The History of the BMW M3 – Every Generation

The different generations of the BMW M3 are some of the most iconic and popular performance-orientated automobiles in history. They are regarded as the benchmark that other competitors need to live up to. But what is the history of the BMW M3 and how did it all start?

The History of the BMW M3

The story of the BMW M3 starts in the demanding and unforgiving world of motorsport. BMW wanted a car that could compete in DTM and that would meet the FIA’s Group A regulations.

The company settled on their E30 platform as the basis of the new race car. However, they could not simply just produce a one-off car for racing purposes. To meet the FIA’s homologation requirements, they needed to produce 5,000 road going versions of the competition car. This would lead them to develop the E30 M3, the first M3 car and the start of a legend.

BMW E30 M3 (1986 – 1991)

First displayed at the 1985 Geneva Motor Show, the M3 would feature extensive changes over the standard E30 car. On the outside, BMW added a larger rear spoiler, a deep front splitter and flared wheel arches that could accommodate the wider tyres intended for the M3. All of the aerodynamic add-ons were manufactured from plastic to reduce as much weight as possible.

The exterior changes didn’t stop there. BMW’s engineers also altered every single body panel expect for the bonnet, the roof panel, and the sunroof, making the E30 M3 truly unique. They also altered the angle of the C-pillar and rear window to improve airflow towards the rear spoiler.

To improve the M3’s cornering and braking performance, BMW updated both the suspension and braking system. The brake calipers, discs and master cylinder were all unique to the E30 M3 model.

On the suspension side of things, the M3 was given new aluminium control arms, offset control arm bushings at the front, revised front strut tubes with bolt on kingpins and a new swaybar. Other changes included 5-stud wheel hubs and 15-inch wheels.

While the changes to the suspension system, brakes and exterior were important, the real magic was under the bonnet. The E30 M3 was given a special high revving 2.3-litre four-cylinder DOHC engine known as the BMW S14. This engine featured a head that was heavily based on the S38 six-cylinder engine from the M1 and a block that was derived from the four-cylinder M10.

In countries were no catalytic converter was required, the E30 M3 produced as much as 197 horsepower (147 kW), while in countries where one was fitted the car produced 192 horsepower (143 kW). With all this additional power over the standard E30, the M3 could go from 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) in under 7 seconds and go on to a top speed of around 235 km/h (146 mph).

BMW mated the powerful new engine to a Getrag 265 5-speed manual transmission. European models received a dogleg version of the gearbox with close ratios and a 1:1 ratio for fifth gear. North American models on the other hand were given a standard transmission with wider gear spacing. A clutch-type limited-slip differential was standard on all models.

E30 M3 Evolution I (1987)

With rapid developments and rule changes in the world of racing, BMW created new homologation special models that were produced in limited volumes. The first of these models was known as the Evolution I (EVO I) and it sported at revised cylinder head.

BMW E30 M3 Convertible (1988)

As the 3 Series Convertible proved to be a hit with motorists during the late eighties, BMW decided to introduce an open top version of the M3 in 1988. Mechanically identical to the hard top version, the main change was additional strengthening to the body to account for the lack of a roof.

BMW’s engineers also altered the suspension setup to be slightly softer to compensate for the increased weight. The rear spoiler and raised boot lid from the hard top were also removed.

A total of 786 E30 M3 Convertibles were produced from 1988 until 1991 and they were only available in left-hand drive. Due to the low production volume, the Convertible M3 was hand crafted at BMW’s M division Garching factory. The car could be kitted out with a range of optional extras from a removable hard top to even a built in fax machine and telephone.

E30 M3 Evolution II (1988)

The next special edition model was introduced one year after the EVO I. The Evolution II (EVO II) featured a few more changes than the previous model with the most significant being an increase in power to 217 horsepower (162 kW)

Along with increasing power, BMW also gave the Evolution larger 16 x 7.5-inch wheels, a deeper front splitter and an additional rear spoiler. Weight was also kept to a minimum via the use of thinner rear and side window glass and a lighter bootlid.

In total, 505 E30 M3 Evolutions were produced, including 40 that were sold in France as the “Tour de Corse”.

E30 M3 Sport Evolution (1989)

Following the EVO II, BMW introduced the “Sport Evolution” (EVO 3). With a limited run of 600 units, BMW gave this range topping M3 an upgraded 2.5-litre engine that produced as much as 235 horsepower (175 kW) and 240 Nm (177 lb ft) of torque. With all this extra power, the Sport Evolution could hit a higher top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph).

