The M635CSi somehow gets lost among the other greats of the period from BMW. Perhaps, for U.S. fans, it’s the nomenclature that’s confusing. After all, there was a M1, an M3, and a M5, but when it came to the M version of the E24, BMW stuck with the moniker M635CSi in all markets but the United States and Japan. Confounding that decision was the launch of the E28 M535i. Like the M635CSi, it had additional body pieces, special interior trim and wheels from M-Technic. But while the M535i had a fairly normal M30 under the hood, the E24 received the full-fat M88/3 that was shared with the M5. Like the European M5 production started in 1984, well before they were available to U.S. customers. But while the M5 only sold in very sparse numbers over its short production cycle (about 775 sold in Europe between 1984 and 1987), the M635i was a relative hit, with just over 3,900 selling overall – far more than made it the U.S. market. Additionally, the European models were a slightly more pure form of the design; smaller bumpers, less weight, and about 30 more horsepower on tap without catalyst.
Back in February, I looked at a group of M6s with asking prices all over the map. True, some M6s have sold for big numbers and there’s one looking like it may hit $100,000 this week. But they’ve all been pristine original U.S. examples with very low mileage. Today we have a moderate mileage, lightly modified European M635CSi in an offbeat color (for the M6), so how does the price sit?
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: