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A Brief History of the Legendary BMW M3

The BMW M3 has an impressive history and leaves behind an long list of Motorsports successes.  Here is a brief history of the BMW M3.

The BMW M3 has become legendary for its performance and handling characteristics and has helped define BMW as a performance vehicle manufacturer. The M3 is a high-performance version of the BMW 3-Series developed by BMW’s in-house motorsports division, BMW M.  This is a brief history of the BMW M3.

The first BMW M3 was derived from the E30 in the late 80’s. Since then, the M3 has been derived on the E36, E46, E90/E92/E93 and F80. Over the years, it has been sold with coupe, saloon, and convertibles bodies. Overall upgrades over the standard 3-Series BMW include more powerful and responsive engines, much better handling, suspension, and braking systems. There are also aerodynamic body enhancements, lightweight components, exterior and interior appointments with the M-Motorsports emblem.


The year was 1981 and BMW M was busy building out the final production run of the BMW M1. Motorsports boss, Paul Rosche had been given direction from management to create a car to compete in Group A racing. His solution was to modify the head from a BMW M635CSI and fit it on a four cylinder engine block. The fact that that it was still five years until the first M3 was to be released, allowed for plenty of testing to work through the bugs.

The BMW E30 M3

The first M3 was based on the BMW E30 and was released in the 1986 model year. The 2.3-liter four cylinder S14 engine produced 195 horsepower.

The M3 had several changes over the standard 3-Series. The M3 body had 12 panels that were different from the standard E30. The only panels that were shared were the hood, roof panel, sunroof and door panels.

The E30 M3 was known not only for a spectacular engine but suspension system as well. Most of the changes were made to the front suspension system while the rear suspension system was carried over from the e30. The braking system in the M3 consisted of special front and rear brake calipers and rotors in addition to a unique brake master cylinder.

The M3 received not only an entirely new engine but also had Getrag 265 5-speed gearbox. European market M3s had highly sought after Dogleg transmissions.  Differentials were also a unique clutch-type limited-slip variety with 25% lockup.

The E30 M3 was campaigned on the racing circuit by BMW as well as private racing teams. It competed in the World Touring Car Championship, German DTM, British Touring Car Championship, as well as Italian, French, and Australian Touring Car Championships.   The 2.3-Liter S14 in race trim produced 300 horsepower.

Production ended in early 1992.

The BMW E36 M3

In February 1992, BMW debuted the E36 M3. It was in dealer showrooms in November of that year.

The E36 M3 was powered by the S50, a straight-six 3.0-liter engine that produced 240 horsepower. Initially available only as a coupe, a convertible and sedan was available starting in 1994.

The E36 M3 had a different suspension setup and was available with either a five-speed manual or automatic transmission. Acceleration from 0 to 60 miles per hour took about six seconds.

In 1996, displacement for the M3 was increased to 3.2 liters with torque increasing a scant 15 pound-feet to 240 pound-feet over the 3.0-liter engine. Horsepower remained the same at 240. The sub-frame was also reinforced and the front suspension geometry was revised to a more aggressive stance.

Production of the M3 ended in 1999 with 18,961 coupes, 7,760 sedans and 6,211 convertibles having been produced for the US market.

The BMW E46 M3

In October 2000, the E46 M3 was revealed with the 3.2-liter S54 engine. The engine was built by BMW M-Sport and was available as either a coupe or convertible. A sedan was not available.

In the United States, the S54 engine produced 333 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual Getrag transmission was offered as standard equipment but an SMG drivelogic transmission was available as an option. The SMG transmission is basically a standard 6-speed Getrag transmission with an electrohydraulically actuated clutch. It did not have a clutch pedal with gear shifts made via the SMG gear knob or the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Several special edition BMW e46 M3 special editions were made including the BMW e46 M3 CSL.  The vehicle is still quite popular and the S54 engine is becoming a popular engine for engine swaps in older BMWs.

The BMW E90/92/93 M3

Unveiled in March 2007 at the Geneva Motor Show, the fourth generation M3 was available as a sedan once again (E90), a coupe (E92), and convertible (E93).

Like the previous three generations, the fourth generation M3 introduced a new engine, the V8 S65 engine. The engine produces 414 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque.

A six speed manual transmission was initially offered as standard equipment. In April 2008, a new seven-speed Getrag double-clutch gearbox was introduced as an option. It reduced shift pauses to less than a tenth of a second and shortened the car’s 0 to 60 sprint times by 0.2 seconds compared to a manual transmission.

The E90 M3 or coupe had the carbon fiber roof that was first introduced on the E46 M3 CSL. The E93 M3 Convertible had the power retractable hardtop, which differed from the canvas top of the E36 M3.

Performance of the E90/92/93 M3 was impressive with the coupe and sedan rocketing from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds with the double –clutch transmission and 4.7 seconds with the manual transmission. Weighing 441 pounds heavier that the coupe, the convertible rocketed from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.9 seconds with the double-clutch transmission and 5.1 seconds with the manual transmission.

Top speed was electronically limited at 155 miles per hour and capable of 178 miles per hour when delimited.

The last M3 coupe was produced in early July 2013, replaced by the F82/F83 M4 coupe and convertible. The M3 name remains in use for the sedan version.

The M3 has a very impressive racing legacy having earned more motorsports titles than the legendary Porsche 911. It is also the most successful touring and grand touring car to have ever participated in motorsports.


Posted in bmw, CSL, E30, E36, E46, M3

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