Along with an updated engine, Sport Evolution models also received larger front bumper openings and an adjustable multi-position front splitter and rear wing. To assist with brake cooling, the front foglights were replaced by brake cooling ducts.

Ravaglia and Cecotto Editions (1989)

BMW released the Ravaglia and Cecotto limited edition E30 M3s in April 1989. These two special edition models were named after Roberto Ravaglia and Johnny Cecotto who both successfully drove M3s in the DTM racing series.

Compared to the standard E30 M3 model, these two cars featured a more powerful 212 horsepower (158 kW) engine (with catalytic converter). However, Swiss models featured slightly less power at 208 horsepower (155 kW) as they had to meet the country’s stringent emissions laws.

M3 Prototype Pickup (1986)

Yes, that’s right, BMW produced a prototype pickup truck version of the E30 M3. This car was based on the Convertible model M3 and featured the 2.0-litre S14 engine from the Italian-spec M3. However, the 2.0-litre engine was later replaced with a real 2.3-litre M3 powerplant. The car was used as a transporter for over 26 years at the Garching factory before it was official retired from service.

E30 M3 and Motorsport

The E30 M3 was incredibly successful in a number of different forms of motorsport, from touring car racing to endurance racing and even rallying.

In Group A events, the E30 M3 was pitted against the likes of the mighty Mercedes-Benz W201 190E. In full race trim, the M3’s 2.3-litre engine produced around 300 horsepower (224 kW), however, this was later increased to around 380 horsepower (283 kW) in 1990 when BMW introduced the 2.5-litre engine.

The E30 M3 famously won the 24 Hours Nürburgring five times (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1994) and the Spa 24 Hours four times (1987, 1988, 1990 and 1992). Its rallying career wasn’t so successful as it struggled to compete with four-wheel drive cars on loose surfaces. However, the M3 proved to be very effective on asphalt stages and its most notable success was when Bernard Béguin took victory in the car at the 1987 Tour de Corse.

The E30 M3 claimed the following championships:

  • World Touring Car Championship – 1 title (1987)
  • European Touring Car Championship – 2 titles (1987 and 1988)
  • British Touring Car Championship – 2 titles (1988 and 1991)
  • Italia Superturismo Championship – 4 titles (1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991)
  • Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) – 2 titles (1987 and 1989)
  • Australian Touring Car Championship – 1 title (1987)
  • Australian 2.0 Litre Touring Car Championship – 1 title (1993)
  • Australian Manufacturers’ Championship – 2 titles (1987 and 1988 – both shared)
  • AMSCAR Series – 2 titles (1987, 1991)
  • Irish Tarmac Rally Championship – 1 title (1990)

E30 M3’s Final Years

Production of the E30 M3 continued until 1991 with nearly 18,000 models being produced. It would go on to become one of the most iconic sports cars ever made with Automobile Magazine rating it as one of the “5 greatest drivers cars of all time”.

BMW E36 M3 (1992 – 1999)

BMW introduced the next generation of the 3 Series in 1990. It was labelled the E36 and overall, it was much bigger, heavier and more luxurious than the outgoing E30. With this in mind, BMW’s M division engineers had their work cut out for them to create something that would live up to the widely popular E30 M3.

The new E36 M3 launched in 1992 with a vastly different design philosophy. Gone was the lightweight road racer and in its place was a more refined, powerful sports saloon that was even available with an automatic transmission. Despite the change in design philosophy, the E36 M3 was even faster than the old car, thanks to a number of changes.

Perhaps the biggest change was that made to the engine. BMW replaced the old four-cylinder engine with a powerful six-cylinder 3.0-litre engine that produced 286 horsepower (213 kW) in European trim and 240 horsepower (179 kW) for the North American market.

With all this extra power, the E36 M3 could go from 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) in around 5.6 seconds, a whole second quicker than the E30 model. Top speed also increased over the standard E30 M3 to a limited 250 km/h (155 mph).

Visually, the E36 M3 was much more conservative than its motorsport inspired predecessor. The large flared wheel arches were gone and the rear spoiler was relegated to the options list. BMW’s engineers did fit the car with a chin spoiler, side skirts, new wing mirrors and a deep rear diffuser to improve aerodynamic performance and differentiate it from the standard 3 Series, but overall the E36 M3 was fairly plain looking.

