BMW’s M Division – few can match the pedigree and reputation this little sub division of Bavaria’s best can offer. It is normally the first port of call for any Petrol head when it comes to affordable performance motoring, but what exactly makes them so special?
Well you only have to know what the “M” stands for to understand everything about what BMW’s M division is about – Motorsport – it is something very much where their roots lie. It was during the 1960’s and 70’s where BMW was very much part of International racing around the world and it was here that the M Division was born with just 8 people, tasked with providing the race cars to go racing against the world’s best including Porsche and the works Ford Cars.
This led to the first ever M division inspired car – the 3.0 CSL, codename Batmobile (due to its aggressive wings and bodywork). Essentially a lightened, stiffer, more powerful version of the 3.0 CS the car was tailored to the European Touring Car Championship regulations almost perfectly – back then probably the most prestigious racing series in the world behind Formula 1. With an exquisite set of drivers at the wheel including Dieter Quester, Chris Amon and Hans Joachim Stuck, the 3.0 CSL took overall victories in Touring car championships around the world winning the ETCC 5 times on the trot from 1975-79. Overall class wins at Le Mans added foundation to the claims that BMW’s M division was to start something truely special.
This huge success pioneered the direction that the M sub division would take for future years. It was these results that made BMW sit up and take notice of the special achievements that the M guys had managed to pull off through racing internationally against the best of the best.
Today the M division is considered one of the best in house tuners in the world, but what really was the first car to push them into legendary status amongst those in the motoring world?
If I were to ask a question to anyone reading this article to close their eyes and think of the ultimate M car and what exactly that would be, I’m almost certain all would answer starting with the words E30. Statistics have shown that in fact the most common M car to be produced was indeed the E46 series M3 with over 85,744 models produced over a 5 year period, showing that it was loved by many. However if you ask the purists and those who really know; you will find a completely different story to what the statistics show.
To first understand the E30 M3 you need to look at it from the pure sense it was brought into the world to do – Race. In essence the M Division looked to assault Group A Touring car regulations with the “ultimate” touring car. For this however homologation rules had stated that at least 500 cars were to be made. This meant 500 of these race prepped beasts would be converted to road cars. This is where the Sport Evolution model steps in; the ultimate road going E30.
Winning championships such as the BTCC, DTM, ATCC, ETCC and the World Touring Car Championship, it is quick to understand the pedigree of this car, its un rivalling reputation bound to the history books.
To view this car as an upgraded 3 series would be totally misplaced, it is raw, simple, charismatic, a total no nonsense approach to driving where the car just assaults your senses.
The heart of this beast is the now infamous S14 4 cylinder unit, lighter and smaller than the famous BMW 6’s, the crank so stiff it could rev upwards of 10,000 rpm. In its most extreme form the displacement was pushed to 2.5 litres which allowed the car to nudge 240bhp.
These gave way to some insane figures with the car hitting 60 in a smidge after 6 seconds and on to a top speed of 154mph, now imagine that in the late 80’s in a saloon car, these were the numbers that rivalled the famous 911 of the day.
But the speed was not the highlight of the car, race car like roots stemmed far deeper than the raw mechanics of the gut busting engine, steering was super light and provided a feel through the wheel like no other, the ability to sense exactly what the car was doing underneath you gave huge confidence to anyone who was driving it hard. The agility and simplicity of the car allowed it to be super fast in it’s change of direction; giving it the title of true B road king.
These handling traits found love with many famous drivers around the world who purchased E30 M3’s with the most famous of all Jean Alesi, pronouncing his M3 as one of the best handling cars he had ever driven. Now to gain such a compliment from a winner in Formula 1 is something truely special and only enhanced the M division’s reputation as one of the best tuners in the world.
It is a car that demands respect from any driver, but when driven to its maximum potential is a car that reaps huge rewards for anyone. The car is now nearly 25 years old but it is truely timeless in its design, a throwback to the raw roots of driving with car and driver in perfect harmony. It is the perfect blend of mechanical engineering and sheer simplicity, which leaves a pure addiction to the focus on driving the car for whoever steps into the perfectly moulded Recaro’s.
Prices after this time for a good condition E30 M3 are still hovering around the £25-30 grand mark, this is true testament to the pedigree this car. Although you can pick up a good E30 3 series for around £1000 these days, you have to think to yourself £25,000 for a Touring Car really isn’t that bad a deal, is it?