Monday, July 13, 2015

M3/4/5: 1997 BMW M3 E36 Sedan

As E30 M3 prices skyrocket to the stratosphere and E34 M5 prices ease upward, the E36 generation BMW M3 continues to be the pariah of the depreciated ///M world.  Never mind that the E36 is faster, better handling, more modern, and cheaper to run than those other M-cars, because buyers/sellers don't seem to care about logic...because logically, this is the M to own.  Find this 1997 BMW M3 E36 Sedan here on eBay for $9,499 buy-it-now located in Berlin, CT.

The E36 generation M3 was available as a coupe, sedan, or convertible -- and a quick search of the interwebs would have you think that every convertible is a slushbox, and every coupe came with salvage title from the factory. The fanboys will claim the only difference between the coupe and sedan (besides door count and roofline) is that the sedan has a stiffer body, but torsional rigidity is not something you can measure at home with a set of bungie cords and a stopwatch.  My preference for the sedan comes down to simple utilitarian emphasis on getting kids in/out of car seats out the back.

The post '96 M3 comes with a 3.2 liter S52 inline-6 that pushes out the same 240 horsepower as the earlier version, but boosts torques to 236 ft-lbs.  Power goes to a standard limited slip differential out back via a ZF sourced 5-speed manual gearbox. 

Ed. CFlo: The E36 is such an incredible handling chassis from the factory that only a bit of tweaking makes them a world-class fun machine / track car. And they are dirt cheap right now; my 24 Hours of Lemons team just bought a straight, rust free spare 328i sans engine & trans... for $200. Now is the time. Carpe BM.

See a better way to drive a great handling sedan for the same cash?


  1. Yes, the sedan's the car to own especially as they age, 'cause there's no car with frameless door windows out there that isn't going to rattle and creak like a USPS small flat-rate box full of Craftsman sockets after a decade.

    I'm betting this will be every bit as true of the Tesla Model S as it is of a '72 Camaro.

  2. Like my beloved Shadowagon, don't buy one of these for the rear leg room.

    1. That's what the M5 a couple posts down is for.

    2. It's just as bad, at two-tenths of an inch difference.

    3. The E34 is even worse at 25.5 inches - pretty meager legroom accommodations for a midsize luxury car of its length. As an owner who has only one small kid however, it's great because the reduced space between front and rear seats means the trunk is rather commodious.

    4. Ouch. It's certainly not a very good reason not to buy an M3 but it's a factor if you plan on actually carrying 3-4 adults for any length of time and distance. To me, the utility of the sedan (over the coupe) does add interest. But the back seat is tight - but perfect for if you have a small child, as you said.

      Too bad they never offered an M3 wagon here in the States.

    5. Looking at my M5's back seat earlier today and mentally comparing to an E36, I have to think there's no way the E36 (3 series) has ~9 inches more leg room than the E34 (5 series). Apparently the manufacturers can measure leg room with the front seats either all the way forward, all the way back, or somewhere in between. Maybe BMW changed their measurement standard at some point in the early 90s.

      To address your other point - the E36 wagon IIRC had the same wheelbase and therefore the same leg room as the sedan and coupe. It does offer more rear headroom and of course more cargo room.

      I don't think they ever offered an M3 wagon anywhere, but they did sell lower-trim versions of the E36 wagon in Europe and other markets. Once those hit 25 years old I bet we'll start seeing them a bit more frequently here in the US. I'm keeping my eyes open because that might just be an ideal funwagon for the whole family.

    6. After I typed this I realized: nevermind re: the E36 wagon. They will be overpriced and in demand when they do reach our shores.

      BMW did sell the fantastic E46 (subsequent generation) 3 series wagon here. It was mostly a low power / auto trans type of car. They are cheap and available, and a better car than the E36.

      BMW themselves did make a concept M3 Touring, and how hard could it be to buy a wrecked M3 coupe and swap all the bits over? Widebody conversion would be the hardest bit.



    7. Someone built one of those and was selling it back in 2011. I thought it was pretty sweet.

      Lookie what we have here

  3. I have a '97 Arctic Silver M3/4/5 with sunroof and rare split-folding rear seats. I have the TMS Stage 3+ upgrade with Schrick cams, M50 intake, Porsche CFM, and 24lb injectors. Car idles perfect, passed emissions first try, makes 290whp and pulls hard with an amazing sound. It also gets 26mpg highway, cruises silently at 80mph, has the working Harmon Nav system (Yes, working) and is one of the best all-around cars I have ever owned. The handling (with minor upgrades) is unbelievably well-balanced, it sticks like mad, looks great, and you never see one...and they will be even more rare as more are salvaged, trashed, boy-racer'd, tracked, and turned into racecars. Find a good one with records--bushings, trailing arms, suspension, replace the entire cooling system with a metal water pump and aluminum radiator, reinforce the rear shock mounts, and some other small things, and you will have a car that will last a long time. Mine has 125K and runs like new, uses no oil. Bulletproof with maintenance you can do yourself. Oh, and it will leave an E30 M3 (which I love, don't get me wrong) in the dust.

    This looks like a very good example, in a rare color. Well-kept, and decent. I would ask for records, don't buy one without them, or plan to spend about $3k-$4k to fix what someone else didn't.

    In 5-10 years, this will have seemed the bargain performance buy of the decade.


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