Front Suspension & Body Overhaul

I couldn’t stand the excessive front wheel gap and ride height so I made plans for 2018 to install H&R Sport springs.

I could have hit the road after only swapping springs but this was the opportune time to overhaul the rest of the front suspension – control arms, tie rods, steering damper, and bushings.

The whole front subframe and spindles need to be removed which opens up the wheel wells and frame rails for cleaning, rust conversion, and coating. I will clean, treat, and coat the inner body with the KBS Coatings three-step process with the same grey color as the trunk.

I’ve been down this road before with my old E36. With everything new in the suspension that car drove amazing. I’m aiming for a similar result and with stiffer urethane bushings the car will track and corner more precisely. I thought the car drove great already so there’s always the chance I could make it worse. But H&R’s and urethane are common upgrades for the E21 so there’s little chance of complaints after.

A lot was done on my first full weekend of work:

E21 front suspension removed

I’m going to post regular updates on my photo site:

https://douging.smugmug.com/Cars/1980-E21-323i/E21-Front-Suspension-Overhaul

Update 1, April 22: all four corners have been stripped of shocks and springs, scrubbed with KBS Klean and buzzed with an electric wire wheel. Rust has been limited to the surface and no structural worries. I’m now ready to treat the surface rust, which takes a full 24 hours to dry, and I should be ready for final coating this weekend!

On the negative side, both rear Koni shocks are shot. Neither has any rebound – the shock stays compressed and will not extend. Koni no longer sells these and I couldn’t find any info on getting them rebuilt. So I ordered Bilstein shocks which will be a better match to the front Bilsteins anyway. An unexpected expense that can’t be avoided.

E21 wheel well cleaned by KBS

Update 2, April 28: all of the wheel wells have been scrubbed clean and treated with Rust Blast. Each has the white powder from the zinc phosphate and is ready for paint. The suspension parts are cleaned, wire brushed, and ready for rust treatment. My KBS Seal Paint will be here in two days so the timing is perfect.

I was paying close attention during disassembly and I think I succeeded in pre-ordering all of the required replacement parts (see list above). Not waiting for parts will be a huge time saver. The only items I did not pre-order were nuts and bolts which I can get from a local hardware store.

Update 3, May 6: wheel wells are done with two coats of KBS Seal paint. They came out amazing! Great gloss grey over the whole inner fenders. What a difference and exactly what I wanted.

All parts and hardware have been coated as well. Wheel wells are grey but the parts are black. Some color would have been nice but the black looks really good too.

Re-assembly has begun. Both rear Bilsteins have been assembled with H&R springs. The rear spring seat is set to 2nd ring from the top, based on what I read from others. And I now have bump stops (trimmed) which the previous Konis were missing. The front subframe, steering rack, tie rods, and steering damper are also together. Next up: control arms and sway bar that I will pre-assemble off the car so the complete subframe and arms can be bolted up to the car as one module. Front struts will be coming soon once I get the correct strut mounts – the first shipment was packaged wrong from the manufacturer.

Update 4, May 8: all parts are now assembled! Just about everything went smoothly save for multiple trips to the hardware store. Parts are ready to go back on when I have an hour or two. And then I have to do a final nut & bolt check and make sure the alignment is close enough. And I need to do an oil change before driving far.

I’m freaking out a little over the last few details. What if the tie rods are on wrong? What if the alignment is way out? What if the frame rails are crooked and the subframe doesn’t bolt up? The same “What if…” anxiety is what keeps me from going to the track. I hate this part but I’m SO CLOSE!

Update 5, May 12: so much for being “so close”! Pre-assembling the front subframe/control arms/sway bar turned out to be a huge mistake. The sway bar affected the balance on the jack so the subframe wasn’t level (I had to be partly install the sway bar and bushings to the frame rail). Then the really long droop of the front Bilsteins prevented the control arms from attaching to the hubs. I had to disconnect the sway bar from the chassis and the control arms from the subframe. I basically undid half of what I had done ahead of time. Live and learn.

It’s only some extra time… By this afternoon everything is back on the car, including the fenders and front bumper. I left the tie rods a bit loose so I could do a quick and dirty alignment.

Then the car would not start. It had plenty of cranking but no fire. After messing with the alternator ground, fuses, and relays I plugged in my Peake code tool. It could not connect with the DME and gave me a flashing E10 communication error. Turned out to be a bad or missing file on the Ostrich emulator. It must lose the file if the power is disconnected for too long. I flashed a new file from my laptop and it fired right up!

Alignment coming up next!

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