“3/4/5” Double Take: 1997 BMW M3 Sedan

Continuing on the theme of adding diverse tones to your life, BMW’s M3 has been traditionally one of the most colorful pallets in the Bavarian lineup. We saw the late shade of Fern Green on the late-model Convertible the other day. But fans of the E36 lust much more after the favorite “M3/4/5” model – the limited 1997-1998 3.2 sedan in manual form. It offered practicality and reportedly slightly lighter weight than the Coupe. And just like the Coupe and Convertible, it was available in all sorts of eye-catching shades. Today I have two of the most conspicuous: Techno Violet Metallic and the very limited Byzanz Metallic. Which is your favorite?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 BMW M3 Sedan on eBay

1997 BMW M3 Sedan Dinan

I’m a fan of the sedan version of the E36 M3 and often wondered why BMW declined to build a four-door version of the E46 M3 that followed. (At least one person has tried it – click here to read an account of a wild and very successful E46 M3 sedan home-brew build.) In the sedan, you get the same basic ingredients as the coupe – a revvy engine and dynamic chassis that’s fun to throw around yet easy to live with – with the added practicality of a rear set of doors, useful if you have family or friends to cart around. Even if the US-spec cars were a bit “neutered” in comparison with the more powerful version offered in Europe, the E36 M3 offers a nice, well-rounded package and remains relatively inexpensive, although nice condition examples get thinner on the ground every year. The M-Tech bumpers and side skirts look neat on the sedan body style, and remain subtle enough that passers by might just mistake it for a plain old 328i.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 BMW M3 Dinan on eBay

1998 BMW M3 Sedan

1 While the E36 M3 coupe is known to be a relatively quick, dynamic and fun car to drive, it’s often hard to find a good one. That’s largely because so many of the coupes have ended up as thrashed track-rods with dubious modifications. On the other hand when they do turn up for sale, the relatively uncommon sedan versions are more likely to be found in stock, unmolested condition and as such have tended to keep their value. This is probably because they’re more likely to have been used for trips to the organic grocery store rather than to a track. (There’s an Arctic Silver one with Yakima roof racks that I often see where I live in DC, parked near a place colloquially known as Whole Paycheck, and yes, I eye it jealously every time I see it). The two extra doors do not fundamentally alter the M3 package, except to add a healthy dose of everyday practicality, while the M-tech bodykit that distinguishes the Ms from ordinary cars lends the already handsome sedan body shape just the right amount of sporting aggression. I think these cars are well on their way to becoming a bit of a cult classic. This M3 has those two extra doors plus the all important 5-speed manual gearbox, making it an “M3/4/5” in enthusiast-speak.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1998 BMW M3 Sedan on eBay

1990 BMW 320i

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Even with automatics, I love perfect examples of old bimmers, and this 20k-mile 320i is no exception. It has lived most of its life in Japan but is thankfully still LHD. The island life has kept its use regular but minimal, resulting in the extremely low amount of miles. It’s a beautiful example of the E30 sedan and would make a great daily driver with a pay-no-mind transmission deciding how to best use the most diminutive M20, a teacup 2.0-liter inline-6. The seller is hoping for strong E30 money even though it’s a basic model, but that’s to be expected when the car has traveled roughly one American’s yearly miles over a quarter century.

Click for details: 1990 BMW 320i on eBay

1997 BMW M3/4/5

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The E36 M3 Sedan holds a very special place in my heart and played a large part in turning my attention away from Audis and VWs towards BMW M-cars. Colloquially known as the M3/4/5, one car specifically turned the tide: an Estoril Blue M3 with 4-doors, 5-speeds, and some Dinan bits that was the fastest car I’d driven up to that point. It was smooth, connected, and aggressive, packed in a beautiful sedan that is subtle enough to blend in but aggressive enough to put plenty of distance between it and the base-model E36. I had a chance to buy that car a few years back with 47k miles for $14k but I didn’t have the money. A few years on, this red on black example with similar miles is asking almost $11k more. The red/black isn’t quite as sexy as the Estoril/Caramel combo, but the M Double Spoke II wheels are personal favorites. Despite (or because of?) high production numbers, most E36 M3s have been run hard and disrespected. This one looks to be in great shape but not perfect. Are low-mile E36 M3s chasing the E30s, or is this seller hitting the pipe?

