To own a 20+ year-old BMW while keeping it roadworthy takes commitment and maintenance. By no means are these cars unreliable; this particular 1987 BMW 528e has been nothing short of spectacular–in terms of dependability. But that doesn’t mean it’s ok to wait until things break or wear out to replace them. Instead preventative maintenance is the best method of avoiding future failures and better yet, an excuse for upgrades.
A tired suspension produces a lazy, bouncing, and lethargic ride quality. Not exactly what we’re looking for from our e28. This upgrade wasn’t meant to be built to carve corners like the M5 of its era but retain some of those qualities of a much more stout sibling.
These days, the preferred method of lowering ones car is to slam it so low that you can’t get over a speed bump. While that may be fine for some, most of us want a more civilized ride that offers a lowered look with better handling over every bump in the road.
To help us out, we turned to Bavarian Autosport who has been servicing the BMW community long before there was an internet – when you actually had to use a phone and catalog to order parts. We got in touch with one of their lead service advisors Jon Broome, who’s owned an e28 himself and sought his advice for a nice suspension package. We wanted a setup that would lower the car a bit and improve the sportiness of the driving experience while still retaining a civil ride – being a daily driver after all. Jon recommended the Bav Auto e28 Suspension kit, which consists of Bilstein Sport shocks and Bav Auto lowering springs.
The Bilstein Sport shocks have been designed specifically to provide a combination of better control and comfort over the stock units. Unlike many OE replacement shocks they won’t blow out if used with lowering springs.
Speaking of, don’t ever think cutting your stock springs is a good idea to lower you car. It will result in horrible ride quality and an uneven ride height. Considering Bav Auto sells their lowering springs separate from the kit for under $200, it’s a small price to pay for a German made, properly cold-rolled spring that will provide you with superior ride quality. The Bav Auto lowering springs lower the car about an inch and a quarter, which gets rid of a good amount of wheel gap resulting a much more steamlined look.
Before we got our hands dirty with the install, Jon also recommended we grab the Bav Auto shock installation kit that includes upper and lower spring pads, shaft protection tubes, and compression absorbers since all those items are guaranteed to be worn (or completely disintegrated as was the case on our right rear shock). If you’re going to have the suspension apart you might as replace these items.
The factory front and rear suspension pieces don’t allow any significant camber adjustment but we wanted to be able to dial the suspension in a bit more aggressively then the factory settings. This way we can try to get the car to be more neutral handling in the corners.
Bav Auto has adjustable front shock mounts that allow easy fine-tuning of both camber and caster. Not only that but they are made with a polyurethane bushing that rides the front shocks of any slop. Bav Auto has several versions of these mounts ranging from a street oriented setup to a full race version. We obviously opted for the street friendly kind. Out back, we opted for a set of adjustable trailing arm bushings will allow more negative camber to be added.
There was just one last item that needed to be addressed before a single wheel could be removed – the brakes. They too have been neglected by the previous owner and were in dire need of replacement. Like any true enthusiast we went for a slight increase in performance instead of buying aftermarket OE replacements. Stoptech Street Performance brake pads and Power Slot high performance rotors were installed on all four corners, providing a much-needed boost in braking with linear response from the pads at all temperatures. Best of all a low dust compound is used to keep the wheels clean – knowing that the BMW brake pads are notorious for dusting. Even though these are primarily street oriented pads they can be used for the occasional autocross or light track duty. Same goes for the slotted rotors, they are a great upgrade for anyone looking to do high performance driving without spending big bucks on upgraded rotors.
You’ll need to give yourself at least a day or two to install all the components. A spring compressor and a well-equipped toolbox will get the job done for an average mechanic.
Our biggest hurdle occurred when we couldn’t remove the front shock’s collar nut due to rust issues.
After using a rather large set of pliers (20-inches long) the nut finally cracked loose we were able to slide the old shock cartridge out and replace it with the Bilstein.
The other spot where we hit a major snag was the rear trail arms. Again, rust had taken its toll on this poor e28 and after some contemplating we opted out of installing the rear adjustable camber bushings. We left that to a shop that has the proper hydraulic press and tools for the job. Sometimes, it’s better to pay someone to do it right the first time then do a half-ass job yourself.
Aside from those two issues and having to deal with some nuts and bolts in tight places, everything went together in a full dedicated days worth of work.
Once back on the street, the e28 was a new car. It’s handling improved significantly over stock and the brake pedal was back to normal height with better responsiveness and more bite.
Something that surprised us was the ride quality. We knew lowering a car could diminish the comfort of the vehicle but to our surprise the e28 felt better than before. The side-to-side wandering and exaggerated bounce of the suspension was now gone, replaced by a firmer feel in the suspension that is still tollerable over bumps and cracks.
It may not be the lowest vehicle on the street but it also doesn’t have that bone-jarring ride associated with an extreme drop. It meets exactly what we were looking for in our upgrade for the e28 – improving the looks with a subtle drop that won’t leave you in tears during your commute.