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The Ultimate E36 M3 Buyers Guide: What You Need to Know Before You Buy

Updated: Mar 31


Estoril Blue E36 M3 Evo Saloon


Perennially the unloved M3, the E36 is regarded as the weak link in the M3 lineage by enthusiasts, sandwiched between the E30 and E46 high watermarks. But that’s like being the least talented member of the Beatles, or the least attractive Victoria’s Secret model. The E36 M3 is still a performance car worthy of your time, however, buyers be warned - early E36’s are now thirty years old so there is a lot to consider if one is on your shopping list.


E36 M3 BUYERS GUIDE: INTRODUCTION

The E36 differed in many ways from its E30 predecessor. The first M3 car to feature the now signature straight six engine, the E36 is a more refined sporting GT with broader appeal than its race-bred predecessor. No constant homologation occurred to reign supreme in the DTM, and the M division was very open about the duality of the E36’s “racing technology in a car design for everyday use”. The E36 took the M3 mainstream.


The motoring media did not take kindly to BMW's change in philosophy, with many journalists pining for the agility and focus of the beloved E30 M3. History would prove BMW was more in touch with its customer base, as the greater refinement of the E36 led to an explosion in sales - the new car significantly outsold its predecessor, with a total of 71,000 E36 M3s rolling down the production line between 1992 and 1999.


Note - we are confident this is one of the most detailed E36 BMW M3 buyers guides available - the article runs to 5,500 words. We appreciate that you may be looking for something more specific, so we have included handy navigation links for your convenience;



What to look for;


Buying considerations;



E36 M3 3.0 Dakar Yellow
E36 M3 3.0 Dakar Yellow
E36 M3 3.0 Dakar Yellow


TECHNICAL HIGHLIGHTS

The core to the E36’s appeal was its world-class straight six engine, which replaced the race-bred, four-cylinder S14 utilised by the E30 M3. Designated S50, the new engine was derived from the 2.5-litre M50 straight six of the three and five series but featured extensive modifications.


With the capacity upped to 3 litres, the new engine featured individual throttle bodies and for the first time, introduced BMW's constantly variable valve timing on the intake camshaft, dubbed VANOS. The valvetrain also received bucket and shim-style solid lifters. Other modifications included a ported and polished cylinder head, a 10.8:1 compression ratio, Bosch Motronic 3.3 engine management system and a free-flowing exhaust system. This was mated to a five-speed manual transmission with a dual mass flywheel, driving the rear wheel via a (25 % locking) limited-slip differential.


The engine was good for 286 bhp at 7,000 rpm, meaning the performance took one giant leap for M-kind, with the 0-60 sprint dispatched in less than six seconds and a top speed limited to 155 mph. Despite such high performance, the S50 is ultra smooth and responsive, sounds fantastic when stretched, yet disappears into the background on a long journey. It is a fantastic all-round performance car engine.


Chassis-wise, the M3 featured BMW's trademark 50:50 weight distribution with a sophisticated multi-link ‘Z’ axle at the rear, with MacPherson struts up front. Compared to the regular 3-series, the M3 was lowered by 31mm with a wider track, firmer dampers and springs, thicker anti-roll bars and revised geometry.



E36 M3 Evolution Cabriolet in Boston Green


ALTERNATIVE BODY STYLES

Sadly there was no E36 M3 Touring, but alongside the coupe - which accounted for over two thirds of sales - from 1994 BMW sold the M3 various three series body shells;


Cabriolet:

All the better to hear that straight six. A shame the additional body strengthening added significant weight, blunting performance and handling. Loss of the Vader seats is the ultimate insult.


Saloon:

BMW decided the saloon should be pitched at the more comfort oriented customer, bizarrely deciding to equip the car with wooden trim. The four door body shell was also slightly less rigid than its coupe counterpart, meaning BMW decided to back off the spring rates a fraction. For some, this actually resulted in a sweeter driving experience. BMW also chose to fit the car with the 17” “Throwing Star” alloys from the E34 M5. Sadly, like the cabriolet, the saloon also deleted the wonderful Vader bucket seats, but a de-badged saloon in a dark hue has huge Q-car appeal. 


