The prospect sounded promising, but I was left feeling lackluster at best about the 750 mile 2001 BMW 330Ci I wrote up a few weeks ago. Sure, it was nice and that interior certainly was to die for; so, too, was the basically as-new condition. But the 5-speed automatic transmission, coupled with the outrageous $32,000 asking price, had me thinking there were better options out there. So if I was in the $30K range for an E46, what are my options?
Well, obviously there are plenty of M3s to check out any day of the week, and I’ll be looking at one soon enough. But when our reader John sent through this seriously impressive Alpina, I couldn’t help but take a look. The B3 isn’t a model we often look at; in fact, I’ve only reviewed on prior, and it was a E36 chassis. The E46 took an unusual route for Alpinas; rather than a blank-slate motor, the Buchloe company selected the S52B32 from the U.S. spec E36 M3 for their basis. It was bored and stroked to 3.3 liters, netting 280 horsepower. In 2002, the “S” version of the B3 was released, with a bit more bore and a revised engine management and exhaust system. This brought the power to 305, 0-60 plummeted to 5 seconds and with a 6-speed manual you could come close to hanging with the M3. Why buy one, then? Well, the looks were a bit more discrete overall, and you could buy not only a sedan and Touring version, but an all-wheel drive one as well. Today, though, we have a lovely Cabrio with the 6-speed manual to check out:
The E36 M3 is frequently regarded as the awkward middle child between the classic E30 and the accomplished, grown-up E46. As a result, it doesn’t usually command the kind of values attached to its older and younger siblings. But I think that one day, mint examples of these cars – which are increasingly thin on the ground – will be sought after as classics. The E36’s “dolphin” bodyshape marks an important transition point in BMW’s design history, as the angular lines of the 80s would begin to give way to the rounder, softer shapes of the late 90s and early 00s. The trademark four round headlights are still there, but now set back behind glass panels, and the dual kidneys are now more gently integrated into the front nose, all for the sake of aerodynamic efficiency. The M3, available during this period as a coupe, sedan and convertible, was externally distinguishable from the standard model range only by more aggressive front and rear valances, revised side skirts, and rounder side mirrors. But under the hood was a spritely and free-revving 3.2 liter inline six powerplant. Infamously down on power in comparison with the Euro market S50, the S52 motor in the US-spec car was nonetheless good for about 240 hp and, when combined with the lithe chassis and sharp manual transmission, made for a lively and fun car to drive. The E36 M3 may not have been an out-and-out track monster like its predecessor, but it was fast (for its time), practical and easy to live with on a day-to-day basis.