An 'M' For All Reasons?

In the last couple of years the used values of some BMW M-cars have dropped to the point where there's now an M for every budget. If you have a full-time job, the odds are you'll be able to get yourself into one - although insuring it might be a different matter.

A 1996 M3 3.2 Evo for three and a bit?
A 1996 M3 3.2 Evo for three and a bit?
Like this one from our classifieds for example. Looks good doesn't it? Three months warranty, BMW service history, borderline supercar performance... and if you went along with your hobnail boots on and a handful of cash, you might be driving this sort of thing home for not much more than three grand. Less-tidy examples have changed hands for notably less than that too. Not bad. Not bad at all...

It's a similar story with the M5s as well. Good examples of E34s like this are showing signs of becoming collectable cars, but are still within reach value-wise. The later 5.0 V8 E39s, however, are starting to look like veritable performance bargains. One like this one could probably be yours for less than seven grand, and there are lots to choose from. So if you're patient you're likely to find exactly what you want.

E34s - starting to become collectable?
E34s - starting to become collectable?
Best of all perhaps is the news that in the case of cars like this - 'the daddy' of M5s - you could be rolling in one of the fastest saloons on planet earth... with a warranty...and on just 59,000 miles. Arguably at that mileage the car is in the prime of its supercar-humbling life, having been comprehensively serviced, and one like it could be tucked in your lock-up garage for under twenty grand now that its replacement has been announced. That'll be a car which - de-restricted - can do the best part of 200mph whilst carrying four people (three of whom might be a bit anxious at the time) without any performance enhancements. Hmm.

E39s - there are bargains to be had
E39s - there are bargains to be had
So that's that then. The allure of hand-built Bavarian quality and shattering performance has convinced you to take the plunge. It's probably a good idea too, except that although M-cars are superbly-engineered, strong cars, they do tend to have attracted the more 'enthusiastic' drivers out there. There are going to be downsides with owning any performance car, but to find out what to watch out for with these fast Beemers we spoke to Andrew Askey of Manchester-based independent BMW specialists BMTEC.

"First of all the engines themselves are pretty much bulletproof in our experience' he tells us. 'We've seen a few of the throttle housings fail on the V8, and they're not a repairable part. Once they've gone, they've gone, and the replacement part itself is around £600. Other than that, on the engine side of things you only need to look out for the VANOS device (BMW's variable valve timing dingus which alters cam timing by six degrees either way). There is a small filter at the front of them which you can clean, but if you're looking at one which is rattling - especially at high rpms - you might want to walk away because a specialist will relieve you of £2000 to do a complete replacement job." who's the Daddy? who's the Daddy?
And the transmissions? "Well we do see E36 M3s with clutch and transmission problems, but then again a lot of them are high-mileage cars nowadays that have been accident-repaired and/or have been through a dozen owners. I'd be looking very closely for any chassis repairs on an E36. Good, low-mileage examples are getting hard to find.' Surprisingly, while we were talking to Andrew about the E36 M3 he suggested that you might want to look for a later 330 diesel instead. He explained: 'You'd be amazed in real-world driving just how close they are performance-wise. In fact there are some in-gear scenarios where the diesel might actually be quicker than the M3."

There was one more area of concern in the transmissions department. "SMG gearboxes" he warns, 'especially on higher-mileage cars. When they go badly wrong, a lot of the time it's a BMW main-dealer job and to pay for it you'll be without any disposable income for the next six months! I've always preferred changing gear myself anyway to be honest..." In terms of any pitfalls, that was all Andrew had to tell us after more than twenty years of working with these cars. So would fellow PHers agree, or are there other potential horror stories?

The beauty of these machines is that each and every one is the absolute business to drive. They've always delivered flipping-great truckloads of performance whilst displaying a general reluctance to fall apart. A good BMW M-car is a driver's dream, and with values being what they are right now you really have no excuse not to consider one... Unless you'd prefer an AMG Merc' instead.

Comments (163) Join the discussion on the forum

  • bmthnick1981 15 Jul 2011

    E36GUY said:
    I absolutely adore the e36M3. Had mine for about 4.5 years now and around 40,000 miles. It's barely used a drop of oil in all that time, has never broken down or gone wrong and has probably cost me less to run (from a day to day point of view) in that time than the 328 sport that came before it did in a year! I did a lot of reseach and looking before finding one which ticked all the boxes.

    After a pretty extensive re-build, she's now serving time in a disgraceful manner as an extremely naughty trackday car which I share with some friends.

    Spaff. That is lovely.

  • thepony 15 Jul 2011

    mboon said:
    I used to live right next to a BMW dealer, at the time we had our first E36 M3 Saloon.

    This was when the E60 M5 had just came out and the M6 etc.

    I knew of a couple people that worked for them, trainee mechanics.
    The first time I noticed a problem was when a E60 M5 came flying up behind me in a 30 zone and hang around 3 feet from my ass, he was dropping gears and getting close, reving the thing right up etc trying to egg me on. I am surprised to look in the mirror and see a lad who I knew worked for BMW behind the wheel, no more than 20 years old!!!! 500bhp in a car that is not his at the age of 20? Sorry but to me that is insain. I feel for the owner.

    Then I started noticing it all, that is the first time I heard the rasp noise a E46 M3 makes at full chat, sadly I think it was stone cold as he just rolled straight out the workshop and bouncing it on the limiter right past the back of our house.

    M6, M5 and M3's all got the same treatment. Mini Cooper S at the time also had the same treatment, one of these tried racing me again driving like a complete tit.

    I emailed the manager of the dealer and complained stating I was a owner of a //M and I think it is terrible how they are letting these people drive the cars and drive them as hard as they have.

    From this day on and to anyone who asks, I tell them this story. They did nothing about this and to this day peoples //M cars are being treated like a piece of sh*t by this dealer.

    I will only order parts from this dealer, and to be honest only do that when I have too. Such a shame as well, the Parts team are really helpful, shame about the manager, mechanics and sales team.

  • olly22n 19 Apr 2011

    neil_bolton said:
    will261058 said:
    That E60 looks a bit strange. If its genuine its the first M5, indeed the first M car I have seen with chrome window surrounds instead of black!
    Is indeed an option. I've seen an identical M5 parked next to mine - mine having the black surrounds, and the other chrome.
    et viola;

    One chromelined M5

  • joesnow 18 Apr 2011

    What is it about E36s that bring out the inner perfectionist!

    I think mine'll be up for sale, back end of summer as I'm doing more and more business miles.

  • mboon 18 Apr 2011

    Yeah suspension refresh makes a massive difference with them, you can feel how good they handle with fresh shocks and springs etc.
    Looks nice bud, love the sunflowers. I have had a saloon, currently got a convertible... might sell this and buy a coupe and track it (I say track it, what I really mean is treat it like a princess and clean it twice a week)

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