Vintage Views: BMW E30 M3

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Oct 28, 2019 | BMW | Posted in Buyer's Guides | From the Oct. 2017 issue | Never miss an article

[Editor's Note: This article first appeared in our October 2017 issue. Some information may be different. Hagerty values a No. 2 example at at $93,900 in 2019.]

The original M3 grew out of BMW’s desire to infiltrate FIA Group A racing. To be competitive, the standard 3 Series was going to need some help, including more power, a reworked suspension and some extra aero.

The “more power” part of the equation came from the brand’s S14 powerplant, a detuned, non-turbo version of its old F1 engine. The theory was that the four-cylinder’s crankshaft would be better suited to high engine speeds than the longer unit found in the six-cylinder street cars. A widened track improved handling, while big brakes came from the larger 5 Series sedan.

Then there was the can’t-miss bodywork: massive box flares, deep front spoiler, rear wing and unique deck lid. To help aero efficiency, engineers gave the rear window a more gradual lean, necessitating more custom bodywork. As hoped, all these changes helped BMW dominate the day’s touring car racing scene.

This M3 wasn’t crude, though. The interior, including the well-bolstered seats, was nicely trimmed in leather. A power sunroof and a quality sound system rounded out the plush cockpit.

The M3 was conceived for European racing, but it did well in the States, too. Korman Autoworks successfully fielded M3s for BMW North America, while Russell Wiles drove one to SCCA Solo titles.

BMW needed to build 5000 copies of the M3 to satisfy those FIA requirements. The model debuted in Europe in time for the 1986 model year, with American-spec road cars arriving two years later. By the time the M3 left showrooms after the 1991 model year, BMW had delivered more than 12,000 copies.

That ample supply kept prices reasonable for years, with many owners using them as intended–and if they were crashed in the process, that was okay.

Lately, though, good examples have become scarce, with Hagerty saying that a perfect example is now worth more than $130,000. Sound crazy? At Monterey in 2015, we watched a museum piece bring in nearly $100,000.

Good, presentable drivers are also out there for more reasonable sums, though: Bring a Trailer recently sold two for about $40,000 each. If you’ve ever wanted one, now may be the time to strike.

Practical Guidance


Rennie Bryant at Redline BMW Performance has been working on E30-chassis BMWs since they were new.

The cars are aging pretty well, but don’t buy one that’s rusty. They can rust, as they’re just an E30 underneath. Check the trunk, rear quarters and the cowl around the front windshield.

Some of the parts you can just source off eBay. Other than the sport seats, the interior is all E30 stuff, for example.

The engines are very expensive to rebuild–like the chain guides are $400. Any of the speciality parts that were made just for that engine are expensive. However, just about everything is available.

The five-bolt hubs are special, but otherwise a lot of this stuff is interchangeable. The tranny is the same as a 535i and 635i. The diff is also from an E24/E28.

We just built an E30 replica using all factory parts. Everything was available except the bumper brackets and the side skirts. The fenders are like $350 or so.

Karl Hugh, technical director for BMW tuner Active Autowerke, also knows a lot about these cars.

When shopping, do a compression and leakdown test. Look for oil leaks and broken exhaust manifold studs–a common problem as they get loose and then neglect causes them to break.

The 1988-’90 cars are common, but all years are basically the same.

They’re very buzzy–they were built for racing and have no power unless you work the engine. Remember, this is still to date the most successful BMW in racing. You’ve got to be a purist to understand this car.

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View comments on the GRM forums
trucke SuperDork
11/29/17 10:08 a.m.

My best friend had one of these with the Ground Control/Koni suspension.  That thing handled like it was wired to your brain.  About 15 years ago we took first in a fun rally.  We did not tell anyone that it had a rally computer from the factory.

He was forced to sell by his wife.  I advised against it.  Was saddened to see it go!


wspohn Dork
11/29/17 11:01 a.m.

"The “more power” part of the equation came from the brand’s S14 powerplant, a detuned, non-turbo version of its old F1 engine. "

Not so much. The S14 only had one thing in common with the M12/13 F1 engine - the block out of the M10. Unless 'detuned' refers to removal of not only the turbo but also tossing the cylinder head....

akylekoz HalfDork
11/29/17 11:27 a.m.

I flogged one of those for 15 years, wired to the brain is an accurate description. Very confidence inspiring, mine had +1 wheels, Bilstiens a Dinan chip and cam gear. 

Sold it just as the value went up, also right before some expensive cost of ownership was about to happen.  Purchased from a Saab dealership before they had a chance to prep, it needed brakes and the exhaust had a crack in it.  I paid $9995 for it with 130k on the clock, sold it with 190k for $8000 15 years later, not bad for a used car.  Probably worth twice that today, it was red with tan int, paint was good interior very nice. 

I miss that car a lot. 



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