Let’s say you want to start a car collection, and for ease of argument’s sake, let’s say you’re really into BMWs. Which is the model you want? You could be a 507 enthusiast, love the classic 3.0 CSL or 2002, envy every E30 or lust over the modern muscle the company produces. But odds are if you’re reading these pages you, like me, gravitate towards BMW’s Motorsport models.
Within the Pantheon of classic models, there then comes the difficult decisions. How do you choose between the E30 M3 and the 1M, for example? Well, Enthusiast Auto Group has a suggestion. Why not have them both? Or, even better, why not assemble all of the greatest hits from BMW’s M division over the past 40 years and put them together into one curated, turn-key package?
Continuing on the theme of defacto M cars started with the South African 745i, today let’s look at the much more famous example of the 850CSi. I came of driving age during the reign of the E31, and I still remember magazines taunting that the ‘M8’ would soon be with us. Of course, it never came – at least, not until today. But we still did get an E31 breathed upon by the Motorsports division in the spectacular 850CSi.
Like the SA 745i, the heart of the CSi was a special “S” motor. In this case, BMW Motorsport GmbH took the M70 and beefed it up seriously. Bored out to 5.6 liters and with compression bumped up and revised electronic programing, the resulting S70 took BMW’s V12 from 296 horsepower to 372 with 420 lb.ft of torque on tap. Macht schnell, indeed! But there were a host of other changes; offered only with a manual 6-speed gearbox, the CSi also got a quicker steering rack, Euro M5 brakes, shorter and stiffer springs, and M System II ‘Throwing Star’ 17″ staggered wheels. A new body kit made the elegant E31 look much more menacing, too. Europeans even had the option of 18″ M Parallels and, amazingly, 4-wheel steering.
In 1994, this car cost almost $110,000. Today that’s nothing, as you can spec a special-order M3 up to that amount. But back then? That was nearly the price of three M3s. These super coupes have never really come down in price, as like their contemporary the 928GTS, they have maintained an aura of unobtainium and sacredness to a generation of motoring enthusiasts. With only 225 brought stateside, perhaps it’s worth considering importing this one?
Update 10/15/18: This M3 Convertible sold for $22,100.
Like yesterday’s base 944, the M3 Convertible isn’t a car I spend a lot of time on. However, the recipe is hard to argue with; you get the beautiful lines of the E46 mated to the sonorous S54 with limitless sky over your head at the touch of a button. When this car was new, it was the fastest production 4-seat convertible available, though at nearly $60,000 it was hardly cheap. Fast forward to today, and it’s generally become the cheapest way to experience BMW’s gem of a motor in the ultimate development of the naturally aspirated inline-6.
Though I don’t write of them often, I do keep my eye on them from time to time. And today’s particular 2003 is a very special package. Presented in 400 Steel Gray Metallic over N5ZM Cinnamon leather, visually this car is quite a looker. Inside you’ll find a 6-speed manual, too, and a scant 34,866 miles on the odometer. Oh, and the auction is no reserve, too:
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:
When I first came across this car, just like with Rob’s GT3 yesterday I was pretty sure I’d seen it before. The 1994 BMW 325iS M-Design was produced in very limited numbers, and this one was for sale after another I wrote up fairly recently with similar miles:
Diet M3: 1994 BMW 325is M-Design
However, a quick check of the VINs revealed they’re different chassis; this one is 386, produced 52 prior to the last one we looked at (438). So let’s refresh ourselves on what made the M-Design 3-series special.
Basically, this car was the precursor to the U.S.-spec M3. BMW teased its release with an American version of the Clubsport Coupe; you got the M-Tech body kit, mirrors, steering wheel and shift knob, along with the Anthracite M cloth (0506) and an Alpine White exterior. BMW equipped BBS RC 2-piece wheels with forged centers too. In all, it made for a pretty package even if it was no more potent than a standard E36. Fans claim only 150 were imported which seems about right, though BMW doesn’t have official importation numbers.
