The BMW M3 wasn’t the first M-car, but it was arguably the one that put BMW’s Motorsport division on the map.
Read the full MOTOR 30 Years of BMW M3 Special
As Group A racing regulations required at least 5000 road cars be built, it was the first dedicated M model to be made in significant numbers, and the first to have a real motorsport connection – BMW effectively made the ideal race car then decided how to make it road legal.
This engineering focus and subsequent racetrack success not only made the M3 a potent halo car – how many BMW 318i, 325i and 330is models did BMW sell to those who couldn’t stretch to the real deal? – but also one of the most important performance cars in history.
It instantly became the standard by which other rear-drive coupes were judged and has remained the benchmark for almost three decades.
If that crown has slipped a little in recent years it’s more a reflection on how far others have been forced to lift their games rather than BMW dropping the ball. After all, the first question asked when any premium performance coupe hits the market is still: “Is it better than a BMW M3?”
To celebrate 30 years of M3 we decided to try and gather together an example from each of the five generations.
Thanks to the kind assistance of the BMW Car Club of Victoria, we not only managed to do so, but sourced a limited-edition version of each. Comprising our special quintet is Rob Garnsworthy’s E30 Evolution II, Ian Burke’s BMW E36 M3R, Chris Shaw’s E92 Pure Edition and an F80 ’30 Jahre’ – the catalyst for this feature – courtesy of BMW Australia, which also supplied the E46 CSL from its heritage collection.
Besides the badge on the boot and the front-engine, rear-wheel drive layout, the five have little in common.
There are naturally aspirated engines of four, six and eight cylinders, as well as a twin-turbo six, while we have two manual gearboxes, an automated manual and two dual-clutches.
So rather than comparing them to each other, we’re more interested in discovering if there’s a common link that binds these mechanically very different machines – an identifiable characteristic that is the essence of M3.
Over the next five days we’ll bring you each generation of M3, so check back tomorrow to start the nostalgia trip!