One of the biggest developments for the new model M3 was that it was now available in right-hand drive, whereas the previous model was only available in left-hand drive.

BMW E36 M3 Sedan (1994)

As BMW planned to end of the E34 M5’s production in 1995 and there was no suitable replacement, they decided to launch a four-door sedan version of the M3. Intended to be slightly more refined and conservative than the two-door model, the sedan featured a softer suspension setup that offered greater comfort.

On the inside the E36 M3 sedan was more luxurious, with burr walnut wood trim covering the centre console and door handles. BMW also fitted more comfortable, softer seats and ‘M Contour II’ 17-inch alloy wheels with wider tyres on the back.

BMW E36 M3 Convertible (1994)

Along with introducing the sedan in 1994, BMW also introduced a convertible version of the E36 M3. Strengthening of the convertible model’s chassis lead to a weight gain of 100 kg, bringing the total kerb weight to a hefty 1,560 kg.

With this in mind, the convertible M3 was pitched as more of a laid back cruiser than a true blooded sports machine. While it lacked the option of a rear spoiler, the car was offered with polished versions of the 17-inch ‘M Double Spoke’ alloy wheels.

BMW M3-R (1994)

In 1994 BMW Australia produced fifteen special edition cars known as the M3-R for the Australian market. These were produced in order for the company to race in the Australian Super Production series.

The M3-R was the most powerful production version of the E36 M3 with a power output of 322 horsepower (240 kW). Four of the cars were entered into the race series, while the remaining eleven were sold to the general public.

BMW E36 M3 GT (1994)

Unlike the E30 M3, the E36 M3 was not introduced as a homologation special. However, in 1995 BMW decided to produce a special M3 GT model for homologation requirements for the FIA-GT class, the IMSA GT class and endurance races.

The more hardcore M3 received some lighter weight and more aerodynamic components, and a touch more power. From the outside, the GT was almost undistinguishable from the standard M3 apart from the new front splitter and rear spoiler.

On the inside however, the M3 GT was considerably different with new sporty seats, carbon fibre trim pieces, and some stylish “BMW Motorsport International” badges.

The biggest changes to the car were under the bonnet with a new oil pump, cams and ECU being installed. This meant that power increased to around 295 horsepower (220 kW).

In total, BMW produced 356 examples of the E36 M3 GT, making it one of the rarest M3s ever made. All of the cars were finished in British Racing Green and the United Kingdom received an allocation of 50 of them. The M3 GT was only sold in Europe.

1996 Updates & 3.2-litre Engine

In September 1995, BMW introduced a facelifted version of the E36 M3 for the 1996 model year. The biggest change to the car was an enhanced 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine that was built with the knowledge gained from their partnership with McLaren in Formula 1 racing.

This new larger engine produced significantly more power at 321 horsepower (239 kW) and 320 Nm (236 lb ft) of torque. With more power came more performance. The 0 – 100 km/h time was now just 5.2 seconds, however, the top speed remained at a limited 250 km/h (155 mph).

BMW mated the larger engine to a six-speed manual transmission for European cars, up from a five-speed for the previous year model. A sequential manual gearbox (SMG) was added the next year as an option and the automatic transmission was available on M3 models outside of the United States

The SMG transmission received high praise for its fast shift times and operation in performance situations, but it was criticised for its everyday drivability.

BMW E36 M3 Compact Concept (1996)

Long before the M135i hot hatch was introduced, BMW experimented with a compact bodied M3. The M3 Compact Concept was launched in 1996 and it was fitted with the same 321 horsepower 3.2-litre engine that came on the updated model.

Weighing nearly 150 kg less than the coupe model, but with the same power, the Compact Concept was said to have incredible and uncompromising performance. BMW considered the car for production, but in the end they only manufactured one to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the German ‘Auto Motor und Sport’ magazine.

M3 Evolution Imola Individual (1998)

BMW launched a limited run of 50 special edition models known as the M3 Evolution Imola Individual for the United Kingdom in 1998. The performance characteristics of the car remained unchanged from the standard updated European M3, but it featured a special exterior and interior colour combination.

The exterior colour was Imola red, while the interior featured Nappa leather & Amaretto seats in the same colour and anthracite seats. BMW also gave the special model an M3 GT Class II rear spoiler, front class II corner splitter extensions, electric seats, and double-spoke polished alloy wheels.

