Thirty years ago, two years after successfully unveiling the first ever M5, the BMW Motorsport Division unveiled the first ever BMW M3, a high performance flagship based on the regular E30 3 Series, but a vehicle that would go on to attain legendary status amongst car enthusiasts.
Interestingly, the original M3 project objective was less about creating a halo car for the 3 Series range but rather to simply develop a race car to compete in the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) series. To participate in Group A of the series, BMW needed to sell at least 5,000 road-legal units to the public within a 12-month timeframe.
Now a highly-prized classic among collectors, the original E30 M3 featured extensive enhancements over the regular road-going model. Much of its chassis is uprated and its engine is a highly-tuned 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine that pushed out an impressive (even by today’s standards) 200hp.
Fast forward to the present day, the M3 has evolved alongside the regular BMW 3 Series, entering its fifth model generation with the F80 sedan launched in 2014. In keeping with BMW’s new model nomenclature structure, what was previously the M3 Coupe and Convertible has spawned off to become the M4, although the two models continue to be closely-related in a mechanical sense.
In conjunction with the hallowed nameplate’s 30th anniversary celebrations, BMW has revealed four factory specials of the M3 that it had built over the years, but for some reason or another never decided to make available to the masses.
1986 – E30 M3 Pickup
Remember that April Fools joke in 2011 with the E92 M3 Pickup? We now know that BMW actually made such a vehicle, but for the purpose of hauling goods within its compound rather than to be sold to enthusiasts. It has emerged that this is not a very new idea at all. Back in the day, BMW M got its apprentices, graduate trainees, and placement students to transform a regular 3 Series Convertible to a pick-up truck powered by the M3’s 2.3-litre S14 engine. Outwardly, it lacks the flared body of the M3 Coupe, but the additional structural braces that came with the Convertible body made it ideal for the conversion job. This vehicle went on to serve its task without a hitch for over 26 years.
1996 – E36 M3 Compact
Even before there was the 1 Series, BMW already had the idea of an entry-level hatchback into its range slotting below the 3 Series. During the era of the E36 and E46 from 1993 to 2004, there was this curious model called the 3 Series Compact based upon the regular 3 Series of the time, but shortened to become a 3-door hatchback. The M Division got hold of one and plonked the E36 M3’s 321hp six-cylinder under its hood in a bid to create a more affordable entry point into the M range for younger customers. Demo units were actually lent out to the press, with German motoring magazine auto motor und sport describing it as being “150 kilograms lighter, more agile, firmer, and even more uncompromising.”
2000 – E46 M3 Touring
BMW only made Coupe and Convertible versions of the E46 M3; if you see an E46 M3 Sedan on the road, they probably rolled off the production line as a 320i and went into an accessory shop somewhere along the way. The factory did consider a touring model, however, and made a working prototype to demonstrate production feasibility. The main purpose of this prototype, believe it or not, was see if the E46 Touring's rear doors can be easily modified to accommodate the M3's flared wheel arches. Unlike the E36 M3 Compact prototype above, BMW kept this one entirely in-house.
2011 – E92 M3 Pickup
After 26 years of service, the E30 M3 Pickup workhorse was showing its age and calling for a replacement. The obvious answer then was to return to the formula that had served so well previously, taking the E92 M3 Convertible and turning it into a pickup. Along the way, however, came the idea of doing an April Fool’s prank. A camouflaged prototype was sent to the Nurburgring allowing spyshots to emerge and a press release was even sent out on 1 April as part of the elaborate hoax. Unlike its predecessor, however, this one is licensed for use on public roads.
2016 - BMW M3 '30 Jahre'
Here is, however, an M3 special that people can actually buy. In conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the M3 nameplate, BMW introduced a 500-unit special of the M3 sedan, dubbed the M3 '30 Jahre' that offers uprated outputs of 444hp and comes with BMW's Competition Package with uprated chassis components as standard. All 500 cars will be finishied in exclusive Macao Blue metallic colour, paying tribute to one of the most celebrated versions of the original M3, the M3 Sport Evo.