In the mid-1980s, BMW tasked its Motorsport Division with homologating the E30 3 Series for Group A racing in Europe. Group A specs allowed minimal changes from cars produced in production runs of 5,000 units built for street use, so BMW’s M division reengineered almost every aspect of the 3 Series platform for a large production run. What emerged was the radically styled box-fendered M3 in 1986, with the hood and roof being the only bodywork shared with the standard 3 Series coupe.
Underneath the M3’s flared fenders was a thoroughly reworked front suspension as well as new BBS wheels, larger brakes, and larger tires. The 2.3-liter S14 motor started with a block similar to the one used in the 320i, and added a 16-valve head to produce 192 hp in North American trim. This free-revving powerplant motivated the M3 to the tune of a sub-7-second 0-60 dash and a 146-mph top speed that complemented its neutral and confidence-inspiring handling.
Almost 15,000 first generation M3’s were built from 1986-1992, with just over 5,000 coming to the U.S. from the middle of 1987 (as 1988 model year cars) until the end of 1991. Throughout the production run there were a myriad of changes to interior and exterior colors, and in 1990 changes to the North American cars included aluminum control arms, a driver’s side airbag, and the option of a glass sunroof.
Other than valve adjustments every 15,000 miles and occasional leaks in valve cover and oil pan seals, first-generation BMW M3s demand very little of their owners. Collectors should note that a very small number of E30 M3 convertibles made it to North America, as well as a handful of Euro-spec cars that can be identified by their differing transmission and shift pattern that includes a dog-leg first gear. Various special editions were available in Europe that included Evo I, Evo II, and Lightweight cars that were not offered in the U.S., however some gray market cars have found their way here.