This article is one in a series that have been released in conjunction with Wayne's new book, 101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series. The book contains 272 pages of full color projects detailing everything from performance mods to timing the camshafts. With more than 650+ full-color glossy photos accompanying extensive step-by-step procedures, this book is required reading in any 3 Series owner's collection. The book was released in August 2006, and is available for ordering now. See The Official Book Website for more details.
Looking for more photos? Click to see bonus pictures for this project.
I've never been completely happy with the braking power in my E36 BMW. The braking systems have always been good, but I've often thought that the stock systems could be better. Repeated 80-to-0-mph stop tests by European Car Magazine recently found that the stock E36 M3 brake fluid boiled and became highly ineffective after about 4 runs. Needless to say, if you're going to be doing any significant performance driving, it's a very wise investment to upgrade your brakes.
The kits aren't cheap - they range in price from about $1500 to $3000, with the top end of the dollar range belonging to the premium brand kits from Brembo. Some may find this an expensive price to pay, but when you figure that it includes the cost of a caliper rebuild, new discs, and new brake lines, the cost becomes a bit more reasonable. In addition, you can expect the following from your upgrade:
- Shorter stopping distances. Depending upon the application and road conditions, you can experience up to 20-30% shorter distances. The faster you are traveling the greater the improvement.
- Repeatability. Even the simplest brake systems can stop a car very well once or twice. However, as the brake fluid heats up, performance decreases, and each stop gets longer and longer. Installing a big brake kit will give you remarkably shorter stops consistently.
- Reduce or eliminate brake fade. The larger brake discs on the big brake systems are able to dissipate heat that causes brake fade and failure. Each component in the big brake system is designed for performance braking, which includes the proper cooling of the system. Whether you're coming down a steep mountain, or blasting from turn to turn on a race track, the bigger brake systems are better equipped to prevent overheating than the stock system.
- Better control and modulation. With a performance brake setup, you achieve a better pedal feel, brake harder, and still maintain control. The big brake systems work flawlessly with the BMW anti-lock braking system (ABS).
The big brake kits typically only come with equipment to replace your front brakes. This is because the front brakes typically perform 80% or more of the stopping - sometimes more during panic stops. It's not a good idea to put a high performance, big brake system on the rear because this can cause the rear brakes to lock up prematurely. This can cause increased stopping distances and a loss of control. For cars that have performance systems on the rear, they are often coupled with anti-lock controllers or proportioning valves to prevent rear brake lockup. The BMW 3-Series cars only have anti-lock mechanisms on the front brakes.
The big brake setup that we chose for this tech article is manufactured by Brembo, one of the leading brake system manufacturers, and an OEM supplier to world-class sports car manufacturers like Porsche and Ferrari. The Brembo monoblock kit we used for this upgrade is widely considered to be the best you can buy for the E36 3-series. The car that this was mounted on was a BMW E36 318ti that had a few "other performance mods" to match.
The kit includes everything that you need for the installation: two calipers, two rotors, two brake lines, two brackets, and two sets of pads and retaining clips. Truly a sight to be seen, it's unfortunate that all of this braking beauty has to be hidden behind the wheels. This particular caliper is painted black, but the kit is available in many different colors, including red.
The only real requirement for the kit is that you have 17" or larger wheels on your car. The stock M3 wheels will fit, and were installed on this car at the time of the upgrade. Not all 17" wheels will allow the huge calipers to fit, so make sure that you plan in advance, and verify that your wheel combination will work with the larger brake systems.
The first step is to loosen the lug nuts on your wheels and then raise the front of the car. You might want to raise the rear of the car as well, as I recommend that you inspect and refurbish your rear brakes at the same time so that you have fresh components on all four corners of the car. For example, on this particular car, I installed rear cross-drilled rotors, new rear brake pads, and new parking brake shoes to match.
With the car up in the air, remove the two road wheels (Figure 8). For the remainder of this article, I will discuss the installation procedure for the right side of the car - the opposite side is exactly the same. With the road wheel removed, disconnect the brake pad sensor. Then unbolt and disconnect the brake caliper (Figure 9) from the car (see the Pelican Technical Article: Brake Pad Replacement for more details). Tie the caliper up out of the way and do not disconnect the brake line at this time (Figure 10). Make sure that there is no tension on the brake line - even though we will be replacing it you don't want to make a habit of hanging the caliper by the brake hose. Remove the bracket (Figure 11) that normally holds the caliper to the strut (see the Pelican Technical Article: Brake Disc Replacement for more details).
Now, remove the small screw that holds the brake disc to the hub (Figure 12). The brake disc should simply lift off. If not, then you may need to tap it with a rubber mallet. With the disc removed, your strut and wheel assembly should resemble Figure 13. Depending upon which year car you have, you may have to remove your anti-lock brake sensor dust shield (shown with the green arrow in Figure 13). Some dust shields are mounted using bolts, but most are riveted or press-fit onto to the larger back-plate and may need to be cut off. On this particular E36, the dust shield was indeed bolted to the strut assembly, however, to remove it, it needed to be cut off using a Dremel cut-off tool (Figure 14). There was no other way to physically remove the dust shield without disassembling the entire hub and bearing assembly. Figure 15 shows the dust shield with a large cut in it - make a similar slice on the other side, and the two half-moons should simply fall off. Underneath you will find the ABS sensor, and the sensor degree wheel (Figure 16). If there is any dust or debris in this area, be sure to clean it out thoroughly (Figure 17).
With the dust shield removed, your strut should resemble Figure 18. Now, take the new Brembo caliper mounting bracket and attach it to the strut assembly, as is shown in Figure 19. Torque the bolts down to XX ft-lbs (XX Nm) and use red Loctite 271 on the threads to make sure they don't come loose (Figure 20).
Now that the bracket is mounted, place the rotor on the spindle. There is a left and right rotor - they are usually stamped, but you can also tell the difference by the way that the internal fins are cast into the disc. Refer to Diagram 21 for more details. The rotor is shown placed on the spindle in Figure 22. Use the brake disc locating and mounting bolt to secure and correctly register the brake disc with respect to the hub (red arrow, Figure 23). The holes for the wheel studs should be correctly lined up with both the brake disc and the spindle (Figure 24). Figure 25 and Figure 26 both show the new brake rotor mounted correctly on the spindle. Use a spare wheel lug nut to help secure the disc to the spindle if needed.
The pads should be pre-assembled in the caliper, but if they're not, now is the time to insert them into the caliper. Remove the two retaining pins by tapping them out with a small hammer and the end of a punch or small screwdriver. Insert the pads, and replace the pins. Now, mount the new, huge, caliper to the newly installed mounting bracket. Torque the bolts to 37 ft-lb (XX Nm). There should be an embossed arrow on the front of the caliper that indicates the direction of the disc rotation. When mounting the calipers on the spindle, the arrow should always point up. The caliper is shown mounted on the spindle in Figure 27 and Figure 28.
At this point (before you disconnect the brake line to your old caliper) I suggest that you perform a test fit of your wheel to your spindle. You want to make sure that there are no interference problems when the wheel is fully mounted. Cover the caliper first with a piece of tape to protect the paint in case the wheel happens to scrape the caliper. Put the wheel on the spindle and tighten it down with two lug nuts (Figure 29). Then give the wheel a spin and make sure that it turns freely without rubbing or scraping on the caliper or any other brake system component (Figure 30).
When you have verified that the wheel turns freely, remove it, and set it aside. Now, attach your new braided brake hose to the brake caliper. There should be a small copper washer that will seal the line fitting to the caliper (Figure 31). Route the brake line through the rubber grommet that secures it to the strut (Figure 32).
Now, using a flare-nut wrench, quickly disconnect the old rubber hose from the steel hard-line that connects the hose to the main brake system (Figure 33). Don't use a regular wrench on the hard line - only use a flare-nut wrench, as is shown in Figure 34. Reconnect the new line quickly, minimizing the amount of brake fluid that leaks out of the system. The finished assembly should resemble Figure 35.
With the brake line attached, now clean up any spilled brake fluid (beware - it is very harmful to paint). Now, repeat the process for the opposite side. When you have completed the install, you will need to bleed the brake system - see our Pelican Technical Article on Bleeding BMW Brakes for more information. After the brakes have been bled, reattach the road wheels, lower the car, and tighten the lug nuts to 74 ft-lb (100 Nm).
The brake system needs to be broken in before you can really test its performance. Firstly, you should make sure that your emergency brake system is working properly. This is just in case anything went wrong, and you need to pull that lever to stop the car. Before you drive the car, pump the pedal and make sure that you have firm pressure. Have an assistant push the car while you have your foot on the brake - just to test that the system is working.
Drive the car slowly to a nearby parking lot or deserted area. Now, perform about 15-20 stops from 55 mph to 10 mph using light pressure on the pedal. This will increase the temperature on pads, the caliper and the rotors, and will help mate the pad and the disc's friction surface together. After these repeated stops, drive the car around town for a few miles, and try to avoid using the brakes. This will allow the components to cool back down. Now park the car and look at the brake discs. They should be a grayish-blue color consistently across the surface of the disc. If this color is not consistent, then repeat the 15-20 stop heating and cooling procedure.
Well, there you have it - now you've got brakes on par with the very best in competition motorsports. If you would like to see more technical articles like this one, please continue to support Pelican Parts with all your parts needs. If you like what you see here, then please visit our online BMW catalog and help support the collection and creating of new and informative technical articles like this one. Your continued support directly affects the expansion and existence of this site and technical articles like this one. As always, if you have any questions or comments about this helpful article, please drop us a line.