Click for details: 1997 BMW M3 on eBay

1989 BMW 325i AC Schnitzer

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Thanks to a Road & Track tuner feature, AC Schnitzer (along with Ruf, TechArt and HPA) was one of the first tuners to really catch my imagination. Big chunky 5-spokes and wings fore, aft, and midship were plenty to turn middle-school me into a daydreaming Autobahn master. In this day and age and much like the cars they tune or the pop stars we are force-fed, aftermarket design has become a caricature of hyper-stylized aggression. There was a time, however, when bodykits and wheels were subtly aggressive extensions of classic designs. This 325i sedan is exactly that, having received a bodykit, exhaust, wheels, and suspension that make it look more like an appetizing foreign model rather than a crazy tuner cartoon. Originally a Euro model that was imported to Japan and then Florida, it’s covered 43k miles on the road and nearly half that amount in shipping. The automatic is a bummer, but with so few miles and such beautifully restrained modifications it can be forgiven. The exhaust and suspension will help make the drive more exciting (as long as it doesn’t have the sad sound of good exhaust droning across an auto trans’ overly-smooth revs), and the bodykit and wheels will put a smile on any BMW fan’s face. Eventually a manual swap and some engine mods would help it keep up with its appearance, but for now it’s a very cool E30 that won’t break the bank.

Click for details: 1989 BMW 325i AC Schnitzer on eBay

1997 BMW M3 Sedan

Time to look at another infrequently selected color on a popular affordable enthusiast car! I’ve run through a few different shades of M3 Sedans recently and today another one graces our pages. It’s been a bit since we’ve looked at either Daytona Violet or the replacement Techno Violet Metallic but they’re hues I love to see every time. Unlike last week’s automatic Byzanz Metallic, this Techno Violet sedan is a sought after manual sedan and thankfully doesn’t have the rear spoiler which often looks clunky on the design. It’s also one of only a claimed 227 manual Techno Violet sedans:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 BMW M3 Sedan on eBay

1997 BMW M3 Sedan

It’s nice to back away from some of the more exotically priced cars from time to time and look at a more reasonably priced enthusiast car like the E36 M3. For under $10,000, you can still find some pretty good examples of the breed and they offer a lot of bang for the proverbial buck with plenty of aftermarket support and an enthusiastic community full of model-specific hacks. Let’s take a look at another wildly colored example that caught my eye this week – one of the claimed 88 Byzanz Metallic Sedans imported:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 BMW M3 Sedan on eBay

1988 BMW 320i

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Here’s a great example of the late-80s, pre-recession business-sedan side of the E30. We spend so much time looking at rare examples, 325ix tourings, tuned 325is, that the populist-yuppy nature of the breed can be forgotten. This Euro-spec 320i commuter model – 4 doors, 4-speeds selected for you – helped you fly through the HOV lane listening to the Scorpions with brisk confidence and understated good looks. BMW nailed the E30 so hard that even the plastic steelie wheel covers end up looking like the E34 M5 turbines done smaller and better.

This recently-imported German example has less than 18k miles – 28,000 kilometers on the GDM odometer. It may not be the best athlete of the family, but this perfect 320i is the attractive accountant.

Click for details: 1988 BMW 320i on eBay

1997 BMW M3 Sedan

One of my favorite new search criteria isn’t for a particular model, but I’ve taken to scanning the local Craigslist adds by the term “BMW manual”. It returns an interesting assortment of cars rather than a specific chassis; cars, SUVs, and motorcycles all fit the bill. And while truth told most of the cars that fit the criteria of a manual BMW are pretty tired and rusty E36, E46 and occasionally a 5 series or an outlying E30, once in a while something pretty nice stands out. An “El Corazon” in my Romancing the Stone search this week was this Boston Green M3/4/5:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1997 BMW M3 Sedan on Boston Craigslist