Two jobs ago I worked for a company owned by a group of partners. Two of the partners used to take all of the IT directors, including me, to lunch once a month. One such day we were all going to pile into one partner’s giant luxury SUV when we came upon this delightful little BMW. When I remarked out loud to nobody in particular how one of these had been my dream car back in the day, the other partner said, “You’re in luck. It’s mine. You get to drive it to lunch today.”
Woot! But this partner is a jokester and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he thought I’d nestle into the driver’s seat and then balk at the clutch and stick. Most drivers these days would, present company excepted, of course. I wasn’t sorry to disappoint him. I drove stick the first ten years I was a driver, and it’s just like riding a bicycle. I had no trouble edging his car out of its parking space, through the lot, and onto the street.
The clutch was light and short, and the takeup point was strong. The shifter was notchy and sure. We weren’t going far enough for me to open ‘er up but acceleration in town traffic was snappy and satisfying. I have no idea what its 0-60 time is, but I’m sure a comparable new BMW can blow this 22-year-old car away. Who cares. Driving this car was a thoroughly delightful tactile experience. Everything about it was tuned to transmit pleasure – the feel of the road on my butt, the tension of the steering, the sound of the engine, and of course the feel of the clutch and stick. I want one of these just as much now as I did then.
I’d never so much as sat in any BMW before this. I’m not normally given over to luxurious or expensive things; I’m too practical and pragmatic.
I’ve wanted to write this up for more than two years now, but I botched the photo shoot I made of the car then and didn’t have a usable front three-quarters photo. This car’s owner lives in my town and I see him tooling around in it on fair-weather days. I knew it was only a matter of time before I found it parked curbside, as in the first photo.
Love it! An E36 M3 in nice, original and stock shape is a rare thing these days and definitely a collectible car already.
I love the Dakar yellow but mine would be techno violet – hey, I can dream, too! Actually my real dream car would be the ultra rare E36 M3 lightweight. How cool!
I tend to think of these as peak BMW. I didn’t really like the ones before this generation and have liked each successive generation less and less. But these hit the sweet spot for me, along with the 850i.
Unfortunately the 850i’s were notoriously unreliable and expensive to maintain. I wonder how these M3s are to own?
I think the next generation the E46 was the peak…The E36 was a revolution compared to its predecessors but not always in a good way. Much more aerodynamic, a good 6 cylinder engine, only 240 hp, but not the great European one. swoopy styling….but some cheap materials, de-laminating door cards and trim.
The E46 refined the styling, improved the materials and gave the American market, the best normally aspirated 6 cylinder BMW would ever produce, the S54 with 333 horsepower
Those are fair arguments, I really don’t know all that much about these other than what I read in the media at the time. The E36 M3 was the first BMW I ever lusted after as far as style and performance go. A great balance of character and modern design, something that has been lost today in most all cars.
Very easy to own-no exotic costs or hard to find parts
The downside to the democratization of horsepower is that high performance cars are now expected to have have way more power than one could plausibly use on public roads. There’s a lot of truth to the old “slow car fast/fast car slow” adage, and somehow 425 bhp in an M4 or 460 bhp in a Mustang GT strikes me as overkill — not to mention all the crazy stuff you can buy like a Hellcat.
I’d much rather drive this M3 than one of its current successors. Glad to see it’s being well cared for.
YASS. Good god, 400+ hp.
My VW Passat has plenty of power for this average everyday driver, at 170 hp. More than I need under most circumstances, even ones where I’m just having fun.
I had a poster of a yellow E36 M3 just like this on my bedroom wall in the 90s, count me in as a fan.
Always loved the first two generations of M3, and this version in all honesty looks best in yellow. I remember Car and Driver had one of these in this same color on one of its covers in 1994 (I think it was July) when the car was new to the US market.
“Delightful tactile” — that’s a perfect way to describe this car. I drove a slightly more recent M3 once — it was the next generation, about 2001 model or so — under similar circumstances. It belonged to an acquaintance who was kind enough to let me drive it for a few miles around town. I still remember the wonderful way everything worked in that car.
Driving that M3 was almost enough to make me aspire to own a BMW… except that I don’t like them anymore.
That’s a twin to the car I got to drive as part of ride and drive I was invited to as part of the Monterey Historics in I think 1995 (?) when these were just being released. Holy Mackerel was that a fun drive with three others in the car up Highway 1 and around the Carmel area, I still have fond memories and remember it every time I see one, which is getting rarer as these are starting to either reach preservation status or beater status, not too many in-between as cared for daily drivers any more like this one.
