BMW’S ICONIC M3

On the 40th an­niver­sary of BMW’S 3 Se­ries, Donn re­calls the fac­tors that made the E30 M3 sedan so mem­o­rable

New Zealand Classic Car - - Words And Photos: -

At the end of a long day, we were ne­go­ti­at­ing a nar­row, wind­ing coun­try road in the pitch-black of early evening, un­sure of where or when the next turn­ing might be. This was, we were told, the most re­mote part of Aus­tria, some­where be­tween Salzburg and Vi­enna but well off the beaten track, and we were headed for the Ho­tel Schloss Pich­larn at Ird­ning. Hardly the best sit­u­a­tion for eval­u­at­ing a red M3 BMW E30, and we were dis­cov­er­ing what this car liked least of all — quiet, pot­ter­ing mo­tor­ing.

M3s have al­ways been less about the mun­dane things in life and more about speed and ac­tion — three decades ago, the de­but model made this all so ap­par­ent. If per­for­mance was your forte, the M3 was the prize in the BMW E30 range. Even though the E30 re­mains the small­est and least pow­er­ful of any BMW M Se­ries model, and the only one with a four-cylin­der en­gine, the in­au­gu­ral M3 has taken on iconic pro­por­tions, in part due to its re­mark­able com­pe­ti­tion her­itage. Less than one per cent of all E30s made be­tween 1982 and 1991 were M3s, in stark con­trast to the im­por­tance of this ho­molo­ga­tion spe­cial.

BMW had to make at least 5000 ex­am­ples to qual­ify for mo­tor sport but ac­tu­ally built 17,970 E30 M3s, in­clud­ing the rare con­vert­ible mod­els, com­pared with the to­tal E30 pro­duc­tion of 2,339,520. The fact that all were left-hand drive al­lowed lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for many to find their way to mar­kets like the UK, Aus­tralia, or New Zealand, al­though South Africa pro­duced its own four-door M3 ver­sion in lim­ited num­bers. The M3 pro­duc­tion tally com­prised 16,584 so-called stan­dard mod­els, 1154 Evo­lu­tions, and Johnny Ce­cotto and Roberto Ravaglia Edi­tions. Sport Evo­lu­tion ver­sions were only painted in red or black.

The good news had spread by the time BMW built sub­se­quent M3 mod­els. M3 ver­sions of the E36, which launched in 1992, amounted to 63,070, while 85,744 E46 M3s (1999–2006) in to­tal were sold. Clearly, E30 M3s would al­ways be thin on the ground, but New Zealand is be­lieved to be home to 20 road- and race-car ex­am­ples. E30 M3s out of Ja­pan cur­rently fetch up to NZ$50K, good ex­am­ples from Europe range be­tween $70K and $90K, and rac­ing ver­sions with solid com­pe­ti­tion his­to­ries have been val­ued as high as $200K.

dis­tinc­tive two-door body, and bril­liant com­pe­ti­tion record, the E30 has long been re­garded as the most iconic M-car of all time.

The M3’s 2.3-litre S14 en­gine, orig­i­nally adapted for For­mula 2 and es­sen­tially a six­cylin­der M1 power plant with one bank of cylin­ders cut off, was de­vel­oped by a team led by Paul Rosche. In cre­at­ing the twin-cam, 16-valve, cast-iron-block Bavar­ian jewel, the team ini­tially saw the en­gine pro­duc­ing 143kw or 158kw with­out a cat­alytic con­verter. Topped with an al­loy cylin­der head, the M3 power unit was fit­ted with elec­tronic ig­ni­tion and Bosch Motronic ML fuel injection.

The car’s sus­pen­sion closely fol­lowed that em­ployed by less pow­er­ful E30s, with Macpher­son struts up front and rear trail­ing arms. How­ever, the M3’s set-up was lower, firmer, and with re­vised front-wheel ge­om­e­try. Three Evo­lu­tion ver­sions fol­lowed the first M3s built from 1986, with vary­ing lev­els of power. The fi­nal ren­di­tion achieved 195kw, a top speed of just on 250kph, and a 0–96.5kph (60mph) time of 6.1 sec­onds. While the early ver­sions had an en­gine dis­place­ment of 2302cc, the Sport Evo­lu­tion’s mo­tor was 2467cc.

The M3 boasted larger discs and wider wheel arches to ac­com­mo­date up to 10-inch-wide rims. Visu­ally, the car was dis­tin­guished by a deep front spoiler and a flat­ter rake to the rear screen, while boot-lid height was raised 40mm — all to im­prove down­force. A stan­dard E30 has a drag fac­tor of 0.38, while the M3’s is 0.33. Weight sav­ings in­cluded thin­ner glass for the side and rear win­dows and a plas­tic boot lid and bumper. Later cars had suede on the steer­ing wheel and gear lever. Audi Quat­tro chas­sis en­gi­neer who favoured a large cylin­der bore. Rosche said the power unit worked well right from the start, and the very first M3 en­gine was built en­tirely by hand. It spun eas­ily up to 8500rpm, and the en­gi­neers rea­soned it would have been even bet­ter with a tur­bocharger; how­ever, BMW man­age­ment deemed this too costly given the re­main­ing life of the E30 model cy­cle.

