1997 BMW E36 M3 Coupe: Clean as they Come

The original BMW M3, based on the now cult favorite E30 3-series,was built as a homologation special aimed at taking-on the likes of cars like the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 and Ford Sierra Cosworths which dominated German Touring Car Championship racing in the late-1980s. Not only did it take them on, but from a sheer racing and driving standpoint, it trounced them. As an owner of a Mercedes Cosworth I can say that. I still maintain that the Merc is a better daily driver, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.


The second generation of M3, although still a remarkable performance car all too capable on the racetrack, was also aimed a little more squarely at the masses. In trying to keep costs in check, BMW M (formerly Motorsport) didn’t send us the gorgeous, hand-built Euro motors. Rather, we got a hotted-up 325i engine, which still hauled ass in either 3.0 or 3.2 liter form. E36 M3s were built in substantially higher numbers, becoming the darling among yuppies with the need for speed. Because so many were ridden hard and put away wet, clean E36 M3s are getting nearly impossible to find. Thus, we get all gushy and wax poetic when a good one does come along, like this über-clean example here on Craigslist in Chantilly, Virginia (my back yard!) for $10,000.

I admit, without reservation, that I have wanted an E36 M3 ever since they first hit U.S. shores in early 1994 (as MY 1995s). They were all that any car magazine worth its salt could talk about, and for good reason. They were fast – damned fast – its S50 3.0 liter inline-6 (replaced in 1996 with the S52 3.2 liter) making the 0-60 in less than six seconds continuing to a top speed electronically limited to 155mph. As Top Gear proved a few years back, even a ratted-out dog of an E36 M3 will still top 150mph. We could question whether that’s a good idea, but that’s not what we’re talking about here, either. The bottom line is that the E36 merged high performance with utter reliability and practicality in the German sports sedan sense, and really redefined the whole genre.

This particular example may wear 106,000 miles, but it certainly doesn’t show. While most of these have worn interiors, dull or faded paint, dirty wheels, scraped spoilers, and cloudy headlights, this one appears to be about as good as a driver gets. The wood console (indicating a Luxury Package car) even still has a factory-new sheen to it. There are no good pictures of the seats, but we would be pretty surprised if they let down an otherwise spectacular car. In addition to the obvious, we like the BBS alloys on this car, and they are far more attractive than the M3 “Contour” wheels that adorned many period M3s. The Euro headlights are a nice but subtle improvement as well.

The real question here is whether a 15 year-old BMW 3-series, even if it is an M3, is worth ten grand. Considering where values of the E30s have gone, this could represent a bargain in just a few more years, when more generation y-ers and millenials who lusted after these cars in their youth get to the point where they have the spare change to invest in automotive nostalgia. I’d hate to see this car put into daily driver duty, but it would make one hell of a weekender for someone with the cash laying around. I wonder if they’d consider a trade for a rare 1986 Mercedes 190E 2.3-16 with patina? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

~Reed

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