The following article gives detailed instructions on installing a racing harness in a BMW E36 3 series car. Even though we have used a 1996 BMW M3 to perform this installation, this article can be applied to any 1990-1998 3 series vehicle with minor modifications.
If you are tracking your BMW E36 on a regular basis, a racing harness is one of your most important pieces of safety equipment and should be installed as soon as possible.
Those are not only the words that our instructor told us at our first HPDE event, but also those of every advanced driver that we had a chance to talk to that day. A good racing harness is vital to your safety on the track. It not only protects your body in the event of a serious crash, but it also keeps you firmly anchored to the seat and in control of the vehicle during aggressive track maneuvers. A regular seat belt is the correct choice for daily street driving; in fact a racing harness is not DOT approved and should not be used as a replacement for your stock seat belt while you are driving on the street. Race harnesses are designed for track use only. If you are planning on driving your car both on the street as well as on the track, you must be able to install your race harness while leaving your stock seat belt fully operational.
Choosing the correct racing harness for your BMW
Before purchasing a new racing harness, there are several important questions you need to ask yourself:
- What is your budget? There are literally hundreds of different types of harnesses on the market and you can spend anywhere from $70 to close to $1000. – We were trying to keep our budget under $500.
- Are you keeping your stock seats? Many harnesses require a roll bar to be installed, or require racing seats and special mounting points on the floor. How many interior modifications are you willing to make? – We were keeping our factory seats in the E36 M3. We like the stock look of our interior, and we were not willing to start “chopping” it up with aftermarket racing parts.
- What is the safest harness for the money? They make 4 point, 5 point and 6 point racing harnesses…which one fits your budget? – Once again…we wanted the safest setup we could get for under $500.
All of these questions were quickly answered by a very friendly and courteous salesperson at G-Force Racing Gear. He told the BMW Repair Guide that G-Force’s best option based on our answers to the above questions was the G-Force 7001BK; a six point, 3”, SFI 16.1 rated harness that will attach to the E36’s existing seat bolts. It is a “cam lock” bolt in harness that is extremely well built and easy to use. We chose the six point harness simply because it is the safest…it does the best job at holding the pelvis in place during an abrupt stop. We also went with the Cam Lock design because it is cleaner looking, and simpler to use. Of course all of these requirements may change if you are racing under a governing body and not just doing HPDE events, so we suggest doing your own research before buying any racing harness.
The only extra part we would have to buy and install was a harness bar so we could have an attachment point for the shoulder straps. Since we do not have a roll bar installed in our car, we needed to add a strong attachment point behind the front seats. It is critical that the attachment point for the shoulder straps does not exceed more than 1”-4” below shoulder height to avoid additional spinal compression during a crash. The easiest solution for this is to install a bolt-in harness bar with support struts. We purchased a nicely built, black powder coated Cipher Harness Bar that ended up fitting perfectly.
Our total price for the project was about $400 with shipping, and was an easily installed setup that allowed us to keep our stock seats and seat belts intact. We have put together a step by step installation guide for the entire setup below.
***Important note before you begin this project. This installation uses the factory seat mounting bolts to mount the front and side racing harness straps. Using the factory seat mounting bolts as mounting points for the harness straps will restrict the seat’s full range of forward and rear travel when the installation is completed. This installation technique is best suited for drivers between the physical height of 5’4 to 6’0 tall. If you fall outside of these height ranges, you may want to choose a different harness than installed in this article.
1. Racing harness (required) – There are many different racing harnesses to choose from based on your budget and safety requirements. The following is the harness we use in our 1996 M3 track car. It has worked flawlessly, and is the harness we use in the installation instructions below.
2. Harness bar (optional) – If you don’t have a roll cage in your BMW E36, then you will need to add a seat belt harness bar to attach your racing harness to. We used the following Cypher Auto harness bar in this article…it fit perfectly and looks fantastic. It is also reasonably priced and can be removed at any time if your want to revert back to a stock interior.
- Lay out harness bar in rear seat as shown in the following image. The arms of the harness bar should be pointed towards the front of the car with the rectangular strap mounts on top.
- Attach the side mounting brackets to the harness bar using the supplied 8mm hex head bolt. Do not tighten…allow the mounts to swivel.
