Of all the generations of BMW M3, the E36 is likely the least loved. Not only was it the least exciting to drive them all but it also came with a lackluster engine in the US. However, according to this video, the US-spec E36 M3 was actually a hugely important car to the history of the M Division and an unsung here of the M3’s lineage.
In this new video from Hagerty, host Jason Cammisa explains the differences between the North American-spec E36 BMW M3 and the Euro-spec car. The main difference was the engine, as the North America car received a different, much less powerful engine. Not only was it less powerful, it wasn’t even a proper M Division engine. So why was it so important?
The US market actually didn’t want the E36 M3 at first, as sales for the original E30 M3 were dismal in the ‘States. However, BMW decided to sell the E36 M3 in America with a different engine, one that was significantly cheaper to produce. Instead of the incredibly impressive, but very expensive, S50 engine, BMW M took a standard M50 2.5 liter inline-six, bumped it up to 3.0 liters, added hotter cams, and pushed its power up to 240 horsepower. Compared to the proper M Division S50’s 286 horsepower, the American car seemed neutered. Though, its torque was the same, so it actually wasn’t much slower.
Interestingly, it was also the US market that demanded BMW build a four-door version of the E36 M3 and, because the E36 3 Series was developed as a sedan first, there was no real weight penalty for the four-door M3. That meant it was more practical and every bit as fun as the Coupe. Which meant it sold incredibly well.
Not only do we not have a G80 M3 Competition today without the E36 M3 Sedan but we probably don’t have M cars in America if it weren’t for the E36 M3 altogether.