The State of our 170k Mile E46 M3 in September 2020

Josh's jet black 2003 BMW M3

It’s been far too long since I’ve provided an M3 update. If you recall, with SMG, a gauge cluster lit like downtown during the holidays, and 165k miles, it was definitely a questionable purchase to begin with. You can read all about that, here.

Last, you would have read how Sean and I put the M3 up on the lift at IM Autohaus in Falls Church, Virginia, and discovered that things weren’t quite so bad after all. Yeah, it was dirty and needed some fairly minor maintenance. Oh, and the rear subframe did have a hairline crack. That was almost to be expected and the repair had already been budgeted.

Only The Necessary Modifications

The day after purchase, I dropped the car off at Road Race Technologies in Sterling, Virginia to have the rear subframe chassis mounting area reinforced. Working their magic, RRT also took care of the illuminated cluster lights.

The paint was in dire need of attention so I dropped it off at Xtreme Auto Details for a proper stage one paint correction. The jet black paint on the car was in bad shape from years of neglect. The team at Xtreme Auto Details really brought the finish back to live! The black was deep and reflected like a new car. They also restored the headlight lenses but warned it likely wouldn’t last.

Now that the car was back in my hands, I began the real cleanup process.

First, to pass Virginia state inspection, I had to replace the tires. As luck would have it, I found a local set of mint 19″ factory forged wheels with brand new Firestone Indy 500 tires for about $1,000. The 19’s on the car were heavily curbed so this was a pleasant refresh.

Jet Black 2003 BMW M3

While the front wheels were off I went ahead and installed ECS Tuning’s stainless front brake lines to replace the weather-worn and cracking factory lines. Unfortunately, the rear brake lines would have to be handled later.

Next, I addressed the touch points. I ordered a freshly wrapped leather steering wheel from Coby Wheel in Georgia. I sourced a set of fresh piano black interior trim, a clean SMG shift knob, boot and boot ring through M3forum (now NAM3forum). Replacing the work surfaces was a really nice update!

2003 BMW M3 interior with SMG transmission

Naturally, while I was on the forum, I also scooped up a Billy Boat muffler. This really made the exhaust note deeper, and sound two levels louder. Rasp, a tad raspier. Best of all, no drone. This has turned out to be a great modification for a daily driver.

Handling the maintenance side of things, I had the Vanos refreshed with components from Beisan Systems. This job also included a new valve cover gasket, spark plugs and coils.

While at the front end of the car, we installed Turner Motorsport’s power pulleys along with new accessory drive tensioner and belts. Underneath, we swapped installed fresh motor mounts.

Moving out back, we started by fixing the emergency brake with a new Pagid brake shoe kit.

I jumped on the Apex Race Parts group buy and I scored a set of ARC-8 wheels, opting for the square 18×9 et30 configuration. I found a set of nearly new take-off 245/40/18 Dunlop Sport Maxx RT tires from a 2018 Subaru WRX for $200.

For better or worse, I decided to try out some eBay LED rear tail lights.

Apex ARC-8 18×9 wheels wrapped in 245/40’s on Josh’s 2003 BMW M3, lowered on KW V1 coilovers

The only real problem that persisted was SMG related. Go figure. If outside temperatures reached the 90’s, chances were that the transmission would go into neutral upon upshift, leaving the car rolling with no power. When that happened, the transmission would eventually go into gear, but sometimes only after coasting 10-15 seconds. This feels like an eternity while sitting in traffic, getting honked at.

Not fun.

Wrapping up 2019, I accepted a new job to advance my career. And for my bank account. This, however, meant a much, much longer commute. My M3 was now making round trips to the local commuter lot and back. No route for fun to or from work. My M3 had suddenly become an appliance.

More Money, More E46 M3 Mods

On Black Friday of 2019 I ordered a set of Fortune Auto 500 coilovers with the intention of replacing the perfectly fine set of KW V1’s that came on the car. Call it an impulse buy.

The APE Flex Fuel e85 kit. That was an impulse buy, too. And the Megan Racing header. All of it. Impulse.

It was the holidays! They were all on sale, people!!

Please don’t tell my wife.

Meanwhile, my differential had been making clunking and grinding noises at low speed tight turns. I had bought a new BMW Motorsport 4.10 ring and pinion when I had my E92 M3 and planned on having it installed in the E46 M3 but after awhile I determined the installation cost to be just too much to swallow. It seemed a better deal to buy a rebuilt differential instead.

