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Thread: BUDGET PERFORMANCE SUSPENSION GUIDE (Ultimate E46 OEM+ SACHS Setup)

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    BUDGET PERFORMANCE SUSPENSION GUIDE (Ultimate E46 OEM+ SACHS Setup)

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    1. What is this?

    This guide will walk you through my suggestions for refreshing your E46 suspension using OE BMW parts only. The goal is to achieve increased performance over the original ZHP setup at a lower cost than aftermarket. While written with the ZHP in mind, this guide can be applied to all non-M E46s. I will also provide background information on E46 stock suspension setups, including some commentary and part numbers to better understand the context of this guide. If you don’t care about any of that and just want the list of parts, you can skip to section 9 or 10.

    2. Stock parts?

    Enthusiasts may scoff at the idea of stock suspension, but there is tremendous value in factory parts that is often overlooked. BMW owners should know this best. The sheer number of available factory options and packages can completely transform our cars – case in point being the ZHP. Not to mention the exhaustive BMW Individual program, BMW Performance parts bin and excellent cross-compatibility between models. These options provide many parts for BMW drivers without having to resort to aftermarket solutions.

    3. Why should I care?

    OE parts have economies of scale on their side. They are low-cost, but are far from cheap. You will spend less compared to entry-level aftermarket parts while receiving better quality and performance. Not to mention that if you live in a country with strict laws on modifications and aftermarket parts, this may be your only option to begin with.

    4. What parts are we talking about?

    Put simply, my overhaul consists of the high performance line of SACHS dampers. SACHS is an OEM for E46 dampers. Our cars originally shipped with SACHS dampers. Seeking more detailed information starts making things complicated. There have been many discussions over the years about which dampers were originally shipped with the different trim levels of the E46. To make matters worse, the trim levels are different in every country. For example, America received the ZHP as opposed to the MSport (M package). While similar, there are some key differences, complicating matters further.

    5. Deep dive into SACHS

    Before we look at the different factory suspension setups, let’s familiarize ourselves with SACHS dampers. SACHS, a sub-brand of ZF, used to have five distinct lines of shocks.

    Touring – basic line of shock absorbers
    Super Touring – performance shocks for sporty applications
    Advantage – high performance shocks for sports cars and performance trim levels
    Performance – ultra high performance aftermarket shocks
    Pro Touring* – combination shocks that consolidate various lines from low to high performance

    Over the years, SACHS discontinued many of these lines. I don’t have the exact dates, but the Sachs Performance kit (part number 84 1500 118 208) was discontinued sometime around 2010. The Performance dampers can be identified by their red shock bodies. The kit was paired with 30/30mm lowering springs, also made by SACHS. This is what it looked like.

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    There has been no replacement for the Performance kit.

    The Advantage line of shocks was discontinued in two stages for the E46. First, the rear Advantage shocks were discontinued around 2015. The Advantage struts were discontinued more recently in 2019. The Advantage dampers can easily be identified by the red stickers on a black shock body. This is what they looked like.

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    In the early days of the E46, some cars also came equipped with BOGE shocks, another brand of ZF. While some products are still labeled under the BOGE brand, E46 components are exclusively SACHS now. This is a what the BOGE Turbos looked like.

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    *There’s a chance that this line of shocks actually has no more name. I read Pro Touring somewhere, thought it sounded fitting and decided to use it to describe this newest line of SACHS dampers

    6. Which SACHS dampers did different E46 variants come with?

    I have speculated in the past, and I can’t guarantee that I got it right this time, but I think that I’ve finally found the answer to the mystery. I cross-referenced these with BMW part numbers for verification and they seem to check out. The part numbers I’m about to list all refer to the front left and right dampers unless otherwise noted.

    Base Model
    Standard Suspension (Option S225A)


    Original BMW part numbers:
    Code:
    31 31 6 750 789
    31 31 6 750 790
    = SACHS Touring

    OEM (SACHS) part numbers:
    Code:
    556-867 (Touring) [discontinued]
    556-868 (Touring) [discontinued]
    317-547 (Pro Touring)
    317-548 (Pro Touring)



    Base Model
    Poor Road Package (Option S815A)


    Original BMW part numbers:
    Code:
    31 31 6 750 789
    31 31 6 750 790
    = SACHS Touring

    OEM (SACHS) part numbers:
    Code:
    556-867 (Touring) [discontinued]
    556-868 (Touring) [discontinued]
    317-547 (Pro Touring)
    317-548 (Pro Touring)



    Sports Package
    Sports Suspension (Option S226A) PRE 09/2001


    Original BMW part numbers:
    Code:
    31 31 6 750 791
    31 31 6 750 792
    = SACHS Advantage

    OEM (SACHS) part numbers:
    Code:
    556-873 (Advantage) [discontinued]
    556-874 (Advantage) [discontinued]
    317-541 (Pro Touring)
    317-542 (Pro Touring)