The late Paul Frère, the highly re­spected mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ist who won Le Mans in 1960 for Fer­rari, de­scribed the first M3 as “a dream of free-revving per­for­mance”. Af­ter at­tend­ing the Ital­ian launch in 1986 he added, “This M3 re­minded me of a BMW 2002 Alpina with 160 horse­power [119kw], of which I had been the proud owner in the early ’70s, ex­cept that the M3 had a much higher top speed, far bet­ter road-hold­ing and also much bet­ter brakes.”

The M3 did much to raise the im­age and mana of the E30, and it soon be­came ev­i­dent that the 3 Se­ries would be the main­stay of BMW sales in New Zealand and, of course, other mar­kets.

In the ’70s, it was the 1600/2002 se­ries that marked a turn­ing point for the mar­que, fol­lowed by the first-gen­er­a­tion 3 Se­ries 40 years ago, and, al­though clearly a pro­gres­sion of the E21, in many ways, the E30 suc­ces­sor marked a com­ing of age for BMW, with its good-look­ing body, styled by Claus Luthe, who had also been re­spon­si­ble for the NSU Ro80.

Since then, the fol­low­ing four gen­er­a­tions of 3 Se­ries have ac­counted for at least 30 per cent of BMW’S world­wide sales, and the car has been a long-time favourite in our mar­ket. Lo­cal sales fig­ures prior to 1995 are vague, but, since then, the E46 se­ries has been most pop­u­lar, with the golden years be­ing 2002 (with 915 New Zealand– new reg­is­tra­tions) and 2003 (910). In­ter­na­tion­ally, the car’s big­gest pro­duc­tion year was also 2002, when 561,249 ex­am­ples were built. The third-high­est lo­cal sales year was cap­tured by the E36 gen­er­a­tion in 1995 (730), and, in 2001, the E46 man­aged 695 sales. By 2013, 3 Se­ries de­mand was still high, with 588 buy­ers, with the next best years be­ing 2004 (583), 2014 (572), 2000 (562), and 1999 (538).

The New Zealand pop­u­la­tion of 3 Se­ries BMWS has been hugely in­flated by used­im­port ex­am­ples, not only from the UK but also from Ja­pan. As the 3 Se­ries cel­e­brates its 40th an­niver­sary and 13 mil­lion global sales, it will be re­mem­bered for the spir­ited in-line six-cylin­der mod­els and ef­fi­cient diesel ver­sions that are both quick and highly eco­nom­i­cal.

E30 3 Se­ries drive pro­gramme cov­er­ing 1300 win­try kilo­me­tres from Christchurch across the South­ern Alps, down the West Coast through the Haast Pass, and on to Queen­stown be­fore the run back to Can­ter­bury. It was the most ex­pen­sive press launch for any new-model car in New Zealand, but, more im­por­tantly, it marked the ex­pan­sion of BMW in our coun­try in 1983. For the first time, a builtup-ve­hi­cle fran­chise was rep­re­sented by the man­u­fac­turer rather than an agent, sig­ni­fy­ing the se­cond-gen­er­a­tion E30 se­ries as some­thing of a turn­ing point in the Ger­man car-maker’s lo­cal his­tory.

At the Christchurch din­ner be­fore day one, Ross Jensen — who was be­ing pre­sented with a new 3 Se­ries sedan as part of the han­dover of the New Zealand BMW dis­trib­u­tor­ship to the par­ent com­pany — wor­ried to me about the driv­ing cal­i­bre of some of the mo­tor­ing jour­nal­ists. It was as if he had a premonition of what was about to oc­cur.

Less than 24 hours later, fol­low­ing a coffee stop at Arthur’s Pass, we headed down to­wards Grey­mouth on a cold and grey af­ter­noon, fear­ful of black ice in shaded spots. We rounded a cor­ner to find that, in­deed, un­seen ice had claimed a vic­tim, with one of the 13 E30 3 Se­ries press cars off the road and up­side down strad­dling the main rail­way line to the West Coast. The two oc­cu­pants clam­bered out un­scathed as other BMWS ar­rived, in­clud­ing that con­tain­ing Ron Meatchem, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of BMW Aus­tralia, who looked at me with a some­what pained ex­pres­sion and said, “It would have to be Jensen’s own car!”

In 1983, the E30 was piv­otal to BMW mak­ing se­ri­ous in­roads into New Zealand’s lux­ury car mar­ket, be­gin­ning with the twodoor six-cylin­der 320i that re­tailed for $32K

Donn An­der­son

Donn An­der­son

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