BMW M3: All Four Generations Track-Tested – Feature – Car and Driver

24 Jul 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on BMW M3: All Four Generations Track-Tested – Feature – Car and Driver

25 Years of the BMW M3: Four Generations on the Track

Family Jewels: To celebrate 25 years of the M3, BMW invites us to pummel all four generations at once, including the new GTS.

Even as it churns out those. things called the X6 and the 5-series Grand Turismo, BMW’s credentials remain intact. Thank the M3, which, after 25 years, remains BMW’s most bewitching product and a shibboleth against anybody who questions whether the Bavarian fun В­factory has finally lost it.

To mark a quarter-century of M3s and to let journalists drive the new, not-for-U.S.-sale M3 GTS, BMW gathered a trove of coupes and convertibles representing all four generationsincluding the original moxie-stuffed E30, the six-cylinder E36 and E46, and the current E90-seriesat the private,  3.4-mile Ascari Race Resort in Spain.

You could spend a lifetime combing the classifieds and never assemble a dream collection like this. Culled from various departments within the company, including its own BMW Classic collection, every car is a cream puff with fewer than 10,000 miles (although all were wearing modern rubber).

They have soft, wrinkle-free leather, dashboards absent of cracks and fading, engines making something like the advertised horsepower, and suspensions that digest a track without shudders or arthritic clunks. It was as though time had wrinkled and we were attending the press introduction of all four M3 generations at once.

Rare, brash, expensive when new, and often showing scars of high mileage and a hard life when you glimpse a survivor on the street today, the seminal E30 M3 came into being because of a mid-1980s racing technicality. In order to enter a hotter, more competitive 3-series in Group A Touring Car events, BMW was required to build 5000 road-legal copies for sale to the public.

“It was an act to get the company to build 5000 cars without knowing if anybody would buy them,” recalls Thomas AmmerschlГ¤ger, the former director of engineering and production for BMW’s M GmbH subsidiary.


The Motorsports unit was entering unknown territory. It had opened in 1972 as a separately incorporated subsidiary to manage BMW’s racing exploits. Up to that point, it was most famous for producing 1200-plus-hp Formula 1 engines and the mid-engine M1 (from 1978 to 1981), a haphazard project that involved a misfired development deal with Lamborghini.

But in 1985, then BMW CEO Eberhard von Kuenheim, who lorded over the company’s ascension to its modern form from 1970 to 1993, wanted to expand M’s public persona, so he reorganized the group and staffed it with 400 engineers. AmmerschlГ¤ger remembers it as a time of singular vision and blitzkrieg strokes.

For example, to turn out the first M3’s 192-hp, 2.3-liter inline-four, with its Bosch Motronic fuel injection and individually throttled intake runners, BMW married the block from a production four-cylinder  to a sawed-off cylinder head from the twin-cam, four-valve inline-six of the 635CSi and mid-engine M1. The basic design work was done in just two weeks.

Back then, says the graying, rotund AmmerschlГ¤gerwho, as a young man, ran defunct German automaker NSU’s racing team and himself raced a rotary-powered Ro80it was easier to push through new ideas. All you had to do was convince von Kuenheim. Nowadays, “there are more people involved. I’m not sure you could do it.”

As BMW further stretches itself in new directionsthere are Chinese-made BMWs, and soon there will be electric mini-BMWsit is reassuring to know that the company keeps its touchstones visible in the rearview mirror. The older models are quaintly outdated, but these various M3s represent the essence of what we hope BMW never stops trying to be.

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