The BMW E30 chassis has been viewed as a highly capable platform for decades. Entire racing series' revolving around the BMW E30 continue to this day, bolstered by aftermarket support. If you’ve never driven an E30, it is hard to explain their overall character. E30s have a special way of translating the road straight into your hands and feet. The 1980s were a time before computer-aided assists and safety nets. As modern tech is absent, E30s rely heavily on quality analog parts for increased performance. In terms of handling, suspension components are at the top of the pile.
While stock E30 suspension was touted at the time, combining front Macpherson struts with rear semi-trailing arms, modern suspension advancements have significantly outclassed 80s technology. A standard shock/strut combination is common for competitive E30 applications but leaves a level of customizability to be desired. That’s where E30 coilover suspension comes into play.
Coilover suspension is one of the best options for refreshing an E30’s suspension system for a multitude of reasons. In this article, we will cover the basics of E30 coilover suspension and recommend a few kits at different price ranges.
E30 Coilover Considerations
Before we get into the meat and potatoes, it's important that we discuss a few important aspects of upgrading to coilovers on your E30. With most cars, a coilover swap is as easy as unbolting the factory hardware and replacing it with the new kit. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for most E30 coilovers. Factory E30 front suspension features dampers that fit into an existing housing tube, with spring perches welded onto the housings. For a coilover set to cooperate with an E30’s lower suspension components, some cutting and welding is often required.
This usually entails cutting the stock strut housing to a shorter length. This allows the coilover assembly to slide over the remainder of the strut housing. A bit of welding is required to adhere the coilover assembly to the strut housing.
While certainly more difficult than a coilover swap on many other vehicles, this method has its benefits. As the coilovers are welded directly to the knuckles and strut towers, vibrations are reduced. Most E30 owners that have gone the coilover route are very happy with the result.
It is also important to note that E30s came with two different size strut tower sizes in terms of diameter. Early model E30s, from 1984-1987, featured 45mm strut towers. Late-model E30s, from 1987-1991, used 51mm strut towers. This is important to remember as most E30 coilover manufacturers sell different kits based on strut tower diameter. If you aren’t sure what diameter your strut towers are, we recommend that you measure them. It’ll save you a return label in the long run.
Why Choose Coilovers For Your BMW E30?
Coilovers are the primary suspension choice for most enthusiasts for a few reasons. In terms of performance, coilovers are the most versatile suspension option. Many mid to high-tier coilover kits allow you to pick spring rates for use in different applications. Stiffer rates are better for flatter cornering in a track setting. Softer springs are better for street use. Regardless of what your plans are for your E30, there’s always a coilover option that’ll suit you.
E30 Coilover Superiority Over Stock Suspension
With early model E30s nearing their 40th birthday, unrefreshed stock suspension is likely on its last leg. Over that amount of time, factory springs will have lost their stiffness, causing excess bounce. When springs reach this stage, body roll around corners increases significantly and minor bumps can launch you into the ceiling. Coilovers are the best option to remedy this problem.
New springs and stronger shock damping will get rid of any bounce, allowing your E30 to remain planted around corners. Regardless of your price range for a set of coilovers, they'll still make a significant increase over worn stock suspension.
E30 Coilover Adjustable Ride Height
Many E30 owners also like coilover setups for the aesthetic change as well. Most coilover suspension setups can lower an E30 anywhere from 1” to 4” depending on your application. For those looking for a stance ride height, coilovers or air suspension are the only two routes to achieve this look.
Coilovers are the better option anyway due to their superior performance and lower cost. Stock E30 suspension leaves a significant gap between the fender and tire, which is simply too much clearance from an aesthetic standpoint. Coilovers eliminate that wheel gap and improve handling characteristics in the process.
Lower ride height will allow better cornering due to a lower center of gravity and a stiffer ride. Coilovers also manage how a vehicle responds to imperfections on the road surface, allowing the vehicle to maintain a flat posture over bumps and curbs, giving the car more grip.
E30 Coilover Adjustable Damping
In addition to spring rate customizability, quite a few E30 coilover options provide adjustable damping. In layman's terms, damping is another way to adjust ride stiffness. This typically works by adjusting how fluid travels within the shock body. Higher damping means more force is required to return the internal piston to its resting position. Lower dampening has the opposite effect. Translated into ride stiffness, higher damping means a stiffer ride and vice versa. This feature lets you fine-tune your setup to an even higher degree.
Higher damping is typically reserved for the track, with the opposite being true for the street. Adjustable damping allows for your E30 to have a split personality, changed with the twist of a knob.
Best BMW E30 Coilovers
With those benefits in mind, listed below are our recommendations for E30 coilovers at a few different price ranges.
Megan Racing Full E30 Coilover Set - Best Budget E30 Coilover Option
Purchase Here: ecstuning.com
Megan Racing’s Full E30 Coilover set is our pick for those looking for a comfort/aesthetic-oriented setup for under $1000. At this price range, the Megan Racing set comes equipped with add-ons that are typically reserved for more expensive sets.
