One month with an E36 M3 Sedan: What I've learned
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    1. #1
      Member x(why)z's Avatar
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      One month with an E36 M3 Sedan: What I've learned

      About a month ago I bought a 1997 E36 M3 sedan in Boston Green with Dove interior. Since then, I've driven it about 800 miles and have begun a series of small tasks to bring it back to perfect. Today, I thought I'd give some brief impressions of what it is like to meet a childhood hero, and whether it has lived up to my lofty memories.



      Buying an M3 was a journey. Not just in terms of finding the ideal version that lived up to my teenage memories and dreams of auto shows past, but also in terms of coming to grips with what I wanted out of a time machine. Did I want to go back to something I knew well as a young man, like an MKII GTi, or be transported to the realm of boyhood fantasy and dive into a 1992 Viper RT/10? Ultimately, my best memories are of those of cars where I have a tangible, palpable memory of the car and how it felt, but sort of at an arm's length. A friend's fathers car, or the vehicle of a friends boyfriend, or maybe my bosses weekend toy that I'd rarely see, and even more rarely get to go for a ride in. This middle ground of nostalgia linked to visceral memories of how a car can make you feel, whether young and careless or approaching middle-aged living with meaning and consequence, resonated with me. A Viper would make seven-year-old me quake with the knowledge that one day he would possess such a thing. A MKII would transport me to a time of reckless abandon, endless summer nights, and first tastes of heartbreak.

      The M3, however, was aspirational. Motivating. Attainable. It also provided me with a conduit back to some of my fondest driving memories under cloudless California night skies, tearing from hilltops toward the coastline with Tupac accompanying us in this spaceship between adolescence and adulthood. The M3 moved my mind back to 1995, seeing a little German sedan parked amongst K-cars and Tauruses on a cold February evening at the Calgary International Auto Show. Exotic. To me, the M3 moved me at two pivotal points in my life. And, with that in mind, I bought one in August.



      When my M3 arrived at my door it had an unfortunate set of aftermarket wheels but a superb maintenance record dating back to the day it rolled off the lot, no mechanical modifications, and the confidence that can only come from a seller whose honesty only trails his kindness. Since then, I've replaced the wheels with a set of LTWs and Potenzas, fixed an interior vent, restored some seals, replaced the brake sensor, and a couple other detailing jobs to ensure it stays as pretty as it has since January of 1997.



      My impressions of the car can be summed up with brevity. It is everything I remember and more. My first drive of an E36 in 16 years left me a bit worried. What have I done? It isn't that fast. It isn't that sharp. Was my memory just clouded by the euphoria of youth, or am I just not giving the car what it needs?

      The latter turned out to be true. The harder I pushed, the more the car gave. Deeper into the revs. Deeper into the corners. Deeper into the brakes. All this pressure is met with mechanical enthusiasm as if it is asking "Is that all you've got?" At some point on public roads, it is, and there is more left in the car. It may be 22 years old, but holy **** is it alive. The engine revs and howls with smoothness and finesse. It isn't loud. It isn't particularly powerful. But it does its job with purpose and poise, speaking each rev in a language lost in the age of turbos. The steering communicates better than any partner I've had in this life. Its thoughts and feelings become vibrations that resonate from hand to mind with a clarity I'd forgotten existed in this age of electronic racks.

      As I get braver, the old M3 rolls into the corner hunkers down and asks me what I've been doing with my life as if I've let it down, too. The more I try, the more I remember. These old cars aren't fast, they have body roll, they creak, and they're ****ing amazing. But they remind you what it means to just drive. To feel the pebbles, the undulations, the era of quiet performance when what mattered was the honesty of the driver with themselves in what they were willing to risk. My old M3 is better at this age than it was new because it makes me remember why I love cars every time I see that M badge as the engine purrs to life and it dares me to go just a little faster next time.


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    3. #2
      Member whalemingo's Avatar
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      My E36 M3 was and is still the best car I've ever had. I loved that car.
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    4. #3
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      The only BMW M car I've had actual driving time in was a '95 M3 coupe. For only 240 HP, it got up and moved. I'd still consider one today, if I were in the market for a toy.
      Quote Originally Posted by Broduski View Post
      TCL would suggest a Bi-Turbo to a single mother of 4 just for sh*t's and giggles.
      Quote Originally Posted by Sold Over Sticker View Post
      Here we can all drive like Colin McRae in his prime, earn $25k a month and bang super models. We can also text and drive.
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    5. #4
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      I've got a E91 328i, E30, and an E36 325is. Fine. Now I'm going to go looking for M3's.