Compact:

A car that only ever existed in prototype form, BMW instead opted to build an M version of the Z3 roadster, but what a legendary hot hatch an M3 Compact would have been.



E36 M3 Evo Saloon Estoril Blue


E36 M3 EVOLUTION

In September of 1995, BMW introduced the E36 Evo to the European market, featuring an enhanced version of the straight six, commonly known as the S50B52. Engine capacity was now 3.2-litres courtesy of a bigger bore and increased stroke, while VANOS was now applied to both the intake and exhaust camshafts (dual-VANOS) and the compression ratio was also increased to 11.3:1. The Engine Management System was switched to the more powerful Siemens MSS50, which used three knock sensors. The rev limiter of the enhanced straight six was also raised from 7,200 rpm to 7,400 rpm. 


The changes upped the horsepower ante to 321 bhp, making the E36 Evo the first naturally aspirated production car to produce 100 bhp/litre, a feat shared with the McLaren F1. The torque output was also massaged, increasing to 258 lb-ft at 3,250 rpm (up from 236 lb-ft at 3,950 rpm). BMW also endowed the Evolution with a new six speed gearbox for enhanced cruising refinement and fuel efficiency. In 1997, the M division debuted the SMG I gearbox, an automated manual transmission which received mixed reviews.



E36 M3 Evo 3.2 straight six


At the time, the 321 bhp made the M3 Evolution BMW's fastest ever accelerating car, a dominion usually reserved for the flagship M5. In their road test, Autocar managed to record a 0-60 mph time of 5.3s and an impressive 12.2s 0-100mph time - dusting all rivals and even beating their recorded results for a Porsche 911 Carrera (993) by over a second. 


Alongside the new engine, the Evo received several noteworthy handling upgrades. The suspension and geometry was revised, featuring an increased front caster, firmer springs, and dampers. The hubs were strengthened, and the front anti-roll bars were connected to the struts to reduce weight. 


Additionally, a quicker steering ratio was implemented. Unlike the 3.0, this time around both the Saloon and Coupé models shared the same suspension setup, ensuring consistent performance characteristics. The braking system maintained the same size, but the Evo was equipped with two-piece ‘floating’ discs at the front, enhancing braking capabilities - BMW’s marketing department boasted of the M3s ability to brake from 62 mph to a standstill in 2.7 seconds.


COSMETIC CHANGES

So subtle are the cosmetic changes between the 3.0 and 3.2, it really is a case of spot the difference. The most obvious giveaway is the famous clear indicator lenses, first seen on AC Schnitzer touring cars before being adopted by the M Division. Many 3.0 owners were fans of the new look, retro-fitting parts, so you need to don your anorak and look for the more subtle clues. 


First up are fractionally more streamlined kidney grills, followed by the mesh covering the lower valence sprayed in black, rather than body colour. Next up, the signature sunflower alloys now had a polished surface finish, with the ten spoke version now coming in an identical design to the (previously an optional extra) five spokes. On the 3.0, the original ten spokes are much subtler. 



E36 M3 Evo alloys
E36 M3 Evo boot spoiler


Another optional extra was also tweaked - the rear boot spoiler, which again featured a near identical design, but one which cleaved into the air a few millimetres higher. The black “BMW Motorsport” insert was also deleted in favour of an additional rear brake light. It is also thought that the later car rode a few mm higher than the 3.0, however ultimately it’s actually far easier to look for the mechanical changes of the higher rpm limit or sixth ratio. Both gear knobs offered that geeky touch of M class by lighting up whenever the headlights were active. For the super anoraks, the 3.0 featured the M tricolour in the top left hand corner, whereas the Evo placed an M badge in the middle of the H-pattern display. 


One change can only be spotted via magnet - when introduced, the Evo featured aluminium doors, saving 15kg a side from the kerb weight, however these were soon quietly dropped as they were deemed too expensive by the bean counters.


