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BMW E30 Three Series - The M3


BMW needed a car to go racing, something BMW had done very well for decades. The 3.0CSL "Batmobiles" and their like had dominated racing in the 70s and the various E21s including the fire breathing turbocharged versions had been an inspiration. It was slightly surprising it took until 1986 for the M3 to make an appearance.

BMW E30 M3

The M3 had a sound heritage.

The S14

BMW almost had the right engine for the M3, the S38 six cylinder 24 valve from the E28 M5 and E24 M635CSi but it was really too big for such a small car. The solution was quite literally to chop two cylinder off and made the 16 valve S14, the prototype was ready in two weeks! Power was down from the 3.5's 286bhp to a still respectable 200hp (early cars) at a heady 6750rpm from 2.3 litres. It revved sweetly and with it's four individual throttle bodies made a sound that scared small children.

BMW S14 egnine E30 M3 Evo 2

S14 in an Evo 2 with distinctive valve cover.

M3 Differences

The M3 was always a two door car and used a 1986 pre-facelift body with the old style tail lights and rectangular front fog lamps (when fitted). That said they did eventually get the facelift style ellipsoid headlights. The front used offset lower control arm bushings to increase caster and also increase the track, this meant new front flared wings were needed. At the rear not only were the arches flared to allow for wider wheels but the C pillar and boot lid were completely redesigned to improve aerodynamics. The changes meant that the radio aerial had to be moved to the roof above the windscreen, the same position used on the touring. Front and rear glass was bonded to reduce drag. Unlike later M3s they used the standard exterior mirrors although inside a rear view mirror with map reading lights was a common addition.

The suspension was fairly standard at the rear but the front modified the attachment for the anti-roll bar links and used aluminium lower control arms (steel before 6/89) with solid and offset bushings. Significantly the M3 used five bolt hubs with the same 120mm bolt radius as the larger 5/6/7 series, this opened the way to using the larger brakes from the E28. If only these had been fitted to all E30s. After late 1988 cars could have optional Boge Electronic Damping Control (EDC) which offered three stiffness settings.

15" cross spokes with the usual 205/55/15 tyres were standard on european cars. The Evo 2, Cecotto, Ravaglia and Sport Evolution had 225/45/16s on 7.5x16 cross spokes. These were optional on other models. M3 wheels have a different offset to those from larger five bolt BMWs.

BMW E30 M3 Evo Sport

M3 had major rear end modifications to improve airflow.

A Getrag 265 five speed gearbox was fitted and had a dog-leg gate with a 1:1 top gear. The final drive ratio was 3.15:1 and it had 25% limited slip.

Interiors had a variety of front seats over the course of production but certain features were common to all. The rear seat was a special design with a greatly raised centre portion. The dash had an oil pressure readout instead of the economy gauge and was adorned with red instead of white needles. All M3s had a black headlining, a tradition continued on the 318iS and other sporty BMWs to this day.

The M3 always retained the older style leather gear knob, sometimes referred to as the mushroom shape. It had an integrated leather gaiter unlike other BMWs. The handbrake lever had a custom leather grip. M3s had check control but the onboard computer was optional.

M3 values have gone through the roof in recent years and fewer of the 17,000+ cars built are being used for their intended purpose of delivering unrivaled driving pleasure on twisty roads. Whilst this is a great shame it was also an inevitable side effect of the M3's legend. I've never driven one. They were much rarer in the UK than in other markets due to being left hand drive. A great number of potential UK buyers opted for the 325i Sport instead.

Various evolutions were produced over the years to homologate the racing cars. These are listed below. Production terminated in early 1992.

Evo 1

Evo 1's have the same 10.5:1 compression engine albeit it with a revised cylinder head and the same 200bhp. They were made from March to April 1987 and have no external differences. 505 cars were produced

BMW E30 M3 Evo 2

My friend Taj's Evo 2.

Evo 2

The Evo 2 began production in March 1988. It had revised pistons which boosted compression to 11:1, a lighter flywheel and a less restrictive intake. Combined with revised DME programming these gave a rise on power to 220bhp. These S14s have white cam covers with the three color strips in Motorsport colours. 500 were made.

