Pretty Much Perfect

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This is a 1989 BMW E30 M3. Seemingly no recent combination of a letter a number has evoked so many memories, so many arguments, so many emotions than M and 3 (thinking about it, some could make a case for U and 2. Though not many). This is no ordinary M3 either. This is a Group A M3, which means this is a racecar. Full disclosure, I might get misty eyed towards the end of this one.

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Before we talk about the M3 though, we have to talk about Jimmy Carter. Here’s the story: back in the late seventies, the former president passed a bunch of emissions and pollution laws, which saw ripple effects all through the car industry. One of the companies affected by that legislation was none other than Mercedes Benz, who at that time were making big, gas-addicted things like this. So Mercedes was in a bit of a pickle, which is why they decided to start production on a smaller, more efficient sedan called the 190e. In order to prove that this regulation-dodger was still a real Mercedes, they decided to take it racing with this, the 190e 2.3-16, a car with an intricate and fascinating history from a great era for Mercedes Benz.

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The thing is, though, no one really remembers the 190e, and you’re looking at the reason why. You see, BMW got wind of Mercedes’ fancy new race car, and decided to have a go of it themselves with this, the M3, which they based on their already brilliant 3-series. Thing is though, they got a little carried away. Soon after its introduction, the M3 became the most successful touring race car in history (touring car racing, especially from this era, is a riot to watch, by the way). This is what’s called a homologation special, which effectively means that for certain manufacturers to compete in certain races, they had to sell a number of their racing cars to the general public. Homologation has given us many great cars such as the Mitsubishi Galant VR-4, the Renault 5 Turbo, and the Lancia Stratos. Many people point to the M3 as the greatest homologation special, and I’m inclined to agree with them.

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Power comes from a 2.3L inline four-cylinder developing 215 horsepower, which is routed through BMW delightful 5-speed manual transmission. You could have this car in three different states of tune, called the Evolution 1, the Evolution 2 and the Sport Evolution (or EVO1, EVO2 and EVO3 if you want to be cool and confused with sporty Mitsubishis). The power output on this one leads me to believe it’s an EVO2, but the bodywork doesn’t really match up with that theory, so I could be wrong on that one. Then again, this car has been converted back into a street-legal track car, hence the Group A designation, so some modifications (mainly weight-saving) could be hiding some things.

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This is the first generation M3, which is my personal favorite. That being said, pretty much all M3’s have been decidedly brilliant. And diverse too- this is a four cylinder, the next two were inline sixes, the fourth one was a V8, the new one has an inline six again, but this time it’s turbocharged. Now, this is the point where I usually say the technical features aren’t important, rather it’s how the car makes you feel. But the M3 bucks that trend. It’s the technicalities that make it special. It links engineering and feelings in a way that not many cars have. Everyone who drives one notes the sound it makes, the vibrations that reverberate through the cabin and the detailed and communicative steering. This isn’t exactly a pristine example- it clearly has some bumps and scrapes- but I kind of like that. It has a sort of honesty about it. It’s been driven, unashamedly. By someone who loved driving it, in all likelihood. This is a car born out of competition and supported by a loving, near-religious following. I’m not saying you necessarily need to love the M3 to be a car person. But you have to respect it. It is, well and truly, as close to perfect as cars come.

Additional Thoughts

  • The engine in the first generation M3 is based on an engine called the M88, which also saw service (albeit with two more cylinders) in the M5 sedan and M1 supercar.
  • Those three colored stripes on the hood in the second to last picture are the official colors of BMW’s M division.
  • Just look at those flared wheel arches compared to the normal, non-M 3-series.
  • I mentioned that Classic Car Club Manhattan did some modifications to this M3, which include a stripped out interior, a full roll cage, lightweight BBS wheels, and racing seats featuring six-point harnesses.
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4 thoughts on “Pretty Much Perfect

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