As the E30 remains unreachable and E46 pricing quickly heads upwards, the E36 remains a slightly less-appreciated alternative that is affordable for most enthusiasts. While it’s still possible to find wrecks of the popular chassis for only a few thousand dollars, if you’re willing to spend a bit more you can still find reasonably priced and clean examples. Admittedly, the pool is drying up as speculating vultures start to circle what was once an oasis of cheap speed. But this early ’95 in a fetching (and rare) color combination is more than just a distant mirage:
The U.S. version of the E36 chassis Motorsport offering has steadily begun to emerge from its “also ran” position in the category of favored M products. It has languished in value since the introduction of its replacement, the wildly popular and more aggressive E46 M3. Long derided for being a bit too cost-conscience of BMW, the reality is that the car that came to the U.S. might have been a bit better.
Yes, I just said that.
It is true that the North American M3 made due with a less powerful and certainly much less exotic motor. The U.S. S50, based upon the 325i’s M50, displaced the same 3 liters as the European S50B30, but the two differed in nearly all other aspects. Only items like the oil filter are shared between the models; in Euro guise, the engine sang with individual throttle bodies. The engine also sported the trick continuously variable VANOS system to optimize performance. After finally being convinced to bring the second generation M3 to North America, the news came down that the western-bound motor would be less exotic; static VANOS, lower compression, and no individual throttle bodies.
Frustrated though enthusiasts may have been to not be getting the “true” model, many were just happy it was coming here at all. But the amazing thing was what the USA motor offered. At 240 horsepower, it was indeed 46 down on the European cousin. Yet other numbers told a different story; torque was nearly the same between the two, as was weight, and the real advantage of the Euro motor was only quite high in the rev range. That meant acceleration in the real world was effectively identical between Euro and USA models. Sure, you lost a bit of top speed – but where in the U.S. were you hitting 155, anyway?…
As I’ve said before, I usually try to stay away from regurgitation of material. However, there were a few reasons to look at this European specification M3 one more time.
I’ve recently featured a string of Canadian Edition E36 M3s with some sticker shock for fans of the traditionally affordable chassis. The first was a Hellrot model in August with a $35,000 asking price. That car, to my knowledge, failed to trade hands because though it was actively bid upon, the reserve was never lifted in the mid 20K range. The next stunner was the Individual Giallo car in September, which broke predictions at the $65,000 mark. I looked at another Dakar model in November hoping to capitalize on those high asks, with a reported sticker price close to $30,000. It, too, failed to break the reserve.
The traditional, and very valid, argument to paying high prices for these cars is that they’re essentially just a stock Euro model with a number attached to them. Why not just import a much cheaper and more plentiful example of those then? To that point I had twice looked at a non-Canadian Edition but European specification ’94.
This Mugello Red model originally came to our site in October, 2014. With about 83,000 miles and in generally good condition, it was certainly a unique and appealing alternative to the normal M3. It popped back up in June of 2016 with a few more miles, poor photography and a little more wear. It was also boldly offered with no reserve, though the auction ended with an “error in the listing”; eBay seller speak for the bidding not heading in the direction they were hoping.
Well, here it is again. This time, it is listed by the same seller as the Giallo car. It’s been cleaned up and has some great photography.…
Alex over at Car Throttle recently posted a neat video entitled “10 Things I’ve Learnt After 1 Year Of E36 M3 Ownership” (h/t to Jalopnik). He talks about lusting after the M3 as an “affordable dream car” only to find that, when he finally gets his hands on one, he doesn’t fall immediately in love with it. All is not lost however: after spending some time with the car (including a number of weekends in the garage spent fixing all the things that go wrong with it), he’s slowly won over by its charms as a car that’s equally at home on the track or loafing across great distances. While US market cars were famously “neutered” by a less powerful motor than the one offered in their European counterparts, even without individual throttle bodies the E36 M3 remains a relatively fast, fun and capable car that can be picked up for not too much money. Increasingly, the challenge is to find one that hasn’t been beat into the ground or saddled with hideous mods.