When I first came across this car, just like with Rob’s GT3 yesterday I was pretty sure I’d seen it before. The 1994 BMW 325iS M-Design was produced in very limited numbers, and this one was for sale after another I wrote up fairly recently with similar miles:
Diet M3: 1994 BMW 325is M-Design
However, a quick check of the VINs revealed they’re different chassis; this one is 386, produced 52 prior to the last one we looked at (438). So let’s refresh ourselves on what made the M-Design 3-series special.
Basically, this car was the precursor to the U.S.-spec M3. BMW teased its release with an American version of the Clubsport Coupe; you got the M-Tech body kit, mirrors, steering wheel and shift knob, along with the Anthracite M cloth (0506) and an Alpine White exterior. BMW equipped BBS RC 2-piece wheels with forged centers too. In all, it made for a pretty package even if it was no more potent than a standard E36. Fans claim only 150 were imported which seems about right, though BMW doesn’t have official importation numbers.
Last time around, though the condition was very good the general consensus was that an actual M3 was a better deal at the asking price. How about today?
It’s interesting to consider how enthusiasts today view the E36 M3. Generally speaking, you’re either a completely devoted fan who insists that the E36 is not only the best M3, but perhaps the best BMW ever made. Why stop there? Why not go straight for best car in the history of the world, ever? On the other side of the coin, detractors love to point out that the second M3 was softened up for the U.S. market, that it wasn’t as potent, as pure, as Motorsporty as the original curb-hopping, box-flared legend.
Arguably, they’re both right. It’s certainly true that BMW made the decision to tone down the M3 for North American consumption. That was a really good thing for two reasons: one, that we got it at all, and two, that it remained affordable. Consider, for a moment, that the E30 M3 had grown quite expensive to sport all of that motorsport heritage. By 1991, the base price of the M3 was $35,900. Of course, it was competing against even more expensive cars like the Porsche 944S2, which was a further $10,000 more dear. While we can talk about driving spirit all day long, if we look at the fact sheets what you got was a bit soggy in comparison to today’s cars. Inflation corrected, the M3 would be around $62,000 – pretty much spot on the entry price for today’s M3. The new car has more than double the horsepower of the original and enough tech to launch all of the Apollo program missions.
So what was really exciting when the new M3 was launched in late 1994 was that price point; $36,000. That was some $14,000 less expensive than the European model, and yet performance was within a few clicks thanks to a revised version of the 325i M50 engine.…
I’m a really big fan of OEM+ modifications on cars. Something always feels good about grabbing a part from a higher trim level or even another model and seamlessly adding it to your car to make even better. Lots of times it is something small like a piece of trim or a grille. Other times you go totally crazy and swap in an entire engine from another car. That is what we have today with this W124 Mercedes-Benz Estate up for sale in Atlanta. What started life as an already really nice E320 with the M104 3.2 liter inline-6 was swapped out the M104 3.6 liter inline-6 from a C36 AMG to make a pseudo E36 AMG Estate. As you might have noticed, that wasn’t the only thing that was changed on this wagon.
Just last night, a friend informed me he had “acquired an older BMW”.
“Willingly?”, I asked. He affirmed he had contractually agreed to this life changing experience. “What model?”, I furthered.
Now, supportive friend Carter probably should have nodded in approval. After all, the Z3 is great value for the money. They’re cheap to buy, cheap to maintain, and fun to drive. But what actually came out of my mouth was laughter. Not maniacal laughter, mind you, but just the uncontrollable mocking type that you immediately feel a bit bad about. Hoping to redeem the situation a bit, I prodded “Six cylinder…?” Nope. 4. I contained further laughter at this point, but I was grasping for straws. Meekly, I ventured “…..manual….?” hoping for some affirmation. “YES!” he happily retorted, glad to finally confirm a question of mine.
It’s actually a nice car, and it’s in great shape, and he paid almost nothing for it. But from the same period, BMW had some other affordable, fun to drive and even more potent options for enthusiasts. Take, for example, the M3 Sedan. Like the Z3, it was rear drive. Like the Z3, it has a manual, and they share some achitecture. But while the Roadster has a bit of a stigma that results in enthusiasts’ dismissal, the M3/4/5 has developed into a legend in its own right. Damn the fact that it didn’t have the more exotic Euro motor, if you want a cheap and pure driver’s car while still being able to comfortably transport 4 adults, they don’t come much better than this platform:
I’m going to continue on the M3 theme, and again we’re looking at a ’95. Just the other day, I pointed out how the E36 M3 – even in ‘diluted’ USA form – was a great value for a driver-oriented enthusiast compared to the E30 M3. But that’s not true of all E36s. There’s the Canadian M3 – essentially, a Euro import with all the verboten goodies we didn’t get here, one of which we saw sell last year for $65,000. There the M3 GT, which also upped the ‘special’ quotient quite a bit on the mass-produced M, and also will cost you a pretty penny. But for U.S. specification collectors, there’s really only one option in the E36 catalog: the Lightweight.
Over the past few years I’ve written up several of these cars as speculation has continued to grow that this will be the next logical step in market capital following the E30. Asking prices have been, at times, what most would consider outrageous for the E36. But never quite this outrageous. I hope you’re sitting down, swallow and move the drink away from your computer. Consider yourself warned.
An interesting counterpoint to yesterday’s no reserve M3 is, obviously, how much other generations of M3s cost. Like yesterday’s E30, today’s follow up needs little introduction as it’s been a fan favorite since day one. So how does this car compare to yesterday’s market hero?
Well, on paper the E36 is a better car. It’s quicker because it’s got more power. It’s cheaper to maintain. It’s no less adept in corners. And while it wasn’t quite the benchmark on international courses that the first generation was, the E36 was no slouch at the track either and is still a favorite weapon of amateurs and professionals alike.
This particular M3 stacks up pretty well against yesterday’s car. As with yesterday, it’s claimed to completely original though it’s clearly had some modifications. It’s also got about the same mileage at 126,500. And attract attention? Surely few will have difficulty spotting you in the stunning shade of Daytona Violet, here equipped with manual black leather Vaders. But the key yesterday was price, and here it is again:
The takeaway from my recent E36 M3 Double Take was that many sellers were looking for strong money, but if you looked you could still find some deals on the third generation 3-series M. Some searching yielded a 70,000 mile Boston Green ’97 M3/4/5 Sedan. Clean and a desirable model on its own, it still sold for only $10,800. With asks for normal E30 325iS generally higher than that, where does the follow-up model lay?
That model is this E36 325. Launched in 1992 for U.S. shores, the third generation 3-series instantly cemented itself as the new benchmark. In fact, for all of the attention fawned on ‘God’s Chariot’, the reality is that the 3-series didn’t appear on notoriously BMW-leaning Car and Driver until the 1992 model year. Equipped with the M50 DOHC 189 horsepower inline-6, the modern yet still driver-oriented design would go on to become a regular thereafter. They were a sales success too, and like the E30 was for some time, they’re currently being largely ignored in the used market. After all, if you can get a clean M3 for $11,000, why would you buy a 325iS?
Because they’re a damn good car in their own right, and they’re also damn cheap – if you can find a clean one:
Update 1/25/2018 – the first of this duo has dropped in price from $19,997 to $17,997.
Recently I found myself looking through some old car literature I had amassed over the years. In particular, I was completely enamored with the brand-new E36 M3 when it launched on U.S. shores. I’m not sure why, but of all the E36 variants that were produced, that first-year M has always stuck out to me as the most desirable in the lineup. And now as these cars are on the verge of being considered “antique” and with the E30 market still silly (and the E46 market rising), these early Coupes seem like a great balance of driving, collector-potential and somewhat reasonable pricing.
I say ‘somewhat’ because sellers have steadily been raising the bar to the point where it almost feels like price fixing. When I looked for ’95s on eBay the other day, I started laughing – there were five listed, and their prices were all within $1,000 of each other – and none were cheap. So with that in mind today I’m looking at twin Alpine White ’95s. They’re almost identically equipped. They’re priced within $2 of each other. That’s not a misprint – only a small coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts divides the asks on these two. But there’s a huge difference in mileage; some 60,000 between these two. So clearly the one with lower mileage is automatically the better bet, right?
Not so fast…
Looking for a subtle performance sedan? Today’s not your day.
You probably haven’t heard of iDing Power, because odds are that if you’re reading this you don’t live in Japan. And even if you’re an afficiando of M3s, you’d probably dismiss this particular car as a M3 GTR replica for the street like I did. But this car is far more than that, and much more interesting.
The M3 GTR launched in 1994, and the United States did (technically) see it in the form of the Prototype Technology Group-run team in IMSA race series. The same year in Japan, iDing Power revealed the plans for their turned-up E36 M3. They had acquired an early production second generation model; production started for the E36 M3 in February, 1992 – and the particular example you see here was produced on February 3, 1993. iDing then added a plethora of unique touches, from upgraded suspension, wheels and brakes, special interior items, and some body modifications. By “some”, of course it’s hard to look past the W201 190E-Evo inspired rear wing and massive tacked-on flares. iDing also took the S50B30 European motor, rated at 286 horsepower stock, and modified it to a claimed 330 horsepower. iDing widebodies are pretty rare finds, but even among them this one is particularly special. With only 7,600 miles on the odometer, this example appears to be the original prototype and test car:
As they had with the first generation, with the E36 BMW continued the tradition of chopping the top off its curb-hopping M3 to alter the character of the model substantially. The resulting “BK” models are the least produced of the second generation. In European form, some 3,800 were produced with a bulk of them heading to England starting in 1996. The U.S. model began production as the model’s run came to a close; in March 1998, the first of what would become 6,269 U.S. spec 3.2 M3 Convertibles rolled off the production lines in Regensburg. That meant the M3 outlasted normal E36 production, as if you walked into a dealer you’d find the all-new E46 model being sold along side these topless M3s. As they came towards the end of production, most of these M3s came as well-equipped as the E36 was available, and options included forged M-Double Spoke wheels and a removable hardtop. Extra bracing went in to stiffen the chassis, which resulted in a 10% weight penalty and slower performance – but I’d wager that wasn’t on most buyer’s minds. Of the just over 6,000 models sold here, the majority – about 60% at 4,017 – were sold with the 5-speed automatic. So today’s example is already in the minority; a last year example, it’s also a 5-speed. But to push it just that little more over the top, it’s also in the rare shade of 386 Fern Green Metallic: