By on April 23, 2015

Insert your own preferred derogatory descriptor in the title.

The E36 M3 – lauded as a wonderful driver’s car, yet derided as a watered-down car unworthy of the ///M badge. Built in reasonably high numbers, this M3 will never be as collectible as it’s predecessor, the Mighty E30, nor as beastly as the E46.

I think that’s ok.

While this generation of M (at least in North America) is indeed down on power compared to later models, there is still plenty of bargain performance to be had. Bargain, that is, for those who can handle most of the maintenance and repairs themselves – and also have backup transportation should when the water pump decide to disintegrate.

This example on eBay carries the Luxury Package, which replaces the cheap leather door cards with slightly less cheap leather door cards. The seats look to be nicer, too, than the standard M3.With fewer than 50k on the odometer, this E36 M3 looks pampered and ready for another lifetime of cheap hoonage.

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32 Comments on “Crapwagon Outtake: The Ultimate … Machine...”


  • avatar
    mikedt

    My least favorite 3-series body style.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    About a year ago I was pretty actively looking at these. Unfortunately, they have passed the bottom of the depreciation curve and are pushing upward if the car is in nice shape. Tons of trashed cars out there for cheap, but that wasn’t something I was willing to daily drive. It doesn’t help that there are companies out there buying up all of the truly nice ones for loaded collectors that are willing to pay over $20k/$30k for a nearly 20 year old car.

    I don’t care much for the e46 M3 these days. I loved it when it came out. If you are willing to tolerate the SMG, they can be had really cheap right now.

    There is an e30 near my old house that looks to be rotting into the ground. I give the owner a call about once a year to ask if he’s changed his stance on it. 4 years later, it is still just going to be a donor, someday, for an other e30 with a fragged engine. There is literally nothing irreparable about this M3, but the other car has sentimental value so this one will be a rolling shell (or rot into the ground) for the sake of the other one. It is the right color (white body, red interior), too.

    My order of preference: e30 > e36 > e90/92 > f30 = e46

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      I was looking for one of these when I was shopping for my Z. A few good ones slipped through my hands and eventually I grew weary of chasing down a ~16-20 year old $10K car for a DD.

      If I went the used Bimmer route I would probably go for the Z3/4 coupe, or throw an LSD into an E46 330i ZHP. E36 M3s are definitely starting to do the bounce… won’t be long before the E46 non Ms are the better value.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        I thought ZHP e46s came with LSD.

        M Coupe (Z3) is my dream BMW, but there are like 2000 in the country and are in super high demand. Just another pretty car I’ll watch from afar.

        • 0 avatar
          burgersandbeer

          No LSD on the ZHP. Most of the changes were actually cosmetic. I’m pretty sure it even used the same dampers as the regular sport suspension.

          The big mechanical changes were camshafts and software, resulting in a 300 rpm higher redline and an extra 10hp. Less invasive mechanical changes were the exhaust, stiffer ball joints, and 18″ wheels.

          The rest of the changes were things like bumpers, interior trim, headliner, steering wheel, shift knob, and gauge needles.

          While a nice package, when I was looking I didn’t think they were worth the premium people were asking. It also added complexity to an already difficult search (I wanted a manual). Bought a regular sport package 330 instead.

          Agreed on the Z3 coupe btw. A Z3 M coupe runs like $20k though :-(

      • 0 avatar
        KevinC

        You would like my stable – Z4MC and ZHP coupe. The SO has a Mk7 Golf TDI that we use for any/all road trips (on vacation in it right now as a matter of fact). Covers all the bases quite well. NO desire to own anything new from Munich.. the Z4M was the last car with the legendary S54 motor. It’s been all downhill since.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    About a decade ago I was house sitting for my old boss and her fiance’s cousin (they lived 2 doors apart). My compensation was in the form of being given the keys to the cousin’s ’97 M3 convertible. It was silver with gray interior.

    The first time I drove it I was super excited. After getting a feel for it, I decided to see what it had. I wasn’t terribly impressed. I expected neck snapping acceleration which never happened. It was a little disappointing. The handling wasn’t well suited for the Northern VA roads which caused the suspension to crash over the potholes. In fact, I only drove it a couple times after that despite having access to it for over a week.

    Now, I think back and realize that is exactly what I want in a car. I don’t need the fastest car around, that only leads to trouble. The suspension may not be suited for pocked roads, but I can find my way around that now. The problem is, for the price you pay for the M3 name, you can get so many as good or better cars for the same or less money.

    • 0 avatar

      This +1.

      The E36 M3 is underrated. I always thought it handled like a Miata but with more power. But for the money there are a lot of other good or better cars out there.

      • 0 avatar
        formula m

        We just finished a rebuilding an M3 to racing specs that had been crashed last racing season. Customer spent over $25k in total to get it ready for the track again (includes rebuilt motor, new cage and paint). Some people really like this era… Probably due to the precise handling

  • avatar
    anti121hero

    I am still searching for “the ultimate d bag machine” shirt that murilee wore in a picture here a while ago.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    Call me crazy but I am put off by those wheels simply because they look like a PITA to clean. Compounded by the fact that BMW pads generally put off a ton of dust.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      BMW does seem to have a fetish for wheel design that exacerbates their brake dust problem. I actually prefer the so called M Contours that some years of the E36 M3 had; likely easier to clean and I think they look better anyway. As far as BMW wheels go, the ones pictured here aren’t that bad to clean.

      Check out http ://www.bmwstylewheels.com/ for some of BMW’s wheel cleaning challenges. The company loves split spokes.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    OK, maybe not as collectable, but this is still a great car. I owned a 2000 BMW M Roadster which used the same suspension, engine and exhaust system as this car. And it was a fantastic engine. I never had a single issue with that car beyond normal wear and tear. With minor mods, it was very easy to get this car in the 300 Hp range and approaching a 5 sec 0-60 time. Stock was 5.5.

    Let’s not forget this car is what 15-17 years old now. I think it’s a fantastic bargain.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      The M Roadster actually shared its rear suspension with the E30 and E36/5. It didn’t have the multilink rear suspension used by the rest of the E36 range, including the M3. On the positive side, I don’t recall hearing about rear suspension pickup points tearing out of the bodies on semi-trailing arm cars, unlike every 3-series built since.

    • 0 avatar
      GiddyHitch

      I agree completely. Furthermore, I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the E36 because it turned me into the fanboy that I am today. To wit, driving a college buddy’s brand new 328is at triple digits to make it to Lake Tahoe in record time on a couple hours of sleep, and another friend owning an E36 M3 for close to a decade of hard driving cemented in my mind that I too would own an M3 some day (though the E46 version in my case). Yes, some of the instrument cluster pixels would crap out on my buddy’s M, but beyond replacing the plastic liner under the front fascia and tires fairly often, it was a reliable car for the 100k miles that he had it before it got totaled around 140k.

      One must remember too that BMW chronically underrated their engines – this thing never felt slow to me when driven in anger.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    I hate to be that guy, but the E36 M3 makes a nice canvas for an LSx swap. Better chassis than the E30 and less hackery with the ECU than the E46.

  • avatar
    LUNDQIK

    6 bidders… 61 bids… its at $14.6k AND the reserve has still not been met?

    Am I missing something here?

    Last year I was in the market for a fun, 2nd toy car for under $10k. I shopped these cars, I didn’t like them at $10k, let alone $15k+. I really must be missing something here. There are so many newer, nicier, more fun cars you can get for that kinda money.

    Does the “M” badge really carry that much weight?

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      With some people, yes.

      If I wanted a BMW, I’d honestly enjoy a CPO 328i more – because doors, and not worn out.

      I am never, ever going to notice or care about any notional difference in driving dynamics.

      • 0 avatar
        cirats

        You might not care about or want the different driving dynamics, but you would notice. I shopped both and the difference was significant. And you could get an E36 M3 with 4 doors.

  • avatar
    Charlie84

    Despite the supposed ignominy of possessing a mere 240 bhp, these are some of the best-driving BMWs ever: More capable than the E30 M3 and less isolated than the E46.

  • avatar
    Moparmann

    I had the opportunity to drive a 1998 non M spec model with manual for an extended period. I loved that car, and would have liked to keep it! The manual moved it out expeditiously, and the smooth roads here in the South made for a comfortable ride. Unfortunately, it was sold, and the buyer lost control and totalled it within 24 hours of purchase!!

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    I liked the lines on these M models, but these cars were ridiculously overrated, then and now.

    That price is absurd, you could get a non-M model depending on condition for $3k-$4k and put a few suspension mods. That badge in not worth the $10k premium in my eyes.

  • avatar
    cirats

    Fun to see two former cars of mine (or cars very close to them) on TTAC in the same day – this and the Acura Legend 4-door 5MT.

    Anyway, I had a 4-door silver E36 M3 as may daily driver from 2005 through 2011 and am pretty sure it will go down in history as my favorite car I ever owned and the one I most regret selling. Not super-fast, but plenty fast enough and felt fast given that it was so small, light and nimble, especially compared to most anything you can buy new today. Lots of fun just zipping around town.

    It wasn’t exactly cheap to operate – just checked the records and I spent about $7500 on repairs, etc., over the 6.5 years I owned it – but it was bulletproof in terms of reliability. Plus, I knew going in I’d need to spend money on it over time and budgeted accordingly when I purchased it – the repairs were way less than car payments would have been.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    My roommate had an 1988 E30 M3 with only 18K miles on it when he bought it. I put a cam gear (advanced cam timing) in it for him.

    If your daily commute was carving through the canyons for 20 minutes, then yes, it was a great car. If you only used it on the weekends or for road racing or autocrossing, it was a great car.

    If you were just getting onto the interstate and blasting along at 70mph, it was horrible. Loud, engine almost at 4Krpm, harsh ride. NOT a trip car! And even with the low miles, it had the typical flaky German-car electronics (that were expensive to fix so one learned to live with intermittent dash lights for various faults that the car thought it had).

    My friend sold it many years back for about what he paid for it ($18K IIRC) with about 75K miles on it and still in near-mint condition. Too bad he didn’t hold onto it a decade longer(nobody knew back in the mid-1990s then that these would appreciate like they have).

    To each his own, I guess.

  • avatar
    djoelt1

    I have the lightweight version of this car and it is a sweet ride. I look around for a replacement every year but including the charisma of the lightweight version, nothing else on the used market ever stacks up. I can take the spouse on a weekend away, then turn around and put track rubber on it and dial up the DA shocks and terrorize my local track. I can shuttle my three kids to their destinations in “the race car”. It’s under 3000 lbs, consumables are cheap, and it gets about 30 mpg in relaxed driving. The interiors fall apart and the cooling system is a 5 year maintenance item, but a new radiator is only $250.

    These are just great all around cars.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    I had the 1995 version, which had a few differences: ODB I instead of ODB II, 235/40/17 tires on all four corners, and 3.0L engine. Other than the usual water pump dying at 75k miles the car was very reliable. I bought used at 50k miles and ran until 100k miles; gave to my sister who ran it 10 years to 210k+ miles. She traded it in and got $5k or $6k for it.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    The wheels on that car are the beautiful, and highly desirable, Type 24 forged wheels. That and the low mileage make it a pretty attractive buy. On the other hand the luxury package gets you the less attractive front bumper cover and some cheesy fake wood inserts in the cabin.

    The E36 remains one of the few cars that, if taken care of, can run to very high miles, 250K and plenty more. Parts are moderately expensive, but the design’s weak spots are by now well known and readily fixable.

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