3.0 desirable colours

Avus Blue

Daytona Violet

Dakar yellow for the brave


Desirable optional Extras;

  • Sunroof

  • Upgraded, forged 5-spoke “sunflower” alloys with 7.5” & 8.5” staggered widths

  • Rear boot spoiler

  • Leather seats


3.2 Evolution desirable colours

Estoril Blue

Techno Violet

Boston Green



WHAT TO LOOK FOR 

E36 M3 Evolution 3.2 engine


ENGINE & VANOS

The S50 is well regarded as a very tough unit - especially in 3.0 single-VANOS format, which could stake a claim to being the most reliable BMW M engine of all time. Being chain driven, there are no concerns over cambelt changes and accurate timing issues. Some higher mileage examples may consume oil at a higher rate than anticipated, however this is typically a minor concern and can vary depending on individual engines. Regularly monitoring oil levels and performing timely oil changes can help mitigate potential issues.


Water pump failure is a confusing topic in the E36 M3 universe. Go online and you’ll see horror stories relating to floating or failing impellers causing all sorts of catastrophes if they travel a millimetre past 60,000 miles. But if you scrutinise the web address, you might notice each one ends in dot com - the plague of the water pump appears to be a problem exclusively related to the US-spec E36 M3, who’s pump features a plastic impeller. Euro-spec cars feature a metallic impeller that’s far more robust.


The 3.2 Evo however, does have one well known weakness - the dual VANOS system. Alongside Honda’s famous VTEC, VANOS was pioneering variable-valve-timing technology. The system was highly complex and to truly understand it you need a degree in mechanical engineering or be Einstein reincarnated, but we’ll try and give you an outline as it's a major component that can affect engine performance or be mis-diagnosed. To quote BMW - oil pressure, regulated by solenoids, acts on pistons, which in turn move gears in and out of a cup. These gears have helical teeth and as the angled gears move in and out, these angled teeth change the angle of the camshaft, advancing or retarding the timing. 


This gave BMW more precise control over the opening and closing of the valves over the entire RPM range, resulting in much improved response, performance and emissions. Dirty, clogged, or improperly functioning VANOS solenoids will have a significant impact on horsepower, fuel efficiency and the overall driveability of the M3. 


The problem with VANOS is there are no obvious, sudden symptoms to warn you - failure is gradual, meaning it can be difficult to detect any erosion in performance. The biggest clues centre around a rough idle, with the engine exhibiting noticeable vibrations or fluctuations in RPM when at a standstill. Alongside this, the car will likely suffer from hesitation or stumbling during wide open throttle - especially under 4,000rpm.



E46 M3 S54 dual VANOS
E46 M3 Dual VANOS illustration


A malfunctioning VANOS unit can also contribute to increased fuel consumption. The M3 is surprisingly fuel efficient, so an average of less than 20 MPG should be cause for investigation. Although the VANOS is not electronically connected to the ECU, in some cases, a failing VANOS unit may trigger a Check Engine Light.


As a general rule, you can expect the seals in the solenoids to last approximately 50,000 miles. The good news is the seals can be refreshed by a competent home mechanic. We strongly recommend that you purchase a proper kit from the likes of renown BMW specialists such as Mr VANOS (insert link) which you’ll be relieved to know are highly affordable.


Around 70,000 miles is where VANOS can become scary. It is strongly recommended to have a full refurbishment done by this point, as the cost of refurbing or even replacing a dead VANOS unit can result in a £2,000 bill, especially if the car has developed the dreaded, audible ‘growling’ noise. On the bright side, the issues with the dual VANOS system were discovered during the E36’s production lifespan, meaning many cars were repaired under warranty. Given the age of the E36 M3 however, we’d expect most cars to be expecting, or to have undergone a second rebuild.


For this reason, arguments rage online as to whether the extra performance of the 3.2 with its dual-VANOS is worth it given the potential expense involved. For us, the benefits and cache of the Evo is worth the risk, however we still appreciate the case for the 3.0 as we believe it actually sounds better, with a deeper, richer tone. 


For the record, the 3.0 isn’t immune to VANOS issues, with the piston seals usually being the culprit for any reliability woes. However, the single VANOS is a far stronger unit overall than its later counterpart.



Estoril Blue E36 M3 Evo Saloon


SERVICING REQUIREMENTS

Whilst robust, healthy servicing is vital to maintain the performance of an S50 engine. All E36 display a handy servicing countdown indicator whenever the ignition is turned on. BMW specifies a rotating schedule;


  • Oil service - expect to change the oil on an E36 M3 annually, or every 12,000 miles

  • Inspection I service - includes oil and filter change top up of fluids where necessary, micro/pollen filter and more in-depth service checks such as removing the wheels and checking brakes and suspension components. Expect to pay £250-£300+ at an independent specialist.

  • Intermediate oil service

  • Inspection II service - as the Inspection I, with the addition of spark plugs. At this time, we highly recommend you include the all important valve clearances adjustment, which can greatly affect engine performance if neglected. If the valve clearances are out, the S50 engine can lose up to 20 bhp, if not more. Mix that in with a malfunctioning VANOS, and you’ll have one very undernourished M3! Expect to pay £350-£400+ for an Inspection II.

  • Repeat schedule


There is no need to be afraid of a higher mileage M3 providing the above servicing schedule has been adhered to. The E36 is such a broadly talented car it's no wonder many have clocked up over 140,000 miles.



E36 M3 manual


TRANSMISSION

Another area where the earlier car is more robust is the manual transmission. The five-speeder in the 3.0 is pretty much bulletproof, whereas the six speed unit in the Evolution can suffer from synchro wear between second and third gear. 


The clutch hydraulic system, including the master cylinder and slave cylinder, can experience leaks or failures over time. This can result in a loss of clutch engagement or difficulty in shifting gears. Inspecting the clutch hydraulic components and checking for any signs of leakage or fluid loss is advisable when evaluating a used E36 M3.



E36 M3 SMG 1


As you’ll likely know, the SMG gearbox isn’t seen as the most reliable of transmissions. A world first, beating Ferrari’s F1 automated manual to the market, SMG I allows owners to indulge in secret touring car style fantasies with its pull backwards to change up, and press forwards to shift down gear lever. With the absence of a clutch pedal (the action was robotised by a computer), SMG I permitted full throttle upshifts, increasing performance. The system will also automatically rev match on downshifts. However, some drivers preferred the traditional manual gearbox for its direct engagement and overall driving involvement.


The transmission represented a technological advancement in transmission technology, but it did have its limitations and requires proper understanding and maintenance to ensure optimal performance and longevity. There are three key areas of concern - the hydraulic pump, solenoids and sensors, and the gearbox actuator.



E36 M3 saloon throwing star alloys


SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Despite their poor reputation amongst the track day fraternity, the brakes on the E36 M3 are relatively trouble free. Callipers can seize, however refurbished units are relatively affordable. 


Where the big bill comes from is corroded brake lines, replacement of which is a labour intensive job because the exhaust and fuel tank has to be removed to gain access. Expect to pay north of £750 for this work.


As we’ve already mentioned, the E36 is three decades old now, so it’s inevitable many suspension components will be well past their sell by date, in particular the rubber bushes, front wishbone ball joints and track rod ends. One specific bush can become a nightmare to replace - contained within the rear trailing arm - which requires a special BMW tool to remove. Otherwise you’ll have to cut the sucker out with an electric saw, taking your knuckles down to the bone and developing Tourette's in the process.


Another area to pay close attention to is the rear damper mounts. BMW built the car with paper thin steel in this area, and the inevitable happens. Aftermarket reinforcement plates are available to eliminate the issue. A good kerbside test is to grab the rear arch and heave the car upwards, listening for any tell-tale noise or groans from the suspension. Before you do so however, make sure you get permission from the owner for one specific reason…



E36 M3 kickplates


BODYWORK & RUST ISSUES

Rust, rust, rust! With any potential E36 M3 purchase, we highly recommend booking some garage time and performing - or paying for - a professional inspection with the car up in the air. The E36 is highly prone to rotting, with a laundry list of areas to cast a beady eye upon;


  • Inspect the wheel arches, both front and rear, for signs of rust. Pay close attention to the inner wheel arches, as these areas are more prone to rust due to dirt and moisture accumulation.

  • Carefully examine the underbody and chassis for any signs of rust or corrosion. Look for flaking or bubbling paint, discoloured areas, or any visible holes. Rust in these areas can compromise the structural integrity of the vehicle.

  • Check the door sills, jacking points and rocker panels for any rust or paint damage. These areas are susceptible to rust, especially if the car has been exposed to moisture or road salt.

  • Inspect the boot area and boot lid for any signs of rust, particularly along the edges and underneath the rubber seals. Lift the carpet or trunk lining to examine the metal surfaces underneath.

  • Check the window seals and rubber gaskets for any signs of deterioration or cracking. Damaged or worn seals can allow water to enter the vehicle.

  • Pay attention to the fitment of body panels and assess the overall condition of the paintwork. Look for any signs of mismatched paint, overspray, or significant colour variations, which could indicate previous repairs.

  • Inspect the drainage channels are clear of debris, in particular those found near the windshield and sunroof. Blocked channels can cause water to accumulate. This will also indicate a diligent owner if taken care of.


Keeping on top of the tin-worm is an ongoing process with any E36, and the M3 is no exception.


Over time, the optional extra 3.0 spoiler was prone to sagging slightly in the middle, however the minor changes to the Evolution version corrected this small flaw. Also, as tastes have evolved, there has become a preference for cars without a boot spoiler, so check for evidence of proper removal if performed.


Finally, as always when considering any second-hand car, perform a forensic inspection on the panel gaps and consistency of the paintwork. The E36 M3 has a cable operated throttle, which means no traction control or driver aids of any form. Considering the M3’s mighty performance, rear-wheel-drive and the UK’s inclement weather, many have been on the wrong side of an accident.



E36 M3 GT trim Vadar bucket seats


INTERIOR

One of the highlights of the E36 M3 are its famous Vader front bucket seats, which were almost universally specified in the optional extra leather. Whilst undoubtedly more luxurious than their cloth counterparts, the hide chosen was often light grey in hue, meaning most E36s display signs of significant bolster wear or discoloration. A restoration is not uncommon, and should be considered an advantage over prizing outright originality. 


Another item to check over is the rear view mirror, which like the later E46 is prone to leaking. The front seatbelts can also be prone to retract slowly, which can be cured by a liberal application of a silicone-based furniture polish.



E36 M3 saloon interior


ELECTRICAL GREMLINS

While the circuitry in the E36 is regarded as being a strong suit, the electric window regulators are prone to failure, causing the windows to become stuck in the up or down position, which can cause havoc with the alarm. The central locking system can also experience malfunctions. Issues can range from intermittent operation to complete failure. Troubleshooting and potentially replacing faulty actuators, switches, or control modules may be required.


Over time, the pixels on the instrument cluster display can degrade or fail, resulting in missing or distorted information. This can affect the readability of various gauges, warning lights, and other display elements. In such cases, replacing the instrument cluster or having it repaired by a specialised service may be necessary.


Some owners have reported issues with the blower motor resistor, which controls the speed of the interior HVAC blower fan. A failing resistor can lead to inconsistent or non-functional fan speeds. Replacing the resistor module is usually required to restore proper fan operation. Check the air-con operation too, as the condenser is vulnerable to stone damage, leading to a chunky bill.


Whilst it’s stating the obvious, if you’re considering a convertible M3, ensure the roof mechanism is fully operational as its a very complex system that can lead to a significant dent in your wallet if it refuses to play ball.



Estoril Blue E36 M3 Evo Saloon


MODIFICATIONS

For many a BMW enthusiast, the E36 M3’s chassis has huge latent potential waiting to be tapped into. Given the amount of E36’s that populate the paddock on any TF day at the Nürburgring, it appears they might be onto something.


The key criticism of the cars’ handling centres around the steering, which many find to be too lazy and aloof for a car wearing the M tricolours. This can be solved by fitting a “purple tag” steering rack from the Z3 roadster, which is faster and reportedly makes the car much more engaging to drive. Just be aware it doesn’t offer quite as much lock as the standard item. 


Another popular and proven modification is to fit a set of Bilstein B12 coilovers for much improved body control, although we urge you to resist temptation to lower the car, as the M3 already comes with a perfectly judged ride height from the factory. Also, as beautiful as those sunflower alloys are, they aren’t exactly light, so those of you with a track day or two in mind may benefit from some lightweight alloys, wrapped in modern performance tyres.


In terms of engine modifications, the S50 engine is already a high specific output unit, meaning there isn’t much headroom for tuning. In period, AC Schnitzer (a BMW warranty backed tuner) offered hotter cams, but it's a significant outlay to do so. Many report worthwhile gains by fitting sports catalytic converters, but this needs to be done in conjunction with a custom remap from a reputable tuner such as Evolve. One modification that might not garner huge results is the fitment of a carbon airbox such as a Gruppe M intake. While any horsepower gains will be restricted to single figures, the resulting E46 M3 CSL aping noise is well worth the expense.



E36 M3 GT rear spoiler aero kit


WHAT TO PAY

At its nadir, you could pick up an E36 M3 for as little as £2,500. In December 2023 however, the marketplace differs hugely. Values have risen sharply due to the E36 coming into its own as a modern classic and dwindling numbers. But because cars have such varied condition, it is difficult to commit to a detailed asking price structure. As a loose guide, you’ll find a project from as little as £12,000, with the very best Evolution coupes commanding upwards of £25,000. You’ll need a lot more to secure one of the limited edition models that follows


We recommend you explore enthusiast sites such as M3 Cutters (link) to get a better handle on what to pay. You’ll likely find the most cared for examples of the car too, even if they come at a premium.



e36 m3 gt british racing green


SPECIAL EDITIONS

Despite the production M3 shifting away from it’s touring car routes (touring car regulations specify a four cylinder engine…Fun fact, E36 touring cars continued to use the S14 motor from the E30 M3), the M3’s reputation meant a few special cars were created for domestic championship homologation purposes;


3.0 GT 

Unveiled at the tail end of 1994, the M3 GT could be considered a precursor to today’s CS lineage of M-cars. Homologated to compete in the FIA GT Series, the Division II and the IMSA GT Series, the GT featured a modest power hike to 295 bhp (courtesy of some spicier camshafts and nicking the revising intake system from the forthcoming 3.2 Evo), additional aero, improved oil cooling, shorter final drive and firmer springs and dampers with a significant reduction in weight. 


A total of 387 M3 GT’s were produced and the only colour available was British Racing Green. Matching the exterior hue was Mexico Green leather for the Vader seats, while the bolsters were trimmed in Amaretta. The centre console featured carbon fibre as did the door plates. The GT also featured clear indicator lenses at the front of the car, however the rear lights maintained amber lenses. The GT was only sold in the German market, meaning all cars are left-hand-drive, but such is the desirability of the car, many now reside in collections around the world, and values reflect the special nature of the car.


US M3 Lightweight

The M3 Lightweight - or LTW - was produced for the United States between August and October 1995, and was essentially a 3.0 GT with the lesser 243 bhp straight six from the US domestic market M3. 


Us Europeans can stop feeling smug, because the lightweight has proper pedigree. The need arose because the M3 was simply no match for the Porsche 911 RS CS or lithe Mazda RX-7 SP on the race track, and something had to be done. Consequently, the weight loss program on the LTW went much further than the euro-GT; no air conditioning, alarm, sunroof, central locking, reduced sound deadening and thinner carpets from the base E36 coupe. BMW USA went as far as removing the spare wheel, tool kit and even wheel jack in their obsession to remove weight. The Lightweight tipped the scales at just 1,338 kg, an impressive 122 kilograms less than the regular M3. The lightweight also benefited from an even shorter final drive to aid acceleration (3.23:1 vs 3.15:1), meaning the car could hit 60 mph from rest in an M3 Evo rivalling 5.5 seconds.


In terms of suspension, the LTW received the factory set up of the European spec M3 (the US car rode on its own, slightly softer springs and dampers), however there was a special options list for the Lightweight that include fully adjustable suspension, camber plates, uprated brakes, aggressive aero package and a special racing sump for competition use. Just like the original 3.0 CSL ‘Batmobile’, the aero kit came in the boot of the car as it was not homologated for the road.


