Lightweight mania continues, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re without options. You could try one of two things; on the one hand, you could buy a track-ratted, rusted, and incomplete factory example for about $18,000 in need of a total restoration.
Sound like a solid plan?
If not, you could consider this car. Now, first off, this car is NOT a real Lightweight. But it’s got the same body, the same color, Lightweight-style modifications, and while not hand-picked, the same drivetrain. It’s got some tasteful upgrades on the interior, too. And at the end of the day, it’s still an M3. To top it off, this tribute will set you back a bit over $1,000 less than the real-deal basket case that was on BaT last month. What’s the catch?
Okay, the messy M3 Lightweight was too much of a heavy lift, and the ’94 M-Design – while cool – really isn’t an M car. So where to look if you want a collector-grade E36 today?
Well, I think this is a good starting point. What at first glance may just seem like another silver M3 is revealed as something more special if you consider the date: 1994, in this case. Since there were no US ’94s, that automatically means it’s a European-specification car, with the stronger motor, better lights, and better brakes. Sweet! And it’s in the US already! Double sweet! Throw in that it’s got under 60,000 miles, Hurricane cloth Vaders, and an affordable entry price point (relative to some others we’ve looked at, at least) and this one seems a winner:
While I’m certainly not a particularly religious person, it’s hard not to accept the joy of an Easter egg hunt witnessed through the eyes of a child. Even in these trying times, its some semblance of normality lacking in the rest of our existence. But limiting such an egg hunt to children only seems unfair. And our reader John supplied us with quite the egg find today!
This purple Porsche eater comes from the hallowed halls of Buchloe and the storied company of Alpina. Normally Alpina takes ‘ordinary’ BMWs and transforms them in extraordinary performance machines. But in one case, they took a very special BMW and made it very….specialerer. Such is the case with the B6 3.5S. The 3.5S took all of the important bits of that made the 3.5 very unique and stuck them into an M3 chassis. That meant upgraded brakes, heavy-duty front springs, and the signature Alpina wheels coupled with the 3.5-liter M30 with high compression pistons, a special head and cam, and Alpina exhaust resulting in 254 horsepower. While just 219 B6s were produced, only 62 B6Ss were made. And this one is Daytona Violet!
‘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?
Looking for the sweet spot in M3 performance, practicality, and price? I think it might just be the E90 M3 Sedan. As clean E36 and E46 prices sharply rise and newer M3/4 prices sharply fall, the E9x curve seems to have turned into a plateau. Following on the heels of the popular S54-equipped model, BMW needed to step up its game. That step came in the move from 6- to 8-cylinders, as BMW Motorsport GmbH created 80% of a S85 V10. With over 400 horsepower on tap and 295 lb.ft of torque, the S65 represented a healthy increase over the S54. As with the E46, a Convertible (E93) and Coupe (E92) version were available, but BMW also reintroduced us to the M3 Sedan.
In my eyes, these are the ones to get. The M3 Sedan is quite a bit more rare than the Coupe; 5,867 were sold versus 15,997 2-doors. Of those, over 50% were either Jet Black, Jerez Black or Alpine White â€“ so one with a bit of color is always great to see. Here we have one of the 483 pre-LCI Silverstone Metallic (A29) Sedans with NDH2 extended Novillo Fox Red leather and the all-important third pedal:
You and a million plus of your internet friends love the E46 M3. With a high-revving naturally-aspirated inline-6, near perfect weight distribution and timeless looks, how could you not? So how to stand apart from the crowd? Well, this ’05 might be just the right ticket. First, you’d want to source one of the elusive BMW Individual examples. Like Porsche’s Paint to Sample, these were custom-ordered Ms with near limitless options, and the E46 was the first to really exploit this before it was the popular trend. 58 Coupes were optioned in E36-spec Estoril Blue Metallic for the U.S. market, and admittedly it looks great on the newer generation too. This one goes one step farther with M Texture Anthracite Alcantara that is very infrequently seen in the modern Ms. Not done yet, it was opted with a 6-speed manual to sooth the Internet’s fears. For good measure the ZCP Competition Package was ticked on the order sheet. And to scare everything else on the road, it was then sent to Dinan where just about every conceivable option was fit. The resultant supercharged S3-R package was good for 462 horsepower. The seller describes this combination as a unicorn, and it’s pretty hard to argue with that assessment.
Over the past year, the E46 M3 market has really started to take off. Back in 2015 it was unusual to break $25,000, but over the past year several have broken double that amount and one bonkers bidding war ended up at $90,000. Have all ships been lifted? That’s hard to say, but certainly more are coming to market in very good to excellent condition and fetching big dollars. As always, collectors are looking for something a bit unusual and BMW Individual-toned cars are hot items. Prior auctions have also shown that big bids won’t be reserved only for pristine original examples, as the top auction draw was a modified car.
