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Celebrating 50 Years of BMW M – The BMW E36 M3
Photography by: Jasper Schwering       Article by: G.D.S
Photography by: Jasper Schwering
Article by: G.D.S
Date Posted: December 13, 2022
The BMW E36 M3 was always going to be a car that would be challenged on all fronts, mainly due to the success of its predecessor the E30 M3. A completely new design that stepped away from its motorsport roots and mass produced numbers make the E36 M3 for a very interesting debate amongst BMW enthusiasts, even until today.
First launched in 1992 as a 3.0 coupe, opinion was divided from day one, but it quite quickly grew its own cult following and was very much an appropriate car for the era. The early models boasted 286bhp from a 3.0 litre engine, however in 1995 BMW introduced the E36 M3 Evo with a 3.2 litre engine and a 6 speed manual gearbox producing 317 bhp.
At the time owning one would be a dream for many people, as the E36 M3 was aimed at the higher end of cars and many young enthusiasts could not afford to buy or insure one. For a period of time the prices of the E36's depreciated like many other cars, but as the generation of enthusiasts from the 90s matured the demand for the E36 M3 increased resulting in the prices to go back up.
The featured Artic Silver M3 Evo from 1997 is a stunning example of one that has survived the test of time, and has been cherished by the current owner living up to 'The Ultimate Driving Machine' slogan that BMW stands-by.
Every E36 M3 shares the same body-shell as a standard E36, and to the untrained eye many confused the E36 M3 with a standard 3 series, but there were many noticeable differences in appearance between them, and of course performance. The E36 M3 Evo came with different mirrors that were smaller and more rounded giving it a 'sportier' look in comparison to a standard 3 series that would have rectangular style mirrors.
The E36 M3 had a 30mm lower ride height from factory, stiffer dampers, modified track arms, and unknown to most people rear wheel bearings from the 850i (its bigger brother). In order to help with the power and handling of the car the E36 M3 also had larger brake discs with a 315mm diameter at the front and 313mm diameter at the rear, which was assisted with a bigger brake master cylinder than a standard 3 series.
To the rear of the car some models were equipped with an optional extra rear spoiler, this was also another way to differentiate the E36 M3 from a standard 3 series, however some people preferred a 'cleaner' look and over time would remove the spoilers, but once again opinion was fairly divided on this.
As you opened the doors the cars were fitted with factory fitted M3 badged door sills, once inside it certainly feels like a special car and like an M3 should!
Finding a good clean example has become harder due to the age of the cars, but to all the enthusiasts who make frequent use of their cars and aren't shy to use them, we 'salute' you!
To the side of the car the E36 M3 Evo also came with clear indicators, yet another aesthetic difference between a standard 3 series.
In the 90s and early 2000s a lot of young drivers and BMW enthusiasts attempted to replicate the E36 M3, as the external parts and interior parts were interchangeable with a standard 3 series, but its worth noting they certainly couldn't replicate the engine.
The E36 M3 Evo is powered by the famous S50 straight-six engine that produces 317 bhp and 256lb ft of torque, which manages 0-62mph in 5.5 seconds. Its overall weight comes in at 1420kg compared to the E30 M3 at 1200kg, factoring the increase in weight the numbers are very impressive for the time.
On the inside there were many subtle, but noticeable differences compared to a standard 3 series for example, the E36 M3 came with plenty of M badge styling from the steering wheel, to the gear knob and the dash - the M badge made the M3 feel that extra bit special.
On the coupes the E36 M3 came with high-backed 'Vader' seats that also had the M colours embedded in the leather, and a 62-litre fuel tank was located underneath the rear seat for that extra M power!
An interesting little fact that perhaps only real diehard M3 loyalists would know is that the twin exhaust on an E36 M3 had one exhaust tip that would be slightly longer, this was also another way to distinguish a real M3 vs a replica or a standard 3 series (it's the little details that matter!).
On the dashboard BMW stuck with its traditional orange lights, which is a very distinct feature for many BMWs, and if you really know your M3's you would know the black leather Vader seats have a very unique smell from the leather that was commonly found on 90s BMWs and seem to last forever.
Typically the E36 M3 Evo came with 17' staggered 'style 24 wheels' that had a diamond cut lip, and again it was not something you would find in a standard 3 series.
For many the E36 M3 is special in its own way and has earned its place in the 'BMW M hall of fame', but it will always be compared to the E30, and thats where it will not win. The truth is, it will always live in the shadow of the E30, but if people can accept the fact that they are simply two different cars with the same badge, then the E36 M3 should rightfully be adored for its own greatness.
The E36 M3 may not have been the homologation race car that BMW fans would have wanted, but it was a car that from a commercial perspective made sense for BMW.
The evolution from the E30 to the E36 was one that was needed and both play an important part in the history of BMW M. It is important to understand without one the other would not exist, and without each other the advancements and technological improvements would not have been made.
Often we find ourselves holding on to a period of time for nostalgic reasons, but the E36 M3 represents modern power and shows how far car manufacturers have come, but also why change is needed in order to continuously evolve and improve.
Today we celebrate the E36 M3 for what it is, which is simply a timeless 'modern classic' and a testament to the 90s era of pure M power.
In todays society many of the E36 M3's are owned by people from that era who couldn't afford one back in their youthful days, or those who hold on to memories from the 90s. I think it is fair to say that preserving these cars are of the upmost importance and we hope to see them live on for many many years.
Let us know what you like or hate about the E36 M3 by commenting below!
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