Cult Cars central report- BMW M3



Back in 1972 BMW created BMW Motorsport GmbH and was responsible for the creation of the M1, M535i, M5 and M635 CSi in a surge of self confidence and celebration by the engineers, a time when M meant Motorsport and not Marketing. Of course there is no denying this sub-brand of BMW is almost as renown and BMW itself and among the faithful even more so.

The E30 M3 was initially intended for motorsport homologation purposes, the planned 5000 examples swelled to 18,000 by the time the first M3 retired from production.

The script was back then to make a race-ready super coupe from the proverbial sow’s ear, the E30 coupe. Well, it worked, the striped down racer was indeed one of BMW’s finest. However to produce the M3 was rather costly as the final M3 differed from the coupe significantly and kept the Motorsport division (too) busy. BMW seeing the branding opportunity of this sharpened spearhead embarked on plans to better utilize the main production capabilities of BMW’s factories instead of taxing the technicians of the Motorsport Division. M GmbH was created. 

With early involvement of the M Department during the conception stage of every new 3 Series, provisions could be made in the standard body shell to accommodate the M-engines, transmissions and suspension systems which would be shipped to the main production line and fitted as if a standard production car.

So far the E30, E36, E46 and E90 have all received the M-treatment with resounding success but do they all attain the Cult status? 


Originally BMW focused on the coupe versions of the 3-Series but soon came to realize that even the 4-door and convertible versions were ripe for exploitation.  The E36 spawned both the 2-door and 4-door M3s with some evolution versions thrown in. The E46 added the convertible to the fray but dropped the 4-door and the E90 included the coupe-convertible version alongside both the coupe and sedan. 

BMW had made a determined effort to change their marketing direction and avoid a direct confrontation with the established stalwart Mercedes Benz. They appealed to the young and sporty, their ethos till today. The spearhead was of course the 3-series and the E30 established BMW as the choice for the yuppie. Having a iconic product like the M3 was a masterstroke and it consolidated its position as the sporty driver's first choice.

The cabin even in its standard form is driver orientated and is still current today as it was back then. The E36 became a bit more complicated on the inside but again has that driver appeal. The cabin of the E46 is probably everybody's idea of an ideal cabin but BMW didn't stop there. The E90 made a severe turnaround and changed the paradigm. Many accepted this change so long as it was still a driver's car and it was. The Chris Bangle styling era was perhaps the most difficult for BMW but the faithful kept the brand afloat. 

BMW E36  M3 (Review...)

Once the formula proved to be a commercial success BMW went headlong into the "M" marketing in earnest. The E36 not only got the coupe and convertible, they decided that the four-door sedan should be a recipient the M-treatment as well.  The E30 had a 4-cylinder race derived engine but was out of sync with BMW's marketing which focused on six-cylinder engines.

E46 M3 coupe (Review...)

E46 M3 convertible (Review...)


BMW E92 M3 (Review...)

The E30 has a 195 bhp 2.3-litre 4-cylinder race engine and it was a brilliant concept but by that time BMW had been grooming its image with the in-line six cylinder engine. The Sport Evolution had 238 bhp form 2.5-litres

BMW moved up to a 282 bhp 3.0-litre 6-cylinder powerplant for the first E36 M3.  The mid-term upgrade saw capacity go up to 3.2-litres and hammers out 321bhp.

For the E46 BMW kept the 6-cylinder M engine and  from the same 3.2-litres it extracts 343 bhp. The CSL engine pictured here ups power by 17 bhp

Sad to see the beloved 6-cylinder engines go but Merc has been supercharging their engines so in response (and for the US market) the 4-litre V8 from the M5 was adopted in the E92/90/93. Here it produces 420 bhp.


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