The Hunt For Budget Friendly Coilovers - MTS Technik
Finding the right suspension for your E36 can be a challenge, particularly when constrained within a reasonable budget. Well my friends, I recently found myself faced with that challenge, and spent quite a while researching my options. I knew right off the bat that I’d be springing for coilovers (as opposed to springs or a cup kit), because at a minimum I wanted to be able to dial in the ride height. However, when shopping for coilovers you’ll find that the options are plentiful and the price varies wildly from anywhere from $500 or less to $4,000 or more.
Well, like most, I don’t have $4,000 to spend on the suspension for my 1995 Dakar Yellow E36 M3, and decided to set myself a budget of around $1,000 or less. Further, I drive this car hard on the street and take it on road rallies—and while we’d all like to think we’ll track our car often, most of us will only ever take the car on track maybe once or twice a year. That being said, it hardly seems fitting to set out to find a track-purposed coilover when 99% of the miles the car will do in a given year will be on the street. So—given the parameters above, I’m looking for a coilover that will be excellent on the street, and doing so on a budget.
The Qualities of a “Street” Coilover
Before we get too far into the rest of this article, I’d like to take some time to provide what I consider to be the qualities of a good street coilover. In my view, compliance is king when it comes to a street coilover. First, I’m in my 30’s and my back doesn’t feel like it used to. Second, the type of street driving I do takes me to areas where the road gets tight and twisty, where there may be mid-corner undulations, and maybe even a little bit of gravel.
So what does that mean? Well, it means that I’m wholly uninterested in being as low as possible, because I will need suspension travel, but it also means that I have no need for a setup with super stiff spring rates and over-damped shocks and struts—I need compliance. That is, if I’m doing 8 to 12-hour stints on a freeway to get to the start of a rally, I will want a coilover that can deliver comfort. Further, when I’m mid corner on a twisty road, I will want a coilover that can respond to bumps without unsettling the car. Hence, compliance is king when it comes to any good street car, which means that any good street coilover must be configured to deliver that compliance.
Enter the MTS Technik “Street” Coilover Kit for the E36
These MTS Technik coilovers are TÜV certified, come in at just under $700, and include features that are usually only offered at a much higher price point. First, and most notable, the steel shock bodies are double zinc plated—giving them their yellow-gold color. The zinc plating provides increased corrosion resistance, much more durable than powder coated steel shock bodies that are susceptible to chipping and flaking, leaving untreated steel exposed to the elements and easily corroding. Other brands have provided a similar zinc-plated shock body, but come in at well over $1,000.
The second-most noticeable feature is the use of a main spring and helper spring assembly, which removes the need for having to “preload” the main spring during installation, and also ensures that the main spring doesn’t rattle when the suspension is in full droop. When making height adjustments, you only need to rotate the spring perch (or collar) with the provided collar wrench to raise or lower the car.
In the rear, MTS Technik also opted for a main spring/helper spring arrangement, which is not commonly seen on other coilovers in this price range.
MTS Technik exclusively utilizes high quality Eibach springs, and in this particular arrangement, MTS Technik makes use of a 7.1K (70 N/mm) main spring with a 2K (20 N/mm) helper spring in the front, and a 20.4K (200 N/mm) main spring with a 0.6K (5.66 N/mm) helper spring in the back.
There is no doubt, at least upon visual inspection, that the MTS Technik coilovers are quality. As seen below, the welds on the strut body look fantastic.
Another standout feature, at least for me, was the use of a split collar ring (or spring perch). MTS Technik calls this a hexaCOIL spring perch, which utilizes a pinch bolt which can be loosened to make getting the spring perch loose particularly useful (especially for those of us that live in the midwest). Please note that these coilovers, as pictured, have already seen nearly 4,000 miles, hence there are scratches from adjusting the coilovers to fine-tune the ride height once the suspension settled.
Now let’s talk about the damping. The damping of the shocks and struts are fixed, but as you’ll find out in part two of this blog—the damping is perfect for the street. In my opinion, adjustable damping isn’t something that is needed by the vast majority of enthusiasts looking for a quality handling street coilover. In fact, being someone that has had adjustable damping coilovers in the past, I’d usually find a settingI like and then leave it there. With these coilovers, there is no need to “find the right setting”. They are set up and ready to go right out of the box.
The installation of these coilovers was as straightforward as any other coilover. If you’d like reference materials, there are dozens of high quality DIY articles and videos out there—the installation process itself will not be a focus of this article.
First things first, the old suspension had to be removed. This particular car included a Bilstein coilover setup that was installed at some point in the car’s life. If I had to guess, I’d say these likely had somewhere around 100,000 miles on them judging by the wear and tear.
They were old and tired, and left a lot to be desired. When the car was on the alignment rack, we noticed that there was lateral play between the shaft and the strut body, resulting in a “dynamic” change in camber when the car was loaded up. Needless to say, a replacement setup was long overdue.
Another “small” snag that we encountered during the install was the discovery of cracks in the passenger-side strut tower. After the paint was stripped away to reveal the full extent of the damage, holes were drilled at the beginning and end of the crack to reduce the stress concentrations and the tips of the crack.
The crack was then welded closed, and followed up by a few coats of primer to protect the exposed metal from corrosion. In addition, OEM BMW strut mount reinforcement plates were installed between the camber plate and the strut tower in an attempt to prevent future cracking. Let this be your PSA, please check to see if your car has these reinforcement plates installed. At some point down the road, I may get the engine bay repainted, perhaps the next time the engine is out for a rebuild…
You’ll note that, while this coilover system is designed to work with the OEM BMW shock and strut mounts, I’ve opted for the Ground Control “Street” Camber plates on the front, which include a urethane bushing between the spring and the camber plate to reduce the NVH transferred to the cabin (again, my particular opinion is that compliance is paramount to an enjoyable street car).
In the rear, I opted for Ground Control “Street” rear shock mounts, which also use a urethane bushing to retain some compliance.
If these Ground Control products are not what you are looking for, MTS Technik manufactures their own camber/caster plate and rear shock mount solution, which can be sourced through Race German.
Not for nothing, but these new MTS Technik coilovers made my wheel wells much for enjoyable to look at with the wheels off—perhaps the nickel plating goes exceptionally well with the Dakar Yellow color of the car.
It was a similar story in the rear, as the previous suspension setup was looking pretty destroyed.
The True Test for a Street Coilover
Without a doubt, the MTS Technik coilovers look fantastic and appear to be high quality, but how do they perform? From the very beginning we set out to answer that question—so we set out on a 4,000+ mile journey from Milwaukee, WI to Challis, ID to take the car on the OverCrest Rally. For 2022, the OverCrest Rally featured a two-day, 600 mile road rally that traverses across Idaho through curvy mountain roads, all while entirely avoiding freeways. The drive out to Idaho includes multiple 16+ hour days spent on freeways, while the drive in Idaho on the rally only features twisty roads with varying degrees of surface quality. As such, this trip could be considered the “test of all tests” for a street coilover, so stay tuned for part two of this blog where we share with you our thoughts on how the MTS Technik coilovers performed (spoiler—they are fantastic), as well as some of the spectacular cars, views, and roads that were curated by the team over at OverCrest.
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