‘E36 M3s are garbage‘
You know you’ve seen the internet comments, probably more than once. Odds are, people saying that don’t own or haven’t owned a M3 at all, and more than likely even if they do, they haven’t owned an E36. But there was some weight behind the claim that in some regards the US-market E36 M3 was the least M3ish of all of the generations, and generally speaking they’ve remained the cheapest. That is, all except for one.
The Lightweight was a 1995 homologation special model with aluminum doors, a sport suspension, a shorter rear axle ratio, and an adjustable aerodynamic package. Deleted was the air conditioning, sunroof, and radio as well as some sound deadening, and rumor has it that the S50s were hand-picked for each of the 126 produced. These have been steadily climbing in price, and last year I was pretty shocked to see the asking price of one I looked at crack $100,000. But I don’t think anyone was ready for the results of the ex-Paul Walker group of five in January. If you weren’t paying attention, two hit $220,000, then $242,000, then $258,000. But the gem was the super low-mileage example that hammered for an absolutely astonishing $358,000 after premium. Mouth firmly agape yet?
So it’s no surprise that some of the lesser examples have come out of the woodwork, and this might be the lesser of the lesser. It’s a tired, slightly rusty, blown motor example – but it’s all there, and ready to be restored. What’s the ask?
It’s a bit amazing to consider that two of the most significant halo cars in German motoring history – both homologation models intended to lead their respective marques into the next decade – so closely paralleled each other, yet were so very different. It’s but a 35 minute train ride between Munich and Ingolstadt, and in the late 1970s both BMW and Audi wanted a range-topping model to grab attention. But their approaches were radically different. BMW designed a bespoke mid-engine, tube-frame supercar around a basic engine design it already had. Audi, on the other had, took a basic car design it already had and added a revolutionary drivetrain.
Both were styled by Giugiaro. Both had to be built out-of-house; Baur had a hand in each. Both had legendary engineers – Walter Treser and Roland Gumpert for Audi, Jochen Neerpasch at BMW. Both raced, though the series they were intended for were ultimately cancelled. Both launched a brand name – BMW’s M division, and Audi’s quattro (and later quattro GmbH). And today, both are both legends and highly sought by collectors. So today we have an interesting showdown; two prime examples have come to market and are nearly the exact same price. Of course, for that to occur the Audi entrant is the ‘ultimate’ evolution of the Quattro, the Sport model. So let’s put aside the ridiculous $700,000 plus asking prices of each of these cars for a moment, and consider – all things being equal (which they nearly are!), which one would you choose? Let’s start with the M1:
For years we’ve banged on about the E34 M5, a conundrum of the M lineup. It’s got all the right DNA to be a classic, yet like the similar 944 Turbo has generally languished in value compared to similar products. That may sound like a broken record on these pages, but it’s a tune which is both catchy and sweet-sounding for BMW fans because it means they’re getting more car for their money. They’ve got plenty of the right ingredients – the last of the individual throttle body S38 motors producing 315 horsepower, Motorsport details throughout, a great subtle look which still is commanding of respect, supreme road manners and limited numbers – only 1,678 were imported. It’s the right recipe for a future classic. This chassis is still generally overlooked compared to the E28 and E39 models, but those that have spent some time behind the wheel of these well engineered, hand-built Q-Ships proclaim they’re one of the best BMW products made. Recent market activity in since 2016 has started to remix the tune, though, and E34s have been on the rise. Hagerty currently places top value on 1991 M5s at over $70,000 – steep sounding given what many traded for over the last few years, but perhaps more in line with their legendary build quality and performance especially when considering their siblings. So let’s see what a top value M5 looks like today:
Update 1/31/2019: The seller has relisted this M1 now at $695,000 – nearly $200,000 down from last Spring, but probably still ahead of the market.
Update 7/29/18: After listing in May at $875,000, the seller has dropped the price to $725,000 – still high for the model, but not as far out of line. Will it sell this time around?
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:
There are a few strange similarities between yesterday’s 1987 Volkswagen Scirocco 16V and today’s subject – the much more elusive and legendary BMW M1. Both were sporty cars developed from more pedestrian beginnings. Both featured high-revving dual-overhead cam motors. But the interesting part comes in the sublet of construction, and the design. Both have links to Giugiaro, but both also borrowed heavily from other designs.
In an article I penned for The Truth About Cars last year, 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.
I’m always a fan of the showdown posts; no surprise, since I think I’m the only one who does them here! While it’s nice to highlight one car at a time, I’m just a fan of the opportunity costs; considering what my money could go towards otherwise. Plus, though we see comparisons of new cars in magazines and online fora, it’s not often that we have comparos including nearly 40 year old cars. While I usually highlight this type of comparison in my 10K Friday posts, today is a bit different and I believe the first time I have a showdown on Tuner Tuesday. I’ve rounded up a quintet of neat cars that are all modified from stock by some of the most famous tuners of the 1980s; which is the winner?
