My E30 Project Drives Better Than Ever Thanks to a New Set of Wheels and Tires

·3 min read
Photo credit: Brian Silvestro
Photo credit: Brian Silvestro

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A few months ago I bought this E30-generation BMW 318i to use as my autocross and track car beater for the summer. Since then I’ve been slowly fixing and upgrading stuff on the car to get it ready. After getting it road-legal, I fixed the rear window and upgraded the brakes. There’s only one major thing I needed to add before I could take this car to the track: a good set of wheels and tires. So that’s what I did.

Any car person who knows their stuff will tell you the biggest upgrade you can do for your car is better rubber. Superchargers, coil-overs, and big brakes won’t do you any good if you don’t have tires sticky enough to let them work. The folks at Tire Rack reached out wondering if they could help out with this E30 project, and sent me a set of Sparco FF-1s wrapped in Continental’s new ExtremeContact Force tires. This isn’t just some one-off service performed for me—you can actually order wheels with tires already mounted to them for your car. Tire Rack will balance them for you, so all you have to do is mount them and you’re good to go. These Sparcos even came with the correct hub-centering rings and new bolting hardware. That means no more day-long trips to the tire shop to worry whether they’ll damage your shiny new wheels.

These ExtremeContact Forces are the latest summer tire offering from Continental. They’re meant to compete against Hankook’s Ventus R-S4 as an extreme track ready compound you can also drive on the street. With a section width of 205 mm, they’re wider than the outgoing all-seasons that came with the car. And because the Sparcos are 15 inches in diameter (versus the current 14-inchers coming off the car), there’s less sidewall, which means less deflection under load.

Coincidentally, the Miata I drive in Champcar a few times a year uses the Ventuses, so it’ll be interesting to compare the two back to back at the limit. Even on the street, it’s easy to spot the differences over the old, all-season rubber. These Continentals have infinitely more grip in the dry, and despite their bigger size, don’t rub against the fenders at full lock. Even with a thinner, stiffer sidewall, the ride hasn’t deteriorated, and tire noise inside the cabin has increased only slightly. Judging by the tread, I’m sure I’ll have an interesting time in the wet. We’ll just have to wait and see once I get caught in a storm.

Photo credit: Brian Silvestro
Photo credit: Brian Silvestro

I was worried the bigger diameter would make the car look goofy, but combined with the meaty rubber, everything looks proper. This wheel/tire set fills out the fenders way better than the standard BMW bottle cap wheels ever did. And the gunmetal gray goes great with the red body color.

The first real test for these tires will be when I take them to an autocross, which I hope to do sometime soon. It’s there where I’ll suss out just how much extra grip I have, and how the reduction in unsprung weight will affect how the car drives. Stay tuned.

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