1995 BMW M3

Update 9/13/18: This M3 sold for $19,201

While it was the E30 M3 that I lusted over as a young teen, I came of driving age with the introduction of the second generation E36. I still remember sitting in one just like today’s; a 1995 Avus Blue with gray manual Vaders. At nearly $40,000, it was about as far away from me as the moon landing, but it was my dream car. I didn’t really care that the engine wasn’t the special individual throttle body motor Europe got, or that the headlights weren’t as nice. I cared that it was in the U.S., it was a great color, and because they were being sold that meant that I might be able to get one some day.

Fast forward to today, and if I’m completely honest Avus Blue isn’t my favorite color from the early M3 lineup anymore. Given the option, I’d take either a Dakar Yellow or Daytona Violet example. But all three are fairly rare to see among the first 10,000-odd 3.0 M3s brought in before the light revision to the 3.2, when the color pallet changed. Few appear in the low-mileage, completely original condition of this particular Avus Blue and for me it’s a reminder of everything I loved the first time I saw it:

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Feature Listing: 1995 BMW M3 Dinan S3-spec

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. In fact, many – including notoriously BMW-savvy Car and Driver – suggested that the U.S. spec M3 was a better choice than the more exotic Euro model for our roads.

Today, the E36 M3 remains for many the smart choice within the lineup. Long overlooked as the obvious choice, prices have remained low relative to its predecessor and even its replacement. Modern comparisons often skip the E36 entirely. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get exotic performance and looks from the middle child:

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1995 BMW M3 Lightweight

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.

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1995 BMW M3

Update 9/15/18: This M3 remains available at $8,500

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:

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White Christmas Double Take: 1995 BMW M3

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…

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1995 BMW M3

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:

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1995 BMW M3 Lightweight

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?

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Feature Listing: 1995 BMW M3

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?

The cost-cutting measures meant that the U.S. specification M3 came to market at a much more reasonable price than the European example. For under $37,000 out the door you got almost all of the performance of the pricier Euro model, the same looks, and to top it off, the S50 USA was cheaper to run. In terms of real world practicality, the E36 M3 was a winner then, and has been a winner ever since. With more than 10,000 produced for the U.S. market, the BF93 model was an instant hit and renewed the established benchmark of the performance category:

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1995 BMW M3

A little over a year ago, I took a bit of a gamble and plunged into M3 ownership. At the time, I was reasoning that the E46 market wasn’t likely to dip much lower in the immediate future, as the E36 market was already trending upwards. As a result, I paid (what I felt was) a reasonable premium for a low mileage, excellent original condition example in a very rare color. At least on the surface, it would seem that my decision was correct; since purchasing that car, some E36 sales have gone through the roof as documented on these pages. Further, E46 sales of clean, original examples (especially 6-speeds) appear also to be heading upwards, as witness by the 2003 currently on Bring A Trailer. With a few days to go, bidding is past $25,000 – money that until now was considered reserved only for the Competition Package cars.

But back to the E36 market and this particular example. The cars that have pulled really strong numbers in the second generation M3 are the European specification models or the super-limited Lightweight edition. Still, that doesn’t mean that a clean normal U.S. specification M3 also isn’t heading upwards. Take this early ’95, for example:

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1995 BMW M3 with 13,000 Miles

What is the price for perfection? We saw Andrew look at a perfect and near brand-new W220 S500 yesterday, but his cutting critique of that car was, as several people noted, spot on. It’s not a desirable model, nor is it one that is likely to be collectable anytime soon. For some time, the same was said of the E36 M3. However, quickly things are changing. Several high-priced examples have come to market recently that have investors questioning if the E30 is the go-to it was for the past two years. Most notably, we saw the one-off Giallo Canadian Edition ’94 M3 hit near $65,000. That car looked near showroom fresh, having only accrued 30,000 miles since new. Today’s example has only about one third of that:

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