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E36 Performance Suspension & Lowering Your BMW

Pelican Technical Article:

E36 Performance Suspension & Lowering Your BMW


4-5 hours






Electric impact wrench, torque wrench, 2 spring compressors, 16mm socket and 1/2-inch driver, Liquid Wrench or WD-40, plumber's pipe wrench or channel locks, paper towels, workbench, human assistant, crescent wrench, rope and wire, 2 ratcheting box wrenches for spring compressors, 13mm socket and driver, floor jack and two jack stands, 17mm socket and driver, Vise-grips, 18mm socket and driver, 17mm Allen key, blue Loc-tite, 6-foot pry bar

Applicable Models:

BMW E36 3-Series (1992-99)

Parts Required:

PSS Bilstein Performance Suspension System or PSS9 Bilstein Perfomance Suspension System with adjustable shocks

Performance Gain:

Make your E36 handle like a life-size slot car

Complementary Modification:

Install high-performance rear shock mount system
101 Performance Projects for Your BMW 3 Series

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.

Shocks and springs

The PSS performance suspension kit from Bilstein is the one of the top performing kits available for the E36 3 Series. The system includes two front coil-over spring/shock setups, two high-performance rear shocks, and a set of rear springs that integrate with adjustable spring perches. Both the front and rear springs are easily adjustable for tweaking the exact ride height you desire. The kit is a bolt-in replacement available for all non-M3 E36 cars manufactured since June 1992 and can be fitted to all earlier E36 models (including the M3) with a few minor suspension retrofits. The kit comes in two varieties: The PSS kit incorporates adjustable spring perches for both front and rear height adjustment. The PSS 9 kit is identical to the PSS kit, with the added feature that the four shock absorbers are easily adjustable.

Installation of either kit is no more difficult than installing stock shock absorbers and new springs (see Projects 60 and 61). The installation of the rear spring is a little different, as it incorporates an adjustable spring perch (see Photos 4 through 6 for installation).

After you've installed the PSS kit, have the car realigned. Due to the design of the front suspension, the alignment specs will change when you lower the car from the stock height (see Project 58). In addition, the PSS kits are lower at their highest spring perch setting than the stock struts, which can cause issues with clearance of wider wheels and tires. Before you test the suspension to the max, check your tire and wheel clearances. See (Project 61) for a tip on raising the rear of your car if you encounter any tire clearance issues.

Sway bars

The M3 uses a different sway bar mounting setup than other E36 models. On E36 M3s, the sway bar mounts to the strut instead of the control arm (see Photo 7). Mounting the sway bar on top of the strut allows the sway bar to be more effective than the stock mounting location. The actual geometry and mounting configuration of the M3 roll bar and the regular E36 roll bar are nearly identical; the main difference is in this drop link setup. Most aftermarket manufacturers only offer sway bars for the M3 models, but they will also fit other E36s. However, due to the change in this drop link orientation, sway bars have varying degrees of effectiveness, depending upon whether they are installed on an M3 or an E36.

This is important for a variety of reasons. Installing a sway bar designed for an M3 into a stock E36 setup will work fine; however, it will not give the exact effect the manufacturer originally designed it to have. If you wish to upgrade your sway bars, choose an aftermarket M3 set that will produce a measured increase in anti-roll stiffness while balancing the changes with upgraded springs and stiffer shocks. To demonstrate this difference in sway bar effectiveness, compare the various sizes of stock sway bars:

 Model Front bar Rear bar
 Stock 95 M3 22.5mm 19mm
 Stock 96+ M3 23mm 20mm
 Stock 328i 24mm 15mm
 Stock 328i Sport 25.5mm 18mm

The front sway bar for the M3 is thinner than the stock sway bar for the 328 because the sway bar drop linkage on the M3 is more effective and doesn't require a heavier, thicker bar.

If you select the PSS suspension system for your M3, first convert the sway bar drop links to the stock E36 setup. You will lose some of your effective anti-roll capabilities because of the shorter drop link configuration used on the stock cars. Counter this by installing a beefier sway bar at the same time. The conversion to the stock drop links is easy and requires only about $40 worth of parts. Here are the part numbers required for this conversion:

 Quantity Part number Description
 2 31-35-1-091-764 Drop link
 2 31-35-1-127-263 Control arm bracket
 2 07-11-9-912-506 Hex screw
 2 07-12-9-922-716 Brass nut
 2 07-12-9-964-672 Nut
 2 31-11-1-114-348 Washer

Unbolt the drop link from the sway bar and strut, and attach the new drop link and U-bracket to the control arm. There should be a mounting hole pre-drilled in the control arm. E36 cars manufactured before November 1991 also have this strut-mounted sway bar setup and may require this conversion in order to use performance shocks and springs designed for late-model E36s.

If you own an E36 manufactured prior to June 1992, you may have noticed that most performance suspension kits are only available for later-model cars. This is because BMW changed the front strut mount in June 1992 (for the 1993 models). Fortunately, the early cars can be retrofitted with these later-style components in order to use the same shocks, springs, and performance kits as the later cars. Simply swap the late-model parts with the ones on the top of your struts, and you will be able to use any late-model suspension setup. Total cost for this retrofit is about $175.

 Quantity Part Number Description
 2 31-33-1-092-885 Upper strut mount
 2 31-33-1-135-580 Upper spring plate
 2 31-33-1-128-523 Upper spring pad
 2 31-31-1-139-453 Top covering cap
 2 31-32-1-139-422 Self-locking nut
 2 33-31-1-125-916 Flat washer
 2 31-33-1-094-288 Gasket
 2 31-33-1-110-196 Sealing ring
 2 31-33-1-116-983 Flat washer

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Figure 1

This is half of the Bilstein PSS 9 kit. A: Rear spring. B: Front upper spring. C: Front lower spring. D: Adjustment knob for front shock. E: Adjustment knob for rear shock. F: Rear spring perch support cover. G: Rear spring perch support. H: Rear trailing arm bushing. I: Front/rear spring perches. J: Spring perch retaining ring. K: Upper/lower front spring retainer. L: Slip inserts for front spring retainer.

Figure 2

Shown here is a close-up of the front PSS 9 shock. The upper and lower springs are separated by the spring retainer and two blue plastic slip inserts (inset photo, upper right). The adjustment knob is located at the bottom of the shock for easy adjustment (inset, lower right). Turn the knob to nine for a softer ride, or one for a stiffer performance feel.

Figure 3

To adjust ride height, rotate the spring perch and retainer (yellow arrow) up or down the length of the shock. The rear shock adjustment knob is located off to the side of the shock (inset).

Figure 4

In the rear assembly, the rear spring perch support bolts into the rear trailing arm. Ride height adjustment is similar to the frontÂÂÂÂÂ--rotate the spring perch and retainer up or down on the threaded perch support.

Figure 5

With the rear spring removed, insert the rear trailing arm bushing into the mounting hole from the bottom of the trailing arm (inset). Then attach the threaded rear spring perch support to the trailing arm with the large nut included. Install the white plastic cover into the top of the perch support.

Figure 6

The completed rear spring assembly is shown here. Unfortunately, itÂÂÂÂÂ's difficult to get into the trailing arm cup and adjust the height of the rear suspension, and youÂÂÂÂÂ'll have to make a few adjustments after installation.

Figure 7

The sway bar drop link on the M3 (green arrow) attaches directly to the strut (red arrow). The PSS kit can be made to work with the M3, but it requires that you replace the strut-mounted sway bar drop link with the one used on the standard E36 suspension (inset). This drop link attaches to the control arm near where the yellow arrow is pointing.

Figure 8

This aftermarket front and rear sway bar kit from Eibach is specifically designed to work with non-M3 E36 cars and includes new bushings and drop links. The bar has two adjustment settings. Bolting the drop links to the outer holes produces a softer ride, whereas using the inner holes results in a stiffer suspension.

Comments and Suggestions:
David Comments: Hi,
I have a 1995 325i that had its shocks replaced with Bilsteins. I now have a front end banging going over bumps. Upon investigation I determined that the shock piston in the strut moves up and down within the top of the strut tower even though the top strut mount is in place and the three nuts at the top of the strut tower are tight and so is the top nut. Is this the way the shocks should react going over bumps? Thanks
June 18, 2016
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: No, the only movement should be the rubber flexing. I would assume the shock is not properly attached to the upper mount. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Trav Comments: Hello and thank you for your tech articles section. I will be spending lots of time here reading thru them lol.😉 Anyways, I own a 95 bimmer 318is with m sport suspension and want to refresh it first to get a feel for how it handles stock and am also thinking about koni and bilstein options later based on what they can add to the m sport setup. So can you tell me what components comprise "m sport" so I can begin the replacement?
November 24, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: I think you will need the BMW M-Sport struts, springs. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Matt Comments: I have 1997 328i e36 and thinking to install coilovers. Are there any that are electronically adjustable from main cab.
November 24, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: That's a good questions. Nothing that comes to mind. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
soundgarden Comments: Hi, I have an early 92 325is. Instead of retrofitting these difficult to find parts, is it possible to put M3 coilovers in front or are they also different? Do you folks sell a kit for the retrofit?
November 23, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The kit shown is available through pelican Parts, not difficult to find. Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can figure out what part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Johnathan Comments: Hello, I own a 95 318is. And it needs struts. I've been offered a strut setup slightly used for a 325is. They are Koni's Will they interchange? Is the main difference just the valving for the weight for the front end? How will it affect the front end? Thank you
January 1, 2015
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: The valving would alter the stiffness. The best way to see if they will fit, go to Koni's website and see if the part number for the donor struts fits your vehicle. - Nick at Pelican Parts  
Shumba Comments: dear friends, i am looking for front and rear shocks for BMW E36, 320 Dolfin. I am also looking the inside front and rear door panels for the same car. if anyone is breaking the same car let me know. I am in harare Zimbabwe. contact number 00263 0773 971 440-Emmanuel.
March 5, 2012
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799. They can help you find the right part.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Martin Comments: I have a E36 98 328IS and I was wondering; doesn't it come with a bottom front and rear suspension sway bar? If the answer is yes, what is the performance difference of the stock over a Eibach or similar after market suspension sway bar?
February 26, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: They will be stiffer and the car will roll less while turning.
- Nick at Pelican Parts
Raymond Comments: Hello
I have a e36 325i of 1993 would put the original springs, I could say as I get it or what would be most suitable, has 17 inch rims m3 and I want to look sporty but not too low, could help me please,send them a photo
January 2, 2010
  Followup from the Pelican Staff: Give our parts specialists a call at 1-888-280-7799 and they can help figure out which part or repair kit you need.
- Nick at Pelican Parts

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Page last updated: Tue 2/20/2018 02:04:46 AM