The BMW E36 M3 is considered to be one of the better-handling cars of all time, and was awarded "Best-Handling Car" award by Car and Driver magazine in 1997. Available as a saloon, a coupe or a convertible it flags the BMW Motorsport badge as a statement of it’s high performance.
BMW’s Motorsport department was tasked to design and building a powerful, lightweight derivative of the three series in order to compete in the FIA Group A racing. From this first model ver five-thousand examples were hand-built by BMW Motorsport.
The first M3 was based on the E30 3-Series platform and was introduced to Europe in 1986 and a year later to the United States. It staid into production until 1990 and was offered with a variety of motors, including a 238 bhp engine. In a relatively short amount of time, the E30 M3 scored thousands of victories becoming one of the most successful touring machines in history. It had under the hood a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with twin-cam four-valve head, with Bosch fuel-injection and rated at 192 horsepower. The only 2850 pound vehicle with five-speed manual transmission could go from zero-to-sixty mph in less than seven seconds peaking a top speed of 140 mph.
In 1992 BMW introduced the second generation M3, based on the E36 platform at the Paris Motor Show. The Motorsport Department started with the standard M50TU engine used in various E36 and E34. They enlarged the bore and stroke was and modified the intake to include individual throttle bodies. Also there was adapted to the engine a new variable valve timing system on the intake camshaft, called VANOS,. The engine, called the S50, was capable of producing over 280 horsepower.
Motorsport continued the modifications by adapting a new suspension with firmer shocks and springs and also larger anti-roll bars. Twelve-inch vented disc brakes provided ferocious stopping power, while the M-tuned variable-ratio steering provided instantaneous response.
Visually the M3s were similar to the regular E36 3-Series with only a few distinctions. M3 had a prominent front air dam, aerodynamic side mirrors, and deeper side valance panels. Lightweight alloy wheels were equipping high speed rated tires. An M-Technic rear wing could be purchased as a dealer option, giving the vehicle a very sporty look.
The exterior colors offered for the M3 were: Alpine White III (300), Bright Red (314), Imola Red (405), Dakar Yellow II (337), Arctic Silver metallic (309), Titanium Silver Metallic (354), Estoril Blue metallic (335), Boston Green metallic (275), Fern Green metallic (386), Techno Violet metallic (299), Cosmos Black metallic (303) and Byzanz metallic (355).
weight 3175 lbs
wheelbase 106.3 in
front track 56 in
rear track 56.9 in
length 174.5 in
width 67.3 in
height 52.6 in
f suspension MacPherson Struts wSprings, Dampers Anti-Roll Bar
r suspension Multi-Link Z-Axle wSprings, Dampers Anti-Roll Bar
front brakes 12.4 in Inner Vented Discs, ABS, Two Piece Floating Rotors
The R6 used on the M3 was borrowed by BMW-Motorsport the 325i, and bored it out and fitted with a steel billet crank to 183 cui. They also fitted the head with larger valves and BMW’s Single VANOS (variable valve timing system). The engine managed to squeeze up to 286 bhp and 235 ftlb of peak from 3600rpm to 5900rpm some 1300 revs short of the 7200rpm rev limit.
In 1995 BMW offered, a ZF 5HP18 5-speed automatic transmission on the M3 as optional equipment.
In 1996 BMW had learned much through its support of the McLaren super car and therefore released the M3 Evolution. The Evo was launched with an 195 cui motor based on the 183 cui and now fitted with Double VANOS for both inlet and exhaust timing, which were now maximized. Power was up appreciably to 321 bhp and more importantly 258ftlb of torque was available from as little as 3250 rpm. Also a new six speed gear-box was fitted that gave the car better fuel economy but slowed it’s 0-60 to 5.8. This mattered not one bit however as the car had more useable power and torque and was considered one of the best super-cars on the market at the time.
In 1997 BMW released their SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox) option as changing gears like a motorbike seemed appealing to many. Unfortunately the SMG was considered very aggressive in response and hard to use in every day driving and although more than 50% of totally new E36 M3’s were fitted with the device it is surprisingly unpopular today.
The interior was pretty much the same with that common in the rest of the 3-Series range offering a sportier feel as a M shift knob, M instrument cluster, and M sport seats were standard. There were also features such as power front windows with key-off operation, automatic positioning of windows for positive sealing, air conditioning and heating with separate electronic temperature control for left and right sides and a micro filtered ventilation. Features such as central locking system, cruise control, speed sensing wipers, leather seats with special M design, leather shift knob/hand-brake grip and a leather-covered height adjustable M-Technic steering wheel came as options.
The interior equipment also offered entertainment and convenience that included an anti-theft AM/FM stereo radio/cassette CD-ready audio system, dual power/heated outside mirrors, heated driver’s door lock, windshield washer jets, Drive-away Protection and Service Interval Indicator.
Safety features includes a vacuum-assisted 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes, 4 sensor 4 channel ABS system, all-season traction control program, dual-airbag supplementary restraint system, impact sensor and side impact protection.