M3 Lightweight (1995)

Following the introduction of the E36 M3, a number of racing teams in the United States began to pressure BMW for a homologation special model that could compete in motorsport. BMW answered their calls in 1995 when they launched the M3 Lightweight.

The radio, air conditioning, leather seats, tool kit and sunroof were all removed to save weight. Additionally, there was no under bonnet insulation and a special low weight carpet was used. Overall, the changes lead to a 91 kg (200 lb) loss of weight over the standard M3.

Along with reducing as much weight as possible, BMW also gave the car a suspension upgrade with shorter springs, a new front strut bar and a lower cross-brace. The car also received a new bodykit and 17-inch wheels.

All M3 Lightweight cars were finished in Alpine White paint and they were given Motorsports flag decals on the left front and right rear corners of the car. It is believed that around 125 of these Lightweight models were produced.

E36 M3 & Motorsport

The E36 M3 competed in a number of different motorsport series including the German ADAC GT Cup and the FIA GT Championship. In the United States, the M3 won 4 races in the IMSA GT Championship in 1996 in the GTS-2 class. A year later the car won 8 races in the same series and then another 5 races the next year. In Australia the M3 competed in the Australian GT Production Car Championship.

BMW E46 M3 (2000 – 2006)

Like the E36 before it, the third generation E46 M3 kept the somewhat conservative styling design of the base model. However, the car did come with widened wheel arches, special side grilles, aggressive front and rear bumpers, and a bonnet with a distinctive ‘power dome’.

The first concept of the car was created in 1997 by Ulf Weidhase and Martina Bachmann. A concept model was previewed at the 1999 International Motor Show in German and the final production model was introduced at the Geneva Motor Show in October 2000.

Underneath the bonnet of the new car, BMW fitted a new S54 3.2-litre straight-six engine that produced a whopping 343 horsepower (256 kW) at 7,900 rpm and 360 Nm (266 lb ft) of torque. American models on the other hand were rated at a slightly lower 333 hp (248 kW) and 355 N⋅m (262 lb⋅ft)

While weight was increased to 1,570 kg (3,461 lb), the increased power meant that the car could go from 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) in as little as 5.1 seconds (Some testers even claimed they did it in 4.8 seconds). The top speed was limited to 250 km/h (155 mph).

Engineers mated the powerful engine to either a Getrag 420G 6-speed manual transmission or a SMG-II 6-speed automated manual transmission, which was based on the Getrag 420G. The SMG transmission used an electrohydraulically actuated clutch and the gears could be selected via the gear shifter or paddles on the steering wheel.

A special M Differential Lock was installed too help channel power to the rear wheels, while engineers heavily modified the suspension and braking system to improve cornering and stopping performance. BMW kitted the M3 out with 18-inch wheels as standard, while larger 19-inch ones were a popular optional extra.

On the inside the E46 M3 was even more luxurious and plush than the previous model. Nappa leather trim came as standard, and was available in a range of colours from Kiwi yellow to Cinnamon brown.

The car was also fitted with an M-badged three-spoke steering wheel with special stitching, instrument dials with LED lights on the tachometer and an illuminated gear shifter.

BMW E46 M3 Convertible (2000)

Unlike previous generations of the M3, BMW offered a convertible model from the get-go. It was much the same as the coupe model, but structural reinforcing meant that it was slightly heavier than the hard top. The Convertible M3 proved to be hugely popular with 29,633 models being produced over the course of the cars six-year production run.

BMW E46 M3 Touring Concept (2000)

With increasing competition from the likes of Audi, BMW’s M division commissioned a concept M3 Touring model in 2000. Kept a secret for many years, the M3 Touring was built to evaluate the feasibility of manufacturing an M3 model on the existing E46 station wagon.

While the concept proved that the special widened rear wheel arches of the M3 could be combined with the station wagon body, BMW decided to not produce the car.

BMW E46 M3 GTR (2001)

In 2001, BMW wanted to enter the American Le Mans Series with their E46 M3, however, the 3.2-litre engine didn’t quite have the oomph that the race team wanted. BMW’s solution was to develop a bespoke 4.0-litre V8 engine that developed as much as 500 horsepower (373 kW) in race trim.

In order to homologate the M3 GTR for racing, BMW needed to produce 10 road cars for sale for the general public. However, BMW took advantage of the loosely-worded regulations and only produced 6 cars, 3 of which were development models.