Last time around, though the condition was very good the general consensus was that an actual M3 was a better deal at the asking price. How about today?
As I mentioned in the M635CSi post recently, some of the confusion about these “M” branded models came from the nomenclature between the E24 and E28. While the M6 and M5 co-existed in the United States market, they did not in Europe. This left the M635CSi to be the equivalent of the M6. But the same was not true of the M535i. This model was sold as a more affordable alternative to the M5; most of the look of the Motorsports model but without the bigger bills associated with the more exotic double overhead cam 24 valve M88/3. Instead, you got a 3.4 liter M30 under the hood just like the rest of the .35 models. The recipe was a success, selling around 10,000 examples in several different markets – but never in the U.S..
Instead, the U.S. market received the 535iS model. The iS model was specific to the North American market and gave you the look of the U.S.-bound M5, with deeper front and rear spoilers, M-crafted sport suspension and sport seats. It, too, was quite popular – between 1987 and 1988, just over 6,000 examples sold in the United States alone, and of those, a little more than half were the preferred manual variant. One of the nice aspects of the 535iS was that if you enjoyed colors other than black you were able to order the lesser model in any shade you wanted, unlike the M5.
Today’s 535iS is a bit special, as it’s combined the two models into one in an exhaustive recreation of a European market M535i starting with a Zinnoberrot 535iS:
As the E30 remains unreachable and E46 pricing quickly heads upwards, the E36 remains a slightly less-appreciated alternative that is affordable for most enthusiasts. While it’s still possible to find wrecks of the popular chassis for only a few thousand dollars, if you’re willing to spend a bit more you can still find reasonably priced and clean examples. Admittedly, the pool is drying up as speculating vultures start to circle what was once an oasis of cheap speed. But this early ’95 in a fetching (and rare) color combination is more than just a distant mirage:
For some time, critics have claimed that the E36 chassis was just too prolific and not special enough to be considered by collectors. They weren’t built well enough, they didn’t have the pedigree of the E30 or the power of the E46, and since you could buy one on your local Craigslist for $5,000 (less, sometimes!), why the hell would you pay a premium for one?
It’s been about a year and a half since we last looked at a M3 Lightweight. The ask was $90,000 on a model with below 30,000 miles, and it was no surprise that for many that ask was far too strong, though I suggested opportunities like that weren’t going to come along every day. In that time, we’ve seen some big numbers start to roll in for special E36 variants, like the $65,000 Canadian Edition M3. But all expectations on the E36 market, and especially those on the Lightweight model, were thrown out the window this past March when a lower mile, all original example came up for auction at Amelia Island.
The price? After hot bidding and when the hammer finally fell, it hit $145,750. I was astounded, even though for years I’d been claiming these cars would increase in value in the not too distant future. What does that number mean for the rest of the run?
What is the price for perfection? That’s a difficult question to answer, but increasingly when it comes to 1980s cars, the level of preservation, originality and lower miles in low-production, desirable models has translated into quite an exacting price. Yet while lofty asking prices have become the norm on many of the hottest performance models from the 1980s, are their figures always justified?
While BMW Motorsport GmbH has a lengthy reputation for conceiving and building some of the most legendary icons of the 1980s, since their inception they’ve also had their hand in clever badge-engineered products intended to bring the magic of M to a larger audience. Starting with the E12 in the 1970s and continuing through today, first to hit the market was the “M535i”. Effectively, these were standard 5-series models with M-Technic bits added for a splash of style, but they lacked the higher-performance “S” (or M88/3, in the case of the M5) motors of their more potent siblings. But they certainly looked the part, with hunkered-down exteriors with deep chin spoilers, side skirts and rear valance and spoiler. Special M-Technic wheels were added to the E28 model which channeled aspects of the M1’s Campagnolo design coupled with hints of the original 1972 Turbo concept wheels. Inside a sport interior was met with more M-Tech details. Just as today, though mechanically these cars were appearance packages rather than performance-oriented, they’re nonetheless quite special indeed: