Buying old, cheap German cars is always risky. Even riskier, though, is buying an old, cheap high-performance German car. Something that lives a hard life, in which it sees the upper end of its rev range quite often, is more likely to have mechanical issues over time and have expensive fixes for such issues. So, as tempting as it might be sometimes, is it wise to buy a cheap old performance car, like the E46 M3? Thankfully, Alex Kersten exists to find out for us.
The car Kersten bought is a very worn, very cheap E46 M3 in Imola Red with a black interior and roughly 190,000 miles. He bought it for £9,250, which makes it the most expensive car Kersten’s ever bought but also very likely the cheapest—and highest mileage—E46 M3 in the entirety of the UK. And it looks it.
From the outside, Kersten’s E46 M3 is a mess. There’s a ton of rust, there are eBay body parts that look as if they’re falling off, and the wheels look like they’ve been sitting under acid rain for a decade. To say it’s rough around the edges would be a grave understatement. However, rather surprisingly, the interior seems to be in mostly nice shape. Apart from one piece of trim on the kick plate coming off, the rest of the cabin looks really nice, actually. Even the steering wheel, while shiny from decades of use, is free of rips, scratches, or worn down leather. The seats look great, too, which is rare for an E46 of any kind with that sort of mileage.
Even more impressive is its engine. The S54 engine isn’t known for stout reliability, due to its high-revving nature and high specific output (more than 100 horsepower per liter). S54s do not live easy lives, so they don’t often live long without heavy, expensive maintenance. But not only is Kersten’s M3 engine not in rough shape—without any signs of valve or VANOS issues—it revs beautifully and makes a great noise, even with its eBay exhaust. What’s more, it’s even still willing to take a beating. With 190,000 miles on the odometer, Kersten took it to the track and flogged the hell out of it, sliding it around at 8,000 rpm, without it falling apart or catching fire.
Admittedly, Kersten’s M3 is an outlier. If you go and find a sub-$10,000, 190,000-mile E46 M3, do not expect it to run that well. In fact, don’t expect it to run at all. However, it’s awesome to see him take a chance on one and it work out. Hopefully he can repair the rest of it and bring it back to excellent condition and have an affordable, rare-spec, well-loved M3.