The road version of the M3 GTR was detuned to around 380 horsepower and the price was set at a whopping €250,000. With only 3 proper production models being produced, the M3 GTR is the rarest M3 ever created.

BMW E46 M3 CSL 2003

With the 3.0 CSL of the seventies being one of the most iconic BMWs of all time, the M3 CSL (Coupe Sport Leichtbau/Lightweight) had a lot to live up to when it launched in 2003. To the delight of CSL fans, BMW did a pretty good job and the M3 CSL was regarded as the best E46 model produced.

As the name suggests, the CSL focuses on saving weight. BMW’s engineers managed to trim about 10% of the weight off the M3 by using bespoke carbon fibre parts. The front and rear bumpers, the roof panel, the interior panels and the centre console all featured the weight saving material.

BMW even went as far as to create a new lightweight moulded plastic boot lid and they also replaced the rear glass panel with a thinner one. The weight saving didn’t stop there though, with lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels being fitted to the car. These were wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup Types and cover larger, more powerful brakes.

On the inside, much of the sound insulation was gone, along with the electric seats, the navigation system, the air conditioning and the stereo. Carbon fibre bucket seats replaced the original front ones and the rear ones also featured a backing made from the same material.

Even more carbon fibre was used underneath the bonnet, with a new sizeable intake plenum forcing air into the updated engine. With 360 horsepower (268 kW) on tap and an uprated SMG paddle-shift transmission, the CSL was capable of 0-62mph in 4.9 seconds when using its ‘launch control’ feature. While the top speed was limited to 250 km/h (155 mph), the limiter could be removed as an option.

To completement the updated engine and the lightweight design, BMW’s engineers revised the suspension system with stiffer springs and upgraded shock absorbers. The steering ratio was also quicker and the electronic stability control was retuned. One of the most interesting features of the CSL was the “M track” mode which allowed for more sideways action before the stability control kicked in.

BMW limited the CSL’s production to 1,400 units, however, the true production figure was slightly less at 1,383 cars. The car was only offered in either Silver Grey or Black Sapphire paint.

BMW E46 M3 CS (2005)

With the success of the CSL, BMW decided to offer a ‘Competition Sport’ package for the regular E46 M3. The package was known as the M3 Competition Package in the United States and mainland Europe, while it was called the M3 CS in the UK.  This package featured a number of bolt on upgrades, some of which came directly from the CSL model:

  • 19-inch BBS alloy wheels (19 x 8-inches at the front and 19 x9.5-inches at the rear)
  • Stiffer springs (became standard on the regular M3 from December 2004)
  • Faster ratio steering rack of 14.5:1 from the CSL (compared with the regular M3’s ratio of 15.4:1)
  • Steering wheel from the CSL
  • M-track mode for the electronic stability control from the CSL
  • The CSL’s larger front brake discs (but with the regular M3 front calipers) and rear brake calipers with larger pistons.
  • Alcantara steering wheel and handbrake covers.
  • Engine, gearbox and other drivetrain components were the same as the standard car

E46 M3 & Motorsport

Like the previous generations of the M3, the E46 M3 was successful in the world of motorsport. The car finished third in the 2000 American Le Mans Series GT category and then first the following year when BMW introduced the V8 GTR version of the car.

For the 2002 year, the M3 GTR was not entered into the series as BMW did not want to produce the 100 production cars and 1,000 engines needed for entry.

In 2003, the M3 GTR returned to competition at the 24 Hours Nürburgring, with two cars being run by Schnitzer Motorsport. The GTR would not only go on to win the event, but it would also repeat the success the next year.

BMW E90/E92/E93 M3 (2007 – 2013)

Seven years after the launch of the mighty E46, BMW introduced the E92 M3. As with previous generations of the M3, this new model received a slew of changes that made it radically different from the standard 3 Series coupe.

The biggest change was arguably the new engine. BMW threw out the old six-cylinder power unit in the previous model and replaced it with a purpose-built 4.0-litre V8 engine that was unrelated to any other existing eight-cylinder from the company.

With a redline of a mind bending 8,400 rpm, the V8 monster produced as much as 414 horsepower (309 kW) and 400 Nm (295 lb ft) of torque at 3,900 rpm. This combined with the optional 7-speed dual-clutch transmission meant that the E92 could accelerate from 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) in as little as 4.6 seconds, while the manual version took 0.2 seconds longer. Top speed remained a limited 250 km/h (155 mph).

