Racing homologation cars are the best thing that ever happened to car enthusiasts. Manufacturers make them because they are required to. They are basically just stripped-out and rambunctious versions of otherwise practical cars. One happy result of such requirements is the BMW M3 derived from the 3-series.
The M3 name has been around for about 35 years. In appreciation of the poster-child of the M badge, let’s look back at the M3s that we have been blessed with over the years.
BMW 2002 turbo (the predecessor)
The BMW 2002 turbo is not an M car. However, the fundamental of the BMW sports saloon traces its way back here. Derived from the “Neue Klasse”, it was the first turbocharged BMW production car.
Debuting in 1973 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the engine was a turbo 4-cylinder (172 PS/240 Nm). To reduce the chances of knocking, a very small compression ratio (6.9:1) was utilised.
BMW E30 M3
The first M3 was the E30. It had wide wheel arches, a large rear wing, a deep front splitter, and a different C-pillar from the regular E30. The C-pillar was angled differently to allow for better airflow to the rear wing.
Powering the car was the S14 4-cylinder 2.3-litre NA engine (197 PS without catalytic converter). The E30 M3 went on to evolve into the E30 M3 Evo II (217 PS) and E30 M3 Sport Evolution (235 PS).
BMW E36 M3
The E36 M3 toned down the aggressive styling of the E30. The wide wheel arches were gone and the bumper styling was more subtle. When the 3 series had evolved into the E36, it had become a larger and more luxurious car.
The engine had received two more cylinders and displacement in the E36 M3 was 3.0 litres (286 PS; 0-100 km/h – 5.6 s). RHD version were made. The M3 was also available as a sedan and convertible.
The E36 M3 GT (only available in Europe) was tuned to produce 295 PS. A new ECU, cams, and oil pump made this possible.
1996 saw an update to the E36. Engine displacement was up to 3.2-litres (321 PS, 0-100 km/h – 5.2 s). The E36 generation saw the introduction of the SMG gearbox.
BMW E46 M3
When the E46 came to being, it looked like someone had a filing tool and had a go at the E36. Despite that, the look of the 3-series was well retained. This generation introduced the “power dome” which is a bulge on the hood, that teases some serious “power” under it.
The US-spec of the E46 M3 produced the trivial 333 PS of maximum power. The engine was the S54 3.2-litre inline-6 engine. The numbers were a little different for the European E46 M3 (343 PS/360 Nm; 0-100 km/h -5.1 s).
Transmission options included a 6-speed manual gearbox or the SMG-II 6-speed gearbox. A special M differential lock was also available.
A more mental version of the E46 M3 was the E46 M3 CSL (360 PS; 0-100 km/h – 4.9 s). It was a homage to the 3.0-L CSL from the ‘70s. CSL basically means Coupe Sport Lightweight (Leichtbau).
Equipped with larger brakes, it is touted as the best form of the E46. Some enthusiasts’ only gripe with it was the 6-speed SMG-II automated transmission.
Even more mental was the E46 M3 GTR with a 4.0-litre V8 engine (500 PS in racing form; 380 PS in road-legal form). Less than 10 were made, making it a very rare item.
BMW E92/90/93 M3
In 2007, the 3-series started show some branching in design. The 2-door (E92) and convertible (E93) had a different fascia than the sedan (E90). In their M3 versions, they all have the same face. This was foreshadowing the 3-seriers-4-series split that was bound to happen in the next generation.
This generation M3 featured the most cylinders with a 4.0-litre V8 engine (414 PS/400 Nm; 0-100 km/h – 4.6 s) paired to a 7-speed DCT gearbox.
The most athletic version would be the E92 M3 GTS. The engine was tuned to 450 PS and sang through titanium pipes. With carbon fibre parts, it was 70 kg lighter than the “regular” M3.
BMW F80 M3
This generation saw the birth of the M4 nameplate. The M3 was now only a 4-door sedan. The two-door and convertible versions have been designated to the 4-series. The 4.0-litre V8 had been ditched for a 3.0-litre twin-turbo inline-6 engine (431 PS/550 Nm; 0-100 km/h – 4.1 s).
There was the M3 Competition Package with a tuned engine (450 PS; 0-100 km/h – 4.0 s) and adaptive suspension). The craziest version of the F-generation would be the F82 M4 GTS (493 PS/600 Nm; 0-100km/h - 3.8 s), but it is no longer designated as the M3.
The most aggressive M3 would be the M3 CS (454 PS/601 Nm).
BMW G80 M3
Perhaps the most controversial M3 would be the G80. The massive grill is hard to ignore and creates divided opinions. The colour options are bold and demand attention. What’s new on this generation is an AWD system (rear-biased).
Like the F80, the engine is a 3.0-litre inline-6 with twin turbochargers (480 PS/550 Nm; 0-100 km/h – 4.2 s). A blessing to the enthusiasts would be the fact that it has an optional 6-speed manual transmission.
Like other M3s, there is always a more powerful version. To date, we have seen the “Competition” version (510 PS/650 Nm; 0-100 km/h – 3.9 s). However, the “Competition” spec is only available with BMW’s 8-speed automatic. Besides being the first M3 with AWD, it is also the first M3 with a staggered wheel setup.
35 years of the M3 is surely different from 35 years of the Proton Saga. The M3 takes sports saloon to the extreme and allows you to enjoy neck-breaking speeds with a few passengers on board. Which wild M3 is your favourite? Tell us in the comments section!