Last week, BMW celebrated three decades of the M3 Convertible with the M4 Edition 30 Years.
Essentially an M4 Convertible Competition Package with some special interior touches and a glut of unique exterior finishes, it represents the zenith of a long line of M-fettled drop-tops.
Here, we’ve taken a look at where that car’s lineage began, how it’s evolved and where it’s ended up.
The first M3 Convertible is also the only one powered by a four-cylinder engine. The 2.3-litre four-pot (code S14) made 149kW and 230Nm without a catalytic converter, or 145kW with a catalyst. Those are base hot-hatch numbers nowadays, but the Ferrari 328 GTS of the same era made just 201kW from its V8 engine, so the M3 was anything but slow for its time.
Compared to the standard car, the M3 Convertible was fitted with extra body bracing and modified suspension, necessary to handle the extra 181kg the drop-top carried over the coupe. Keen-eyed readers will notice there’s no rear spoiler, but the body is otherwise very similar to that of the coupe, with flared arches and stunning BBS RS alloy wheels.
The options list for the car included the usual leather trim choices, but there were a few unique bits-and-pieces available for special order, including an on-board fax machine.
Although it never reached mass production, BMW did reportedly build one M3 Convertible Evolution with a 164kW engine. We wonder what that would be worth today.
It doesn’t have the same aura as the E46 or E30, but the E36 was actually the longest-produced generation of M3. Gone was the old S14 four-cylinder, replaced by a 3.2-litre inline six (code S50) making 236kW of power and 350Nm of torque.
Unlike its predecessor, the car was offered with a six-speed manual or six-speed SMG automatic gearbox. It might have seemed cutting edge at the time, but the sequential automatic has, by all reports, not aged well.
Once again, the convertible was significantly heavier than its coupe sibling – where the hardtop tipped the scales at 1500kg, the ragtop weighed a portly 1635kg. Blame the extra bracing and electric soft-top hardware for that one.
Australia only ever got a special 25 Years of M version of the E36 M3 Convertible, complete with forged alloy wheels, automatic climate control, a 10-speaker audio system and CD changer, cruise control and heated front seats.
You did pay more for parking sensors and power-adjusted front seats, however. Great Britain and the USA each got their own special editions, complete with unique trim finishes, to celebrate 25 Years of M and the end of E36 M3 production alike.
The E46 is often raised when conversations about the best ‘drivers cars’ inevitably start. Power once again came from a 3.2-litre inline six engine (code S54), this time making 252kW and 365Nm. Once again, not huge numbers by 2018 standards, but an 8000rpm redline and buzzsaw-meets-angry-wasp exhaust note mean it doesn’t lack for drama.
In keeping with the theme set by previous models, the E46 drop-top is significantly heftier than the coupe – this time, to the tune of 130kg. Performance was still impressive, with a five-second 100km/h sprint and 250km/h top speed, but the hardtop was always seen as more of an outright sports car.
That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. BMW M still produced almost 30,000 convertibles, compared to nearly 50,000 coupes. As with the rest of the E46 range, options like navigation and heated seats were available, along with the improving (but still maligned) SMG automatic transmission.
Goodbye inline-six, hello V8 power. The E90 waved goodbye to the much-loved ‘S54’ engine from the E46, replacing it with a 4.0-litre bent-eight making 309kW and 400Nm.
Redline was a stratospheric 8300rpm, while a seven-speed M DCT automatic replaced the six-speed SMG option from the previous generation. Don’t worry, there’s a six-speed manual on offer as well.
With an 1830kg kerb weight, the E93 was a significantly bigger, heftier beast than its predecessor. That shows when you consider its performance figures. The 100km/h sprint takes 5.1 seconds, which is on par with the model before it, and the electrically-limited 250km/h top speed isn’t an improvement either.
It was, however, 30 per cent stiffer than the car before it, and trades the folding soft-top for a safer, more refined hardtop.
Change, change and more change. The E93 V8 became a twin-turbo inline-six, and the M3 badge was swapped for an M4 badge. Although purists started sharpening their pitchforks, there was no arguing with the numbers.
Thanks to its twin-turbo powertrain, the drop-top M4 made 317kW of power and a whopping 550Nm of torque, for a 4.4-second sprint to 100km/h.
At 1790kg, it’s the first generation drop-top M3/4 to be lighter than its predecessor, even though it’s bigger and better equipped in essentially every facet. Since launch, the mid-life LCI update has added a Competition Package option to the mix with more power than the outgoing base car, unique wheels and tweaked suspension.
Three decades after the M3 Convertible was launched, BMW is celebrating with the M4 Convertible 30 Jahre.