    6. #5
      Member Meroving1an's Avatar
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      Thanks for sharing!

    7. #6
      Member DeathKing's Avatar
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      Nice wheel choice. I had a similar experience when I first drove this home but now it's all I think about. I plan to make a thread about my cross country drive with it.


      (Green bimmers for the win)

      If you plan on keeping it I would highly recommend getting a wheel reupholstered from DCT Motorsports on eBay. I have this wheel on the way and did a similar one with my B5 and it completely renews the driving experience. Check their Facebook page for more photos and they'll do whatever combo you're looking for.


      (Not my car or photo)

    8. #7
      Member x(why)z's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by whalemingo View Post
      My E36 M3 was and is still the best car I've ever had. I loved that car.
      I'm starting to feel the same way. I've driven faster, sharper, more comfortable. Better none better at combining everything I love about driving in one package. It is kind of ridiculous how competent of a vehicle it is considering its age. As much as I like the e46, I think I made the right choice for me.

      Quote Originally Posted by TJSwoboda View Post
      The only BMW M car I've had actual driving time in was a '95 M3 coupe. For only 240 HP, it got up and moved. I'd still consider one today, if I were in the market for a toy.
      Get one while they're cheap! Prices are on the move it seems.

      Quote Originally Posted by HaystackMalone View Post
      I've got a E91 328i, E30, and an E36 325is. Fine. Now I'm going to go looking for M3's.
      Do it! You won't regret it. If you need convincing and you're ever in Western PA, upstate NY, West Virginia or eastern Ohio, I'll let you beat on my old M3 as much as you'd like.

      Quote Originally Posted by Meroving1an View Post
      Thanks for sharing!
      Quote Originally Posted by DeathKing View Post
      Nice wheel choice. I had a similar experience when I first drove this home but now it's all I think about. I plan to make a thread about my cross country drive with it.


      (Green bimmers for the win)

      If you plan on keeping it I would highly recommend getting a wheel reupholstered from DCT Motorsports on eBay. I have this wheel on the way and did a similar one with my B5 and it completely renews the driving experience. Check their Facebook page for more photos and they'll do whatever combo you're looking for.


      (Not my car or photo)
      Great tip! I've been looking into doing a couple of very subtle mods and the steering wheel is one area that I'd like to pay a bit of attention to.

      I love that 7 series. I aspire to have one of those in my garage alongside my old e36 one day, too. Yours looks like perfection. Congrats! And do make a thread!

    9. #8
      Planters (fasciitis) peanuts. Dang dogg Sold Over Sticker's Avatar
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      I think the E36 has aged really well, and I love seeing clean ones.
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    10. #9
      Member mhjett's Avatar
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      Well done write-up; especially liked your line about "tearing from hilltops toward the coastline with Tupac accompanying us in this spaceship between adolescence and adulthood." Nobody'd believe it today but I used to blast "You Can't See Me" from the Pioneer 6x9s on the rear parcel shelf of my '87 GTI as I drank in that taste of freedom otherwise known as my first car.

      Back to the BMWs--I've never owned one but test-drove and came real close to buying an '01 740i Sport about eight years ago. I keep watching the E36 M3s on Bring a Trailer, and I think it's about prime time to get into one.

    11. #10
      Member VeeDubDude's Avatar
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      Love following this. I can totally relate. My 89 Prelude might not have the handling limits that the M does, but the emotions and observations are the same. Not a fast car, but driving a 30 year old Prelude is a driving transcendent experience. Impossibly thin pillars, a go kart perspective of the road, and a roof line so low even my 6 year old can touch it. Feather light by today’s standard. No electronic wizardry, no ABS, no anti skid control.... And pop up headlights /thread #oldschoolrules


    12. #11
      Member 16volt's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by VeeDubDude View Post
      Love following this. I can totally relate. My 89 Prelude might not have the handling limits that the M does, but the emotions and observations are the same. Not a fast car, but driving a 30 year old Prelude is a driving transcendent experience. Impossibly thin pillars, a go kart perspective of the road, and a roof line so low even my 6 year old can touch it. Feather light by today’s standard. No electronic wizardry, no ABS, no anti skid control.... And pop up headlights /thread #oldschoolrules

      I so desire a Si 4ws.

    13. #12
      I’m not a loser. I’m a winnah!! patrikman's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Sold Over Sticker View Post
      I think the E36 has aged really well, and I love seeing clean ones.
      Hell, I like seeing beat ones too. I’m at the point where even a clean 325 or 328 catches my eye.

