5th April, 2019

The very first: BMW M3

When you think about BMW ‘M’ cars it’s difficult not to immediately jump to the M3. BMW’s M Division skunkworks team has become famous for dialling in a road car and making it more at home on the race track. But where did it all begin? Once again, we look at ‘the very first’ car made of a model that has gone on to become legendary. This time we turn our focus to the BMW M3.

The story starts in the Eighties, and things had all got a bit ‘yuppy’. Suits were padded out with shoulder blades, springs had been added to hair in the form of perms and everything got a bit brighter and more expensive. The same thing was happening in Munich with BMW’s M Division.

DTM (Germany’s version of touring cars) was huge in the Eighties and since BMW didn’t have a racing car to compete with (the ‘batmobile’ E21 3 series stopped racing in the early Eighties) it needed a new model and quickly. Mercedes-Benz burst on the scene with the 190E, a homologation special aimed at being a DTM heavyweight, and BMW? They didn’t have anything.

At the BMW Motorsport GmbH headquarters in 1985, the then managing director Paul Rosche came up with the idea of having a 3 series competing in the high-performance car segment and in DTM, and unveiled it later that year.

The car the audience saw was a two-door model based on the regular E30 model 3 series. Like many things of that period, it had a wider body (front and rear arches), revised springs and suspension (remember those perms?) and a brand-new engine (the S14). The engine was high-revving, had throttle-bodies and was much noisier and faster than any road-going BMW before it. Depending on specification the BMW M3 had between 195bhp and 238bhp.

Because it was a homologation special, BMW presented to its sales team that it would have to make (and sell) 5,000 in 12 months, as per the rules. It’s reported that their sales colleagues were sceptical at first. You have to remember that in 1985 the BMW M3 was twice as expensive as the BMW 320is. At the end of the car’s production in 1992 BMW sold 18,000 M3s including three special versions – an Evo I, Evo II and a convertible.

The M3’s legacy and success doesn’t just stop with its sales. It was driven, raced and evented by some of the most well-known names ever. Due to a mixture of the car’s competencies and the racing talent behind the wheel, BMW took 1,500 wins all over the world in various M3s. It still retains its title as the most successful touring car ever made – not bad for a car that was turned around in a year.

Today, more than 30 years later, there have been four more BMW M3s (E36, E46, E92 and F80) with the latter M3 being a saloon-only for the first time and the M4 being the coupe version.

Have you ever owned a BMW M3? Let us know your stories in the comments section below.