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BMW E36 Three Series - Tuners


The earliest Alpina was the B2.5 which was mainly a cosmetic and handling excercise. The car had upgraded suspension including anti-roll bars and new front and boot spoilers. There were no engine upgrades.


BMW E36 Alpina B2.5

Alpina B2.5 1991

The B6 2.8 followed soon afterwards and was one of the first BMWs I ever saw with 17" wheels. The car wore 235/40/17 front and 265/35/17 rear tyres. They looked amazing, I remember my dealer had a matched pair of coupes and they looked stunning. The M50 was stretched to 2.8 litres and hot camshafts were fitted along with revised DME programming. The car made 240bhp, the same as the US M3. Bigger brakes were fitted to cope with the power increase. Around 220 were made, mainly saloons.


BMW E36 B8 Alpina steering wheel Switchtronic

Alpina Switchtronic steering wheel with shift buttons.

When BMW released the M3 Alpina responded by upping the B6 2.8 to a three litre, still based on the M50. The result was an extra 10bhp bringing the total to 250, 36 less than the M3 but with the same torque. A new steering wheel with integrated shift buttons was available for the switchtronic version. Around 1740 were produced before the 1995 facelift.


BMW E36 Alpina B2.5

B2.5 Interior

After the facelift a new B6 3.2 was unleashed based on the M52. The heavily revised engine made 265bhp thanks to a free flow exhaust, lightweight Mahle pistons and revised software. An important part of the upgrade was to fit the older M50 intake manifold which flows much better than the restrictive M52 part. It must be remembered that the M3 had the benefit of individual throttle bodies, the Alpina engines are nearer to the US M3 in that they have a single throttle plate. Unlike the euro M3 they were available with an automatic transmission. This version ran until the end of E36 production, it can be spotted by an updated front spoiler.


BMW E36 B8 Alpina interior

Alpina B6 2.8 in signature Alpina colours

Fitting a V8 in an E36? Why not! The M60 based B6 4.6 required minor engine bay refabrication to fit, BMW had toyed with the idea of a V8 but dismissed the idea because of this. The M60 stopped at 4.0 at the time, the 4.4 came later. So Alpina had to do a lot of work to make a 4.6 and they did it well. Power rose from 286 to 333 bhp, finally more than the M3 and with a lot more torque especially at lower revs. The V8 was all alloy unlike the iron blocked S50 so weight wasn't an issue. All B8s were six speed manuals.


AC Schnitzer S3 E36

AC Schnitzer S3 3.0

AC Schnitzer

Schnitzer made all sorts of wheels, body parts and suspension kits for the E36 over the years and they sold very well indeed. It can be very hard to differentiate an actual Schnitzer S3 or similar from a car made with some of the components.

The smallest Schnitzer engine was the 2.1 litre M44 made initially for the Z3 but also sold for the Compact and 318iS. This made 170bhp and I believe it used a plate between the block and head to create a longer stroke. I'd not be surprised if it used a lightly modified M41 diesel crankshaft.


AC Schnitzer S3S CLS

S3S CLS widebody cabrio

There was a 1993 S3 Sport CLS (Coupé Lightweight Silhouette) based on the M3 3.0 with an upgraded exhaust and tuning, I believe the new price of the cabrio version was an eye watering 66,000 pounds (the base car was 43,000)! The wings and rear quarters were flared just the the E30 M3. If anyone knows more about power figures I'd be interested.

In 1995 a CLS II was released with improved performance and an emphasis on weight reduction.


AC Schnitzer steering wheel

Schnitzer steering wheel and gear knob

From 1991 Schnitzer made an M50 based 3.0 S3 which made 240bhp, similar to the Alpina. This was succeeded in 1997 by an M52 based 3.2 with 260bhp. A 4.4 V8 Z3 was produced around 1997 based on the 4.0 M60 with extensive upgrades, oddly I've not heard of this engine in any other E36s.


BMW E36 Hartge

Hartge styled E36 cabriolet.


Much like Schnitzer Hartge made a good selection of wheels, body kits and suspensions for the E36 range. In 1996 they made a special M3 with a stripped out interior and a 3.5 litre 350bhp motor that would run from 0-60 in 4.9s. There was also a 2.1 Compact M44 and an amazing 5.0 V12! None of these cars are easy to find information on today and in any event the final specifications would have been different on almost every car.

Hartge were always the most radical of the tuners and in the E36 their excess knew few bounds.