    Sports Package
    Sports Suspension (Option S226A) POST 09/2001


    Original BMW part numbers:
    Code:
    31 31 2 282 459
    31 31 2 282 460
    33 52 2 282 461 (rears)
    = SACHS Super Touring

    OEM (SACHS) part numbers:
    Code:
    290-949 (Super Touring) [discontinued]
    290-950 (Super Touring) [discontinued]
    317-539 (Pro Touring)
    317-540 (Pro Touring)



    Performance Package
    ZHP Suspension (Option S767A)


    Original BMW part numbers:
    Code:
    31 31 2 282 459
    31 31 2 282 460
    33 52 2 282 461 (rears)
    = SACHS Super Touring

    OEM (SACHS) part numbers:
    Code:
    290-949 (Super Touring) [discontinued]
    290-950 (Super Touring) [discontinued]
    317-539 (Pro Touring)
    317-540 (Pro Touring)



    MSport Package (M Package)
    MTech Suspension (Option S338A + Option S226A)


    Original BMW part numbers:
    Code:
    31 31 2 282 101
    31 31 2 282 102
    = SACHS Advantage

    OEM (SACHS) part numbers:
    Code:
    556-873 (Advantage) [discontinued]
    556-874 (Advantage) [discontinued]
    317-541 (Pro Touring)
    317-542 (Pro Touring)
    7. Get to the point already

    The point is that the SACHS Advantage line of shocks, famously known as MTech dampers, were the highest performing dampers available from factory for the E46. Advantage dampers were by far the most popular and highly recommended performance setup in many German forums. They are listed in Europe as equivalents or replacements to Bilstein B8 dampers and can handle lowering springs. This means that for our budget performance suspension overhaul, we want SACHS Advantage front struts and SACHS Advantage rear shocks.

    8. The issue and the solution

    Although the ZHP didn’t receive the MTech dampers like MSport models in the rest of the world, MTech dampers are still available to Americans because early model S226A cars were sold here. Unfortunately, SACHS Advantage dampers were discontinued. That isn’t a big issue for the front Advantage struts, because the front replacement units, now under the Pro Touring line, supposedly perform identically. As you can see in the section 6 table, the two part numbers we want are 317-541 and 317-542.

    The rear Advantage shocks (556-884) on the other hand have been permanently discontinued. The new replacement part number is 556-882, which is a combination shock that consolidates the part numbers for both sport and non-sport models into one unit. According to ZF, this new unit is 30% softer than the old 556-884 Advantage line part, although rebound is slightly stiffer.

    Regardless, it is no good for our purposes.

    If you live in Europe, there is an easy solution because you have access to an additional sub-brand of ZF: TRW, which makes the TRW JGT439T. Supposedly, this part is closer in performance to the old 556-884 part. I did find a listing for them on amazon.com, so there does seem to be a supplier distributing them in the US, but I can’t guarantee how much longer this listing will be available.

    A more reliable option for US buyers are the E36 M3 rear shocks. The M3 came with M-specific Super Touring (blue sticker) dampers (not comparable to the non-M Super Touring dampers), although these too were recently replaced with Pro Touring units. Nevertheless, the E36 M3 rear shocks are 8.1mm larger in diameter (50mm vs 41.9mm) than standard E46 rear shocks. They also contain more oil and are generally beefier. Performance-wise they are exactly what we need to complete our MTech damper setup.

    And that is basically what it comes down to. In a nutshell, we want to install MTech dampers on an E46 as they offer a level of performance that is otherwise only achieved with aftermarket dampers. Due to ZF discontinuing some of their products, I had to improvise and combine SACHS Pro Touring front struts and E36 M3 SACHS Pro Touring rear shocks. The end result is a high performance damper setup consisting of OE parts. While this setup forms the heart of our budget performance suspension, there are still a few distinct routes you can take from here. I’ve boiled it down to a budget and a maximum performance option. All that’s left is to choose one of the options from below.

    9. Option 1: Prioritize budget


    Core part Selection Part number Price Notes
    Springs Stock ZHP springs $0 ZHP springs provide a great balance between comfort and performance. If you don’t have a ZHP, try finding a used set or get Eibach Pro-Kit springs.
    Front left damper E46 SACHS Pro Touring 317-542 $110 Previously known as SACHS Advantage.
    Front right damper E46 SACHS Pro Touring 317-541 $110 Previously known as SACHS Advantage.
    Front strut mounts Z4 SACHS 803-148 $38 x2 Z4 strut mounts will lower the front of your E46 by 10mm without affecting suspension travel. The European part number is SACHS 802-066. Use OEM mounts if you want to maintain stock ride height.
    Front bump stops Genuine E36 M3 31332225377 $19 x2 These are only 2/3 as tall as the stock bump stops. Alpina used them for their FE3 suspension package on the E46 Alpina B3, which also used a combination of SACHS dampers and Eibach springs.
    Rear shock mounts Stock E46 33521092362 $8 x2 A low cost option that works just fine.
    Rear dampers E36 M3 SACHS Pro Touring 290-816 $65 x2 These should outperform even the old Advantage line.
    Rear bump stops E36 M3 33531138109 $6 x2 These are the shortest and stiffest available rear bump stops.
    Total price $476 with lifetime FCPEuro warranty

