Spec E46 has proven to be a growing and competitive class. Donor cars are reasonably priced and reasonably available. You can find lots of 323s and 325s and 330s with automatics, but to do it right, you’re best to wait till you can find a 330 with a manual transmission. It’s a lot less work that way, and that’s the car the entire class was designed around.

The platform has proven to be pretty robust, when the right modifications are made to the cars. Parts are plentiful, and BMW made literally millions of E46 cars from 2001 to 2005.

As with any racing class, there is nuance and must-have items you need to bring to the track with you or replace at given intervals. We caught up with four Spec E46 racers from around the country and asked them to share their knowledge, to which they were happy to oblige.

Name: Steve Pruden
Region: Great Lakes
Car: 2002 BMW 330ci
Years Racing: 5, 3 in Spec E46

Spares List
Note these are the spares I take to the track. I have extra spares at home, but they don’t travel with me!
Tie rods
Front control arms
Ignition coils
Spare front hub
Brake pads
Brake rotors
Wheels/tires (obviously!)
Coolant expansion tank
Accessory belt
Wheel studs
Lug nuts
Relays (for my accessory wiring)
Brake caliper bleed screws
O2 Sensor

Q: What is one spare part you have needed at the track, but didn’t have with you?

A: I lost my original power steering pump during a Friday test day. The lack of power steering made for a much greater workout than I anticipated for the sprint races on Saturday and Sunday! The car ran fine, but it was a serious workout.

Q: What have you always had on hand, but never had a need for?

A: Spec E46 cars are relatively new compared to some of the other spec classes. This means that I know what accessories are original and can proactively address parts that are approaching end of service in the offseason. I haven’t had a need for many spares over the years. I’ve never had a coolant system failure (I run all stock cooling system components), so even though I always carry a spare expansion tank, I’ve never needed one!

Q: How have you built up your supply of spare parts?

A: I’ve built it up over time, based on what items are easy to transport, change out, and will get me back racing quickly in the event of a mechanical failure. These cars are really reliable; they don’t chew through things like wheel bearings, and they aren’t 30-plus years old. As long as you keep up on proactive maintenance, you don’t really need to travel with an extensive spares inventory. The items that I’ve built up are based on what happens when there’s unexpected contact on track – things like tie rods and front control arms are critical. I also have curated items like wheel studs and coils that can sometimes fail without warning and are relatively simple to change out in the paddock.

Q: How many times have you provided a part to competitors so they can get their car back on track? Please explain.

A: I actually have never had a Spec E46 competitor not be able to finish a weekend, or get back on track due to a lack of parts. In the Great Lakes region, the cars have been shockingly reliable, even when competing in longer endurance events like TREC. The competitors mix and match spares in case someone needs a part to get back in the action, but I haven’t had to loan out anything! One of my class competitors lost an alternator this past weekend. We were able to source one quickly and get him back in the action in a couple of hours.

Name: Dan Kapaldo
Region: Great Lakes
Car: 2001 BMW 330ci
Years Racing: 3

Spares List
Tie Rod end
Rear lower control arm
Coolant overflow tank
Wheel bearings
Brake pads
Nuts and bolts

This is largely a function of size of your trailer/hauler and distance traveled. I have a small open trailer and midsize SUV, so space is limited

Q: What is one spare part you have needed at the track, but didn’t have with you?

A: Early on before racing it was wheel/tires. I have had screws from the paddock puncture two different tires at different venues

Q: What have you always had on hand, but never had a need for?

A: Fortunately for me mostly, everything with the exception of tires. This platform is very robust if you race clean and can stay out of trouble on the track.

Q: How have you built up your supply of spare parts?

A: Primarily from the buildup of the car itself. Many things get replaced “because racecar” and due to age/unknown history. It doesn’t hurt to keep the parts that get replaced that don’t have any apparent issues as an emergency backup.

Q: How many times have you provided a part to competitors so they can get their car back on track? Please explain.

A: I haven’t had to provide much other than an extra set of hands and maybe some nuts/bolts/tools. We are all helping each other out and are going to attempt to compile a google sheet with everyone’s spare’s list, so we aren’t bringing redundant parts at a given event, ensure the basics are covered as well as know who to go to for a given item.

Name: Phillippe Pellerin
Region: Southeast
Car: 2001 BMW 330ci
Years Racing: 4

As for spares, our team is run by Jeff Tyrrell of Tyrrell Engineering. Most track weekends, we roll in with our crew of seven cars and generally, for keeping it simple, we usually bring a spare car that is teched and can be raced. Assuming no one has any unfortunate issues on track, we usually end up needing spare brakes, front bumper covers, radiators and suspension components — most notably the control arms seem to be a weak link. The one spare we never seem to have but need are spare gas pedal assemblies. The lower hinge is a weak point and we see them fail occasionally but never seem to find a spare.

We end up loaning out or giving away a few parts or tools every race weekend. We love making sure that the competition on track is the best possible without any mechanical failures. Gratefully, the SE46 is such a great platform that DNFs are rare and usually related to lack of talent and not a failure of the machine.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the party after the checkered flag. We generally have a huge cookout and are sore from laughing after the track goes cold. If someone broke during the day, we will all rally to make sure their car gets fixed that night.

Name: Sergio Ramirez
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Car: 2001 BMW 330ci
Years Racing: 1

I have been a BMW master tech for eight years and now, and I own my own shop, Harrison Motorsports, so I know BMW pretty well. I cannot stress how important preparation is! It’s key to having a good race weekend. Don’t wait to look your car over the night before you head to the track, I check my car immediately after every race weekend and address whatever the potential issue may be coming, and so far I have yet to have any issues with the car.

Spares List
Upper and lower radiator hose
Front hub
Front lower control arms
Spark plugs
Ignition coils
Mass air-flow sensor
Wheel-speed sensor

Preparation starts when you build the car obviously don’t cheap out on any maintenance when it comes to BMWs. They are high-maintenance cars. As for the E46 platform goes, always reinforce the rear subframe, with welded plates and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. Replace all rubber bushings.

The coolant system from factory is made of plastic and it’s brittle and weak. Replace every coolant component before even doing a track day with it. I always bring a spare expansion tank and upper and lower radiator hose with me to every race. I used to also bring a radiator till I upgraded to CSF radiator and have had no issues.

I think an oil cooler is a must! I’ve seen cars reach upward of 280-degree oil temps, which is not good. An oil cooler will keep you in the 230-ish range which is much better. Replace all your wheel bearings before doing a track day with it. I replace my fronts once a year. I also bring a spare front wheel bearing with wheel studs and nuts to all the race weekends.

The front lower control arms are weak and can cause major damage. A friend of mine nearly totaled a car at Road America doing an enduro because a control arm let go mid corner and sent him into the wall. Replace the control arms once a year and not a bad idea to bring a spare set to race weekends.

Quality wheels are also a must. I only use forged wheels. Some nonforged wheels have a hard time with certain curbs, for example Turn 3 at Road Atlanta, and that’s not a place you want to crack a wheel and lose control. As for clutch, nothing beats a Tilton setup, but it’s pricey. Replace your clutch disc once a year if using Tilton setup.

I also bring a spare power steering hose from reservoir to the cooler. Those fail often. Replace all rubber hoses during your build! I bring spare spark plugs, ignition coils, and air mass sensor, I’ve never had to use them but I have them in case. Also replace all four wheel speed sensors and bring a front and rear as spare, it sucks going into a corner without abs due to a bad speed sensor. To sum it up the cars are amazing to drive and so well balanced. They are robust and can take a lot, but preparation is key! Build a quality car don’t cut corners and you will be OK.

Images courtesy of Steve Pruden, Dan Kapaldo, Phillippe Pellerin and Sergio Ramirez

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