Throughout BMW's history as an auto manufacturer, they've shaped the automotive landscape with one car- the 3-series. It's an icon, a symbol, and a brand of its'own, from statistics that show the 3's dominance over the other saloon cars, to a cult following that heralds the 3 as the car to do it all.
This generation of BMW 3-series was different, it was a bold & brash manufacturer's gamble that set it apart from all predecessors, BMW moved away from it's inline-six engine, opted for a brawny S65 V8 engine that produced 414 HP & 400 Nm , a very respectable 81 HP and 45 Nm increase from the previous generation E46 M3. The E93 M3 was where the world first experienced a dual clutch transmission, the 7 speed M-DCT.
This car was never launched in BMW Malaysia, the closest local comparison would be the BMW E92 M3 Coupe, which retailed for RM668,800 in 2007. We can estimate that the #DropTheTop version would be priced around RM700,000 as 99% of convertibles on the market fetch a higher price than their Coupe counterpart. Nowadays, due to the infamous S65 V8 engine's conrod bearing issue, there's hugely lesser demand, plummeting the prices to sub RM150,000 territory.
How did we get from a 2017 Volvo V40 T5 Cross Country to this?
Contrary to many others, I was not really a "car-guy" up til recently. My family is in the Automotive business, and even since I was a child, cars didn't catch my eye. Occasionally, there would be Ferraris and Porsches in our humble showroom, I found more interest in catching my new Pokemon on my Gameboy.
After graduation, I entered the Automotive industry by working alongside my father at our #DropTheTop showroom, and spent 2 years looking for my footing, my identity in the industry. During this time, I was lucky enough to have met Bobby Ang, and Beng Lim. Their enthusiasm and passion for cars, and specifically, #DropTheTop left a lasting impression on me. Convertibles, Roadsters, Cabriolets, #DropTheTop, however you coin it, to me, it's when cars stop being purely machines for transportation, and instead, become a journey that involves & stimulates multiple senses. #DropTheTop in Penang, and you can frequently smell the smokey aroma of Char Koay Teow, or the tangy, sweet, mouth-watering smell of Assam Laksa.
Passion is contagious, and after I drove my Volvo V40 T5 Cross Country for 2 years, I was ready for a change of chassis. My requirements were straightforward, albeit a challenge:
More than 2.5L
Work with a budget of under 200k, all-in
During my search, cars such as Audi S5 convertible, BMW 640i Cabriolet, and the BMW E93 M3 came into my radar. The Audi S5 convertible was non-existent in Malaysia's used car market, the 640i convertible was a bit too big, and too executive for my liking, that leaves the M3. Scouting for this car took some time, but the life of a performance ///M car is a grueling and abusive one, many of the ones in the market were bruised and battered, and were covered in Red Flags (undercarriages that sounded like fireworks, missing interior buttons, bad paintwork done to cover up scratches, broken cabriolet roof mechanisms etc.)
I was ready to give up the search, as the few cars we did manage to inspect in Kuala Lumpur were a hot mess. Combing through Mudah, we found one in Penang. Bingo, it was in great, not good condition for an 11-year old car, left abandoned because the original owner no longer was staying in Malaysia. My first test drive of a V8 engine was over in a heart-throbbing instant, and like a dog-lover picking up a stray, the E93 M3 was in my hands, going to start its' life anew.
Restoration done with Tender, Love & Flair
There's a concept to be had when a car undergoes restoration, it's an opportunity to inject a personality into the car. It had to pop, but not be obnoxious; an M car has to have a certain air of pizzazz, and presence, while not being snobbish or overbearing. On the flip side, it cannot have too much "modern", it's an old car, and cosmetically, it has to slightly reflect that. My E93 has a "sunset" theme to tie everything together.
Color Chosen: Yas Marina Blue of the F80 M3
Interior Color: Orange (similar to BMW’s original cognac, but a bit brighter, a bit happier)
Steering Wheel: Half Leather with Half Alcantara
Wheels: 19" F87 M2 Competition rims with Pirelli P-Zero
Overall, it's not a hugely popular color combination, it's bright and energetic, while many would prefer their Bimmers to be fare on the monotone side, and we know for a fact that most Malaysians forsake bright, punchy interior upholsteries. But it's a palette that inspires happiness, relaxation with a bit of quirky fun. That's exactly how I imagine an M car to be.
The ///M Drive
After 3 months of complete refurbishment, from the car's exterior, to interior upholstery, and the engine bay, the growly, burly S65 V8 engine roared to life. I can still remember the first time I drove it out of the workshop to check first-hand the integrity of the build & restoration. I drove the E93 M3 #DropTheTop, orchestrating the trumpet-like exhaust notes & engine sound with the DCT's pedal shifters, it was my first time experiencing an M car, the iconic BMW 3-series no less, and it was exhilarating. The suspension was firm, but not too uncomfortably stiff. Steering feel was directly connected to driver input, and you can feel how firmly it's planted to the pavement. The naturally aspirated engine had mediocre low-end torque performance, but as soon as you pass the 2,800 RPM threshold, it felt as if the torrent of pulling power was relentless, and it effortlessly propels the 1.8 tonne car with brute & adrenaline.
2 weeks into the drive, and some of the car's flaws start to bubble amongst the intoxicating cocktail of #DropTheTop, Naturally aspirated V8 engine, and M Performance exhaust goodness. Wear & Tear, an 11-year old car showing it's age with bits & pieces of the interior cracking, plastic covers gone missing (in no way the car's fault, previous owner problems), buttons loosening, and storage latches that take too much force to use properly, nothing out of the ordinary, but a chore to order
replacement bits & pieces for an old, rarely seen car. The DCT, while fantastic to use manually, is frankly, quite dumb by modern standards, more often than not it will hunt for gears hesitantly, unsure what to do. There's a clear disconnect between what the car thinks (or lack thereof), and driver's intention. The bright side to this is, my car is forcing me to learn how to drive and shift gears in a manual way. Lastly, gas mileage (I'm averaging 14.7L / 100KM) is vastly inferior but that goes without saying.
There's a sense of triumph and novelty whenever I step into this car, knowing that it's BMW's claim to fame, a 3-series M car produced in a transitional era, where classic intertwined with modern, and finally, the fact that it's restored meticulously over 3 months with many custom decisions that still hold authenticity to the brand. It's now my one-and-only daily driver.