New arrival: BMW M3


After finding no joy with my little MX-5, I go in completely the opposite direction and fulfil a lifelong dream by purchasing a BMW M3.

I've always had a soft spot for BMW 3-series cars. I've had an E30 and an E36 3-series, and I loved them both. The driver-centric focus of the 3-series is its defining feature: the centre console is angled towards the driver, the seating position is always spot-on and the pedals perfectly spaced for a spot of heel and toe. I had to get rid of both of my BMWs because they weren't the right car for me at the time, but I've always wanted to own another one. Actually, that's not quite true. I've always wanted to own another BMW, providing it was an M3.

I've wanted a BMW M3 for over a decade now. I can remember very clearly the moment at which I fell for the M3; I was a penniless student driving a mk2 Ford Fiesta, and a Dakar Yellow E36 M3 went screaming past me on a stretch of my favourite B-road, the engine sounding like it was about to break into a thousand pieces. I fell in love with the tearing scream of that M-Divison straight six, and every car I've bought since has felt like a stepping stone until I could get myself into an M3.

Fast-forward a few years and I'm running a mk1 MX-5 that I'm just not enjoying, I no longer need to commute by car, and I don't attend band rehearsals every week necessitating a massive boot to hold a drumkit. The time seemed just right for a new car, and I could afford to buy the dream car from my student days: the E36 BMW M3. Now, I know the E36 M3 isn't held in as high a regard as other M3s, particularly the E30 and the E46, but logic and reason rarely have a say when you're in a position to buy a car you've desired for many years, and I began eagerly scouring the Pistonheads classifieds for suitable cars.

As usual, the moment I'm actually in a position to buy the car I want, the supply of decent examples for sale seems to dry up completely. Gone were all the low-mileage, perfectly maintained examples that I'd lusted after during many lunchbreak browsing sessions, and instead all I could find within a 100-mile radius were ragtops and rustbuckets. After a few weeks of searching with no luck, I began to doubt my choice of car. Sure, the E36 M3 was my dream car, but a quick Twitter poll of my petrolhead friends revealed a surprising majority favouring the car that replaced it: the E46 M3.

Younger, fitter and more handsome than its predecessor, the E46 M3 dominated group tests in the early 2000s. It's hard to find anyone who has a bad word to say about the car and the more I read about it and thought about it, the more I began to wonder if I could wait a while and stretch my funds to an early E46. So much for the dream car from my university days, but I can be a fickle bugger when it comes to cars!

I switched my focus to looking for E46 M3s, saved every penny I could and daydreamed about the sound and fury of that straight six. I've been fortunate enough to have driven a BMW Z4 M Roadster which has the same engine as the E46 M3, and I came away amazed at the performance (though scared at the handling!). The S54 engine is the last of the high-revving, naturally-aspirated M-Division straight sixes, and it completely dominated the Z4's driving experience to such an extent that I wondered whether the M3 coupe would feel the same.

As before when I was looking for E36 cars, it seemed very difficult to find a decent example of the E46 within a 100-mile radius. Admittedly, I had a fairly specific set of requirements which didn't necessarily tally with the majority of cars out there. It had to be a manual, it had to be a coupe rather than a convertible, and most importantly it had to have the stock 18" wheels rather than the optional 19" alloys which always made the car look a bit too 'drug dealer'. This last point made finding a car very difficult, since almost every buyer ticked the option for the 19" wheels. According to those in the know, the 18s give the car a better ride, and I just preferred the look, but there were very few cars for sale running on 18s.

Finally, I found an example that fitted the bill. I called up my friend Andy, who has supervised almost every one of my car purchases, and we went to take a look. The owner was a proper petrolhead, which was an encouraging sign; sat alongside the silver M3 in his vast garage, was an identically silver E39 BMW M5 and an Audi RS2, and perched outside his house was a mint Harley-Davidson! I'd promised my wife that I wouldn't buy the car unless it was perfect, and it was - but it was the first one I'd been to see! You're never supposed to buy the first car you see, right?

However, I just couldn't walk away from the car. It was the perfect spec, a 53-plate in Titanium Silver with 18" wheels, in near-new condition, with 60,000 miles on the clock, and whilst it did need an oil service, I just couldn't imagine finding another example that was in such good condition, and that ticked all of the boxes on my mental shopping list. I made an embarrassingly awful attempt at haggling the price down and managed to get a few hundred quid off to cover the service, and followed Andy home in my new M3 feeling very much like I was dreaming.

I'll keep you posted on my life with the M3, but I can tell you now: I love it.