      Btw, shouldn’t you be out 11 tenting?
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    14. #13
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      Quote Originally Posted by VeeDubDude View Post
      Love following this. I can totally relate. My 89 Prelude might not have the handling limits that the M does, but the emotions and observations are the same. Not a fast car, but driving a 30 year old Prelude is a driving transcendent experience. Impossibly thin pillars, a go kart perspective of the road, and a roof line so low even my 6 year old can touch it. Feather light by today’s standard. No electronic wizardry, no ABS, no anti skid control.... And pop up headlights /thread #oldschoolrules

      Im starting to like those preludes again, but id have to have it with the locking oem hub caps (thought that was so cool as a kid)

    15. #14
      Member x(why)z's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Sold Over Sticker View Post
      I think the E36 has aged really well, and I love seeing clean ones.
      Thanks! I think they've aged well, too. I hesitate to say it, but it is crisp enough to be somewhat timeless. It obviously looks not of the 2000s, but instead, it is timeless in it's simplicity. I think the shape will always be attractive.

      Quote Originally Posted by mhjett View Post
      Well done write-up; especially liked your line about "tearing from hilltops toward the coastline with Tupac accompanying us in this spaceship between adolescence and adulthood." Nobody'd believe it today but I used to blast "You Can't See Me" from the Pioneer 6x9s on the rear parcel shelf of my '87 GTI as I drank in that taste of freedom otherwise known as my first car.

      Back to the BMWs--I've never owned one but test-drove and came real close to buying an '01 740i Sport about eight years ago. I keep watching the E36 M3s on Bring a Trailer, and I think it's about prime time to get into one.
      Oh man, can I relate. 6x9s on the parcel shelf were a mainstay of cars owned by folks of a certain age, I think. As for e36s, it is time to do it. They're on the move, and that move is up. It is exactly why I bought what I did. I want to get an early Viper eventually, too, but it will be an addition to the garage, not a replacement. That and I need a bigger garage first.

      Quote Originally Posted by VeeDubDude View Post
      Love following this. I can totally relate. My 89 Prelude might not have the handling limits that the M does, but the emotions and observations are the same. Not a fast car, but driving a 30 year old Prelude is a driving transcendent experience. Impossibly thin pillars, a go kart perspective of the road, and a roof line so low even my 6 year old can touch it. Feather light by today’s standard. No electronic wizardry, no ABS, no anti skid control.... And pop up headlights /thread #oldschoolrules

      What a car. I've lusted after a Prelude of that vintage for so long. If I had found a mint golden-era Honda instead of my M#, I would have been so tempted. They are such wonderful drivers cars. By driver, I mean those who like purity. The snick-snick of the shifter and lightness of the machine are nirvana on the right road.

      Quote Originally Posted by 16volt View Post
      I so desire a Si 4ws.
      Seconded.

      Quote Originally Posted by patrikman View Post
      Hell, I like seeing beat ones too. I’m at the point where even a clean 325 or 328 catches my eye.

      Btw, shouldn’t you be out 11 tenting?
      I feel you. Once I in a while I will see a lovely 325 convertible near me in pristine condition and I always want to make an offer. I just don't know where I'd put it or what I'd do with it. Wonderful machines.

      Quote Originally Posted by ImpeccableNEW View Post
      Im starting to like those preludes again, but id have to have it with the locking oem hub caps (thought that was so cool as a kid)
      Agreed!

    16. #15
      Member mhjett's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by x(why)z View Post
      Oh man, can I relate. 6x9s on the parcel shelf were a mainstay of cars owned by folks of a certain age, I think. As for e36s, it is time to do it. They're on the move, and that move is up. It is exactly why I bought what I did. I want to get an early Viper eventually, too, but it will be an addition to the garage, not a replacement. That and I need a bigger garage first.
      I don't know what you paid for your E36 but I agree, if you hold it for a while I bet you'll get at least all your money back. Stuff that's at the bottom of the depreciation curve is for sure the way to get into classic/vintage cars. And there seems to be a lot of appealing stuff in that scenario at the moment.

    17. #16
      Member x(why)z's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by mhjett View Post
      I don't know what you paid for your E36 but I agree, if you hold it for a while I bet you'll get at least all your money back. Stuff that's at the bottom of the depreciation curve is for sure the way to get into classic/vintage cars. And there seems to be a lot of appealing stuff in that scenario at the moment.
      I paid just over $9k. I wanted one in this color with a full maintenance history and a clean title. I succeeded! Shipping was extra but that's ok. Still came in under budget. I'll keep it forever, but I'll probably add something else in a few years. Likely something completely impractical as referenced above.

