Mileage: 158,000 Miles
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual
Exterior color: Cosmos Black Metallic
Interior: Modena Natur Leather
Cold Weather Package
Power Sport Seats
Harmon Kardon Premium Sound
13-Button On Board Computer
Fold Down Rear Seats
M Rear Wing
Track Ready, yet Civilized Daily Driver
The BMW E36 (1992 to 1999 3 Series) M3 sedan is the best car for the buck, period. M3 sedans, also called M3/4/5’s in manual form (M3/4 door/5-speed), were only produced for the 1997 and 1998 model years to fill the gap between the outgoing E34 M5 and incoming E39 M5. I have found, sorted, and sold many over the years including my own 1998 M3/4/5. Time has been kind to the E36, aging it with grace. When it debuted in the spring of 1991 for the 1992 model year it was revolutionary. It was the first BMW designed by computer-automated design and a stark contrast to the traditional 3-box design language used in the E21 and E30 generation 3 series. Don’t get me wrong, I love the iconic E30, but the E36 was such a leap forward that it still looks relevant amongst today’s modern cars. The M3 sedan is the best iteration of the form in my opinion.
What makes the E36 M3 so good is that it occurred at a sweet spot of BMW evolution where power, weight, size, suspension design, reliability, and luxury all intersected. The driving experience is connected and visceral, yet the driver enjoys luxuries that took other marques years to offer. With the slightest amount of talent it is a highly capable platform that can easily outperform much more powerful and expensive vehicles. The ease at which it can be pushed to the limit makes it the weapon of choice in many track applications. The sedan’s extra B-pillar adds rigidity, four doors add utility, and the shorter door cards don’t suffer the de-lamination that coupes do. The population of worthy examples has been decimated by abuse, neglect, and entry level buyers. In my experience with the current market, I have found that there is a “$12K rule” for a sorted E36 M3. No lights, no leaks, no issues. You can buy one for $6K and spend another $6K to make it right or you can spend the money up front and use the time you saved enjoying it.
This M3/4/5 is in excellent condition, it presents like a car with half the age and mileage. The most important element in any used BMW is the previous owner’s stewardship. BMW’s of this vintage are like airplanes. Age and mileage are relevant, but not nearly as important as maintenance and the replacement of common wear items that they all eventually need. If properly maintained they are good for well over 300,000 miles. This is a known E36 M3 within the Colorado BMW community. It was originally purchased at Schomp BMW and driven sparingly during the first 11 years of its life. Two friends of mine, both BMW enthusiasts, have owned it since. They both spent a lot of time and money correcting common E36 issues and refining it into a daily driver that is track ready. When I heard the car was for sale, I had to have it. Here is the build and condition. All items listed have been completed within the last 4 years and 35,000 miles. All parts are OEM BMW or BMW supplier unless otherwise noted.
Transmission, Clutch, and Shifter
The following are items that have been replaced in the last 4 years and 35,000 miles.
Head Gasket — Part of the reason I bought the car is that it needed a head gasket replacement. The cooling system was over pressurizing indicating a failure near one of the coolant passages. The engine has never overheated. When I pulled the head I had it cleaned, machined, and had the valve train inspected. While it was out I inspected the block surface, pistons, and accessible timing components. I also installed new intake, exhaust, valve cover gaskets, and re-initialized the VANOS per BMW specifications.
VANOS seals — this was done with a Beisan Systems seal kit shortly before the head gasket leak, but I inspected them when I had the head off. The VANOS is quiet.
Fresh Oil Change and Filter — completed with the head gasket replacement.
Cooling System Bleed and Flush — completed with the head gasket replacement.
Complete Cooling System Overhaul — Preventative replacement done by the previous owner.
