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?
I give Audi a lot of credit for bringing the R8 to market. It took a fair amount of gall for a company best known for mid-range all-wheel drive luxury sedans to up and produce a supercar-beating mid-engine road car capable of being used year-round and every day. It’s a feat nearly without precedent. Of course, I said “nearly”.
That’s because BMW pulled off a similar trick the best part of thirty years before Audi did it. And arguably the development of what would become BMW’s fledgling Motorsports division was even more impressive than what Ingolstadt pulled off. The M1 burst onto the scene at a time of economic austerity, global oil crises and came from a company who not only didn’t have a history of producing such cars, but didn’t have connections to others who did (unlike Audi’s corporate Lamborghini partnership).
Speaking of Lamborghini, because of BMW’s lack of expertise in supercar design it was the Sant’Agata firm that was employed to produce the M1. But because of Lamborghini’s lack of expertise at being…well, a company capable of producing something on a schedule, BMW engineers had to first liberate the early molds from Italy and then find someone who could produce the car. Ultimately, it was a combination of ItalDesign in Turin, Marchesi metal working in Modena to build the frames and Karosserie Baur in Stuttgart that stuck the M1 together. Though it doesn’t exactly sound like a match made in heaven, and indeed the M1 was a relative sales flop, it has nonetheless grown to cult status as one of the most user-friendly supercars of the late 1970s:
As I mentioned in the M635CSi post recently, some of the confusion about these “M” branded models came from the nomenclature between the E24 and E28. While the M6 and M5 co-existed in the United States market, they did not in Europe. This left the M635CSi to be the equivalent of the M6. But the same was not true of the M535i. This model was sold as a more affordable alternative to the M5; most of the look of the Motorsports model but without the bigger bills associated with the more exotic double overhead cam 24 valve M88/3. Instead, you got a 3.4 liter M30 under the hood just like the rest of the .35 models. The recipe was a success, selling around 10,000 examples in several different markets – but never in the U.S..
Instead, the U.S. market received the 535iS model. The iS model was specific to the North American market and gave you the look of the U.S.-bound M5, with deeper front and rear spoilers, M-crafted sport suspension and sport seats. It, too, was quite popular – between 1987 and 1988, just over 6,000 examples sold in the United States alone, and of those, a little more than half were the preferred manual variant. One of the nice aspects of the 535iS was that if you enjoyed colors other than black you were able to order the lesser model in any shade you wanted, unlike the M5.
Today’s 535iS is a bit special, as it’s combined the two models into one in an exhaustive recreation of a European market M535i starting with a Zinnoberrot 535iS:
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:
For some time, critics have claimed that the E36 chassis was just too prolific and not special enough to be considered by collectors. They weren’t built well enough, they didn’t have the pedigree of the E30 or the power of the E46, and since you could buy one on your local Craigslist for $5,000 (less, sometimes!), why the hell would you pay a premium for one?
It’s been about a year and a half since we last looked at a M3 Lightweight. The ask was $90,000 on a model with below 30,000 miles, and it was no surprise that for many that ask was far too strong, though I suggested opportunities like that weren’t going to come along every day. In that time, we’ve seen some big numbers start to roll in for special E36 variants, like the $65,000 Canadian Edition M3. But all expectations on the E36 market, and especially those on the Lightweight model, were thrown out the window this past March when a lower mile, all original example came up for auction at Amelia Island.
The price? After hot bidding and when the hammer finally fell, it hit $145,750. I was astounded, even though for years I’d been claiming these cars would increase in value in the not too distant future. What does that number mean for the rest of the run?
What is the price for perfection? That’s a difficult question to answer, but increasingly when it comes to 1980s cars, the level of preservation, originality and lower miles in low-production, desirable models has translated into quite an exacting price. Yet while lofty asking prices have become the norm on many of the hottest performance models from the 1980s, are their figures always justified?
While BMW Motorsport GmbH has a lengthy reputation for conceiving and building some of the most legendary icons of the 1980s, since their inception they’ve also had their hand in clever badge-engineered products intended to bring the magic of M to a larger audience. Starting with the E12 in the 1970s and continuing through today, first to hit the market was the “M535i”. Effectively, these were standard 5-series models with M-Technic bits added for a splash of style, but they lacked the higher-performance “S” (or M88/3, in the case of the M5) motors of their more potent siblings. But they certainly looked the part, with hunkered-down exteriors with deep chin spoilers, side skirts and rear valance and spoiler. Special M-Technic wheels were added to the E28 model which channeled aspects of the M1’s Campagnolo design coupled with hints of the original 1972 Turbo concept wheels. Inside a sport interior was met with more M-Tech details. Just as today, though mechanically these cars were appearance packages rather than performance-oriented, they’re nonetheless quite special indeed:
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. Only a few thousand miles have been added since we originally listed the car. However, small items like the broken headlight haven’t been rectified. No additional maintenance is disclosed. It’s also interesting to me that the seller doesn’t note this as a rare “slicktop” no sunroof car – appealing to some. The photography and polish will cost you, as the asking price is nearly $23,000 this time around. That’s about what the similar mileage, similar specification Hellrot car bid to. Is it worth that much of a premium?
The below post originally appeared on our site October 12, 2014:
In an article I penned for The Truth About Cars last week, I covered some of the development of the Wedge Era and how those spectacular show car designs channeled their design language down to more pedestrian models. One of the stars of that article were the cutting-edge looks from Giugiaro’s ItalDesign – the firm, and man, responsible for some of your favorites such as the basic shape for the Audi Quattro. But while the Quattro launched its brand into the luxury realm and redefined the 80s, the undisputed German star of the wedgey wonders was the BMW M1.
Like the Quattro, the M1 redefined and refined BMW’s core mission, helping to launch the Motorsport division along with the 3.0 CSL and 2002 Turbo. While Giugiaro had also had his hand in the M1’s design, the genesis of the shape lay in the much earlier Paul Bracq designed Turbo concept. Bracq, in turn, had undoubtedly been influenced by the late 1960s creations of both Giorgetto Giugiaro (at Ghia and ItalDesign) and Marcello Gandini (Bertone), as well as the efforts and splash rival Mercedes-Benz had made in 1969 with the C111 concept and record setter.
But while Daimler was hesitant to enter serial production with such a departure from their tried and true sedan designs, the M1 proved to be just the spark BMW was looking for to ignite the fire in driving enthusiast’s minds. It was, at the time, the Ultimate Driving Machine:
Conventional wisdom would have it that North America was robbed of the “real” M3; the undiluted, S50B30/B32, individual throttle body, floating rotor, continuously variable VANOS enthusiasts’ dream. Conventional wisdom, though, is wrong. Exploiting a loophole in importation laws, in 1994 BMW Canada commissioned a run of 45 exclusive European-spec E36 M3s. These were the full-fat BF91 rather than the BF93 which would come slightly later to U.S. shores. That meant the full spectrum of Euro goodies were optional on these cars, but most notably the 286 horsepower engine was the highlight. Each got a numbered plaque to commemorate fooling “The Man”, the only real changes from standard specification were the additions of daytime running lights and a third brake light to meet Canadian road laws. Sure, your E36 M3 is special, but these Canadian Edition cars are more specialerer. And this one isn’t in Canada anymore – it’s in the U.S.. Feel cheated no more, E36 fans!