Buying a BMW M3 E36

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Why the BMW M3 E36 is the best used sports car on the market

Looking for a weekend car for the garage? Say you have a commuter car or an SUV or even worst a mini-van. So you decide you need some excitement for the weekend. Maybe a driving event even? But you don’t want to blow a shit-load of money. And you’re not a do-it-yourself kind of guy, so you don’t want to spend multiple weekends fixing a car, to get to drive it for 1 hour. So what to buy? Where to look?

Here’s your answer: get a BMW M3 E36. They were sold in the USA from 1995-1999 and came in multiple body types including a coupe, convertible and a sedan. They also came in manual or automatic (do NOT think of getting an automatic). What makes the BMW M3 E36 a great used car buy? Lets first look at the specs of the car. The BMW M3 E36 came with 240 hp and 225 lbs of torque, which was lower then the European spec models. But with a car that weigh close to 3,000 lbs thats a lot of power. Even today, you will not find the BMW M3 e36 lacking in power. And the handling is something special to speak of. When Car and Driver magazine did a best handling car issue back in the 90’s, the winner was the BMW M3 e36. And competition was everything including the Porsche 911 and the current Ferrari of its time. That’s beating some serious competition.

BMW M3 E36 sedan

BMW M3 E36 convert with hardtop

Used car prices for the BMW M3 E36

So the car has specs that sound great. But how about the price? That may be the secret highlight for you – you can pick up a well maintained BMW M3 E36 easily for 10k today. Maybe even less if it has high mileage. The key is to find an enthusiast owner car, who can show they took car of the car with paperwork or just knowledge of the car. At this stage, you’re not just buying a car but buying it from the owner.

What you want to avoid is the following:

– Cars with tons of aftermarket body parts or engine modifications. You’re buying someone’s experiment/problems. Its better to look for a stock – or as close to stock – model you can buy. For instance if the car has ‘angel eyes’ headlights, don’t buy it. The current ‘angel eyes’ BMW headlight system came into play with 21st century BMWs. Why buy a car that didn’t have it as a standard option? Plus who know how well the previous owner did the installation?

– Automatics. Seriously, its a weekend sports car…you really want to go auto?

– Luxury models. Ok so this one is hard to follow but bare with me. There was actually two types of M3s sold in the USA. One was the regular sport model and one was called ‘luxury’ model. The clear ways you can tell the difference:

  • Outside – front lower dam. If it has 2 horizontal side bars in the bottom grill then it was a luxury model
  • Outside – side skirts. If the angle of the ‘twist’ is uniform on both sides, then it was a luxury model. The sports has a ‘coke bottle’ like twist, where it flares to the back part of the side skirt. See image below
  • Interior – if you see wood, then you got a luxury model.
M3 sport vs luxury on M3 E36

Top is Luxury. Bottom is Sport.

Our recommendation for the type of BMW M3 E36 to buy

We would say go for one with the least amount of miles. Right now these cars are old school BMW’s so they won’t be filled with the electronics you have in today’s cars but lower miles will always be best. Go with a coupe with a manual. While the convertible is cool, the cloth top will bring more mechanical issues to deal with compared to a solid top coupe. Some people like the sedan but by average sedans tend to have more miles then coupes (not talking strictly this car but also in generality). And for resale values, coupes will do better then sedans. Lastly look for a 1995 or 1996 with “Vadar” seats. Vadar seats are the holy grail of seats for the BMW M3 E36, so might as well get a coupe with them. And they were only available in 1995 and 1996 models. With that said, enjoy your hunt and know that you can’t go wrong with a BMW M3 e36.

BMW M3 E36 interior with vadars

BMW M3 E36 interior with vadars

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