Many of the body panels were also changed from the standard 3 Series coupe, with the most notable additions being a new front bumper with three large openings and a ‘power bulge’ bonnet that was needed to accommodate the larger engine.

The new quad exhaust system and chrome side gills with LED indicators also differentiated the M3 from the normal 3 Series. Like the E46 CSL, the new M3 featured a carbon fibre roof panel that saved weight and lowered the vehicle’s centre of gravity.

Upgraded suspension and larger, more powerful brakes were installed to completement the increased power. Once again, 18-inch alloy wheels came as standard from the factory, with 19-inch versions an optional extra.

BMW E90 M3 Sedan (2007)

The four-door sedan version of the M3 was reintroduced for the fourth generation thanks to strong demand from the North American markets. Additionally, the fact that Audi introduced a four-door version of the RS4 may have also played some part in the development of the M3 sedan.

BMW previewed the E90 M3 sedan at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show and launched the production version of the car at the Frankfurk Motor Show later that same year. Slightly shorter, wider and taller than the coupe model, the M3 sedan had subtle design alterations and it did not feature the lightweight carbon fibre roof panel. With this in mind, the sedan weighed slightly more at 1,605 kg (3,538 lb), 25 kg more than the coupe.

BMW E93 M3 Convertible (2008)

The third and final member of the M3 family was the E93 Convertible that was introduced shortly after the coupe model for the 2008 model year. Like the standard 3 Series car, the M3 convertible was kitted out with an electrically-operated folding hard-top roof. While this made the car more secure, the resultant 200 kg (440 lb) weight gain increased the 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time by as much as half a second.

BMW E92 M3 GTS (2010)

In November 2009, BMW announced the M3 GTS with production beginning the following year. The car was designed to be the ultimate M3 track weapon and could even be used to compete in official clubsport events.

To create this incredible monster, BMW’s engineers stripped out everything that was deemed unnecessary to save as much as 70 kg (154 lb) of weight. The radio and air conditioning systems were removed (although they could be added back in as options) and carbon fibre trim pieces were used extensively throughout the car.

With an aggressive front splitter and adjustable high-level rear spoiler, the intentions of the GTS were obvious. The racing theme continued with a bright ‘Fibre Orange’ paint finish, 19-inch matte black allow wheels and Recaro bucket seats with six-point racing harnesses.

The engine also received some attention with an increase in displacement to 4.4-litres and a new titanium exhaust system. This combined with some other performance upgrades meant that power increased to 450 horsepower (336 kW) and 440 Nm (325 lb ft) of torque.

BMW mated the upgraded engine to a seven-speed M-DCT paddle-shift gearbox, which was recalibrated for quicker shift times. Acceleration improved with a 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time of 4.4 seconds and a top speed of 306 km/h (190 mph).

The modifications made to the GTS were so significant that BMW partially built the 138 cars on regular 3 Series production line. They then sent the vehicles to the Garching factory where they were finished by hand.

As the GTS was not available in South Africa, BMW developed a special edition model known as the M3 Frozen Edition for the market. The car featured an upgraded engine that generated 443 horsepower (330 kW). Twenty-five cars were produced with all of them being finished in either “Frozen Black” or “Frozen Grey”.

BMW E90 M3 CRT (2011)

Following on from the GTS the CRT limited edition sedan was introduced. The car was developed to show off the progress that BMW had made with carbon fibre technology and how it would be used for the forthcoming i3 and i8 models.

While not as track focused as the GTS, the CRT used the same 4.4-litre engine and seven-speed M-DCT transmission. Carbon fibre reinforced plastic was also used for the bonnet, front lip spoiler, the rear boot spoiler and the front seats. BMW managed to save as much as 70 kg (154 lb) compared to the standard sedan model, despite leaving the extra equipment on the car.

Unlike the GTS, no rollcage or six-point harness was installed. Instead, the car was fitted with four seats that were partly covered in bright Sakhir Orange leather with matching stitching, while the steering wheel was finished in Alcantara.

Climate control, front and rear parking sensors, satellite navigation and a high-end audio system were all fitted from factory. Despite this, straight line performance remained the same as the GTS. Only 67 CRT M3s were produced by BMW. All cars were finished in matte Frozen Polar Silver paint, with exterior details highlighted in striking Melbourne Red.

