Just Roll With It: Autocrossing My (Mostly Stock) BMW 128i

Spring time in the North East marks the beginning of motorsport season! And while I’m waiting on my Redshift Motorsport coilovers to be built, I’ve had the chance to do two local autocross events with the 128i in stock trim. The only thing done to the car so far is an upgraded front swaybar and 245 width Bridgestone RE71R tires on all four corners. With 125,000 miles on the clock, my stock shocks are way past their prime. Along with unknown maintenance records concerning the front and rear control arm bushings, we could assume they’ve seen better days as well. All of this will change shortly, but it didn’t stop me from up-classing myself in SCCA’s STX class and seeing what I had to work with on this baby Bimmer.

To say the tires transformed the car would be an understatement. The smaller sidewalls and wider tires in general really sharpened everything up. It may be a bit like putting ballet shoes on a sumo wrestler, but it’s a good band-aid for the time being. The body rolls massively, but the tires and more sophisticated suspension design, compared to my old E36 325i, allow you to really lean on the grip of the tires to carry you through quick transitions and slaloms. Compared to my E36 it is clear the E82 chassis is capable of really holding its own once we get some proper body control from the dampers.

Understeer, currently, exists almost everywhere. While many things can be attributed to this problem, it forces you to really slow down as a driver and do one thing at a time as to not overload the suspension. If you think you can’t multitask, meet my 128i. Braking, turning, and throttle application all need to be executed one at a time. If you try to trail brake, it overloads the front axle and plows through the braking zone. If you get on the throttle as early as you should, the front end gets too light and pushes wide. With handling characteristics like this you have no choice but to focus on your line while trying to be patient and precise. It’s rewarding when you get it right, and when you get it wrong it just looks like a sloppy mess.

Despite how it sounds, the 128i is still enjoyable to drive. It may not behave the way I expect it to just yet, but it is still predictable. It’s the type of car that you can get in and be consistent with all day long. My first runs were not even a second slower than my best run. In typical BMW fashion it’s just easy. While I am beyond ready to get the coilovers on and start tuning the handling to my liking, I’m happy I got to flog it around a few courses in stock form to see what I have to work with.

All photos by Scott Terrace. See more of his work on Facebook.

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