Celebrating 30 years of BMW M3, including concept rejects
The year 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the BMW M3, the automotive icon which became a benchmark of sorts for the sports car segment in 1986 and remains so five generations later. The 30th anniversary of the BMW M3 gives us the opportunity to put the spotlight on four unique variants that, for obvious reasons, never made it past the prototype stage, namely, the BMW M3 Pickup from 1986, the BMW M3 Compact from 1996, the BMW M3 Touring from 2000 and the BMW M3 Pickup revealed in 2011.
Originally, the BMW M3 was not intended to be a mass-produced sporting flagship; instead it was meant to be road-legal racing car. The Group A production touring car regulations stated that for a racing car to be homologated, at least 5,000 road-legal units had to be sold within a year. This provided the chance to develop both the production and race versions of the car simultaneously. The axle kinematics, suspension and damping were all tailored to the requirements of its motor racing future, as was the braking system, which combined the standard ABS with inner-vented brake discs at the front and an engine-driven high-pressure pump. Details such as the transmission’s shift pattern, with first gear at the bottom left also reflected its racing priorities.
In order to save weight, while the wider body was made from sheet metal, the front and rear bumpers along with the side skirts, boot lid and spoiler were made of plastic. The shallower angle of the C-pillar than the standard body and having a broader base allowed air to be directed towards the rear spoiler effectively. Thanks to the low weight construction and high-revving nature of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine fitted in lower-end 3-Series models, it was employed in the M3 too, but with modifications. Displacement was increased to 2.3 litres and it was converted to a four-valve arrangement. Also, they used a modified cylinder from the BMW M1’s 6-cylinder motor. The result was a motor that could handle 10,000 rpm — while the standard production car’s peak engine speed was only 6,750 rpm — allowing it to be race-ready.
The BMW E30 M3
Thus began the BMW M3’s success story 30 years ago. The 2.3-litre four-cylinder unit made 200 hp and helped accelerate the 1,200 kg M3 from 0 to 100 kph in just 6.7 seconds. Top speed was an impressive 235 kph. The Evo version unveiled in 1988, was powered by a more powerful 220 hp motor allowing its top speed to rise to 243 kph. And this was followed in 1990 by the limited edition BMW M3 Sport Evolution with 238 hp 2.5-litre engine, of which only 600 examples were produced. Aside from a coupe, there was a rare convertible version as well. All E30 M3 variants are now considered classics, with prices rising every year, and regular E30 3-Series owners now hoping some of that classic factor rubs onto their cheap beaters.
The BMW M3 Pickup (1986)
The BMW Motorsport department was responsible for its development, who viewed it as an appropriate means of transporting equipment and parts around the premises of what is now the BMW M Division in Garching. The reasons for choosing a convertible body was that a model was available at their disposal and the convertible’s built-in bracing made it ideal for a pickup conversion.
The first BMW M3 Pick-up did not sport the original’s boldly flared wings, as it was equipped with the narrower body of its regular, mass-produced sibling. Originally, it was powered by the engine fitted in the so-called “Italian M3”, which had a reduced two-litre displacement due to tax regulations; there by producing only 192 hp. Later they swapped it for the original 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine with 200 horsepower. The BMW M3 Pick-up worked the factory premises reliably for over 26 years before being retired four years ago.
The BMW E36 M3 (1992)
The second-generation BMW M3 – was not developed for motor sport. It was unveiled in 1992 and its 3-litre 6-cylinder engine developed 286 hp and 320 Nm of peak torque. It also featured the innovative new camshaft control system called VANOS. This model set two world records for a naturally-aspirated engine in a production car – one for the highest output per litre (97 hp/l) and the other for highest specific torque (108 Nm/l).
With the face-lift in 1995, the displacement of the six-cylinder in-line engine increased from 2,990 to 3,201cc, with output rising to 321 hp. The new engine also employed Double-VANOS, which brings fully variable camshaft control on both the intake and exhaust sides. In 1996 the BMW M3 became the first series-produced car to be offered with the option of an SMG automated manual gearbox. It was available as a coupe, a convertible, a sedan and a wagon, making it the only M3 to be available in so many body styles, but also criticised for looking too much like a regular 3-Series. A limited M3 Lightweight model was also available.
