A brief history of the BMW M3
We've just driven the new BMW M3. A perfect time to look back on M Division's classic moniker...
Posted: 09 May 2014
BMW M3 Coupe: E36
BMW itself conceded that this new M3 marked "the end of an era for uncompromising sports cars". Out went the four-pot, and in came a big, 3.0-litre straight-six engine developing 286bhp. At the time, no other naturally aspirated engine had such a high specific output - 96bhp per litre. As a result, it could accelerate from 0-62mph in six seconds, and run on to a (limited) top speed of 155mph.
It used the rear axle from the BMW Z1, tauter dampers and anti-roll bars, a drop in ride height over the standard 3-Series Coupe (31mm), and the same exhaustive Nürburgring testing as its predecessor. Oh, and those rather delightful mirrors so appealing to the tea-leaf fraternity.
Saloon and convertible models appeared a few years later - along with a special M3 ‘GT' edition packing 295bhp and a 0-62mph time of 5.9 seconds - but it wasn't until 1995 that the upgraded E36 M3 landed. The engine was now a 3.2-litre straight six, producing 321bhp and offering up a 0-62mph time of 5.5 seconds, and a 50mph-75mph time of just 5.7 seconds in fourth gear. Talk about elastic.
The sequential M gearbox - a first on a BMW M car - might not have been the greatest on earth, but buyers flocked to it. Apparently, every second M3 sold had the ‘SMG' gearbox, and in total, 71,242 E36 generation M3s were built, in all three guises.