BMW: A Homage to M3

Cars

The Ultimate Driving Machine…

It was a slogan BMW once slathered across the majority of its marketing material. A slogan that would now struggle to add gravitas to the likes of the bloated X5, the awkwardly-styled 3 Series GT or the barge-like 7 Series, but one that remains credible thanks to one car: the BMW M3.

M3100
The F80 designation looks crisp in Yas Marina blue…

It is not often that a vehicle comes along and slashes the rulebook clean in two but in 1986 – when the E30 BMW M3 Coupe was first available for public consumption – it did just that. Brandishing pure racing performance thanks to BMW’s motor sport division and a boot that could swallow even the biggest C&A shopping trip, it was a freak of nature; One of the original Q cars that could be comfortably driven everyday but also thrash the pants off a Porsche should the need arise.

It was on my wall, next to a jet black Lamborghini Countach.



But unlike the Countach, it whispered rather than bellowed into the ears of those who desired high performance. After all, then BMW chairman of the board Eberhard von Kuenheim simply wanted to slot a spicy engine into his beloved 3 Series, fettle the damping a bit and make sure the brakes didn’t fade after a few hot laps, not create a supercar.

But even Kuenheim couldn’t have predicted just how delicious his recipe was to taste.

My first bite of the M3 masterpiece wasn’t to come until 14 years after the original car graced UK roads. The E36 M3 had already arrived and riled fans by ditching the favoured four-pot engine of the E30 and ballooning in weight, but that was in the past. The E46 was now here and it was a belter.

E46-100

A friend of mine had a father who was brazenly reckless with cash and harboured a soft spot for ludicrously quick coupes. He once turned up to my house in a brand new E46 M3 CSL – a lightweight range-topper that not only cost £60,000 at the time but also hid a 3.2-litre straight six under the bonnet. My mum commented on the nice car sat on our driveway but she didn’t have a clue about the cutting-edge flappy paddle gearbox, the carbon fibre roof and precision-cut lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels.

I did and I was physically salivating at the thought of strapping into the lightweight bucket seats.

The profligate pops floored the CSL as soon as we left the 30mph roads of my estate. All three of us (my mate was hunkered in the back) squirmed with the ferocity of acceleration and above the induction roar of the almighty engine, the old man could be heard rattling off figures. “It weighs under 1400kg!” he beamed. “Nought to sixty in under five lads!” he exclaimed. We rounded a bend and I felt the tail of the car step out. Naturally, I went to grab the nearest handle but there wasn’t one on this pared-back machine. My friend’s dad laughed his head off.

That outing had me hooked. I swore to learn to drive the following year (I didn’t, I bought a motorbike instead) and I vowed to experience that aural battering and accelerative ass whooping for myself, be it through owning an M3 (unlikely) or by becoming a motoring journalist and borrowing one (yeah, that).

M4
The M4 Coupe pushes the form forward…

Driving a modern M3 remains a special experience. The squat stance and aggressive styling is the first thing to smack you between the eyes. It isn’t lairy like its Germanic rivals – the Audi RS4 and the Mercedes C63 AMG – but instead remains relatively faithful to the original Q car understatement.

The bulging ‘Power Dome’ on the bonnet that accommodates the engine alludes to its neck-snapping intent and the trademark flared wheel-arches, M-badged side strakes and bonnet scoops provide reference points for those in the know. My first drive in an E46 didn’t fail to disappoint. The Welsh A and B-roads more commonly known as the Evo triangle provided the perfect canvas for some automotive tomfoolery, evoking memories of that gut-wrenching acceleration I’d experienced years before.

I’ve also visited the roads of my youth in an E90 M3; flooring the accelerator on the exact same stretch I first experienced the awesome pulling power of the CSL. It felt as good as it did 14 years ago.

My friend tells me his old man has been divorced twice since that first driving experience but one thing remains the same.

He still owns a BMW M3.

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