DTM Champion Edition (2012)

To celebrate BMW’s return and subsequent win in DTM in 2012, the company produced 54 “DTM Champion Edition” cars. The special edition model featured largely cosmetic changes that associated the vehicle with the DTM race car.

BMW gave the car a “Frozen Black” paint job with stripes on the roof and boot lid. Carbon fibre was used on some of the body panels and the car was given matte black wheels. On the inside there was more carbon fibre and an “M Power” logo embroidered on the handbrake grip. A number plaque indicated where the car came in the production run.

Lime Rock Park Edition (2013)

A special edition M3 known as the “Lime Rock Park Edition” was produced for the United States market for the 2013 model year. All cars were finished in a “Fire Orange” paint colour and performance upgrades included a carbon fibre front splitter and rear spoiler, a lower ride height by 15 mm (0.6 inches), a faster steering ratio, higher thresholds for the electronic stability control and a lightweight exhaust system.

Interestingly BMW claimed that the power output was the same as the standard M3 model, but when the company marketed the exhaust system on other cars they claimed it added about 5 horsepower (4 kW).

BMW M3 Pickup

When BMW retired the E30 M3 Pickup in 2011 they decided that a new version was in order. They based this new M3 Pickup off the convertible car, but added extra chassis stiffening to make it a reliable workhorse.

With the same 420 horsepower V8 as in the other models, the M3 Pickup could rapidly transport parts to all areas of the M-Division factory. BMW teased fans with photos of the car testing at the Nürburgring, but the promise of a production version was merely an elaborate April Fools’ hoax.

Competition Edition Frozen Silver (2012)

In 2012 BMW announced the Competition Edition that was designed to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the company’s M Division. Each model was finished in “Frozen Silver” paint, while the interior featured black leather and palladium silver highlights. BMW produced 100 models for the European market and 40 for the US market.

E92 M3 & Motorsport

Twenty years after BMW withdrew from the DTM racing series, the company re-entered with the E92 M3. In its first year, the M3 won the Drivers Championship, the Manufacturers Championship and five out of ten of the races for that season.

The M3 also saw great success in endurance racing as well. BMW Motorsport/Schnitzer Motorsport won the 2010 24 Hours of Nürburgring with an M3 GT2 and the car also qualified second at the 24 Hours of Spa the same year.

A GT4 version of the M3 was introduced in 2009 and was entered into various races and events. It finished third in the GT4 SP10 class at the 2009 24 Hours Nürburgring and first at the ADAC Westfalenfahrt race at the same circuit.

In the United States, the E92 M3 was entered into the American Le Mans Series, competing in the GT2 category. In 2011, BMW achieved a 1 – 2 finish at the 12 Hours of Sebring and they would win all categories in the American Le Mans GT class the same year.

BMW F80 M3 Sedan & F82 M4 Coupe (2014 – Present)

With the next generation M3, BMW decided to rebrand the 3 Series coupe and convertible models as the 4 Series. This followed the company’s new trend of using even numbers for coupe models and odd numbers for four door variants. This meant that the iconic two-door M3 would no longer exist and instead would be renamed to the M4, while the sedan would become the lone M3 model.

BMW F80 M3 Sedan (2014 – 2018)

Like previous generations of the M3, the F80 sedan retained the styling changes that differentiated it from the standard 3 Series. BMW gave the car an aggressive front bumper and the gills behind the front wheels directed airflow to places in need. A slim Gurney spoiler at the rear and quad exhaust tail pipes added to the sporty yet subtle design. The power bulge and aerodynamic wing mirrors rounded off the exterior changes.

While the splitting up of the M3 family caused upset amongst some enthusiasts, it was the engine that caused the biggest controversy. BMW replaced the old V8 engine with a 3.0-litre straight-six twin turbocharged power unit.

Despite using turbocharging technology, BMW claimed that the engine could rev like the one fitted to previous models of the M3. Buyers certainly couldn’t complain about a lack of power with 431 horsepower (321 kW) and 550 Nm (406 lb ft) of torque on top. With all this power, performance was noticeably quicker, with a 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time of just 4.1 seconds if the M-DCT transmission was used and a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph). If the limiter was removed, the M3 was capable of hitting 280 km/h (174 mph).

A carbon fibre roof panel made its first appearance on a four-door M3 with the introduction of the F80 Sedan. Engineers also used the lightweight material in a number of other areas, including the strut brace under the bonnet and the propeller shaft that sent power to the rear wheels. Amazingly, the result of this diet was a car that was lighter than its predecessor.

