As staded by Jean Alesi, famous ex-F1 driver the 1986 BMW E30 M3 is one of most enjoyable best handling road cars he has ever driven, offering astonishing balance due to its 48/52-weight distribution, telepathic in choosing the correct line, with a chassis that is alive and gives the car a personality, which is missing from many of today’s mundane cars.
Until the mid 80’s, BMW Motorsport had produced just three models, the M1 supercar, the E12 M535i saloon and the sublime M635 CSi. But with the E30 M3, BMW were aiming for a much wider audience. The production of that one was dictated by FISA’s Group A homologation requirements that stipulated 5000 road cars had to be produced. Exceeding by far the Garching Motorsport department’s capability, M3 production consequently took place at BMW’s Munich factory.
Soon the newly born BMW M3 signaled war against the Mercedes Benz 190E 2.3/16V in the DTM (Deutsche Touren Meisterschaft). This was a true battle against two direct competitors only separated by a stretch of Autobahn between Swabia and Bavaria. FIA mandated that a minimum of changes should be performed, but allowed modifications to the drive train, engine and body. BMW sold easily all the 5,000 production M3’s required to enter DTM.
The M3 won many races and spread the fame of BMW’s Motorsports Division worldwide. That would be the same department that developed the M1, M5, and the V10 F1 engine, which has shown that they can beat their competitors like Mercedes, Ferrari, and Ford (Jaguar) on a regular basis. But, what does all of this mean to its road going competitors of the day, like the Lancia Delta, Ford Cosworth, and the previously mentioned Mercedes 190E 2.3/16V? It meant that from a driving standpoint this car was superior.
The power-plant for this was a high-performance 4-cylinder engine, a direct descendent of the M10 unit. The engine block had a forged crank, a four valve head and strengthened internals.
The BMW E30 M3 Cabriolet was produced from 1988 to 1991 and was hand built on BMW Motorsport GmbH’s production line at Garching in Munich. Only 786 models were made.
BMW produced a total of 13 different versions of the E30 M3. Some of the models were in very limited production, and most were European models that never made it to the United States.
Development work for the M3 began as far back as 1981, but production did not start until five years later in September 1986. The model proved to be an instant commercial success despite its hefty price, nearly 18,000 M3’s of varying types were eventually produced between September 1986 and July 1991 when the last Cabriolet rolled off the production line. Just as important is the fact that the M3 massively enhanced BMW’s already impressive racing fame with unprecedented success in European and World Championship touring car racing that continued right up until its retirement in 1991.
In order to keep the car competitive in racing and following homologation rules, homologation specials were produced. Those homologation rules roughly stated that the racing version must reflect the street car aerodynamically and in engine displacement therefore improved models were periodically released for the public. They were called special editions and homologation specials that included the Evo II and Evo III (aka. Sport Evo)
The Evolution 2 was available in 1988 and had a power output of 220 HP and a top speed of 152 mph. Differences between the standard M3 and the Evolution 2 included a higher
compression ratio, some lighter body-parts, a deeper front spoiler and bigger wheels.
The Evolution 2 model was available in Misano Red, Macao Blue or Nogaro Silver.
There were only 501 build between March and May 1988.
Evolution 3 model was available in 1990 as Sport Evolution. It came in red or black only and had grey or black cloth-leather Recaro bucket seats. The engine was this time producing 238 HP. The front and rear spoilers had from then on adjustable splitters. BMW also fitted the optional 16 inch cross spoke wheels as standard. Also standard were for the Evo 3 a suede steering wheel, a suede gear-knob, a suede handbrake grip and a three way adjustable suspension.
Production of the original BMW M3 (E30 coupe) ended in 1991.
The E30 M3 was a successful racer, winning the DTM, European Touring Car Championship and even the one-off world title in 1987. The first M3 is also a multiple winner of Macau Grand Prix, 24 Hours Nürburgring and Spa 24 Hours races.
In 2004, Sports Car International named this car number six on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1980s.
The E30 M3 was different in many ways from the rest of the E30 line-up. It was equipped with "box flared" fenders to accommodate a wider track, with wider and taller wheels and tires up to 10" wide racing rims. It also had three times the caster angle of any other E30 3 Series model. The first M3 shared larger wheel bearings and front brake calipers with the E28 5 Series. Another extra-feature was a slightly larger rear window to improve aerodynamics. All of the extra aerodynamic refinements it had were fabricated from SMC composite, the same material used regularly for the deep front air dam, bumpers and extended side sills. It’s both front and rear windscreens were bonded to increase rigidity.
Despite all of the visual similarities with the stock E30, the M3 shared just a solitary panel with the series production models, everything other than its bonnet having been carefully modified. The cabin profile was altered with a larger and more steeply raked rear screen to help improve high speed air flow. Also specific to the first M3 was a raised rear deck and prominent wing.
During it’s years of production E30 M3 was offered in six distinctive colors:
- Alpinweiss (218)
- Brillantrot (308)
- Diamantschwarz Metallic (181)
- Lachssilber Metallic
- Sterlingsilber Metallic (244)
- weight 2866 lbs
- wheelbase 101.0 in
- front track 55.6 in
- rear track 56.1 in
- length 171.1 in
- width 66.1 in
- height 53.9 in