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How to buy an old BMW M3

  1. The new BMW M3 is a good car. So is its M4 Coupe partner. The long-awaited - and long-teased - successors to the E92 V8-powered M3 promised a return to the singing inline sixes and lightweight philosophy of old, and nearly delivered it.

    We say nearly, because of course, the major talking point about the new car is the premiere of a turbocharged engine for the first time in an M3. No more natural aspiration. No more high-revving, break-for-the-redline raucousness.

    Which isn’t to say it’s a bad car at all, just a different breed of M3. As TG’s Ollie Marriage reported back, the new 3.0-litre turbo “could be one of the best turbo engines ever”. You can read his full review here.

    That said, it seems you lot have quite a bit of love for the free-breathing M engines of yore; the frantic four-pot in the E30, the gloriously insane 3.2-litre from the E46, and the barrel-chested V8 from the E92.

    So, what if you want an M3 without forced induction? The classifieds are loaded with prime examples of Munich’s flag-bearer, and here, in a handy gallery, are examples of the Best of Breed.

    Disclaimer: TG accepts no responsibility for the condition of the cars linked to in the classifieds. However, if they turn out to be minters, then we will accept we are entirely brilliant. Ambitious?

  2. BMW M3: E30

    The one that sets every M-Division fanboy’s adenoids to ‘stun’: the first ever BMW M3. It appeared after then BMW CEO Eberhard Kuenheim wanted “a sporty engine for the 3-Series”. BMW also wanted to go racing, and needed to build 5,000 units in order to tackle touring cars.

    And you don’t need us to remind you that this little E30 was really rather excellent at doing the touring car thing. The road-going production version as equally excellent: a lissome 1200kg kerbweight, a 2.3-litre four cylinder engine with 200bhp, a 0-62mph of 6.7 seconds and rear-wheel-drive.

  3. BMW M3: E30

    A 238bhp 2.5-litre four-pot would later debut in the ‘Sport Evo’, along with a two-tier rear wing. By and large, these cars are quite unburstable, but rust can be a problem so check everywhere before you buy. Engines are strong, but check the timing chain and for any oil leaks too.

    Here’s one we found for the princely sum of £24,995. But it’s an original - and by the looks of it - unmolested example. LHD, 90K on the clock, a ‘documented service history’ and MOT until Nov 2014. Just one previous owner.

    Check the classified advert here

  4. BMW M3: E36

    Probably the most unloved of the bunch, but still a cracker of a car and now steadily increasing in desirability, the E36 was a clear move away from the ‘uncompromising’ E30. BMW stated as much.

    Debuting in the early 90s, the E36 initially came with a 3.0-litre straight-six producing 286bhp, while the one you really want - the 3.2-litre - arrived in 1995. That car produced 321bhp and recorded a 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds.

  5. BMW M3: E36

    Vanos problems are common on these cars (that’s the complicated camshaft setup), while you should probably replace the water pumps and radiators as a matter of course. Brake pipes are also a common problem on the E36 in general - the rear ones especially are an absolute pain in the rear to change - while you should also do the standard rust check.

    But a clean, unfettered E36 is still a mighty, mighty thing. We’ve gone for a cabrio: after all, why not just revel in the sound of that glorious straight-six? It’s an “original, unabused example” showing just 71k miles on the clock, complete with a full service history. Yours for £6,495.

    Check the classified ad here

  6. BMW M3: E46

    Ah yes, the return of the flared arches so beloved of the M3 fraternity; also, the return of a proper blood-and-thunder straight-six screamer. The E46 M3 got a ‘power dome’, many air intakes, four-exhaust pipes and 343bhp at 7,900rpm.

    It sounded great, went like hell (0-62mph in 5.2 seconds, top speed of 155mph) and in 2003’s CSL guise, was quite simply one of the finest BMWs ever built. Some would say the finest…

    Clarkson vs the M3 CSL

  7. BMW M3: E46

    You’d have to be seriously intent on rattling the E46 to actually kill it, though watch out for the rear suspension coils, sub frames (they can crack), the diff and of course, the condition of the tyres. Give SMG-equipped cars a thorough going over too, because though failures are rare, repairs are very, very expensive.

    But enough doom and gloom: find some money because here’s a CSL, with 27k on the clock, full BMW service history (including the all-important running in service), for, well, there’s no easy way of putting this… £47,995. Sure, it’s a big sticker, but it’s done hardly any mileage. All the more for you to enjoy.

    Check the classified ad here

  8. BMW M3: E92

    Where the E36 added two cylinders to the E30, so the E92 (or E90 if you bought a saloon) added yet another two, meaning a BMW M3 with a V8 for the very first time. 420bhp and 295lb ft of torque meant a 0-62mph time of 4.8 seconds.

    But above that was of course the nature of the delivery: the V8 revved out to 8,400 rpm, and in doing so prompted involuntary squeaks from owners.

  9. BMW M3: E92

    Introduced in 2007, this M3 still requires a good nose around. Of crucial importance - for both this and indeed its E46 predecessor - is the running-in service at around 1000 miles. Regular oil services, in fact, apply across the entire range of M cars. In fact, across any car ever.

    No other big issues, but best to check the condition of the tyres, the M settings in the iDrive and indeed other disposables, to give you some kind of clue as to what life it has had.

    Here’s a BMW Approved M3 - meaning it’s a very, very clean motor - for £29,995. It’s got just 12,000 miles on the clock, was registered in November 2010, and gets lots of additional bits and pieces.

    Check the classified ad here

  10. Obviously, these are merely some suggestions. Owned - or own - an M3? Tell us about your experiences in the space below, so that the world may profit from your knowledge…

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