Though they’re the juggernaut of BMW performance today, the reality is that there were quite a few stumbling blocks and it took many years for BMW Motorsport GmbH to establish themselves as the benchmark for German performance. Though many consider the M1 the genesis of BMW M, in fact the brand was born nearly a decade earlier with the introduction of the 3.0 CSL. The high performance E9 was built together with BMW’s competition department, a relationship which ultimately resulted in the birth of BMW’s Motorsport division. A few years later, the new entity would give birth to an equally legendary creation, the 2002 Turbo. But when it came to the first car to carry the “M” badge, it was of course the legendary M1 with its motorsport derived M88/1 double overhead cam inline six screaming in the middle of the car. You’d think this recipe carried over immediately to the sedan range, but that was not immediately the case. First, BMW produced the M535i in the E12 chassis. Though the E28 model of the same designation was mostly an appearance package, the E12 model was turned up over the rest of the range – but not with the M88; BMW instead relied on the M30 to power the M535i. Then, there was a year where nothing happened; the M1 was out of production, the E12 was replaced by the E28, and ostensibly BMW had no real performance models. That was remedied at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show, where a juiced up version of the 635CSi was offered. It was labeled the M635CSi; but unlike the M535i, under the hood wasn’t the venerable M30 that powered the normal 635CSi. In its place, the Motorsport division decided to slot the M88, now with /3 designation; the result was 286 horsepower – a staggering figure at the time, considering that the contemporary Porsche 930 was considered fairly bonkers with a little over 300 horsepower and though it looked much larger, the early E24s only weighed about 200 lbs. more than the Porsche. Coupled with some aerodynamic tweaks, heavier duty suspension, brakes and larger wheels and tires, the result was the menacing presence worthy of the nickname “Shark”. For all intents and purposes, this was really the first “M” car for the masses:
While Touring Car fans are widespread (after all, we can interpret NASCAR as a form of Touring Cars, right? crickets chirp in the distance), it seems that every fan has their favorite era. For some, it’s the wild wings and gold BBS wheels from the 1970s that defined production-based racers. For others, the winged warriors from the 1980s and early 1990s are the best era; after all, we get the M3 and 190E 2.5-16 Evolution from those generations. I have to admit that my personal favorite touring car has to be the V8 quattro that was won the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft in 1990 and 1991 is my favorite because Audi just did things differently. They took their largest car, kept some luxury details like the wood trim, and stomped on both BMW and Mercedes-Benz with their lightened luxury liner. But although there was some stellar racing from some superstars of the 1980s in the DTM around then, it’s not personally my favorite period. For that, I’d have to move up towards the mid-1990s, when even more companies like Nissan, Opel and Renault joined Audi and BMW at the front of race series like the British Touring Car Championship. I watched in awe as pilots like championship-winning Frank Biela rubbed doorhandles with the Alain Menu, Matt Neil and John Cleland. And who could forget Rickard Rydell, the Super Swede piloting the 850 wagon replete with inflatable dog in the back? It gave the series more character; you genuinely weren’t sure who would win any day the flag fell, and that made for some great watching. Today, two stars from that period are for sale and allow us the rare opportunity to get into a touring car – if you have the means:
After failing to sell at auction for the estimated $600,000 – $800,000 projection, the AHG Studie modified M1 is back and now on eBay. Bidding as of writing is sitting around $300,000 – a steal for even a poor condition M1 these days. While it’s not likely to remain there or meet reserve, it will be interesting to see where the pricing ends up!
The below post originally appeared on our site July 29, 2014:
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – I generally try to stay away from the E30 crowd, mostly because I really don’t think the current values on the M3 are justified. For under $10,000, it was a great track car. For under $20,000, it was a great occasional driver and memory of fun times in the DTM. At $30,000, it starts to become a show car that you’re not willing to drive to the store. Past that, it’s pure speculation and there seems to be no end in sight. Likely, that won’t be the case but if the Hemi bubble taught us anything it is that there will always be something new for people to latch on to. Of course, I watched a Mecum auction this past weekend and saw a Hemi Barracuda hammer for a few million dollars, so I guess the market on those cars still hasn’t returned to anything resembling normal.
Will the E30 M3 drop back down? Well, it can’t stay on this trajectory for long, that’s for sure. Cars have tripled in value in the past two years, a trend which is simply unsustainable. They’re no longer values – they’ve become the absolute top of the 1980s BMW market outside of the ultra-exclusive M1. And why? Don’t get me wrong, the E30 M3 is a cool car. But exclusive? They made 16,000 of them, for goodness sake. Compare that to some other notable BMWs – 450-odd M1s, about the same amount of pre-war 328s, or 250 507s. To put that even into more perspective, BMW made only about 6,000 E24 M6s and a scant 2200 E28 M5s. Rarity isn’t on the side of the M3, but few have ever accused the automobile market or enthusiasts with any sense of sanity, so the climb continues. Now, in my mind there are some E30 M3s that deserve the attention and loftier prices, and the Evolution models have to be one of the most deserving. With a touch more power and a little less weight, the M3 Evolution was closer to it’s track-winning relatives than the standard production M3. As they only made 500 of each run, they’re rare to see – but the market is such that for some who got in at the right time, they’ve reached their stop on the crazy train: