How much power does an E36 M3 lose after 20 years?

BMW M3, Videos | July 13th, 2016 by 6
E36 BMW M3 race track 1 750x500

Much like the human body, cars begin to lose some power and capability after many years. Just like people, cars get old. But just how …

Much like the human body, cars begin to lose some power and capability after many years. Just like people, cars get old. But just how much youth do cars lose after decades? Well, Alex from Car Throttle decided to find out by testing his 20 year old BMW E36 M3 on a dyno to see how much horsepower it’s lost.

In Europe, the E36 M3 from 1997 and on (which Alex’s car is) developed 321 hp from its 3.2 liter inline-six engine. So after nearly 20 years, his E36 M3 hits the dyno and only puts out 279 hp, consistently after many runs. So that’s a loss of 42 hp for you math majors. That’s quite a bit of power to lose, regardless of how long it’s been. It’s especially troubling because the dyno technician checked out many of the engine components and everything checked out okay.

What was interesting about the results was that they showed the E36 M3 was losing all of that power at the top end of the rev-range. After about 5,000 rpm, power starts to drop off considerably. The technician seemed to think that it had to do with the engine’s valve clearance, which seems to need an adjustment. He said after an adjustment, and maybe even a new, more freer flowing exhaust, the E36 could be back up to around its original 321 hp.

E36 BMW M3 race track 10 750x500


So, after realizing that his car had lost so much power, he decided to do a 0-60 mph run to see if it can get close to the car’s original time. The original 0-60 mph time for a European E36 M3 was around 5.5 seconds. Alex’s M3’s fastest run was his last, at 5.9 seconds. However, he averaged 6.2 seconds over the course of four runs. He could probably get in the high-five’s consistently by figuring out what rpm to launch at and getting it perfect.

That’s pretty promising, because despite the huge power loss over the years, the E36 M3 is still almost as fast as the original car. That probably has to do with the fact that it only lost top-end power, as the E36 M3 gets to 60 mph in second gear, so it’s in the lower half of the rev-range for most of the 0-60 mph run. And torque has more to do with launching a car anyway. So the nearly 20 year old E36 M3 is almost as fast it was when new, making it a great bargain choice for young enthusiasts on a  tight budget.

6 responses to “How much power does an E36 M3 lose after 20 years?”

  1. Miles Chatterji says:

    This is an interesting article although I think that this particular car hasnt lost much power at all, if you figure in the drive train loss. Generally most cars will lose roughly 15% of their power from the advertised BHP rating, once place on a wheel dyno. 15% is tied up in the water pump, alternator, radiator fan, power steering pump, transmission, differential, axles, and then wheels. If you look at 321 hp minus 15% loss for the drive train (48.15) you be looking at 273 rear wheel horsepower. Which is less than what this car dyno’d. Being the the M series is usually put together with better parts, it would be safe to say the loss here is less than 15%. Case is point being my ’03 E46 M3 which dyno’ stock at 287 rear wheel horse power in ’05 at just 2 years old, but the BHP rating is 333hp. Also my ’92 Subaru SVX dyno’d at 172 all wheel horse on an all wheel dyno, while the BHP rating is 230. This is a bit more than 15% but taking into account it has a center differential and another set of axles and wheels to turn, this doesn’t surprise me. With proper care and maintenance I think 20 years later you should see a few less horse perhaps, but your test subject here seems to be right on the money for an old car, which makes it even more of a bargain. Here is a thread from 2003 in which several E46 M3 owners are dynoing in between 275-and 290 at the rear wheels, while their cars are pretty new. They are seeing mixed results by location, air temp, and gas octane (some use race gas, some use 94, some 93).

    This is still a great write up, but I think, and like I said earlier, that 20 year cars may lose a few HP, but when it comes to a BMW I think they should be pretty close 20 years later. Which just confirms why we all love BMW’s! :)

    • Yes, it’s certainly possible that drivetrain loss played a big part in the dyno results. That would also explain the near identical 0-60 mph time of the stock car, despite the supposed power loss. Also, thanks for sharing!

    • Niggerkiller says:

      You got it all wrong, they converted the dyno reading from whp to Bhp so it only has 279 BHP at the moment. They calculated the 15% drive train loss and added it to the dyno reading so they only have 279 to the crank.

  2. 181 says:

    Another reason to like electric motors over ICE; Far fewer mechanical components to wear out!

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