BMW M3 – 1986

The BMW M3 is the most successful example ever of racing homologation creating an internationally-acclaimed road car. Its genealogy is straightforward. The M3 is a high performance version of the BMW 3-series compact, based on the E30; but its racing engine has a broad pedigree in BMW motorsport. The engine’s basic block layout derives from the M10 familiar from the earlier BMW 2002 and 320 series, overbored to resemble the specifications of the BMW M88 Straight Six.

In fact the M3 uses a four-cylinder engine because it derived from their Formula One engine of the day. The roll-call of influences is an evolutionary history of motorsport — and no car has added to it more than the M3, which has won more road races than any other model in history, and dominated Group A Touring Car racing throughout its years of production. The M3 doesn’t look especially like the E30 whose soul it shares. Only the hood and roof panels are interchangeable, and the M3’s obviously improved aerodynamics are emphasized rather stylishly by the famous ‘box flared’ fenders essential to accommodate the wider track and wheels.

The stiffer body shell permits improvements to the suspension and power steering that, combined with the five-speed Getrag gearbox, add up to truly extraordinary road handling characteristics which more than compensate for a slight loss of top end speed. The trade press fairly worshipped it. Classic & Sports Car spoke lyrically of ‘its beautifully balanced chassis, razor sharp steering, and sweet singing twin-cam four’. Car and Driver described in awe how the M3 leaps through corners like a cat, its feisty engine spinning and spitting until you snatch another gear or the rev limiter grabs it by the tail’. The M3, everyone without exception agrees, is the ultimate definition of ‘a driver’s car’. BMW M3.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: Germany

FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1986 (until 1992)

ENGINE: 2,302 cc Straight Four

PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 143 mph (230 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.6 secs

YOU SHOULD KNOW: Homologation specials continued to appear regularly as the E30 M3 race car was improved. The road car just became more and more impressive, too; and its popularity means you still see (and hear) them frequently at anything from events to shows to the supermarket. No other race car ever proved so genuinely versatile, and such fun.

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