The BMW M3 Compact (1996)
The idea behind this model was to allure younger customers and provide an entry point into the world of BMW M cars. “To a certain extent, the M3 Compact can be regarded as the forefather of today’s BMW M2,” remarked the BMW M workshop chief. As a prototype, it was allowed to unleash its full 321 hp potential and weighed just 1,300 kg, but if it had gone into production, output would have been lowered, in all probability.
The BMW E46 M3 (2000)
The third-generation BMW M3 unveiled in 2000, featured an aluminium bonnet with powerdome, flared wheel arches, an aerodynamic boot lid with rear spoiler lip and four tailpipes engaging the dual-flow exhaust system. Power came courtesy of a new naturally-aspirated 6-cylinder in-line engine that developed 343 hp and peak torque of 365 Nm from its 3,246 cc. Only sold in coupe and soft-top convertible forms, it is considered to be one of the best iterations of the M3. A lighter M3 CSL special-edition coupe was also available.
The BMW M3 Touring (2000)
The BMW M3 Touring prototype materialised because a production model was being considered. The M3 Compact was made available to journalists for testing in order to both project an image and sniff out customer response. But the M3 Touring eventually served in-house purposes, entirely. One critical thing they were able to demonstrate, was that the rear doors of the standard production model could be reworked to adapt them to the rear wheel arches without the need for new and expensive tools.
The BMW E90/E92/E93 M3 (2007)
The fourth iteration of the BMW M3 presented in 2007 was powered by a high-revving, naturally-aspirated V8 developing 420 hp and used carbon fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) roof fitted as standard and an almost completely aluminium front axle. Available in sedan, coupe and hard-top convertible body styles, as denoted by their differing chassis codes, it was considered to be a great car, but too far from the original M3 formula. An M3 GTS special edition with a big rear spoiler was also offered.
The BMW M3 Pickup (2011)
Once the first-generation BMW M3 Pickup started to wear after 26 years service, they decided to build another one, again with a convertible body. “The conversion work had initially proceeded in the usual, largely unspectacular manner during the spring of 2011. But then someone came up with the idea of marketing the vehicle as an April Fools’ joke, as April 1 was just around the corner,” says a BMW personnel. To stir the masses, spy shots of calibration runs on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit surfaced in the run-up to the day, which fueled speculation about a production model which many journalists and bloggers took the bait.
Even the first paragraph of the official press release published on 1 April 2011 implied that the BMW M3 Pickup would be the “fourth body variant” following the Sedan, Coupe and Convertible. It adds to the case by stating “420 hp under the bonnet and a payload capacity of 450 kg over the rear axle take the BMW M models’ hallmark blend of racing-style driving pleasure and everyday practicality to a whole new level.” and that the Cd was only marginally higher than that of the M3 Coupe, it was 50 kilograms lighter than the Convertible and the 20-kg targa roof could be removed to lower the centre of gravity to improve handling. Only the last paragraph revealed that the model was a one-off, built for use as a workshop transport vehicle. Unlike its predecessor, however, it had also been licensed for road use.
The BMW F80 M3 and F82/83 M4 (2014)
In 2014, the current and fifth generation of the BMW M3 was introduced. With respect to nomenclature, only the four-door sedan is badged M3, while the coupe and the convertible variants were given the model designation M4 by someone in marketing. All three body variants, bore a free-revving straight-six engine with M TwinPower Turbo technology and 431 hp provides the power. Again, CFRP and aluminium for many chassis and body components was used to shave around 80 kg off the weight of its predecessor. The car was initially well-received by worldwide media, but when the BMW M2 Coupe was launched a year later, everybody quickly forgot about the M3/M4 while harping about the original E30’s soul somehow being represented by the smaller M2.
This summer, as a tribute to the successful 30-year history of the BMW M3, BMW M Division has released an exclusive special-edition model –- limited to 500 units worldwide. With its Macao Blue metallic exterior paint finish, the BMW M3 “30 Jahre M3” is a throw back to the first-generation car, for which this colour shade was first offered. The Competition Package, which is included as standard and comprises extensive powertrain and suspension modifications, pushes the engine output of the anniversary model up by 19 hp to 450 hp.
Except for the special editions, it is unlikely that any of the production BMW M3 versions that came after the original E30 will ever become classics, but they were all great cars within their respective eras.