Upgrading the E36 M3 Brakes

Update by Joe Gearin to the BMW M3 project car
May 4, 2007

Shiny and black.
Seats need more lateral support
Luxury M3 slatted grill
Stock except for Turner intake
Beautiful Racingbrake rotor
Hawk ceramic pads don’t dust, or squeal
Much more airflow with Racingbrake rotor
Easy install
Ready to go!

Fortunately, the well-documented check engine light maladies that are frequently mentioned with this car, have been largely absent, and it has provided years of care-free ownership.

For a few years now, this 1997 BMW M3 has been lurking in the shadows here at GRM. This car, a one family, two owner, 117,000 mile example was purchased nearly new in 1998 by associate publisher, Joe Gearin’s Dad. This example is a luxury model, which means it has a slotted front grill (instead of mesh), power seats (non-Vader type), and all the bells and whistles like the trip computer, wood door pulls and console surround, and a sunroof.

This M3 has lead a pretty pampered life, with only occasional track and autocross use. Joe’s Dad also spent way too many weekend days waxing, and polishing, so the paintwork has held up very well to time, and the elements. Modifications have been mild, such as a Turner cold air intake, and we have tried various short shifters in the car. Besides that, she is just an honest, well loved E36 M3. Fortunately, the well-documented check engine light maladies that are frequently mentioned with this car, have been largely absent, and it has provided years of care-free ownership. (knocking on wood!)

Due to the age, and occasionally enthusiastic use of the car, a brake upgrade was in order. While the stock M3 brakes are pretty darn stout for a production vehicle, we had noticed a bit of fade while at the track. We originally considered going to a big brake kit, but since this isn’t going to be a dedicated track car, we decided to go a different route.

Most big brake kits necessitate a change to a larger wheel to clear the larger calipers. We like the looks of the M3’s M-Contour wheel, and already had two sets of these wheels, one for street use, and the other set shod with race rubber. We decided for our uses, a stock sized rotor replacement would be the best way to go. Fortunately, Racing Brake makes a nice 2-piece rotor upgrade for a variety of applications, including the E36 M3.

Racingbrake claims that their patented center-mounted rotor assembly allows for better airflow from both the inboard and outboard sides of the rotor. This, they claim, balances the stress, and heat loads under heaving braking. The rotors also feature patented convergent vanes that are said to promote more efficient air flow and even temperatures across the disk’s surface. These slotted, and drilled, replacement rotors are designed for occasional track day, autocross, and enthusiast uses. Perfect for our application. While these rotors aren’t cheap ($568.42 front set) they cost a bunch less than a big brake upgrade, and seemed to be exactly what we needed.

Once they arrived, we were impressed with the high quality materials. They slip on just as easily as a stock rotor, and actually save a little weight due to the aluminum rotor hat. We haven’t had a chance to hit the track yet with our new rotors, but judging by the massive air channels, and quality construction, we wouldn’t be surprised to see a decrease in brake fade. They also are just plain beautiful to look at, without making the car a Bling machine.

Because the M3 is mainly a street car, we decided to check out Hawk Performance’s new ceramic brake pads while changing the rotors. These pads slot between their stock replacement pads, ad their more aggressive XP+ line of pads. They claim the ceramic produces much less dust, and noise than a traditional high performance pad, while providing much of the bite, and stopping power. The pads listed for $83.00 for the fronts, and $68.00 for the rear pads.

Once installed we found them to be virtually silent in all situations, and although no one will mistake the pedal feel for a race pad, they bite solidly, and have a nice progressive feel to them. As a nice bonus, we have noticed nearly no dusting since the installation. When we head to the track, the XP+ pads are waiting, but for street use the ceramic pads are more than up to the task.

Soon we will be upgrading the dampers, and adding some suspension links and a front bar to take away a little of the M3’s inherent low speed understeer. After that, the famous rear-subframe mounts are scheduled to be reinforced, just in case. Stay tuned!

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