Cam Position Sensor
Crank Position Sensor
Passenger Seat Occupancy Sensor
Driver’s Seat Recline Motor
I’ve driven the car regularly for several hundred miles after doing the head gasket to suss out any issues. It runs fantastically. The engine pulls very strong, idles smoothly, and makes no excessive lifter or VANOS noises. There are no leaks. The power steering lines and reservoir are seeping, but it is not excessive and does not warrant replacement yet. The clutch, gearbox, and shifter are smooth and precise. This M3 has the best shifting of any I’ve driven. I’m going to install the same shifter carrier in my personal M3/4/5. The lightweight flywheel does chatter at idle with the clutch pressed in, but that is normal. The suspension and bushings are compliant, tight, and firm as to be expected with the replacements and upgrades listed. I’ve gone through the car top to bottom, front to back. It is in excellent mechanical condition.
Cosmos black metallic paint and chrome BBS RK wheels over tan Modena interior are an eye-catching combination. There is just something about a black M3 that makes a statement. The Modena interior contrasts the black better than any other color. I am extremely critical of our cars and hold them to a very high standard. I did not detail it before photographing the car so you can see the raw product. I prefer to purchase cars this way so I can see all of the imperfections more clearly. I will have it detailed at the buyer’s discretion. Here is what I have found. The paint is in good condition with no clear coat failure or lifting. There is no excessive pitting, indicative of it being spared winter use. The trim and blackwork are intact with slight fading, but it is minimal. The glass is free of pitting or cracks. The headlight glass and indicator plastic are clean. The Roundel emblem paint is not cracked or peeling. I installed a new rear M3 badge because the colors were faded. There is no rust anywhere.
The Carfax shows “Damage after accident or other incident” occurring on 9/11/2003 early in the car’s history, but it doesn’t describe anything further. Before purchasing it I did a full damage inspection. All VIN tags are present. The bumper shocks are not pushed in. There is no evidence of structural, sheet metal, or suspension component damage. All panel gaps are consistent. I had each panel paint gauged and inspected for paint work by a high-end body shop. They all gauged at between 4 and 6 mm with the exception of the left front fender, which showed between 7 and 10 mm. The orange peel appears consistent and factory. The thicker result likely means the left front fender was been repainted at some point. It was a high quality repair, done when the car was only five years old. The reason why remains a mystery, but it does not appear to be significant.
The previous owner replaced the front bumper cover with an OEM one after it cracked on his driveway curbing. He also replaced the mounting brackets making it very rigid, much better than most E36 front bumper covers that flex and move. I installed an OEM front lip splitter because every M3 should have one. The hood has a couple of other small dings that could be repaired, but I would probably just live with it or wait until I found a cheap replacement. There are some other small scratches and dings, but much less than would be expected for this age and mileage. Overall it’s in great shape!
The Modena natur leather interior is what makes this car. Clean Modena interiors are rare and the best interior color in my opinion. UV exposure unzips E36 interiors at the seams. This M3 has been spared that fate since it has been garage kept for most of its life. There are no rips, tears, or blown out stitching. I fixed a small tear in the rear seat cushion and had a couple of creases re-dyed on the front seat bolsters for a considerable cost. The headliner does not sag in any spots. The A and C pillar trim tabs are intact. The carpet is not stained and is protected by black factory M3 carpet floor mats. The 3-spoke steering wheel is a very nice upgrade. All functions and accessories work. The heat blows warm and the AC blows cold. The blower motor is quiet and works at all intermittent speeds, indicating a good final stage resistor. There are no blown out pixels in the cluster, radio, HVAC panel, or on board computer. The heated seats work along with all power adjustments. The door panels are intact. There is one broken tweeter ring on the passenger door. I have a black replacement ring that I will include with the sale. All window and power door lock regulators work. The glove box has a slight amount of sag (a common issue), but it is even and not unsightly. There are no check engine or SRS lights and no check control warnings.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money sorting this M3/4/5. It is certainly not the cheapest E36 M3 on the market, but the result of my efforts is worth the premium. It has the perfect balance of modifications that improve track performance and reliability without compromising civility on the street. It’s the kind of car you can drive to work every day then put down respectable lap times on the weekend. The power mods are conservative yet purposeful, the suspension is wonderfully neutral yet predictable, and the Ireland Engineering exhaust will make you smile ear to ear with each redline pull. I would like to find an owner who appreciates what this car is and will continue to maintain and enjoy it for years to come.