So today we’re back with an obviously modified car in an unusual color for the chassis – Dakar Yellow. It’s got the “right” transmission and the subframe has been reinforced too, and the asking price doesn’t seem all that outrageous. So what’s the rub?
Update 10/18/19: This Euro-spec M3 sold for $26,900!
For some time, there was a giant gulf in between European-spec cars and U.S. spec cars. Granted, part of that divide still exists today if the large assortment of cars that do not make it to these shores, but at least enthusiasts can rejoice that at last – for the most part – performance versions that are available in Germany are very close to the same that we receive here. One of the last notable cars to exhibit the large divide was the E36 M3; while Europeans enjoyed over 280 horsepower from the individual throttle body S50B30 in 1992, the later released U.S. spec M3 carried an entirely different motor with some 40 horsepower less. Though the S50B30US is certainly a great motor by itself, the knowledge that the “better” version existed across the pond somehow took a bit of legitimacy away from it. Also differentiating the European versions were better floating rotor brakes, better glass headlights, better lower and stiffer suspension, and some neat interior options. Later Euro E36s got even more power and the optional SMG 1 transmission or a 6-speed manual – none of which came here.
But if you fall into “the U.S. version of the E36 M3 is garbage” camp, you don’t have to scream at the internet for ‘forum cred’ anymore as early versions of the Euro cars are now fully legal for import – and they’re surprisingly affordable:
Update 11/8/19: This neat ZCP M3 sold for $20,800.
Among potential future classics, few shine quite as bright as the E46 M3. As a car that’s (currently) affordable and still fairly new, the E46 M3 offers performance levels few sports cars reach. It’s also one of the last BMWs mere mortals can work on, the last offering of the S54 motor before the M division switched to twin-turbocharged inline-6s and V8s. To some, the E46 was a mass-produced marketing tool; but to me, the E46 M3 corrected many of the perceived faults of the E36 M3. Of course, the motor was a large part, but outside the M3 was now really set off by flares, quad exhausts, bulges, gaping intakes and vents that really made it look as special as it was. Denied the CSL, for U.S. customers the most special of the breed were the late run ZCP “Competition Package” cars like today’s Interlagos Blue example.
The ZCP Competition Package added quite a few special details to an already special car for the end of the run. Cross-drilled front brakes were enlarged and lighter thanks to a two-piece design and hid behind spun-cast BBS RC wheels. Those wheels measured 19″ x 8″ in front and 9.5″ out back and not only managed to look more menacing, but were lighter than the Style 67 18″ standard wheels despite being larger. Turning those wheels was a quicker steering rack spun by an Alcantara wheel and containing a special “M” track-mode with revised software for the stability control. The ZCP package also had the aforementioned Interlagos Blue Metallic (A30) as its signature color and specific code ZCP milled aluminum effect interior trim. Reportedly, Interlagos could not even be ordered through BMW Individual – if you liked the color, you had to get the Competition Package. While the same S54B32 as standard production lay under the hood, the 333 horsepower screamer wasn’t exactly a bad thing. 2,410 ZCPs were sold in the U.S., with 843 of them being Interlagos – making for not only a great driver, but an instant collector:
Having not really checked in on E30 M3 pricing lately, I decided to take a gander this week. The situation has not improved. Pristine examples are still asking north of $80,000. If you want one on a budget that’s no reserve, there’s a rusty example with little documentation and 200,000 miles with a wrecked interior for…$20,000 so far. That’s pretty insane for a car that needs a full mechanical and cosmetic restoration, because that money gets you into a pristine E36 or E46 and you’re knocking on the door of the E92s, too.
So I’m taking a different path today. Let’s say you want a collector-grade car but don’t want something old. Well, as I’ve mentioned previously there are a lot of special edition M3s out there. One that quietly slipped through in 2017 was the 30 Jahre Edition of the M3 Sedan. Built on a Competition Package base, the 30 Jahre added Macao Blue Metallic over full Merino leather in Black/Fjord Blue from BMW Individual. The exterior trim was treated to BMW’s high gloss Shadowline treatment and there were plenty of special badges to go around both inside and out. For the 150 out of 500 produced sent to the U.S. market, these cars came equipped with the Driver Assistance Plus Package and LED lights. With the boost turned up on the S55 and hooked to the dual clutch, the 444 horsepower was good for 3.8 second sprints to 60. Check that box for the DCT, and you were $86,150 lighter in the wallet – about the same ask as that E30 I posted earlier. So what does one of these limited models set you back today?