The Ultimate Handling Machine

TC Kline’s suspension tuning transforms the entry-level 128i Coupe into a car that can rival the 1 Series M Coupe for pure driving fun.

July 15, 2011
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There aren’t too many bona fide BMW suspension gurus in the U.S., but one name turns up on the list more than just about any other: TC Kline. Kline started on the path to suspension enlightenment in the 1980s, when such expertise was rare, and he opened TC Kline Racing in 1998 to offer BMW suspension systems tuned for ultimate performance.

“When I started road racing in the early 1980s, I was racing in classes where you weren’t really allowed to do anything to the engine,” Kline recalls. “I learned early on that it was really difficult to find anyone who really knew anything about tuning the suspension…and it still is. A lot of good shops can make an engine better, but I’ve seen some BMW race teams take years to really understand what’s going on with the chassis.”

Kline decided to focus his efforts on chassis development, doing much of his early research on an E30 325is he was racing.

“To me, what separates road racing from any other kind of racing is the importance of dynamic handling,” he says. “The better handling a car is, the quicker it’s going to be and the more fun it’s going to be to drive.”

Earlier this year, I spent a day getting schooled on Kline’s suspension philosophy at his Santa Barbara shop, then spent almost 1,000 miles experiencing it firsthand, taking his 128i Coupe on an extended road trip. With performance mods limited to the suspension and wheels, the car provided a great opportunity to see how good this base BMW can be when its one true weakness is addressed.

Center on the shocks

Optimizing a car’s dynamic handling involves getting many different components to work together in the right way, but Kline’s philosophy centers on the shocks.

“If there’s any message I’d like to get out there, it’s that the best suspension is not the one with the most spring rate, but the one with the best shock damping that’s designed to work with the chassis and has as little spring rate as you can put in that gives you the best handling,” he says. “That’s the optimum setup for any race car, even an F1 car.”

Even in high-level racing, Kline says, a lot of teams set their cars up far too stiffly for optimum handling. “If they can’t get the power down coming out of a turn, they’re usually too stiff.”

The problem, he says, often stems from driver assumptions about setup.

“If they feel any roll in the car, they automatically think they need it stiffer,” Kline explains, “but that’s not necessarily the right answer.”

We often hear or read about cars that have “go-kart handling” with no body roll, but reducing body roll too much can actually hinder more than it helps.

Also from Issue 101

  • How robots and people build BMWs in SC
  • Mike Miller likes the new X3 28i
  • Bargain BMWs: E60 5 Series Buyer's Guide
  • E82 128i Coupe with TC Kline suspension
  • E36 M3, M coupe: Euro S52, Active mods
  • Never-built BMW E31 M8
  • Nürburgring Nordschleife M3 driving school
  • StephenValeski's Jägermeister replica E30 M3
  • Harald Ertelt's gray market E30 323 Baur cab
  • Murray Fowler and his 300k 2800 CS
  • The latest in BMW racing worldwide
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