The interiors color trims offered for the M3 were:Grey M cloth/Amaretta suede (coupe only), Black M cloth/Amaretta suede (coupe only), Black Nappa leather, Light Grey Nappa leather, Mulberry Nappa leather, Modena Natur Nappa leather, Magma Nappa leather, Dark Beige Nappa leather (from 9/98), Hazlenut Nappa leather (not for North America), Anthracite Buffalo leather (not for North America).
The original E36 M3 went into production in 1993 as a coupe model and was equipped with the 183 cui S50B30 straight-6 engine, which produced 286 hp (210 kW).
In 1996 model the M3 was upgraded to a new 195 cui, 321 hp (236 kW) engine (S50B32), a six speed gearbox and the M5’s larger brakes. The new SMG sequential racing-like gearbox was also offered as an option. These models are known as the "Euro" models to differentiate them from the models sold in the US which were quite different.
The first E36 M3s imported in the United States were the 1995 models, which received an 183 cui engine with 240 hp (S50B30US) and a different suspension. The reasons for the use of this less powerful motor were probably due to excessive costs for the US market with the original engine and the difficulty in getting the Euro engine to pass emission tests. The 1996-1999 models had their displacement bumped up to 195 cui, with 240 hp, the same engine used in the early Z3 M Roadster and Z3 M Coupe. The models following 1996 are known for being more difficult to performance tune, due to slightly smaller intake manifold runners and more complicated electronic parts. The second M3 was also available as a sedan starting from 1997, and as convertible in 1998. Production of the sedan was halted in 1998, while the other models continued until 1999.
For the E36 M3 BMW offered five special-edition models: the M3 Euro-Spec (Canadian Edition), M3 CSL (also known as the M3 Lightweight), M3 GT, M3 GT-R, and the M3-R.
In 1994 between Canada and several countries in Europe agreements existed which allowed that any car federalized in one participating country to legally be sold in any of the others. BMW felt that the 1993 M3 would need to be priced much higher for export to the US than the market would allow. While the Motorsport engineers worked on a less expensive North American version of the E36 M3, BMW Canada seized the window of opportunity and 45 European specification M3 coupes were specially produced and imported into Canada.
Even if the cars displayed a $87,500 base price tag, all of the 45 units were sold in just 3 days to wealthy, well connected buyers. Unlike the other special versions of the E36 M3, buyers of the M3 Euro-Spec were free to choose any colors and options they wanted on their cars, limited only by their wallets. This version was equipped with the 286 bhp 183 cui inline 6 cylinder engine, vented brakes with floating rotors, glass headlights and other European standard equipment. Canada would not see another E36 M3 for sale until two years later, when BMW finally made the American versions of the 1997 M3 available for sale.
One of the distinguishing elements of the M3s Euro-Spec is that unlike cars sold in the United States (with few known exceptions), Canadian buyers were given access to the BMW Individual program, giving them unique custom paint and interior color combinations and other options for customization of their vehicles. The Individual program was not available in the United States due to the special laws that granted buyers the right to cancel specially ordered vehicles without penalty - a situation not allowed by BMW.
Each of the 45 BMW M3 Euro-Spec had a numbered engraved plaque in both the glove-box and the custom leather case which held the owners manuals.
Starting with the first E36 M3’s delivered to the US, American BMW racers began pressuring BMW AG for a race-ready version of the car with which to compete against Porsche 911 in American sports-car racing.
In 1995, BMW replied their request by starting to build batches of the M3 CSL in Munich. Upon completion they sent the cars to PTG (Prototype Technology Group) Racing in Virginia for final preparation, which included the front and rear Motorsport flag decals
The M3 CSLs had the following performance modifications in addition to the regular ones :
3.23 final drive
Slightly shorter and stiffer springs. Shocks were same as regular E36 M3
Adjustable front splitter
no Sound insulation
no Radio (though there were still speakers, amp, and connections to plug in the standard E36M3 radio)
no Air conditioning
no Tool kit
basic OBC with fewer features
Very light BMW Motorsport forged double spoke wheel: 7.5" x 17" front and 8.5" x 17" rear, both with 41 mm offset
several boxes of parts left in the trunk of the car. Each had a sticker attached which read, "WARNING. This part is intended for off-road use only. Installation will void your warranty." These parts were: a rear truly functional wing with integrated brake light and risers, a baffled aluminum oil pan with dual pickups, front strut tower brace, Cross-brace, or X-brace, for front sub-frame stiffening at the front underbody of car
Also in appearance they were different by the following:
Available only in Alpine White III
Interior color of black with Anthracite Motorsport cloth upholstery on 325is front sport seats and standard rear bench
Carbon fiber ashtrays, door sills, above glove box trim with "BMW Motorsport International" badge, and gear shfiter console area trim
BMW Motorsport flags on front left and right rear corners
"BMW Motorsport International" badges on exterior door trim, interior door sills, and above glove box
Black grill below bumper (other 1995 E36 M3s had body colored grill or slats if luxe-package)
All of the glass was standard E36M3 glass windshield, side, and rear.
