The E21 Shimmy… It’s all about balance

BMW tech guru, Mike Miller, has said that perfect tire balance is one of the keys to getting the dreaded front end shimmy out of the E21. As one who can be known for encircling a problem rather than facing it head-on, I’ve come full circle. And it is good.

When I bought my E21 almost three years ago, it had a hateful front end wobble. So, of course, getting bigger wheels was the answer, right? Moving to a set of 15″ Beyern wheels destined for an E30 with brand new rubber made the problem better, but moved the wobble point from about 55 miles per hour up to about 68. My rationalization being there were no 13-inch tires, moving to a 15-inch wheel would offer more tire choices down the road.

Fortunately, I save nearly everything. Even better, the factory Alpina look 13-inch alloys were in perfect shape with no road rash. Oh, it was a quest. I tried a set of those cool 15″ steel wheels next, figuring if I couldn’t drive the car fast, it could at least look really cool. The fellow that makes the Corsa Steelies is a really nice guy, and his customer service is flawless, but these nearly 30 pounds (each) wheels were like giving my E21 a handful of Quaaludes. Not to mention, it clunked like hell going around corners. I have to suggest a strong pass on these if you have an E21, all style points aside.

Inheriting three sets of 14″ Style 5 E30 wheels (don’t ask) netted one rash-free set that made their way to Wheelkraft PNW for a fresh powder coat to look new. Mounting these up with 12mm spacers all round looked like a crisp factory looking solution, but the tires were still rubbing ever so slightly around bumpy corners. Fear not, these wheels are looking smashing on Billie’s car, and we’ll have an update soon.

I pondered the set of 15″ Hartge wheels up on the shelf when a little voice in my head said “enough.” Combining this with the fact that Discount Tire now has three choices for the original 185/70/13 tires at around $60 a pop – and they could have them tomorrow, all of my OCD boxes were ticked. But it still wasn’t going to be that easy. Observing all the COVID protocols, I waited in the i3 for the local Tire Rack dudes to swap tires. I just couldn’t bear watching them put a floor jack awry on my pristine sills, so I brought the wheels to the shop sans car.

Yet another brick wall. Being the wheels were so clean, I couldn’t bear to see them put some damn clamp weights on them. So I asked for some tape weights. Ugh. Unfortunately, the clearance between the stock E21 brake calipers will not work with tape weights. Back to square one. Can’t blame Discount Tire for following the customers request.

Fortunately, the crew up the street at Matt’s Alignment, who did a stellar job on my E39 wagon and Boris, our E23 knew how to handle this. They were incredibly careful with applying a couple of old school clamp weights, and the tech that dealt with the job assured me that the wheels were “zeroed out perfectly.” Ten minutes later, I confirm his diligence.

A quick ride in the country proves the car is transformed. From 20 all the way up to burying the speedo needle at about 90, I’d guess – it is an 83 320i, the front end is nary a vibration—what fun.

For all of you pondering wheel and tire choices for your E21 – this is what I’ve learned. Sometimes experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. But as one who still can’t leave well enough alone, we’re swapping out all the bushings with a complete set from Eurometric.

Stay tuned. This car gets more fun by the day. And yes, there are a fresh set of center caps on the way…