My interest in motorsport came at a young age, with fond memories of watching the Group A touring car championship in the early 1990s. The cars were so exciting to watch, and the appeal to me was the diverse range of manufactures that entered the championship.
There was so much variety in engines and drivetrains, including the six-cylinder, twin turbocharged all-wheel drive Nissan Skyline R32 GT-R, the four cylinder, turbocharged rear-wheel drive Ford Sierra RS500, the naturally aspirated V8 rear-wheel drive Holden VN Commodore SS Group A and the naturally aspirated rear-wheel drive four cylinder BMW M3 E30. The cars had different strengths and weaknesses and this made for some great racing.
Watching Tony Longhurst race in the early 1990s in the little yellow BMW M3 E30 was amazing and from that moment I knew at some point in my life I wanted an M3. Longhurst’s talent behind the wheel combined with the light, nimble M3 resulted in a front-running car despite its power disadvantage.
Obviously, buying an E30 M3 was too expensive and hard to find so I settled on buying the next model, the BMW M3 E36. The second generation BMW M3 was in many ways different to its predecessor. Gone were the flared guards, wings and high revving four cylinder engine, replaced with a more subtle looking car with a naturally aspirated 3.0-litre six cylinder engine producing 210kW of power and 320Nm of torque. Like the E30 M3, the car retained the front engine, rear-wheel drive layout.
In 2010, I had saved enough money to purchase an M3 and bought a 1994 model painted in Daytona Violet metallic. I paid $20,000 for the car and at the time of purchase it had travelled 134,000km. Features include a five speed manual gearbox, electric sunroof, driver and passenger airbags, black Nappa leather interior and an optional six-stacker CD player.
Cosmetically, the M3 differs from the normal 3 Series by the addition of lightweight 7.5 x 17 inch M Double Spoke cast alloy wheels, M3 badges, front and rear diffusers, aerodynamic mirrors and side skirts, cooling ducts for the brakes in the front spoiler and twin exhaust outlets.
Like most of the BMW M cars built both past and present, the appeal of the E36 M3 is the combination of relatively understated styling with fantastic performance. Another appeal to driving the car is the fact there are no driver aids (traction or stability control) or other confusing electronic systems that have been a feature of later M cars.
The M3 is very quick off the line with BMW claiming the car could hit 100km/h in 5.5 seconds and reach a limited top speed of 250km/h. The M3 really shines on fast flowing open roads with its wonderfully balanced chassis and eager high revving engine. The M3 really comes alive above 5000rpm and will pull eagerly to the 7000rpm redline, however rapid progress can still be made by short shifting and letting the ample torque pull you out of the corners.
The only real criticism of the car is the vagueness of the steering, which can be a little unsettling at speed and isn’t up to scratch for such a high performance car. Although the interior is well set out and a great place to be, an ideal seating position is hard for shorter drivers, due to the steering not having reach adjustment and the seat doesn’t go far enough forward.
The downside of owning a prestige high performance car is paying high servicing costs, and if scheduled oil services and inspection 1 and 2 services aren’t routinely carried out, you risk doing major damage to the car. VANOS units can be a weak point and can cost up to $10,000 to repair while a manual gearbox can be upwards of $12,000.
In the first few years of ownership, the car wasn’t as reliable as I thought it would be and early on in my ownership, it required a full gearbox rebuild, new radiator and new front shock absorbers. In the past two years, however, I’ve only had minor issues relating to the interior trim, but I guess the car is now 23 years old.
I think the M3 is a great looking car that seats four in comfort, handles well, has one of the best six cylinder engines ever put into production and is quite efficient for a performance car.
Values of these cars are increasing, with some examples now changing hands in the $30,000-$40,000 mark. I have no regrets on buying my car. Now if only I could add an E30 M3 to the garage!