We’ve recently discussed the merits of buying either a pre-owned E46 or E90/92 M3. Both are excellent cars which will provide driving enjoyment for years to come. They’re great BMWs. However, a great many people can justify having an M3 as their daily driver. And those two M3s cost too much for the Average Joe to buy them as a second car or weekend toy. There is a BMW that can more easily be bought for that, though — The E36 M3.
Much like the E46 M3, the E36 comes from a time when BMWs were known for incredibly precise and communicative steering and purity of driving. The E36 M3 is a cult hero to many BMW enthusiasts. With a free revving inline-six engine, 5-Speed manual, a limited-slip diff and rear-wheel drive all for under 10k (and in some cases under 5k), the E36 is one helluva deal. So let’s go through a few reasons why someone should buy the E36 M3.
This is first and foremost. E36 M3s are so common and so cheap, you can practically get one for a box of gobstoppers and a flirty smile. Because of their age, they’re also cheap to insure, run and fix. It’s the perfect weekend toy because it doesn’t break the bank when something needs fixing or when you want to modify or upgrade.
Being that the E36 comes from a time with very little electronics, fixing, modifying and upgrading is very simple. All the parts are mechanical and easy to work on and replace. It’s also one of the more reliable BMWs because of this simplicity. So for a beginner weekend project, the E36 M3 is perfect.
While the E36 was never the rocket the E46 was, it’s just as fun. This is because the E36 M3 is lighter and smaller and easier to control, due to its power disadvantage. It won’t light your hair on fire with its performance but it’ll definitely put a grin on your face. Plus, the lower power figure makes it easier to reach its limits. It’s more fun driving a slower car fast than a faster car slow. Also, because it isn’t maddeningly quick, the E36 makes a great track-day car, because it can be handled by mere mortals.
This may considered a knock towards the E36 M3 to some, but I consider it a virtue. There are millions of them for sale on Craigslist, eBay and any other car buying site. They are incredibly common. Some people may hate that, but I look at it as opportunity. Because of their availability, not only can you find a good deal on one easily, but parts are readily available and affordable. If something obscure were to break that’s hard to find, just go down to the closest junkyard and it’s likely they have a car you can pull the part from.
It’s a classic
While the E36 may not be as icy-cool as the E30 and not as good looking as the E46, it’s still a classic. Plus E30s are ridiculously expensive nowadays and E46s aren’t necessarily cheap either. So the E36 M3 offers the most affordable way to get a classic M3. It’s also the oldest M3 that doesn’t cost a fortune. So while you may not get the E30 M3, you’re getting the next best thing, with the E36 M3 and for a fraction of the cost.
Because of all of these factors, the E36 M3 makes a great second car or weekend toy, especially if it’s someone’s first of that kind. It’s a great way to get into cars and BMWs specifically. Maybe I’m a bit biased because I have an E36 328i project car myself, but that gives me some credibility as well. It’s such a fun car to work on and drive on the weekends. It’s so pure and devoid of any modern day distractions that it brings you back to a simpler time when cars were about driving above all else. If you’re looking for a second car, take a long serious look at the E36 M3, regardless of your budget.