You know I’d happily take one of these in a heartbeat! Good condition ones like this can be quite pricey these days though.
Count me as another fan. That “tactile experience” is real. About 1984-85 a friend was working for a guy who owned a 1983-ish big 7 series sedan. My buddy was allowed the use of it one weekend for reasons I have forgotten. He let me drive it early one evening.
The experience was fabulous. This was a car that just begged – I say BEGGED – me to smash that right pedal to the floor and drive around the I-465 beltway at, oh, say, 95? It was a miracle I was not pulled over because I was too enthralled with feeling the car to watch for the law. I was deep in my brief BMW-Love then and this experience just turned the flame up hotter.
This car is, what, 15 years newer? But it still had that BMW Essence that made them real driver’s cars. I am envious of your experience. If you were still working for the same guys I would say you handled yourself well. Because it was two jobs ago, hindsight says that you should have made their hair stand up on the way to lunch as you explored the little yellow car’s personality. 🙂
I still miss my yellow Z3…never should have traded it in….so much fun!
The E36’s are pretty much what I consider the last of the “real” BMW’s (aka, ultimate driving machine, not ultimate Lexus). Helped by having owned an M3 four door sedan (automatic, unfortunately the wife didn’t drive stick), shortly after the wife turned in her ex-husband’s at the end of it’s lease.
Loved the car. Hated the way my wife beat on it. Three instances of body damage in a year and a half, and I got rid of the car. Put her back in yet another XJ Cherokee.
I was 18, working at my summer job at a car stereo place, and I drove a customer’s E21 320i (1977-81) around the building….1st and 2nd gear, slowly. Compared to the few cars I had driven until then (Nova, Fairmont, Chevy Van, Dodge St. Regis, Dodge Omni, and several other customer cars, including a 71 Corvette…), it felt like a precision machine–the clutch was so slick, as was the shifter..the steering, the interior and exterior appearance, I thought, “yes, it is worth a Corvette price!”
About 10 years later, when my first car, a VW GTI, crossed 100k, I started shopping for a used 91 318is/318i, and I found one, great car!
I drove a 1 yr old 92 318is coupe, it felt like a German T-bird…but the 16 valve 138 hp 4 cylinder definitely was not as zippy…and the car cost a lot more, so I got a 91 318i.
I think that body style, the 87-91 E30 325i, or 318i, or M3 is peak BMW–but the 92-98s 325is had more power, and I almost go a 98 325i.
After that, they might have continued to objectively improve, but they got bigger, heavier, and didn’t stand out as much compared to other cars.
Amen. Most people regard the 2002 days – the E30 as peak BMW…
I can appreciate the E30 today. But at the time I thought the nose looked like something out of an early ’70s economy car. The 2002 was before my time
I think a lot of us are naturally influenced by the time period we grew up in. I was in high school when the E36 came out, so what I considered to be BMW’s peak was also my peak interest in performance cars.
I considered my 91 318i the ‘ultimate economy car’.
By 1991, BMW was a status symbol. My car, with it’s manual crank sunroof, and rather plain grey cloth seats, and full wheel covers (no leather, or alloys) in silver looked plain. But everything worked so precisely when driving it, or when closing the doors, and even though the engine was less than 1800cc, it was the smoothest 4-cylinder I’ve ever driven.
It was brisk enough, at least for me. I had read how the 84 318i was ‘geared too tall’ and the 1.8 liter 8V engine’s 101 hp was disappointing “for a BMW”
The 16V version in my 318i sedan (same engine in the 91 318is–a one-year only car, the last year of the E30 in the US) had 138 hp, and I think 123 lb-ft. It was pretty quick–considerably quicker than my 8V GTI.
Car felt planted at 107mph, though it only weighed 2660 lbs according to registration.
The one thing I didn’t like about that car: The seat. It had no back support, for me, and on long trips they were uncomfortable.
But I liked the car–I felt like I had a ‘real BMW’, not a poser with an automatic, or worse a 325e with a 120 hp six cylinder with a 4800 rpm redline. That variant, IMO was the nadir of BMW–at least until this new 3-series, which is auto only.
Circumstances forced me to sell it. A few years later, I considered one of the last E36–a 1998 BMW 325i coupe. Red, base, no options, but had the sweet six and manual trans. But I didn’t get it.. I’m sure I would have liked that a lot too.
I’d like to drive a 2002 in good shape one, just to get an idea of what the experience is like.