If you’re a fan of the BMW brand then you already know that the company had plenty of things to celebrate in 2016. Apart from the 100th anniversary of the blue and white roundel, 2016 also marked 30 years since the first BMW M3 came out. That’s right, the E30 M3 was first launched in 1986 and the rest is history. What many people don’t know, though, is that behind closed doors, the engineers also worked on some rather ‘special’ models.
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Yes, a BMW E46 M3 Touring did exist, but only as an exercise. Therefore, to mark, the 30th anniversary of the iconic model, the Bavarians have released official photos of all of these ‘weirdos’ and the world, of course, went berserk. They include the BMW M3 Pickup from 1986, the BMW M3 Compact from 1996, the BMW M3 Touring from 2000 and the second incarnation of the BMW M3 Pickup unveiled in 2011.
1986 BMW E30 M3 Pickup
When the first generation of the BMW M3 was launched, it wasn’t just customers who were enthralled by its exceptional dynamic abilities. It also caused quite a stir within the BMW Motorsport department responsible for its development, who saw it as the perfect means of transporting work equipment and parts around the premises of what is now BMW M Division in Garching near Munich. The only problem was that goods transport didn’t figure very highly on the list of the first BMW M3’s many talents.
It didn’t take long to remedy the situation, the body of a BMW 3 Series Convertible being transformed into a BMW M3 Pickup.
“The convertible bodyshell was chosen as the basis for two reasons,” recalls Jakob Polschak, head of vehicle prototype building and workshops at BMW M Division and an employee at the company for more than 40 years. “Firstly, we happened to have such a model at our disposal and in perfect condition. And secondly, the convertible’s built-in bracing made it the ideal choice for a pickup conversion.”
The first BMW M3 Pickup did not sport the original’s boldly flared wings, as it was equipped with the narrower body of its regular, volume-produced sibling. At first it was powered by the engine fitted in the so-called “Italian M3”, which had a reduced two-liter displacement due to tax regulations there and an output of 192 hp. “Later we switched to the original 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine with 200 horsepower,” reveals Polschak. The BMW M3 Pickup went about its work around the factory premises reliably for over 26 years before finally being retired four years ago.
1996 BMW E36 M3 Compact
The same was also true of the 1996 BMW M3 Compact, of course. The idea behind this model was to present younger customers, in particular, with an entry point into the world of BMW M cars.
“To a certain extent, the M3 Compact can be regarded as the forefather of today’s BMW M2,” remarks the BMW M workshop chief with a twinkle in the eye, and it’s easy to see why he draws the comparison. If it had gone into production, the M3 engine’s power would in all likelihood have been lowered somewhat. In the prototype, however, it was allowed to unleash its full 321 hp, which made easy work of propelling a lightweight car (it tipped the scales at just 1.3 tonnes). “It is 150 kilograms lighter, more agile, firmer and even more uncompromising,” enthused German motoring magazine “auto motor und sport” (issue no. 13/1996) after testing it.
BMW E46 M3 Touring
The BMW M3 Touring prototype likewise materialized because a production model was under consideration. The M3 Compact was made available to journalists for testing in order to both project an image and sound out customer interest. But the M3 Touring served entirely in-house purposes.
“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.” Once it had passed through the assembly line, the M3 Touring required only minimal manual follow-up work to fit the M-specific add-on parts and interior details, for example.
Once the first-generation BMW M3 Pickup described above eventually started to show the first serious signs of wear after around a quarter of a century of service, it was time for a successor. As with the original, those responsible for its creation again opted for a convertible body due to the existing strengthening elements.
“The conversion work had initially proceeded in the usual, largely unspectacular manner during the spring of 2011. But then someone came up with the idea of marketing the vehicle as an April Fools’ joke, as April 1 was just around the corner,” recounts Polschak. To prime the public, spy shots of calibration runs on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit emerged in the run-up to the day, which served to fuel speculation about plans to build a production model.
And it worked. Reports from the time show that a good many journalists and bloggers took the bait and believed the rumors. Even the official press release published on April 1, 2011 did not immediately set matters straight, first presenting the BMW M3 Pickup as the “fourth body variant” following the Sedan, Coupe and Convertible, before going on to say: “420 hp under the bonnet and a payload capacity of 450 kilograms over the rear axle take the BMW M models’ hallmark blend of racing-style driving pleasure and everyday practicality to a whole new level.”
It also pointed out that the Cd was only marginally higher than that of the BMW M3 Coupe, the car was 50 kilograms lighter than the Convertible and the 20-kilogram targa roof could be removed to further lower the center of gravity and therefore deliver even sharper handling dynamics.
It wasn’t until the final paragraph that the press release discreetly revealed the model in question was actually a one-off built for use as a workshop transport vehicle. Unlike its predecessor, however, it had also been licensed for road use.
Last summer, BMW M Division released an exclusive special-edition model – limited to 500 units worldwide – as a special tribute to the successful 30-year history of the BMW M3. With its Macao Blue metallic exterior paint finish, the BMW M3 “30 Jahre M3” harks back to the first generation of car, for which this color shade was first offered. The Competition Package, which is included as standard and comprises extensive powertrain and suspension modifications, pushes the engine output of the anniversary model up by 19 hp to 450 hp.