The BMW M3 is about to enter its sixth generation, packing more power than ever before and promising handling dynamics on a par with most supercars.
It’s a good time to consider what the hot G20-generation car’s arrival might mean for the legacy of older M3s. The wondrously excessive E30-gen M3 still has undeniable bedroom poster appeal, and the snarling E46-gen CSL is upheld to this day as an example of how to get a sports coupé right.
But in between the two there’s the E36 M3, not often invited to showdowns between the all-time greats, nor held in particularly high regard by collectors and diehard enthusiasts if the discrepancy in prices is anything to go by. That’s not to say it’s an unimportant footnote in the M division’s back catalogue. Let’s not forget this is the first M3 both to pack a straight six and to be available in full-length four-door form.
The six-shooter in question – BMW’s now-legendary 3.0-litre S50 engine – isn’t exactly lethargic, either. The standard car produced an impressive 286bhp and 236lb ft, and that’s before a late-1995 facelift upgraded cylinder capacity to 3.2 litres and power output to 316bhp.
That same round of updates also introduced an automatic gearbox option (another first for the M3), swapped the by then dated orange indicator lenses for clear units and added a welcome sixth forward ratio to the manual gearbox.
The two-door coupé model, less dynamically compromised than the drop-top and more obviously performance-focused than the saloon, accounted for around two-thirds of all sales and it maintains the strongest showing in the classifieds today.
Prices for factory-spec cars vary wildly, from around £10,000 for automatic 3.0-litre convertibles to £25,000 at the top end for 3.2-litre coupés with a manual ’box. Most sellers are fastidious about their car’s provenance and will commonly supply a towering pile of service history and MOT receipts, but be wary of cars with lowered suspension, aftermarket wheels and a Nürburgring sticker on the bootlid as they’ll likely have lived a hard life.
The E36 M3 was made available in a wide range of vibrant bespoke colours with evocative names such as Estoril Blue, Mugello Red, Daytona Blue Metallic and – perhaps the most distinctive – Dakar Yellow, although these cars are few and far between. Take time to make sure the car you’re viewing wears just one shade: the E36 M3 is a quick car, even by today’s standards, and different-coloured body panels are a sure sign that it’s had an accident in the past.