    10. Option 2: Prioritize performance


    Core part Selection Part number Price Notes
    Springs Eibach Pro-Kit 2067.140 $110 - $281 The Pro-Kit is the least aggressive lowering spring available. It pairs well with SACHS shocks, offering both comfort and performance.
    Front left damper E46 SACHS Pro Touring 317-542 $110 Previously known as SACHS Advantage.
    Front right damper E46 SACHS Pro Touring 317-541 $110 Previously known as SACHS Advantage.
    Front left strut mount Genuine E36 M3 31332227897 $55 - $170 Lemförder doesn’t make these anymore, so expensive Genuine parts are the only option. I recommend trying to find used units. These will increase caster by 2.5° and camber by -0.5°, but make sure to get MY96 or later versions. Ride height remains the same. ECS has some cheaper OEM options but I can’t vouch for them.
    Front right strut mount Genuine E36 M3 31332227898 $55 - $170 Install the left mount on the left and right mount on the right for maximum caster gain. If you prefer camber over caster, install them reversed.
    Front bump stops Genuine E36 M3 31332225377 $19 x2 These are only 2/3 as tall as the stock bump stops. Alpina used them for their FE3 suspension package on the E46 Alpina B3, which also used a combination of SACHS dampers and Eibach springs.
    Rear shock mounts Repair Shop Lifetime mounts 100.33.530.0013 $40 These are stiffer and will last longer than stock mounts.
    Rear dampers E36 M3 SACHS Pro Touring 290-816 $65 x2 These should outperform even the old Advantage line.
    Rear bump stops E36 M3 33531138109 $6 x2 These are the shortest and stiffest available rear bump stops.
    Total price $660 with lifetime FCPEuro warranty

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    Last edited by Galapolis; 11-16-2020 at 01:25 PM.
    330i Base | Mysticblau | Slicktop | 6MT

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    Reserved
    330i Base | Mysticblau | Slicktop | 6MT

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    Awesome write up! Definitely not common knowledge, I applaud your research.

  4. #4
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    Incredible writeup. Great work!!!

  5. #5
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    Good stuff here, I'm assuming a review is coming so I'll be awaiting. On another note, all these suspension threads are making me regret doing my suspension refresh a few months ago with Bilsteins and H&R sports...

    2004 Titansilber Metallic BMW 330i ZHP

  6. #6
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    Damn this is excellent. Thanks for putting this together and sharing in an easily digestible format. I can't believe the quality that you can get for such a low total cost. Nice work!

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    Quote Originally Posted by JPMo View Post
    Good stuff here, I'm assuming a review is coming so I'll be awaiting. On another note, all these suspension threads are making me regret doing my suspension refresh a few months ago with Bilsteins and H&R sports...
    I might do a review, but I don't have that much experience with different suspension setups so we'll see. I think ZHPizza might actually be a better judge once he gets to test drive my car. The Bilsteins are still a great performance option. Definitely not something to feel bad about. And they're yellow too!

    There is also a lot of extra information and trivia that I learned on my journey but left out in the interest of making an effective guide. I've already started compiling some of that information and will probably add that to the reserved post at some point.

    Quote Originally Posted by ZHPizza View Post
    Damn this is excellent. Thanks for putting this together and sharing in an easily digestible format. I can't believe the quality that you can get for such a low total cost. Nice work!
    You should chime in again once you have those Porsche shocks installed and let us know how they are. Always good to have even more budget options. We're like Blues Clues over here exposing all these well kept E46 secrets.
    330i Base | Mysticblau | Slicktop | 6MT

  8. #8
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    Got a chance to drive this car around my public test loop yesterday and I gotta say the R&D to put this kit together really paid off. It's how I imagine the ZHP felt leaving the showroom, but slightly better. The grip is there for sure, but I was most impressed with how composed the ride is. The suspension handled everything beautifully: sharp impacts that would normally send a chatter through the frame, deep dips that tend to bottom out most suspensions, and every other imperfection in the road you could think of. The car was composed through all of it and you could feel that perfectly damped curve that shock manufacturers like to show. This really is the ideal OE+ refresh kit for these cars.

  9. #9
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    Just ordered everything from the A list. Turns out the used H&R kit I have been waiting for has bad rear shocks...

  10. #10
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    Are there any pictures of this setup installed on a car? Mainly looking for ride height pictures. I'm thinking replacing the stock, tired non-sport suspension on my touring with the budget line listed above...
    BP
    2005 330i ZHP / 6MT
    Imolarot / Naturbraun



    It's not the car you drive, it's how you drive it.

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