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Staff Cars: Millsy's M3 - Cracking Job

Big week for the M3 with some equally big jobs ticked off the list

Some things in life are inevitable. Death, taxes and the rear subframe on your E46 shitting itself. Allegedly there’s a bit of a design flaw involving a void that allows too much flex in the subframe and over time it will crack. It just will. It’s not just M3s though, it can happen to any E46… and the likelihood is it’s happening to yours right now if you own one. Quick, go check (note: it’s not easy to check).

Who knows what horrors lurk beneath?

Even knowing that though, it’s still a bit gut-wrenching to book your car in for about a grand’s worth of work to fix something you don’t know is even broken. And even if it is, then you probably won’t feel much benefit in getting it fixed.

But I’ve owned the M3 for nine years, used it as a daily driver for a lot of that time and have never been too gentle with it, so figured the old girl deserved some love. Plus, she’s got to be able to withstand a good thrashing when it goes up against/beats Dan’s Type R or track.

The next dilemma though is who to get to do the work? There are plenty of options, but one name kept popping up on various M3 groups as a company who do a great job for a good price: ETA Motorsport. And as they’re only based by Brands Hatch circuit it’s not a terrible trek from MAXERS’ Essex HQ. Great.

Surely enough they seem to know a thing or two about Beemers, so when I asked if they could fit the HSD Monopro coilovers I’d had sitting around for a month or two, or the freshly purchased Alcon brakes, they didn’t bat an eyelid. All they asked for was that it was dropped off on the agreed day at between 8am and 8.30am… they know how long the subframes repair takes and if they started any later it was going to screw them.

I arrived at 8.02am and after about twenty minutes Matt, Geoff and Rhys had set about working on it like a well-oiled machine, each with their set-routine of how to get the job done. They were busy removing the exhaust as I left them to it in a feat of stripping akin to anything I’ve seen in Vegas. Well, there was this one brunette chick from Brazil who… oh, nevermind.

Anyway, to keep things short(ish), it was all finished just two and a half days later. The subframe repair carried out with internal brace added to hopefully avoid future issues, Powerflex yellow bushes in the subframe and more solid black ones in the rear trailing arms, brakes fitted with new braided lines plus track-spec fluid, replacement copper brake lines from front to back (as the original ones were badly corroded), some new bolts in the catalytic convertor, a new exhaust mount and the coilovers fitted with 1.5 degrees of camber on both sides. With VAT that all came in at just shy of £2200. Ouch!

(Going above and beyond, these are the photos ETA took during the work - start from the bottom and work up for the right order though. Apparently there were only very minor signs of any issues, which I guess is a good thing)

To be fair, that’s an excellent price for the amount of work they’ve done, and they definitely inspire confidence that it’s been done right, with the photos above supplied and a detailed rundown of all the work they carried out when they phoned to let me know it was ready. Hopefully plenty more years of M3 fun ahead then! And when I picked it up all the old bits were neatly packaged and tidily sat in the boot… which kind of made me think they not only have the good sort of OCD but, before I realised it was all sat in the back, that they’d also set the rear suspension way too low. With the old stuff thrown into the Golf daily, the M3 suddenly looked far less likely to cause me issues when meeting anything larger than a snail on the road!

But what about the coilovers and brakes? Any good? And does the back end feel any tighter?

Let’s start with the brakes. If you read my last update you’ll know I managed to get the Alcon big brake kit second hand for a very good price, albeit with a rather sketchy pick-up. The kit consists of 6-pot monoblock Alcon calipers, 365mm discs and what I’m told were Pagid RS209 pads. Are they an improvement over the knackered standard set-up? Obviously. But how much better?

With only a small amount of time to have a play I can report that as far as pedal feel goes they don’t seem that different to stock; this is a good thing in my mind as some big brake swaps have a real on/off feel. But the difference is they do actually stop the car. And that’s kinda what I needed! I did a slow 30mph stomp on the brakes too and they really bit, so while there’s not much to tell for now they’ve already filled me with greater confidence that the car will be up to the job on track.

As for the suspension, well, similar thing really. It certainly looked pretty good being about 6mm lower than it was on the Eibach springs, but I’ll hold judgement on these for a while too. I’ll be running them on the softest damping setting for the moment while they bed in a bit, but I’ll get a better idea of them once I get it all set-up properly. And that will have to wait until after paint and probably after any weight-reduction I decide to do. I’ll also keep an eye on their condition over time and report back, as some have suggested they can corrode pretty quickly. What I can say though is the softest setting for damping actually felt less harsh than the standard shocks with Eibachs, which I was surprised about as everyone seems to say these are particularly harsh. Don’t listen to them.

And the rear subframe? This is about prevention mainly – like when boys stand with their bums to the wall when Dan walks in the room – so I wasn’t really expecting to feel any benefit. But, whether it’s the internal brace or the uprated bushes in the back end, it certainly feels tighter back there, much more like the car I first drove nine years ago. I’m not saying it’s totally track ready or anything, but with the brakes too it feels like the M3 has a new lease of life, and it seems to have lost a few creaks and rattles in the process.

My enjoyment of them will have to wait for a while though, as it’s now at Kode in Kent for a more dramatic modification: the respray. I’ve still not decided on the colour though…

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