The final drive ratio is slightly taller at 3.15:1. The 16" alloys were standard on this variant.

A much deeper front air dam was fitted with brake cooling ducts as was an additional lip spoiler on the boot. To reduce weight the glass was thinner (you'd be amazed how much car glass weighs) and the boot lid went on a diet along with the bumpers saving 10kg. Colours were limited to red, blue or silver. The interior was silver half leather with //M badges. All of these cars had a numbered plaque.

BMW E30 M3 Evo Sport

M3 Evo Sport.

Sport Evo

These 600 cars were 2.5s thanks to a longer stroke and bore increase to 95mm, they are arguably the most desirable M3s. The Sport Evo was produced from December 1989 for four months. In addition to the larger capacity they had enlarged valves and more aggressive camshafts. Cooling was enhanced by oil jets directed onto the underside of the pistons. The peak power of 238bhp was obtained despite the fitment of a catalytic converter.

2.5 have a black cam cover with red HT leads. Externally the cars had taller and wider front arches. They retained many of the changes made to the Evo 2 but in addition a smaller fuel tank and smaller spoilers with adjustable extensions were fitted. To improved aerodynamics the car sits 10mm lower and rubber sealing strips were used at the bumpers and sides of the bonnet where it meets the wings. I have these strips on my 318iS and they look superb.

Colours were limited to black or brilliant red, the best colours in any event, with contrasting black or red bumper insert strips. Their 16" cross spokes have Nogaro silver painted centre portions which look fantastic.

Inside the cars had Recaros with built in heat rests and holes for a track harness, the seat belts were red. The steering wheel was a wonderful M-Tech 2 covered in suede. Like the Evo 2 these cars have an identification plaque.

BMW E30 M3 Evo Sport interior

Unique Recaro seats and red belts on an Evo Sport.

Tour de Corse

A special edition of 50 cars for the French market to celebrate winning the Tour de Corse rally and based on the Evo 1. All were black with a black leather interior. They came with 16" cross spokes and BMW France threw the options list at them.

Ravaglia and Cecotto

Special editions made in April 1989 to celebrate the victories of Roberto Ravaglia and Johnny Cecotto. These made 215bhp, mainly due to a reprogrammed DME. The valve cover was colour coded to the car's body.

The cars were similar to the Evo 2 but have fog lights instead of brake cooling ducts in the front spoiler. They were blessed with more standard equipment than regular M3s.

The 26 Ravaglias were all for the UK market but of unchanged specification.


These were produced in late 1988 to celebrate BMW's many victories in that season's touring car races. They used the standard 195bhp catalyst M3 as their base and all all were Macao blue. They came with 16" wheels and more standard equipment including silver leather.

M3 Cabriolet

The most expensive E30 was the M3 Cabriolet, it was sold both in europe and the USA from June 1988. All were 2.3 and could be had in 195bhp (catalyst), 200bhp (no cat) or 21bhp (late model after March 1990) versions.

The suspension was tuned differently to cope with the car's extra weight. All had power roofs and in general there were more standard toys than on the hard top cars as weight was less of a priority.

BMW E30 M3

American 1990 M3.

American M3

All American cars had catalytic converters and made 192bhp. The 2.5 was never sold in the US.

The same Getrag 265 gearbox was fitted but with a normal gate (not dog-leg) and an overdrive 0.81:1 top gear instead of 1:1, this meant wider ratios. The final drive ratio was 4.10:1 (same ratio as the 318iS) with limited slip.

Other differences include a third brake light, bumper mounted side lights and black intake grilles near the front fog lights.


In Portugal and Italy cars over two litres face prohibitive taxes. For this reason BMW made a 2.0 S14 and sold it in a more conventional two or four door E30 body. They sold 1206 four door and 2542 two door cars over a three year period from 1987, all were left hand drive and none had catalytic converters.

The S14 engine had a reduced stroke of 72.6mm and produced 192bhp. It was mated to the same Getrag 265 gearbox as the M3 and had a limited slip differential.

Standard equipment included ABS, power steering and the M3's dash with an oil pressure gauge instead of economy meter. The four door had 14" alloys and fog lights but didn't get the M-Tech 2 body pack fitted to the two door.