BMW F82 M4 Coupe (2014)

While its name is different, the F82 M4 Coupe is still an M3 at heart and deserves to be part of the history of the car. Overall, it is mechanically identical to the four-door M3 with the only major difference being the number of doors. The M4 does feature a boot lid with an integrated spoiler, but apart from that not much else is different.

BMW M4 Convertible (2014)

Along with the introduction of the coupe M4, BMW also announced a convertible version of the car. Practically everything was the same as the coupe model, but weight increased to 1,691 – 1,750 kg (3,728 – 3,858 lb) from around 1,572 kg (3,466 lb) due to the three-piece retractable hard-top roof and the chassis stiffening.

BMW F80 M3 Competition Package (2016)

In 2016 BMW introduced the “Competition Package” for M3 and M4 models for those looking for a bit more performance. Power was increased to 450 horsepower (336 kW), bringing the 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) time down to around 4.0 seconds for cars with M-DCT transmissions.

Cars kitted out with the package also came with adaptive suspension with uprated springs and dampers, and 20-inch multi-spoke wheels. A sports exhaust with black chrome tailpipes, new sports seats and gloss black trim rounded up the changes.

BMW F82 M4 GTS (2016)

With lessons learnt from the 2010 M3 GTS, BMW would go on to create a monster in the form of the F82 M4 GTS. The track-focused M4 was limited to just 700 units and it would arguably be the most hardcore production M3/M4 produced to date.  

While the car was powered by the same 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged straight-six engine as in the normal M4, it produced significantly more power at 493 hp (368 kW) and 600 Nm (443 lb ft) of torque. The power increase was largely down to a water injection system that was the first to be used on a production car in nearly 20 years.

The performance upgrades didn’t stop at the engine however, BMW also shed 27 kg (60 lb) off the M4 GTS, which helped in getting the 0 – 100 km/h (62 mph) down to 3.8 seconds. The top speed was recorded to be as much as 305 km/h (190 mph).

When BMW took the car to the infamous Nürburgring they managed to record a lap time of 7 minutes and 28 seconds, 24 seconds faster than the base M4 and 20 seconds faster than the old GTS.

BMW F80 M3 30 Jahre Edition (2016)

In the same year the M4 GTS was launched BMW also introduced a special edition M3 that celebrated 30 years of the M3 name. It was limited to just 500 units and finished in Macao Blue (an option on the original E30 M3).

BMW based the car on the Competition Pack model and special ’30 Years M3’ logos appeared throughout the car.

BMW M4 DTM Champion Edition (2016)

After winning the 2016 season, BMW launched the DTM Champion Edition M4. It used the 493 horsepower engine from the GTS model and as such, the performance was exactly the same. BMW limited production to 200 units and the only available colour was white. The biggest visual difference to the GTS was the smaller spoiler and the lack of orange design elements.

BMW M3 CS (2018)

In 2018 a special edition known as the M3 CS was introduced with an upgraded engine that produced 454 hp (339 kW) and 601 Nm (443 lb ft) of torque. The car was also put on a diet with 50 kg (110 lb) of weight being shed through the use of a carbon fibre front spoiler, Alcantara for the interior parts and thinner glass for the side windows. BMW limited production to 1,200 units.

A CS model of the M4 was released one year earlier and featured the same changes as those made to the M3 model. BMW manufactured 3,000 M4 CSs globally.

The End of the F80 M3

After four short years production of the F80 M3 sedan was halted in October 2018. The car could not meet the demanding WLTP emissions regulations and BMW decided to pull the plug. However, the M4 continued to be produced and is still in BMW’s lineup today.

BMW G20 M3 2021

A new version of the M3 based off the G20 3 Series will be introduced for the 2021 model year. The car will be powered by the BMW S58 turbocharged straight-six engine that debuted in the G01 X3 M. BMW have announced that all-wheel drive will be an option for the car, a first for an M3 model. However, manual cars will only be available with rear wheel drive.


  • Ben

    From his early days playing the original Gran Turismo and with his Hot Wheels car set, Ben has had a long interest in all things automotive. His first foray into the world of automotive journalism was way back in 2009 and since then he has only grown more interested in the industry. Ben also runs and heads up the video production side of Garage Dreams, focusing on small informative documentaries about some of the world's most legendary cars.

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