The BMW M3 is a household name, and without doubt one of the best sports coupes you can buy. Today, true to its racing pedigree, the current M3 is widely used in circuit racing. The one major difference between today’s M3 and the original E30 M3 is that the E30 was always designed to be a race car.
In the ’80s, Group A Touring Car racing was a worldwide phenomenon, with every major manufacturer spending huge amounts of cash to be involved and win trophies. To make a car eligible for Group A they had to build 5,000 road-going examples of the race car. For BMW, this was the E30 M3.
As with all M3 models designed since, while the E3 shared more than a passing resemblance to the non-M 3-series of that generation, the car was radically new and different. The E30 M3 had a stiffer shell with flared box arches at the front and rear, plus re-designed suspension – even going as far as running larger wheel bearings.
Under the bonnet was a highrevving, 2.3ltr, 4-cylinder, 16V engine running throttle bodies. This drove the rear wheels via a Getrag gearbox with a dogleg first gear (first is selected down and left) and a plated LSD. The engine produced 197bhp, which may not seem a lot today, but at just over 1,200kg the E30 M3 was a featherweight compared to later versions, and that power was enough to propel it on to almost 150mph.
The E30 M3 is more famed for its handling – not surprising given the car’s racing credentials – but the engine is highly tuneable too; capable of 350bhp even in normally aspirated form. Considered a classic, this motor commands serious money on the second-hand market, and the rarer and more powerful Evolution versions (Evo 1, Evo 2, and Sport Evolution) even more so. If you can’t justify the M3 price, its legacy still lives on in the huge tuning scene developed from its race experience. Because of this any E30 BMW is a fantastic base for a great tuned road or track car.
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