Written by David S. Wallens
At the start of this season, The Tire Rack BMW CCA Club Racing series introduced the Spec E36 class for six-cylinder, E36-chassis BMW 3 Series racers. Like most spec series, the rules strive to create a level playing field while maximizing the fun-to-drive factor and minimizing cost. In its first year, the Spec E36 series has found the most momentum on the East Coast, with four racers turning up early in the year at Lime Rock Park in June.
Spec E36 is sponsored by Yokohama and for 2007 specified the use of their Advan A048 Medium Hard compound tires. The series allows the 1992-’95 BMW 325is as well as the 1996-’98 BMW 328is coupes and sedans. Engines are kept stock, and the suspension mods are limited to specified damper and spring kits, sway bars and camber plates. The complete set of rules is posted at bmwccaclubracing.org.
The cars are inexpensive, too. As East Coast racer Tim Smith said, “When I decided to build a Spec E36 racer in January, I found a 1993 325is on AutoTrader for $2600. This was a BMW in great condition with 135,000 miles, completely street worthy–it almost killed me to tear it all up.”
Disaster recovery is relatively painless as well. Mike Gilbert, another Northeast region racer, says, “I just blew my stock 120,000-mile motor, and I was able to pick up a stock 150,000-mile motor for cheap that runs well. We’re dropping it in the car. You can’t beat that!”
Most early adopters say they were attracted to the class by the combination of low cost and the company they’d have on track. The Club Racing series is known for its camaraderie, and racers often help each other out at events. Several drivers said that Spec E36 also makes the transition from driving school to road racing easy and cost-effective.
Southeast region driver Tom Tice said, “This class makes a great stepping stone for those currently working their way up through the ranks of high performance driving schools. They can improve an E36 car with the Spec E36 suspension package and, when they are ready to graduate to racing, [they] only need to add the necessary cage and safety equipment.”
Of course, with any new class there are growing pains, and a group of racers and Club Racing officials are working on updates. Both the suspension specifications and the spec tire choice are being revisited. The class appears to be well-positioned for growth, although West Coast racer Scott Lang, who likes Spec E36, is moving his car to I-Prepared for the time being. He says the move will allow him to immediately get the level of competition he wants instead of having to wait another season.
New racer Jim Banks observes, “I think this is a good time for a class like this. The popularity of the Spec Miata, Spec 944 and even Spec E30 shows that many racers are interested in more control over car variables versus seeing who can outspend whom. The E36 models are very reasonably priced, with good donor cars out there that can get a racer into the series for less than $20K.”