Case for the E46 330i/330ci

In an attempt to not make this a blog, I’ll keep this short. I crashed the E30 on a friendly private day, parted the car, kept the LS2, and now I’m in an E46 330. This posting will go over my thought process on choosing this chassis.

E46 Vs other models:
At the time of writing, possible drift chassis are still limited. With my primary concern being financial, anything with an initial cost over $5-7k was immediately removed from thought. 370zs, FRS/BRZs, newer mustangs, etc. Also, running costs were also taken into account. M3s/M5s can be found with dead engines but replacement ‘M’ specific parts can be very expensive. Even S14s/S13s are getting older and receive a heavy “drift tax”. Staying on the financial aspect, any chassis in the 90s and before were removed as parts are getting harder to find and prices for used parts are going up.

With all of those depressing conditions in place, the next logical step is to look into a vehicle’s merit as a possible drifter. You can see the drift car master list I used here. Due to weight, the G35/G37 were removed as possibilities, Mustangs in my price range were removed due to my dislike of solid rear axles, and miatas were removed due to the their short wheel base and my physical inability to fit in them.

With that, the field was narrowed down to RX8s, 350zs, and E46s. The RX8 was ruled out due to the LS swap difficulty and my inability to work on rotary engines. I was heavily debating between the E46 and 350z but ultimately picked the E46 because I could get one in 4 door and parts were far cheaper than the 350z. On top of that, locally, 350z are more common and I wanted to try to be different.

E46s vs other E46s
Within the E46 model, there are several models – 323/325/328/330/M3. Immediately the M3 is removed from my consideration due to cost. Here is a comparison between the remaining models.


Above is a comparison of power to weight between all E46 models and E36s. Ironically, even the 330 has a worse power to weight than E36 M3s but I hate E36s. The 323/325 have very lower power to weights but the 328 is also a contender. But due to the 323/328’s MS42 DME/M52B2xTU engines, their tunability is limited and the emissions system is much more complicated/fragile than the 325/328, the 328 was also removed from consideration.


Above is the brake rotor diameter x thickness in mm for E46s and E36s. The non M E46s have all the same front knuckle but very different front brake options. The rear of the 323 is particularly small.

The 330 specifically is a special E46 model, the brakes are so large that the factory equipped wheels at any trim level starts at 17 inches to clear the calipers. The rear has larger axles than the 323/325/328 and therefore a larger bearing, different differential, and trailing arm. Spec E46 specifically uses this model for these reasons. The 330 still uses non M parts for the subframe and many other parts so this keeps running costs down.

The case against the E46
The E46 is not without issue. The frame where the rear subframe mounts to (even on M3s) are known to crack. Reinforcements are a must. Differential options are limited. M3s have a very oddly locking LSDs and there is no other LSD option for the E46 from the factory. This also is coupled with more limited ratio selection in comparison to previous generations of 3 series. The rear suspension design is still trailing-arm-like with a very heavy main “arm” positioned in such a way that toe out on deflection is a major issue.

Summation
For my personal situation, the 330 sedan fits my needs. I consider this chassis and 350zs to be the next popular drift chassis. Both are capable, cheap enough, and available.

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