    18. #17
      Senior Member Iroczgirl's Avatar
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      Very nice write-up. Taking the Scirocco down the 101 (in Oregon ) this weekend reminded my why I love driving it so much.
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    19. #18
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      Quote Originally Posted by Iroczgirl View Post
      Very nice write-up. Taking the Scirocco down the 101 (in Oregon ) this weekend reminded my why I love driving it so much.
      A Scirocco has long been on my bucket list. One day if the garage space somehow manifests.

    20. #19
      How do I resize a picture? Cabin Pics's Avatar
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      Thank you for sharing your experiences now that you've owned it for a little while.

      These are harder and harder to find in good condition. They haven't held their value quite as well as other M's and unfortunately because of this many have been purchased and abused.

      I'm happy you found a clean example that you love, to even find the color you were after is quite the accomplishment. Show it much love and it'll return the favor, great cars.
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    21. #20
      Member Rob's Avatar
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      Love the E36 M3. One of the best. When I was in university in Boston, I just remember so many foreign students had either a Corrado or an M3. And then there was the guy with the Syclone lol!

    22. #21
      Member x(why)z's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Cabin Pics View Post
      Thank you for sharing your experiences now that you've owned it for a little while.

      These are harder and harder to find in good condition. They haven't held their value quite as well as other M's and unfortunately because of this many have been purchased and abused.

      I'm happy you found a clean example that you love, to even find the color you were after is quite the accomplishment. Show it much love and it'll return the favor, great cars.
      Thanks! I'll keep posting until interest becomes nill. And yes, I too am delighted to have found a clean one. You're entirely right about the trajectory of depreciation. There are so many beat examples as they became fast cheap cars kind of quickly after launch. I think they're poised to become sought after one day as they have become, and will continue to be, rare in decent condition.

      Quote Originally Posted by Rob View Post


      Love the E36 M3. One of the best. When I was in university in Boston, I just remember so many foreign students had either a Corrado or an M3. And then there was the guy with the Syclone lol!
      Syclone! A bucket list vehicle. I remember the sister of a friend having a Corrado and I was completely smitten with it. Yellow over black. What a lovely vehicle to my teenage eyes. The e36 will get its place in the spotlight one day, I'm sure of it.

    23. #22
      Member craig20v's Avatar
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      They are fun cars. I’ve spent the last 9 years with one. Enjoy it.
      Last edited by craig20v; 10-03-2019 at 07:03 PM.

    24. #23
      Member Yuppie Scum's Avatar
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      God, that prelude is sexy.

    25. #24
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      Quote Originally Posted by x(why)z View Post
      The latter turned out to be true. The harder I pushed, the more the car gave. Deeper into the revs. Deeper into the corners. Deeper into the brakes. All this pressure is met with mechanical enthusiasm as if it is asking "Is that all you've got?" At some point on public roads, it is, and there is more left in the car. It may be 22 years old, but holy **** is it alive. The engine revs and howls with smoothness and finesse. It isn't loud. It isn't particularly powerful. But it does its job with purpose and poise, speaking each rev in a language lost in the age of turbos. The steering communicates better than any partner I've had in this life. Its thoughts and feelings become vibrations that resonate from hand to mind with a clarity I'd forgotten existed in this age of electronic racks.

      As I get braver, the old M3 rolls into the corner hunkers down and asks me what I've been doing with my life as if I've let it down, too. The more I try, the more I remember. These old cars aren't fast, they have body roll, they creak, and they're ****ing amazing. But they remind you what it means to just drive. To feel the pebbles, the undulations, the era of quiet performance when what mattered was the honesty of the driver with themselves in what they were willing to risk. My old M3 is better at this age than it was new because it makes me remember why I love cars every time I see that M badge as the engine purrs to life and it dares me to go just a little faster next time.
      The E36 M3 is one of the finest driver's cars ever produced by BMW.

    26. #25
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      Quote Originally Posted by x(why)z View Post
      Great tip! I've been looking into doing a couple of very subtle mods and the steering wheel is one area that I'd like to pay a bit of attention to.
      I highly recommend the 3-spoke M steering wheel as an upgrade. HUGE upgrade in looks over the standard (older?) wheel. Very jealous of your pick-up. I've always wanted one in Avus Blue, or Cosmos Black.

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