Five generations of special-edition BMW M3 (and M4) are up for sale at once | Top Gear
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Tuesday 26th September

Five generations of special-edition BMW M3 (and M4) are up for sale at once

The ultimate version of each ultimate driving machine is up for grabs. So, who’s feeling flush?

Published: 23 Feb 2023

It’s the age-old story – you spend your life looking for the a mint, special-edition BMW M car to turn up, then five arrive at once. 

What might be the prettiest auction in the world – RM Sotheby’s Villa Erba auction, held at the eponymous villa in Cernobbio, on the banks of Lake Como – will this year include no fewer than five limited-run M cars, each impossibly clean and inestimably desirable. So, answers on a postcard (or indeed in the comments section) for which one you’d take home and why it’s the E30 Evo...

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BMW M3 Sport Evolution (E30): €180,000 - €220,000

A regular E30 M3 is no slouch. Well, technically it kind of is, by modern standards of speed. But as a hand-built homologation special, it’s among the very best. 

The Sport Evolution model, on the other hand, systematically eliminates any ways in which it could be called a slouch. Developed by M Division to stay ahead of a full-force, fully fledged effort from Mercedes in touring car racing, the Evo got an uprated 2.5-litre engine and a power hike to some 238 horsepower, brake cooling ducts and adjustable splitters at the front and rear. 

Clearly, it worked – the M3 stayed ahead of the 190E, becoming one of the most successful touring cars of all time. The road-going cars BMW built to satisfy homologation rules numbered just 600; so even among something as special as the E30 M3, you can consider this one a rare gem. 

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BMW M3 CSL (E46): €120,000 - €160,000

For our generation, the E46 M3 was probably the first real introduction to M Division – and why our lives would be forever incomplete without owning one of its products. And none made a better argument than the E46 CSL.

The CSL was everything made that little bit better, which combined to create something massive. Metaphorically, of course – it was 110kg lighter than standard, after all. 

M Division’s 338bhp, 3.2-litre straight six that we all had pretty much assumed was perfect was somehow made even better, thanks to a carbon-fibre intake manifold and revised cam profiles, and made a truly astonishing 355bhp. The steering rack was faster as well, while the brakes were bigger and suspension was screwed-down to the nth degree. 

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Just 1,383 buyers swallowed their brave pills, put their money down and signed BMW’s disclaimer. No, literally – the tyres were so bad in the cold or wet that they were a legitimate liability. We’d probably get some more modern rubber, all things considered...

BMW M3 GTS (E92): €150,000 - €200,000

When the E92 M3 came out, there was a bunch of chat about it not being a proper M3, due to its size, luxury features and V8, and the attendant weight gain. OK, fair play on the weight gain and luxuries, but the V8? 

This was a proper motorsport-derived V8, in an M3. Why we weren’t just kissing BMW’s feet for putting a bona fide racing V8 in a mid-sized road car is, in retrospect, probably worthy of examining. 

In any case, BMW gave us even more reason for podiatric affection with the GTS – the 4.0-litre V8 was stroked to 4.4 litres, fitted with a titanium exhaust and set loose. Officially it makes another 30bhp and 30lb ft; unofficially, it makes a sound like a particularly enraged bear.

The well-into-six-figures asking price when new is likely why it’s the rarest of all special M editions, with just 138 built. Yes, it was plenty fast, properly track-worthy and very likely the most extreme transformation ever effected on an M car... but £120,000 was Porsche GT3 money. You see what happened. 

BMW M4 GTS (F82): €100,000 - €150,000

Ah yes, the whole ‘M4’ thing. Honestly, we probably had it worked out OK with M3, but if BMW wanted to destroy its lineage then that was absolutely their problem. 

Interestingly enough, the carryover moniker from the M3 days was the GTS appellation applied to the none-more-extreme E92 M3. 

And, just like the GTS before it, the F82 M3 GTS decided subtlety was for suckers and went all-in on the boy racer bits of the day: diamond-cut wheels, orange accents, and skeleton-mounted spoilers with end caps... and the surface area of your average back yard. 

With that said, the F82 was the first factory M3 road car (or M4, we guess) to hit the 500bhp mark, thanks in part to a GTS-only water-injection charge cooling system. The fact that the E46 CSL was twice as good with three-fifths of the power is perhaps immaterial to the target market, who were swayed by its status as ‘fastest M car around the ’Ring’ (7min 28sec, if you care), carbon fibre bonnet and boot lid. 

BMW M4 CSL (G82): €170,000 - €230,000

At last, the vaunted CSL returns, putting the overt and overwrought GTS to bed and focusing on what made special-edition M3s... well, special. 

That is, losing weight – the ‘L’ part in CSL, after all – with 100kg stripped from the admittedly pretty porky G82 M4, thanks to carbon-fibre panels, titanium exhaust, carbon-ceramic brake discs, carbon-fibre front seats and some fresh air where the rear ones used to be. 

There’s extra power, too – as if 500bhp was somehow lacking – for a total of 542bhp, while the retuned suspension manages to stay one step shy of punishing. Good news, right? 

Er, about that. The lightened M4 CSL is... the same weight as the regular F82 M4. And someone must not have got the memo about CSLs not being overt and overwrought, because... yeesh. It’s one thing to have an elephant in the room; it’s another thing entirely to be that elephant.

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