There is a controversy in which some believe that the M3 CSL should not be called a “CSL” (referring to the famous 3.0 CSL), but rather an M3 Lightweight, as that was the name that BMW advertised the car as. While it is true that the press referred to the car as the M3 Lightweight, each M3 CSL’s build sheet (the instructions from BMW AG to BMW Individual) clearly labelled the car as an M3 CSL, so there can be no doubt that the factory itself thought of the car as a CSL.
This controversy can be attributed mainly to the fact that the English translation of CSL is Coupe Sports Lightweight.
BMW had promised to build at least 85 units of the CSL, but never released the number of Lightweights built, and because of the peculiar assembly line, to this day may not know. BMW enthusiasts now believe that the number of models extant are approximately 120, all of which were delivered to the U.S.
Another gossip running around the E36 CSL is that BMW had the most powerful motors of each M3 batch hand-picked and reserved for the M3 CSL. If we disassemble a CSL engine and compare to a stock U.S. S50 engine differences will be found. Nonetheless, people that drove both the stock M3’s and M3 CSL’s noticed how much more powerful the M3 CSL motor was.
In an ironic twist, the cars that BMW built for Americans to race were hardly raced, most M3 CSL’s seem to have never seen a racetrack.
The GT Coupe was an M3 limited-edition for Europe only of which 356 were built as left-hand drive. Fifty further M3 GT Individuals were made in right-hand drive for the UK market. This special model is famous for being colored in British Racing Green with a Mexico Green interior (a peculiar choice when the traditional German national racing colors were white with red numbers).
The M3 GT Coupe had the following modifications:
Exterior paint only in non-metallic British Racing Green
Nappa & Alcantara leather in Mexico Green and Anthracite
3-spoke steering wheel
Amber indicators all round for the GT Coupe, clear front and side indicators for the GT Individual
Carbon fibre interior trim set for the GT Coupe, Birds-eye Maple Graphite, real wood trim set for the GT Individual
BMW Motorsport International plaque on passenger side of dashboard
BMW Motorsport International door emblems on GT Coupe, standard M3 door emblems on GT Individual
M3 boot emblem deleted on GT Coupe but retained on GT Individual
Adjustable front splitter
GT Class II rear spoiler
Final drive ratio was shortened to 3.23 (originally 3.15)
Standard dampers and rear springs with front springs being uprated to cope with the increased down-force potential of the front splitter
Adjustable front splitter and GT Class II rear wing to which riser blocks and twin Gurney flaps can be added
A retuned version of the S50 B30 powerplant with 264-degree cams, a BMW Motorsport dual-pickup oil pan, duocentric oil pumps, fluted inlet trumpet and upgraded engine management software, producing 295 hp at 7,000 rpm and 238 lb/ft of torque at 3,900 rpm
Maximum speed limiter removed allowing 174 mph
Front strut-tower brace
X-brace between chassis monocoque and front suspension subframe
Optional Aluminium doors
Polished, forged, aluminium alloy roadwheels engraved with ’BMW Motorsport’
The M3 GT2 was a limited-edition for the UK market and are sometimes referred to as Evo Individual. It was available in Imola Red with Nappa / Alacantara interior.
In what performance parts are involved the GT2 was identical to the other E30 M3 Evolution. In appearance it also featured a GT Class II rear spoiler incorporating additional stop light and MotorsportInternational badging
M3 GTR DTM
It is known very little about the M3 GTR DTM, but it is believed that BMW intended to race it in the DTM German racing series. When the tests from 1990s pre-season testing showed the car to be quicker than existing competition, Mercedes-Benz purportedly influenced the DTM sanction body in order to either slow the M3 GTR or make it illegal for DTM. Wide-body E36 M3 GTR cars were therefore entered in the German ADAC "GT Cup" series.
15 M3’s were ordered in 1994 to race in the Australian Super Production series. All o them were prepared for track by Frank Gardiner Racing.
They featured the following racing modifications:
Exterior color of Alpine White III
Interior of Anthracite M cloth and Amaretta suede
Fog lights delete
Rear "M3" badge delete
Individually-numbered silver plaque under the parking brake handle
A 324 hp (DIN) at 7,200 rpm and 258 lb/ft of torque at 4,400 rpm version of the S50B30 developed by BMW M GmbH and Schnitzer Motorsport GmbH which had modified camshafts, modified intake and exhaust ports, a lighter flywheel and dual-pickup oil sump
Driveshaft from the E31 850Ci
3.23 final drive gearing
AP Racing clutch
Group N springs and dampers
Top speed limiter removed
AP Racing brake calipers with the fronts being four-piston calipers
AP Racing front rotors
Adjustable front splitter and rear wing with Gurney flap (both from the M3 GT)
M cross-spoke alloy wheels, sized 7.5x17-inch (front) and 8.5x17-inch (rear)
no Air conditioning
no Central locking
no Check Control system
Non-functional rear seats
The E36 M3 was a performance masterpiece of it’s times, now is a cool-to-own used vehicle and it is definitely going to be a classic. While engines continue to get larger on today’s standard coupes, few of them can compare with the M3’s superior suspension and overall handling that seem as young and potent as 10 years ago.