I ordered up a set of VMR V710s in 19x8.5" for the front and 19x9.5" for the rear finished in gun metal. Another place where I was willing to spend money, this was cosmetic but wheels make such a difference in appearance.
The VMRs are wrapped in Toyo Proxes T1s 245/35/19 in the front and 275/30/19 in the back.
Alignment and Service
After the entire suspension has been taken apart and put back together the alignment specs are going to be way off. The car will be professionally aligned at all four corners once there is a suspension to align. While in for the alignment I will also have the S54 valves adjusted.
Writing this out has me worried about just how much I have taken on with this project. None of these are on their own monumental DIYs but together this has become many nights and weekends of work. Many of my friends ask why I didn't have a shop do the work but to me as an enthusiasts this is the ultimate connection with my car. I know that when this is all done my M3 will be in the best shape it's been since leaving the factory and I can't wait to get behind the wheel again.
I am getting parts in constantly and will be updating this as I go. Subscribe to get updates as they happen.
Big, huge, this couldn't be done with out them, thanks to BimmerWorld, VMR and getBMWParts.com!