Originally designed to go racing, the E30-generation BMW M3 was almost an accidental icon. BMW first had the idea to go racing in the Group A German Touring Car Championship (DTM) and one of that race’s requirements was for the car to be homologated. This meant that 5,000 road car variants of the race car had to be sold within 12 months. So to comply with that, the E30 M3 was born.
Fast forward thirty years and BMW is still making the M3, albeit a bit differently. The original came only with two doors, a naturally-aspirated engine and a manual transmission. The new M3 is only a sedan, has two turbochargers and available (and mostly sold) with a dual-clutch automatic transmission. Despite its differences, though, the new M3 continues in the original car’s legacy by being a near-race car for the road. BMW even honored the original with a 30th anniversary edition car.
In between then and now, BMW has launched three other generations of M3. There was the E36 M3, E46 M3 and E90/E92 M3. BMW has had varying degrees of success with these generations, with the E46 M3 probably being the best. But did you know that BMW actually made quite a few other variants of the M3 that were never released?
Apparently, all the quirky and strange BMW M3 concepts and ideas that fans and enthusiasts come up with have actually been made by BMW. However, those crazy skunkworks M3 projects never saw the light of day. Until now, that is.
The first one started with the original, the E30 M3. Many enthusiast owners of the original M3 have cut its roof off, to make an E30 M3 Convertible or Roadster, depending on the owner’s skill, wallet size and patience. However, BMW made a proper E30 M3 Convertible, but it was just never released. BMW then took that convertible one step further and made a pick-up truck E30 M3. BMW engineers needed something to haul parts and equipment very quickly with, so they took a regular E30 convertible, converted it into a pick-up and slapped in the M3’s powertrain and suspension. BMW used this one-off pick-up E30 M3 as a parts transportation device for 26 years.
Next up in the strange and obscure BMW M3s is the E36 BMW M3 Compact. Yes, the so-ugly-it’s-lovable E36 Compact actually did get an M3 variant. Sadly, BMW only made one. Designed to attract younger buyers with a slightly cheaper M3, the E36 Compact was the perfect choice. It is said that it would have been slightly less powerful than the standard M3 if it had made production. But the prototype is no such watered-down version with its 321 hp 3.2 liter I6 and is, in fact, even crazier than the standard E36 M3, thanks to its 150 kg lighter curb weight and shorter wheelbase. According to Auto Motor und Sport magazine from back in 1996, “It is 150 kilograms lighter, more agile, firmer and even more uncompromising,”. What a riot that car would have been had it made production.
But if you want your world rocked, like mine was, feast your eyes on this magnificent M3 concept and probably the greatest thing BMW has ever created — an E46 M3 Touring. An M3 Touring (wagon in BMW speak) is something all BMW enthusiasts dream of. The perfect blend of speed, performance, handling and practicality. In E46-guise, an M3 Touring might have been considered the greatest car ever made, today. The worst part is, BMW made one, liked it and felt it was possible to easily develop. “This prototype allowed us to show that, from a purely technical standpoint at least, it was possible to integrate an M3 Touring into the ongoing production of the standard BMW 3 Series Touring with very little difficulty,” explains Jakob Polschak. “One important thing we needed to demonstrate was that the rear doors of the standard production model could be reworked to adapt them to the rear wheel arches without the need for new and expensive tools.” And check out that Motorola flip-phone holder. Why, BMW, why did you not bring this to the world?
After the shameful non-production of the E46 M3 Touring, BMW created the E92 M3 Pickup. This we’ve seen before, as BMW teased us with it on April Fools. Again, this was made as a transportation vehicle for parts and was developed after the original E30 M3 Pickup finally retired. Following the same principles as the original, a convertible body was used, thanks to its additional chassis strength. But, sadly, this never made production either and was only teased as such.
A lot of these are just silly projects that probably wouldn’t have been successful even if they’d been put into production. But the E46 BMW M3 Touring seems like a missed opportunity. Had it been successful, which it probably would have been in Europe (seeing as the Audi has done well with fast Avants), there likely would have been an E91 M3 Touring and an F81 M3 Touring to follow. That could have been a turning point in the model’s history. Plus we would have had a flipping E46 M3 Touring and that’s good enough in itself. Damn it, I think I’ve had a crisis again.