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.
Update 4/20/2018: After showing sold again at no reserve for $46,400, this 1991 M3 is back again on a new no reserve auction. Bidding is currently much lower, but I have a feeling that even if you’re the high mark at the end there might be shill bids involved here.
Update 3/28/2018: Although it was listed as no reserve and sold at $39,900, the 1991 M3 I looked at in February is back again on a no reserve auction. With a day to go, bids are already in excess of February’s auction. Will this one actually sell this time?
I’ll refrain from my typically verbose introductions, as even the few who only occasionally peruse our pages will need to hear about how, when, or why the E30 M3 came about. There’s not really much point in talking about the mechanicals, either – ‘S14’ has become nearly as recognizable as the chassis designation. Nor is this particular M3 a special edition, limited run, or race car. It’s not completely stock, it’s not perfect, it doesn’t have super low mileage, and it’s not the best color combination. No, there’s really only one reason to talk about this car. Price.
For a while it was only really outstanding M3s that were bringing big bucks. Pundits called it a bubble that was due to burst at any moment. I’m not here to say they’re wrong; it certainly does seem unsustainable. But, then, the U.S. economy also is pretty unsustainable if you boil it down to some basic facts, yet it seems to keep on rolling. And just two weeks ago another (albeit low mileage) example sold for $102,000. So today’s M3 is particularly interesting not because it’s the best or most rare example out there, but because it represents a much greater majority of the pool; cars that were driven and modified, even if only a bit, from their stock configuration. Yet unlike nearly all that are for sale today, the seller of this car has taken the brave step of testing what actual market value is:
So guess what caught my eye here? No surprise, if it’s a yellow M3, I’ll bite. This one grabbed my attention first because of the hue, then the price – just under $14,000 on a no reserve auction? Well, it must have a million miles rig….nope, not here. So it MUST be an SMG then, right? NO ONE wants a SMG because the moment you buy one they will murder you in your sleep and kick your dog and shut down the government (*according to actual internet comments I’ve seen). But nope, it’s a 6-speed manual.
But the more I looked at it, the more questions were raised. Why was no one bidding on this slick E46?
While the name “Evolution” become synonymous with Mitsubishi’s WRX-fighting Lancer for the X-Box generation, the term had much greater meaning for racing fans in the 1980s and 1990s. That was the period where homologation really took off; in order to be eligible to race, the FIA stipulated a certain amount of vehicles generally matching the race version of a car would have to be produced. This resulted in some great race-inspired production cars, and in order to best each other on the race track manufacturers would be forced to modify those cars. In order to have the modifications legal to race, the maker would have to introduce those significant changes to the road-going model, too. Those changed models would be termed “Evolution” to differentiate their model changes. As a result, enthusiasts ended up with ‘Evo’ versions of the Ford RS200, the V8 quattro, the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 and, of course, the M3.
The M3 Evolution I was first introduced in 1987 with only a slightly revised motor. The Evolution II followed in 1988, and signaled the first real changes in the lineup. Major alterations to the aerodynamics, bodywork, chassis, and engine netted more power, more downforce and less weight for the FIA-regulated 500 units sold to market. Iconic even within the impressive normal M3 production, these fan-favorites generate feverish bids when they come to market.
But there is an even more desirable variant: The Sport Evolution. BMW Motorsport GmbH maxed out its E30 development in an all-out attempt to dominate the world’s racetracks. A new 2.5 liter S14 cranked out nearly 240 horsepower, while the same ‘add lightness’ recipe was prescribed; lightweight glass and body panels were met with adjustable front and rear spoilers. Signature 7.5″ wide BBS wheels were now darker Nogaro Silver and 10mm closer to the body thanks to lower suspension, while special Recaro seats kept you firmly planted inside from the g-force they were capable of generating. It was as if BMW took all of the best aspects of the E30 and distilled it down into an even more pure form. Produced only in Jet Black or Brilliant Red, 600 of these super M3s were rolled out to fans and remain arguably the most desirable model in the run:
Some cars clearly have interesting stories associated with them. A few of those stories are very compelling; cars that have lived their entire lives with a single owner who lovingly lavished gifts of unfettered maintenance and weekly detailings. Other times is a car which has somehow beaten the odds, appearing in completely original and untouched condition.
But more often than not the stories make you want to run away. Perhaps it is an accident history, lack of detail, or high price – whatever the case, there’s reason to be suspicious. With that in mind I consider today’s M3. What initially caught my attention, obviously, is the color. Phoenix Yellow Metallic was not a standard color on the E9X chassis, so finding one in that shade must mean that it was a BMW Individual car, right? Well, that would make this car very, very rare. There were a total of 865 Individual colors for the E9X, and of those only 2 are recorded to be Phoenix Yellow. That’s right, there are more E46 models painted Phoenix Yellow by BMW Individual after the color was discontinued in March 2005.
