Rob — I'm just a bit confused here... You write: "Then I noticed that the inside edge of the right front tire is more worn than the outer edge. In contrast, the tire on the right side looks evenly worn."
Remember — two wrongs don't make a right, but three LEFTS do.
I am a huge fan of products or tools that let the DYI auto enthusiast do it themselves. I have done alignments with string and had huge success. I have set camber with levels. The tire shop charges way too much for a simple alignment these days. Bravo!
Rob, I am used to using a digital inclinometer on a dirt track car I raced. To get a zero, we just set it on the floor, zeroed, and got our measurements sticking it to the rotor. Would yours not zero in that manner?
I rebuilt the rear suspension on my 74 corvette and had to use a series of string lines and degree wheels to dial it in. In my case toe is adjusted with shims and camber is adjusted with (aftermarket) threaded rods. It doesn't do anything crazy on the road, but I can tell it isn't exactly right, so one day I will have to plunk down the $600 for a proper 4-wheel alignment
Rob, your drifting on the BMW is most likely caused by the caster setting. You probably need a little more positive caster to correct it. Working in an alignment & frame shop in the 70's we first scribed a line on both tires for the toe setting which was done last. We then checked the side runout of the wheel, marked it and put it on the horizontal axis. We used a Bear adjustable level guage for checking camber and caster, the guage being a adjustable tripod which measured at the edge of the rim in the verticle axis. Back then 95% of american cars had adjustments for camber,caster,& toe. Most of the foreign cars were toe only. If parts were tight and the camber was way off we sometimes would chain it down and bend the crossmember to get proper camber.
Great article Rob. When I worked at the dealership I was one of the alignment guys using high dollar Hunter machines. Now that I changed careers and brought all my tools home, I still do the work on all 4 of my vehicles including alignments. I bought the Tenhulzen Automotive 2-Wheel Alignment Tool - All-in-one (Camber/Caster/Toe Plates) from Amazon. In addition to camber and toe, it does caster too. Using that tool is not as creative as your methods but it gets the job done. Keep wrenchin man!
A few years ago I rebuilt the front suspension on my 55 Buick Century. A friend has a shop that does alignments. I had spoke to him about doing the alignment. Well I finished the front end on a Friday night. Being impatient I did it myself with a Snap On Magnet alignment tool I inherited from my Grandfather that owned a repair shop. The book in it stopped at 1957. I set caster and camber and toe to specs and have been driving ever since. Drives well, Tires are wearing well. My car is all stock.
I used the bubble gauge on my 86 Mustang GT with a with the wheels off. Got one wheel right on and the other out 1.5 degrees 😞 The problem you have with your BMW my have just solved the problem with my GT as well. Can't wait to try it. Car handled great with the skinny drag wheels. Then I went to 16" pony's with wide tires.
I have done simple alignments on my original Mini with 2 pieces of angle aluminum, drilled for the PCD and cut to then length of the tire circumference. Two tape measures fit into slots at the far ends of the aluminum and with the car on 4 axle stands under the wheel centers, it all becomes quite simple. BTW, I have used the small bubble/magnet camber gauge to check and realize that the settings at the front were good but the back needed some serious fettling. Simple, analogue and cheap!
The Europa's handling is quite sensitive to rear wheel toe-in. Get it right, despite the primitive adjustment procedure, and it's magical. Mine is set to 5/32" on each side. The car will feel darty over bumps if the settings are unequal. I have adjustable lateral links on the rear but the camber seems less important in everyday use.
It's not the suspension that's primitive but the adjustment procedure. As Rob says, at the rear it involves inserting or removing washers between the front of the trailing arm and the chassis. Like several other maintenance tasks on the Europa, even on a hoist it's awkward to do and, in this case, it's a trial-and-error procedure. The trailing arm has to be unbolted and done up again with each attempt to get it right.