Initially BMW USA planned to produce 85 M3 Lightweights, but demand was sufficient to deliver 115 customer cars, alongside an initial 11 prototypes. All are finished in Alpine White, featuring a distinctive chequered flag motif in the M tricolours. Hollywood actor and prolific car enthusiast Paul Walker was a known admirer of the car - he had five M3 Lightweights in his collection.


e36 m3 r
e36 m3 r rear view

M3 R

Perhaps the least well known of the special M3’s, the M3 R was an Australian domestically tuned M3 which received the M division's full endorsement and blessing. 


In a similar manner to the M3 Lightweight, the M3 was struggling to beat the competition to the chequered flag in endurance racing, and Frank Gardner Racing wanted to do something about it. Again taking a 3.0 M3 GT as its base, a pared back, zero options donor car would be shipped down under and extensively modified.


Weighing in at 1,360 kg, the M3 R could only be purchased by those in possession of a racing licence and with its 322 bhp output, is officially the most powerful E36 M3 sold to the general public. The extra go was courtesy of revised camshafts (rumoured to be AC Schnitzer items), a freer-breathing intake, optimised exhaust ports and a new ECU. The M3 R also got the dual pickup oil sump and received enhanced front discs (324 vs 315 mm). 


Frank Gardner Racing opted for the final drive specification of the Euro-GT, rather than the super short M3 LTW version, but further tailored the spec in several key areas. Unique to the M3 R, alongside the extra power, was the choice of a road or racing clutch, mated to a lightened flywheel. The car also came with lightweight BBS alloys which were an extra 0.5” wider at the front for additional grip.


The focus of the M3 R did not come cheap - the list price of the car increased by a staggering 50 %. Perhaps that's why only 15 cars were built, again all in Alpine White.


M3 Imola Individual - aka GT2

There was a second “M3 GT” based upon the M3 Evo, which sounds a tantalising prospect. Officially called the Imola Individual, but more commonly referred to as the GT2 (although we think GT Evo sounds much better), this M3 was sadly just a run-out styling exercise. The car did not receive any extra power or focus, it was merely a standard M3 with the GT aero pack whilst mirroring the cosmetics of the 3.0 Gt’s interior with red leather Vader seats framed in black Amaretta cloth. 200 were produced, all in Imola red (with 50 right-hand-drive examples sold in the UK). Expect to pay a small premium for one.



ALTERNATIVE RIVALS

The M3 has such broad appeal, the list of potential rivals is extensive - it's enough to have us all misty eyed with nostalgia. First-off you have the traditional German alternatives, such as a Mercedes AMG C36 or later 304 bhp C43 V8. Audi chimed in with their 220 bhp S2 Coupe and later 265 bhp S4 saloon and Avant. Porsche offered the 968 Coupe but it was hamstrung by a 240 bhp four cylinder engine, a high price tag and comical rear seats. No wonder the M3 sold so well.


For the closest on-paper challengers to the M3, you’ll need to look to the land of the rising sun. The A80 Toyota Supra, Nissan 300ZX and Skyline R33 GTR, Mazda RX-7 or even Subaru Impreza Turbo are all credible M3 substitutes if the prestige of the blue and white propeller isn’t at the top of your priority list.


But perhaps the closest alternatives to an E36 M3 also come with a BMW roundel. If you’re looking for a weekend toy and don’t need the additional space the M3 provides, consider the Z3 M Coupe. If you do need the space, then the more acclaimed E46 M3 is in the same financial ballpark - but that comes with its own reliability issues.



bmw z3 m coupe silver


CONCLUSION

If you’ve made it this far, then congratulations. Our goal wasn’t to put you off buying an E36 M3, we just wanted to give you all the detailed information to ensure you get the fittest car possible. Sadly there are some examples out there that have gone through neglectful hands, and we don’t want you picking up the tab, because it’s highly likely that should you choose to proceed, the E36 M3 will get well and truly under your skin. It is a jack of all trades performance car, with a stand out engine, wrapped up in an elegant, subtly handsome yet practical body. We’ll take a late Evolution in Techno Violet with a manual gearbox, grey leather and a sunroof please.



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