- Starting on left side of car, lower the seat belt B-pillar sliding guide to its lowest position. Remove the B-pillar guide nut with a 16mm socket wrench. Remove the guide loop from the bolt.
- Hang the left harness bar mounting bracket on the B-pillar guide bolt, and replace the B-pillar guide and nut. Keep nut loose until final adjustments are made.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 on right side of vehicle.
- Remove plastic trim off of left side seat belt anchor bar (the bar located on floor under the B-pillar guide). Remove the M10 bolt and aluminum spacer with a T50 torx socket. This aluminum spacer will need to be cut in order to complete installation.
- On a workbench, make a mark with a Sharpie at the mid point of the aluminum spacer (approx. 1/2″). This will be where you will cut the spacer in half. Use a hacksaw to cut the spacer in half. Use the assistance of a table vise if necessary.
- Using one half of the cut spacer, mount one end of the left side harness bar strut to the floor. Make sure the seat belt anchor bar is on the outside of the strut so the stock seatbelt works correctly (see following image). Use the original M10 bolt that you removed to anchor everything down. Do not tighten bolt until final adjustments.
- Attach other end of left side strut to harness bar using the supplied 7/16″ bolt, 2-7/16″ washers and 7/16″ lock nut. Do not tighten until final adjustments.
- Repeat steps 6-9 for passenger side strut.
- Visually check to make sure harness bar is level, making any necessary adjustments. If bar looks looks like it’s positioned correctly, tighten all bolts starting with: floor mount strut bolts (T50 Torx), the harness bar strut bolts (use a 17mm socket and 17mm open end wrench), finishing with seat belt side mounting bracket nuts (16mm socket) and side mounting bar brackets (8mm hex socket). **Important Note – Harness bar side brackets may not fit flush against B-pillars. As you tighten B-pillar guide nut, the bracket will slightly bend and become flush. Use patience and turn nut slowly during this process.
- Final Step of Bracket Installation – Important. It is important that both struts are hand turned until they are tight and the jam nuts that keep them from turning are snug (an adjustable wrench works great) (see following image).
- Adjust front seats to their rear position so the front floor mounting bolts are exposed.,
- Remove front trim caps and nuts from right and left seat mount bolts using a 16mm socket wrench.
- Stack 6 of the M10 washers on the seat floor mounting bolts. The washers are used to level out the racing harness floor mount hardware.
- Install front racing harness floor mount hardware on mounting bolts on top of washers. Reinstall mounting nuts and torque to 55Nm (41 ft-lb).
- Move seat forward until its movement is stopped by front floor mounting hardware. Do not force seat forward past this point. Rear floor mounting bolts should now be exposed.
- Remove the rear seat mounting bolts using a 16mm socket wrench. Using a T27 torx bit, remove the plastic seat motor trim cover from the lower/back of the seat. The cover must be removed to allow for clearance over rear harness mount floor hardware.
- Stack 6 of the M10 washers on the left (door side) rear seat bolt, but only 4 on the right (center console side) rear seat bolt. More than 4 washers on the right seat bolt will cause clearance issues with the seat.
- Install rear racing harness floor hardware on top of washers. Reinstall mounting bolts and torque to 55Nm (41 ft-lb). Please note the following: Make sure floor hardware is mounted in correct position. Straps should be set at a 90 degree angle to seat track. See following images for correct positioning.
- Install racing harness shoulder straps to rear harness bar by first removing the existing mounting hardware (do not remove the 3″ adjuster plate). With mounting hardware removed, lace the webbing of shoulder straps around the harness bar as shown in the following diagram:
Now that you have the BMW E36 racing harness installed, make sure all of the straps are routed correctly. The lap straps should run cleanly up and over the sides of the seats, and if you are using a cam lock release, the cam lock should be facing up correctly on the right lap strap. The two front straps should snap into the bottom of the cam lock and the shoulder straps should be routed properly under the head rest.
The Repair Difficulty Level displays graphically how challenging the repair is, from easy to advanced. Easy repairs usually require very few tools, have short repair times and do not require jacking and supporting the vehicle. As the difficulty level rises, expect the repair to demand more time, specialized tools, and better understanding of mechanics to complete the job.