BMW M3 E36 REVIEW

The second BMW M3 was nothing like the initial cars which had borne the name. Instead of a four cylinder race derived hooligan, the new car – based upon the E36 – was a more refined, six cylinder range-topper derived from the 325iS. Critics claimed it was closer to a 6-series replacement than a true M3 – and to an extent they were right. But then, BMW never argued otherwise – it was a quick car that would appeal to everyone from the racer to the family man and business user.

 

VITAL STATISTICS

Engine – 3201cc, 6-cyl, DOHC

Power - 321bhp@7400rpm

Torque - 258lb/ft@3250rpm

Top Speed – 155mph

0-60mph – 5.3seconds

Economy - 20 mpg

Gearbox – 5/6 speed manual

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Bodywork

The E36 M3 was available with most of the standard bodies; the saloon, coupe and convertible. There are no particular rust spots E36s are prone to, but it would be wise to check the whole car for any signs of corrosion. As with any other car, pay attention to the sills, door bottoms, wheelarches, and get it on a ramp if you can. With the best rustproofing in the world, a car will only be rust free if it has been done properly and has never needed a repair.

Engines

The three litre engine is based upon BMW’s M50 engine, also seen in the E36 325i and the E34 525i. It’s a 24 valve unit which develops almost 100bhp/litre, and utilises the VANOS iable cam timing system. The torque curve is not dissimilar to Ayres Rock, in that it is high and flat – and the dual mass flywheel contributes to the engine’s ability to rev to nearly 7300rpm. In 1996 the M3 was breathed on, and became known as the M3 Evolution. An extra 30bhp was found inside the engine, which had grown to 3.2 litres and surpassed the magical 100bhp/litre mark. Lambda sensors and oil pressure valves are known for going, and seals and gears within the VANOS cam timing mechanism are both prone to failure and a job best entrusted to a specialist. The M50 and all M50 derived engines are excellent in terms of reliability, and should pose no problems barring those mentioned above. As with any specialist car though, it needs to be cared for by specialists.

 

Running Gear

Not all the same as a standard E36. The springs are shorter and firmer, with firmer dampers and thicker anti roll bars. The gearbox is from the 5-series. Evolution cars use 850 driveshafts and wheelbearings, an E34 M5 limited slip differential, and uprated proprietary control arms. The rear shock absorber top mounts are a suspect point – lifting each rear corner of the car should highlight any issues there. Exhausts and tyres are expensive, so make sure they’re all as good as they can be before buying. Tyres with less than 3mm left can be used as bargaining counters.

Interior

M-Technic seats are the sole difference between the M3 and the rest of the range. This, of course, means that all number of E36s in scrapyards can yield interesting and useful bits of trim. There’s nothing particularly worth worrying about; most were leather and whilst the stuff isn’t cheap at least leather can be retrimmed well. They’re a nice place to be too; with space for 4 in comfort, a well laid out dash, and enough boot space for a touring holiday. This is where the E36 differs from the E30; it’s a GT car rather than a bit of a lunatic.

 

OUR VERDICT

The E36 M3 is one of the ultimate Q-cars. The Evolution models are blisteringly quick, and the pre-Evolution cars aren’t slow either. Yet with the exception of trained BMW spotters, few will ever notice the difference between an M-car and a standard 318i. Show the chavs who’s boss with an M3, and they won’t know what’s hit ‘em – and on top of this understated performance is the fact that they’ll take four and a decent amount of luggage. Is the M3 all things to all men? Quite possibly – and the E36 is on the cusp of classicdom to boot.

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