American BMW enthusiasts are still sort of upset that the E36-generation BMW M3 sold here in the ‘States was somewhat neutered, compared to the Euro version. Not only did it not come with the same, high-tech engine but it made significantly less power and had a softer suspension. So it just wasn’t as good as the Euro model and that always annoyed American enthusiasts. However, one consolation for American Bimmer fans was the E36 BMW M3 Lightweight, a stripped out, triple-distilled essence of E36 driving pleasure. The only problem with the E36 M3 Lightweight was its price and exclusivity. Which is what makes this Michelin-owned E36 M3 Lightweight so special.
While computers and high-tech sensors can give tires companies an almost endless amount of valuable information about how a tire performs, there’s nothing better than getting the tire on a car and driving the hell out of it. That’s truly the only way to see how a tire handles at the limit. To do so, you need a car that is pure and communicative, one where even the tiniest change in tire can be felt through the steering, chassis and seat-of-your-pants. Which is exactly why Michelin’s Laurens, South Carolina Proving Ground uses an E36 M3 Lightweight. Or used to.
Only 115 E36 M3 Lightweights were made, making this specific one quite rare. Which is rather shocking when you look at it. Car and Driver was recently able to give Michelin’s E36 M3 Lightweight a spin on their Proving Ground and the condition it’s in startling. Having had around 40,000 hard track-earned miles on its odometer, the E36 M3 Lightweight is in, let’s say less than pristine condition. There are numerous rock chips from the track, the front splitter has been ripped off multiple times and the hood has actually started to buckle from the high-speed g-forces inflicted on it. Despite that, though, Michelin’s Lightweight still looks great, because of its war-torn flaws. “This BMW is far from perfect, and that makes it perfectly beautiful.” said Car and Driver.
Driving such a track-ready E36 M3 Lightweight seems like a unique and exciting. “From behind the wheel, it is clear why Michelin selected this M3 as its benchmark. This car, even as ragged as it has become, continues to broadcast the status of a tire’s contact patch with crystal-clear five-by-five signal quality. Compared with a modern car, the big steering wheel feels slow in hand, but for every inch the wheels turn, they return yards of feedback.”
Michelin no longer uses the E36 M3 Lightweight as a test-car for its tires. Not because it can’t handle the punishment anymore, though. In fact, the only reason why Michelin stopped using it is because today’s massive performance tires and wheels simply don’t fit in the wheel wells anymore. So it’s become technologically obsolete, rather than incompetent. So it’s been retired, not fired. But instead of getting rid of the M3 Lightweight, Michelin keeps it on the grounds, like a proud but retired member of the team.[Source: Car and Driver]