A modern classic (and famous) BMW E36 M3 Evo
Finn and I became friends at 10 years old (mainly because he had a go kart!). Since he moved from Zimbabwe to the UK at the age of 16, he has become something of a BMW fanatic – and his enthusiasm has been infectious. His impressive collection of BMWs have all had something in common…sparkling, Estoril Blue paintwork.
Over the past 7 years, he meticulously restored his E36 M3 Evo Saloon to showroom condition – and it has become quite famous as a result.
What’s your car history been like?
My introduction to BMWs was an E36 318i. My collection over the past 10 years has included a 330Ci Clubsport, an 840Ci (which I still have), an E46 328i, this M3, an S54 engined Z3M and I’ve recently purchased a new 340i M Sport Touring.
Why do you love BMWs generally?
The main reason is that I really enjoy working on them, and find they’re almost infinitely maintainable.
Through the ownership of my first scrappy 318i, I discovered that BMWs were very easy and satisfying to work on. I managed to get hold of BMW’s own workshop manuals and parts catalogues. Using the parts catalogue I could easily find the exact bits I needed, and I was pleasantly surprised that they were generally not expensive to buy directly from BMW. I learnt their systems and as a result, with support from my father, I was able to do just about any work on the car. It was easy to move onto owning other BMWs in the confidence I’d be able to improve and maintain them.
How did you go about finding this M3?
I started helping a friend shop for a new car and was encouraging him towards an E38 740i or an E36 M3 – cars I was keen to own myself! We went and drove a couple of each but were struggling to find a good example of either. I happened to drive past Munich Legends and spotted they had an E36 M3 Saloon in Estoril Blue sitting on their forecourt. I stopped, went inside and spoke to Barney, making enquiries on my friend’s behalf. I learnt that ML had acquired the car as part of a ‘job lot’ from a collector who moved to Malta. The M3 had just 48k miles on the clock, but was a little tatty. They planned to do some light restoration work before advertising the car, but would be prepared to sell it as it stood for a relatively low price. I encouraged my friend to buy this car, but it was a stretch for his budget and the insurance would have been an even bigger stretch. I discussed it with my wife and we decided to buy the M3 and sell our 328i to my friend instead.
What work have you done to it?
Just about everything! For the first 4 years of ownership my wife was using the M3 daily to commute to work through the Sussex & Surrey countryside. During that time I was doing various little jobs to improve and maintain the car. For example I fitted a braided clutch hose (as the clutch bite point was low due to swollen hose), and changed the lower control arm and rear trailing arm bushes. After 5 years of ownership I spotted a couple of bits of rust developing and decided it was time to launch into body-work restoration.
I stripped all the running gear off the car, exhaust, rear subframe, fuel tank etc. Stripped everything down to individual components, which I had shot blasted then I painted them all with POR-15 (some of the best rust-proofing paint available). I then re-assembled the suspension with all new bushes and ball-joints. I also stripped the diff, and replaced the seals. I re-assembled and re-fitted the running gear, then stripped the external trim (bumpers side skirts etc.), before driving it down to Impact Prestige Bodywork in East Sussex. There it had any dents carefully removed then was rubbed down and resprayed. I drove it home without bumpers etc., and then set about re-assembling with all new door and window rubbers. After attempting to get the wheels refurbished, I ended up deciding to buy a brand new set.
The interior was upgraded with an M Tech 3 steering wheel, illuminated M gear knob and electric extended leather seats.
The result was an M3 which looked and drove like brand new.
Where has the car been featured?
During my ownership, this car became a bit of a celebrity. It has been featured on Top Gear (driven by Chris Harris as the curtain-raiser to the new M2) and displayed at the RedHill BMW dealer showroom as part of the launch of the F80 M3. It’s also appeared in the BMW M3: The Complete Story book by James Taylor and was featured in the BMW Car Magazine (September 2009).
Why did you end up deciding to sell it?
That’s quite hard to explain! We owned it for a further 5 years after I completed the thorough re-furb. I loved having a car that looked and drove so good, but I became quite obsessive about it. I wanted to keep it maintained in absolutely tip-top form. Amazingly there was more work to do. In that time I replaced the engine and gearbox mounts, clutch and dual-mass flywheel, centre bearing and guibo, all 4 brake callipers and the list goes on. I was never completely happy with how the car drove, and really I think that was mainly the fault of the UK roads, and the 840Ci with which it shared garage space. The 840Ci simply glides over poor road surfaces. In the M3 you feel it all. The car is designed to communicate with the driver. It was the most practical car we owned, being a four door, so we tended to drive it the most, certainly on most long distance trips. I realised that I really enjoyed the car when I was out for a ‘fun drive’ but on a 300 mile drive to the north of England in heavy traffic on a Friday evening I would find it quite tiresome.
I started looking for more comfortable cars to replace it, and as part of my deliberations I test drove a 340i. I was so impressed by the balance of performance and comfort in the 340i that after much more deliberation, I ordered a new 340i and sold the M3.
How does it drive?
I drove this particular car a few times at various stages of its restoration. To fully appreciate an E36 M3, it has to be revved. In fact it took me a while to get the confidence to drive this car in the ideal 4000 – 7000 rpm range, especially as the valve noise of the straight 6 engine becomes really noticeable. Once I felt reassured that this is perfectly normal, I started to really enjoy the 321 bhp that this racing pedigree engine had to offer.
The car felt very agile, which is no surprise bearing in mind that it was considered one of the best handling cars of the 90s. Although the interior was very comfortable and had been meticulously “de-rattled” during the restoration, the quality of the materials felt somewhat less solid than the later M3 models.
However, it is because of this that the car is a lot lighter than the E46 and it gives an amazing level of driver feedback. The car really felt like it was “buzzing with excitement” when driven hard, flattering even less talented drivers (like myself) while managing to be completely useable as a daily driver.
A perfect example of a lovely car, which is likely to increase in value as the E30 M3s have done in recent years. I’m sure the new owner is loving every minute of driving it.