Project E36 M3 Suspension Version 1.1

Project E36 M3: Part 5 - Suspension V1.1 - Sway Bars, Control Arms, and Fender Rolling

by Jonathan Lawson

Coming off an unplanned hiatus, we’re ready to get back into full swing with Project E36 M3. In part 4 we covered our new ARC-8 wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 tires with a sneak peak of the finishing touches on V1.0 of our suspension, and that brings us to the present…

Even with the well-balanced spring rates and damper adjustability of the HVT 6100s, there’s room for a bit of fine tuning in the body roll department, and the front MacPherson struts will keep you much happier if forced to stay in the good part of the camber curve under lateral load. Some beefy sway bars combined with good coil spring rates are the answer. Yes, they’re technically anti-roll or anti-sway bars, but for the sake of habit, they’ll be referred to simply as sway bars throughout the Project E36 M3 articles.


E36 M3 front sway bar
Removal of the front sway bar is fairly easy with just 2 nuts to remove from each mounting bracket and a nut on each end link—as pictured above.  Regular wrenches will fit between the ball joint and bar, but a thin wrench will decrease the amount of potential damage to the rubber cover.

Sway bar choices for the E36 M3 are plentiful, and I’ve gone through a variety on past cars. The first bars I had were RD Sport on my original ’99, and they were nice combined with the H&R Sport Springs, but the H&R sway bars on my second M3 offered an extra millimeter of girth (size counts!), and they had a very cool teflon lining on the inside of the bushings that meant there was no squeaking for the lifetime of the bushings. I was very happy with the Hotchkis bars I ran on the old supercharged über wagon, though, so I decided to go that route again with Project E36 M3.

The Hotchkis sway bars are tubular, so they’re lighter weight than solid bars, and the construction and finish are both top-notch, so there are no worries about corrosion down the road. They come with some very cool hardware, too, from grease fittings on the heavy duty bushing mounts to bolt-in reinforcement kits.


E36 M3 sway bar vs Hotchkis sway bar
Aside from the obvious old versus new look, there’s no denying which is which. At 23 mm, the E36 M3’s stock front bar pales in comparison to the Hotchkis 33.4 mm tubular bar. The OE bar almost looks embarrassed to be laying next to the glossy behemoth.
E36 M3 vs Hotchkis front sway bar
The two adjustment holes allow for either a 300% or 380% increase in stiffness over the stock bar. You could always split the difference, so to speak, and have one end link attached to each for a bit more fine tuning, but most E36 owners will probably be happiest with the bar at full stiff to keep camber loss under control.
E36 M3 front sway bar mount
Especially with age and any hard use, it’s a good idea to check all mounting points periodically, but particularly when performing any modifications. This car has been checking out pretty well, structurally, so we’ve had no worries up to this point.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2015 4:36 PM
I've yet to have the pleasure of having the need to roll my fenders, so excuse my ignorance: doesn't having the suspension in droop (relative to where the hub is while at static ride height) affect the fender rolling? If the center of the "circle" that is used to roll the fenders is lower than the center of the wheel (relative to the body) won't the roll itself be more oblong when compared to the tire? I think that the suspension should be compressed to at least static ride height, if not compressed, to give a rolled fender that is going to be better spaced from the tire more so than just at the top.

I don't mean to detract from the work done to this car, because it looks good. I'm just curious of the method, since I assume that this is the same method that most use when performing this modification.
Wednesday, January 07, 2015 4:59 PM
That would likely be true if attempting to flare the fenders, or if the lip were bigger than it is. The part of the fender lip needing to be rolled, however, is probably 1/2" tall - though I'd have to go out and measure to be exact. It's not high at all, though, and the roller might end up too high to even reach the lip at what would be static height.
Wednesday, January 07, 2015 5:11 PM
So what is the difference between flaring and rolling? I am familiar with a fender flare that is added to the body, but what does it mean to flare the existing panel? Is it just a matter of the how much material is moved: a small change being considered rolling and a large change being considered flaring? Also, is it a matter of how far out from the body the material is moved, or is it more about how far up the panel from the lip itself the "bend" starts?
Wednesday, January 07, 2015 5:18 PM
I'd generally consider flaring the fender to mean that it's actually moved further out from the body than it would be in its unaltered state. The fender itself doesn't need to be moved in order to fit *slightly* wider tires for the E36, so the small lip that can sometimes cause rubbing can be rolled so that it's flush with the body panel.
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