Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to fill in many of the gaps in my personal list of significant cars I’d like to drive, including a fair number of the ones I lusted after – but couldn’t get close to – when I was a kid.
Until recently the E30 BMW M3 was right at the top of the wish list. I had sat in several, and even been driven across rural Cambridgeshire at serious speed in a shabby example imported from Germany. But until a few weeks ago, when we filmed our M3 versus M3 video, I’d never been lucky enough to get behind the wheel of one.
I’ve got to admit that I’ve been underwhelmed by my experience of lots of old stagers in the past, especially those that have seen their original performance diminished by subsequent power battles.
But the E30, a particularly original example owned by a genuine enthusiast called John, was a revelation: it really was one of the purest-driving cars I’ve ever experienced. Spot-on steering, perfect throttle response and a chassis you can lean to the limit in confidence, without any need for the electronic nannying of a modern performance car.
I know there’s no chance that BMW is going to take the next M3 back to the basic level of the original. But there’s also no doubting that, when you drive the current M3 and its great grandfather back-to-back, the modern car comes across as crushingly competent but aloof and uninvolving.
We should all take comfort from the fact that successive generations of the M3 have tended to cycle between good and underwhelming. I’m not saying the current iteration is a bad car, but by stripping out some weight and complexity there’s no doubt that the next one could be a whole lot better.