3.85 ratio differential in a box

Go figure, the day before the Fortune Auto coilovers arrived, I sourced a freshly built E46 M3 differential with internals from the E92 M3, 3.85 gears and all. I worked a deal and traded the Fortune Auto coilovers for the differential.

Next, I bought a single Cobra Nogaro Circuit driver seat with mounting hardware from Brey Kraus. The seat is very much like the Recaro Pole Positions, but more street-friendly. Brey Kraus’s mounting hardware allowed me to install the seat with OE BMW rails, and power it with a switch from an E30. Admittedly, these seats compromise rear seat accessibility but provide for a much improved driving experience. I found them to be comfortable enough for an hour’s drive or so but I wouldn’t want to road trip with them.

Cobra Nogaro Circuit seat mounted to BMW rails with Brey Kraus adapters

In February 2020, I managed to score a free 2nd BMW. It was by pure chance that I found a guy who had run into trouble with his E92 328xi that resulted in it not being able to pass inspection and the BMW dealership wanting upward of $9,000 to fix it. So, he bought a different car and planned to donate the E92. Long story short, I got it, fixed it for cheap and it then became my daily driver.

Finally, the E46 M3 became the weekend warrior. My dirty garage queen. Officially, my toy.

I drove the M3 to the office one day and the fuel pump died. That was about 169k miles. I had an AEM 320 LPH pump sitting back at the house which we installed. Note, it installed just fine without using the Radium install kit — but I bought the kit anyway just incase trouble raises its head.

Then, Coronavirus

While working remotely and sitting around the house, I installed a LTW style rear trunk spoiler.

One day I decided I didn’t like black and ordered a short roll of 3m 2080 Lucid Yellow vehicle wrap and tried my hand at wrapping the driver front fender. Turned out alright. I then ordered another roll but it’s been sitting in the corner.

Next, I converted the rear wheel bolts to Bimmerworld 92mm studs and swapped the H&R 20mm spacer with a 20mm Turner spacer. The H&R 20mm spacer and extended bolts were going on the daily driver.

I found a non-sunroof headliner locally on Craigslist and that lead to the purchase of a S2R Tuning carbon fiber sunroof delete panel. Removing the factory sunroof in exchange for the delete panel saves about 70 lbs from the highest part of the vehicle. I did this modification to my 2004 E46 M3 and it was very noticeable – nearly like driving around with a lightweight bike mounted on the roof, and without.

Between the sunroof delete and the Cobra seat, I think I’ve cut about 100 lbs off the car. Guessing it’s sitting around 3350 lbs. Still not light by any stretch. I’d like to source another Cobra Nogaro Circuit some day. Just looking around this week, it appears prices have increased. Bummer.

Kinda Race Car

With summer winding down and the temperatures slowly dropping day by day, I figure it’s finally time to get back out on track.

Two weeks ago I finished the installation of the S2R Tuning carbon fiber sunroof panel. This was a newer update to the version I had installed inmy 2004 M3. The fitment of this was quite literally “like a glove”.

S2R Tuning carbon fiber sunroof delete panel installed in Josh’s 2003 BMW M3

Mid-last week I installed an aFe Performance intake elbow. It doesn’t fit great. At first glance, it looks like it was designed for the 6MT rather than the SMG because of the way it doesn’t fit fully on the intake manifold due to the location of the SMG reservoir.

Last weekend, I took a Dremel to the E46 M3 and installed a Trackspec Motorsports center hood vent, hoping that in addition to looking rad, it helps with under hood temps, ultimately alleviating my SMG woes.

Trackspec Motorsports E46 M3 center hood vent installed

Today is September 2nd, 2020. This evening I’ll be meeting up with Sean to install install the rear ECS Tuning stainless brake lines, perform a full brake fluid flush, and install the front Bimmerworld 82mm wheel studs with 7mm spacers.

Tomorrow, I’ll wrap up work early and make the hour drive south on I-95 to Dominion Raceway in Thornburg, VA to participate in SCCA’s Track Night in America. The weather forecast? 91 and sunny.

The last time I was at the track it was also a Track Night in America event. That was 2017 with my 1992 Skyline GT-R and my evening was cut early due to a failed ABS pump.

Fingers crossed tomorrow will be safe, fun, nothing breaks on this E46 M3, and there are no SMG issues! Update to come!

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