Featuring 32 levels of damping force adjustment and included camber plates, adjustability is guaranteed. Similar to the BC Racing coilovers next on the list, Megan Racing’s focus is on daily drivability. With softer spring rates than some of the other options on this list, ride stiffness won’t be spine-shattering. However, the presence of camber plates and adjustable damping suggests that the set is track worthy. Camber adjustment is a welcome addition for stance fiends too, allowing for additional aesthetic customization.
Of all of the options on this list, the Megan Racing coilover set will lower your E30 the most. Ride height adjustability is highly dependent on how short you cut your stock strut housing. It is said that ride height can be lowered anywhere from 1” to 4,” which is quite a range. Regardless of your intended use, ride height adjustability with the Megan Racing set should suit your needs.
BC Racing BR E30 Coilover Set - Best Mid-Tier E30 Coilover Option
Purchase Here: fcpeuro.com
Entering into the $1000 price range, this is where the true value lies. Where most budget E30 coilover sets leave a lot to be desired from a performance standpoint, BC Racing’s set hits the nail squarely on the head. Aimed at targeting the daily-driven E30 market, BCs are comfort-focused while still being functional for track use.
BC Racing’s unique pillowball connecting mounts do a better job of translating road feel into the wheel than stock components. Overall, you’ll feel a dramatic increase in steering input and cornering performance.
This is also the price range where a few extra goodies become standard. The BC Racing E30 set comes with 30 levels of adjustable damping to fine-tune your setup to an extreme level of accuracy. Damping is adjusted with an easy turn of a dial at the top of each strut tower; simple enough. This feature is handy for anyone looking to use their E30 for multiple applications. Simply increase damping once you reach the track and decrease damping for the ride home. The BC Racing E30 set really is the best of both worlds.
While some might question if the extra $300 dollars is worth shelling out when compared to the Megan Racing set above, it is evident that the higher price point is funneled into superior build quality. It’s true that both sets share a very similar construction and features. However, BC offers higher individualization from their product. BC offers customizable spring rates from the factory while Megan Racing does not.
As briefly mentioned above, the BC Racing E30 coilover set will require some cutting and welding to install. Overall, the process isn’t too involved. However, if you aren’t comfortable performing this step yourself, we recommend bringing your kit to a qualified machine shop.
Ground Control Fabricated Complete E30 Set - Best High-Tier E30 Coilover Option
Purchase Here: groundcontrolstore.com
Time to step up to the big leagues. At around double the price of our lowest-tier recommendation, no one would blame you for expecting everything but the kitchen sink from a coilover set that expensive. Well, that's pretty much exactly what you get.
Most serious enthusiasts that spend months laboring over the perfect E30 suspension setup will generally arrive at the same overall conclusion. Spring rates and shock performance take priority over everything else, so those are the most important components to focus on.
Generally, there are two manufacturers that stand above the rest in both departments. Eibach springs are widely touted as a superior route to their competition. The same can be said about Koni shocks. Many enthusiasts disassemble less expensive coilover systems and replace the internal components with Koni and Eibach products. The beauty of Ground Control coilovers is that they combine both into one system.
In terms of performance, it doesn’t get much better than this. While still workable for daily driving, the stiff spring rates and high amount of adjustability lean more towards track applications. The Ground Control route isn’t the best for people looking for an extreme drop. The setup will drop your E30 up to 2,” which will certainly eliminate the wheel gap, but you won't be dragging your bumper.
Honarable Mention Budget E30 Coilover Option
Raceland Complete E30 Coilover Set
Purchase Here: raceland.com
Raceland is the go-to manufacturer for budget coilover suspension for a reason. Typically, Raceland suspension provides exactly what you’d expect from a set of coilovers. While only half the price of their competitors, Raceland arrives at an intersection between affordability, performance, and aesthetics.
With that being said, they don't quite exceed expectations in any of those given areas. While they might not be the best performing, Raceland E30 coilovers will definitely hold up during daily driving or light track duty. If you are looking for a cheap coilover set that’ll improve the look of your E30 and provide adequate performance, Raceland's might be the set for you.
E30 Coilover Upgrade Summary
With a planted and quality suspension setup being integral to maximize E30 driving pleasure, coilovers are the best route. The high degree of adjustability combined with their versatility makes coilovers a no-brainer upgrade. This is doubly true if your E30 is still on old and dilapidated factory suspension.
The dramatic range in price between coilover setups makes a set attainable for anyone. Regardless of your price range, E30 coilovers will unquestionably improve cornering ability on winding roads.
If you found this guide about E30 coilover upgrades useful, check out our other related BMW suspension guides. For F30 suspension guidance, check out our F30 Coilover Upgrade Guide. If E36s are more your style, check out our E36 Coilover Upgrade Guide. As always, safe driving!