On top of that, the car has Fox Red leather. Now, that combination may not be for
anyone everyone, but it certainly makes this car pretty special. Mileage, while not very low, also wasn’t outrageous. To add to the positives, there’s a host of Dinan upgrades and even disclosed maintenance. For all you DCT haters, it’s a 6-speed manual, too. And then there’s the price – $26,000. This car is into the same price bracket as prime E46 models. So, what gives?
Looking for a subtle performance sedan? Today’s not your day.
You probably haven’t heard of iDing Power, because odds are that if you’re reading this you don’t live in Japan. And even if you’re an afficiando of M3s, you’d probably dismiss this particular car as a M3 GTR replica for the street like I did. But this car is far more than that, and much more interesting.
The M3 GTR launched in 1994, and the United States did (technically) see it in the form of the Prototype Technology Group-run team in IMSA race series. The same year in Japan, iDing Power revealed the plans for their turned-up E36 M3. They had acquired an early production second generation model; production started for the E36 M3 in February, 1992 – and the particular example you see here was produced on February 3, 1993. iDing then added a plethora of unique touches, from upgraded suspension, wheels and brakes, special interior items, and some body modifications. By “some”, of course it’s hard to look past the W201 190E-Evo inspired rear wing and massive tacked-on flares. iDing also took the S50B30 European motor, rated at 286 horsepower stock, and modified it to a claimed 330 horsepower. iDing widebodies are pretty rare finds, but even among them this one is particularly special. With only 7,600 miles on the odometer, this example appears to be the original prototype and test car:
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?
As they had with the first generation, with the E36 BMW continued the tradition of chopping the top off its curb-hopping M3 to alter the character of the model substantially. The resulting “BK” models are the least produced of the second generation. In European form, some 3,800 were produced with a bulk of them heading to England starting in 1996. The U.S. model began production as the model’s run came to a close; in March 1998, the first of what would become 6,269 U.S. spec 3.2 M3 Convertibles rolled off the production lines in Regensburg. That meant the M3 outlasted normal E36 production, as if you walked into a dealer you’d find the all-new E46 model being sold along side these topless M3s. As they came towards the end of production, most of these M3s came as well-equipped as the E36 was available, and options included forged M-Double Spoke wheels and a removable hardtop. Extra bracing went in to stiffen the chassis, which resulted in a 10% weight penalty and slower performance – but I’d wager that wasn’t on most buyer’s minds. Of the just over 6,000 models sold here, the majority – about 60% at 4,017 – were sold with the 5-speed automatic. So today’s example is already in the minority; a last year example, it’s also a 5-speed. But to push it just that little more over the top, it’s also in the rare shade of 386 Fern Green Metallic:
It’s only been a little over a week since I last looked at an E30 M3. A 297,000 mile example with extensive rebuild work, it brushed up against $40,000 in bidding in the no reserve auction.
Clearly, M3 mania hasn’t died down all that much.
Sellers have taken note; at any given time, there are a plethora of E30 M3s available on the market. Today’s search yielded no less than eight examples on eBay; average asking price? About $64,000. But that’s nothing compared to the nine that Enthusiast Auto Group have, including no less than five Sport Evolutions. If you have to ask….
But not many sellers are laying it out on the line. If the market really is plum crazy for these cars, why are more people not rolling the dice and taking market value? For example, if a nearly 300,000 mile example hits the best part of $40,000, what would a much lower mile example bring?
We’re about to find out.
Speaking generally, there aren’t too many new cars that cross the pages of this site. It’s even somewhat rare for us to breach the decade-old mark; that’s the point where really nice used examples of our favorites start to become hard to locate. And, frankly since anyone can walk into a dealership, sign a few papers and walk out a lot lighter but with any specification car they can afford, the older metal is typically what draws our (and, hopefully, your) interest.
But once in a while something pretty special comes along, from a 911R to this car. The fifth generation F80 M3 has taken a huge leap forward in complexity, technology and performance. The S55 twin-turbocharged inline-6 is an absolute tower of power; while ultimate horses didn’t increase much version the E9x S65 V8 (425 versus 414), the torque was the big news. It was in part the final number – 410 lb ft., up an amazing 90 over the V8, but it was also the reality of when you could use that torque. The S65 developed peak twist at just shy of 4,000 rpms; the S55 does it at 1,850. Not only that, but the torque curve is billiard table flat until 5,500 rpm. The result, despite the heavy weight stature of the new gigantic F80, is astonishing speed.
By itself, the F80 M3 is a force to be reckoned with. However, this particular M3 is just that bit more special, as it was handed over the group at BMW Individual and painted in E46-signature Laguna Seca Blue: