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Home » Blog » Performance Focus: 30 years of the BMW M3

BMW is currently celebrating 40 emphatic years of the BMW 3 Series.

An iconic car in its own right, BMW's most popular model has been a pioneer of design and engineering since 1975. Its combination of unprecedented driver involvement and comfort has made it a car for the generations, and these qualities still stand true today.

But there is another side to the 3 Series. One which bestows this car as a revered icon in the world of motorsport: the M3. Such is the versatility of the 3 Series that since 1985, a performance-based edition has sat alongside it in the range. Far from an afterthought, it has since gone on to become one of the most popular road-going performance cars in existence.

30 years later, and the BMW M3 still sets the benchmark for both performance and practicality. But how did this special saloon eventually become a race car feared and respected by its competitors in equal measure?

1985: The BMW E30 M3

Plans for a racier version of BMW's second generation 3-Series were well under way by 1985. Originally built to allow the 3-Series to compete in the World Touring Car Championships, a new engine was developed in just two weeks, by the same man who created the engine to Nelson Piquet's championship-winning 1983 Formula 1 car.

At first, converting the 3-Series in to a world-class racing car proved a real headache for BMW's engineers. The powerful new engine was producing gasses so hot that it was expanding pipes in the exhaust system by a whole inch. During demanding tests at the Nürburgring Nordschleife (the proving ground for any car worth its salt), the BMW was tearing itself apart with its new found power.

In typical BMW fashion, the problem was solved with a simple rubber sealant on the suspension. And thus the BMW M3 was born, and was showcased at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1985. The end result was a focused blend of precision engineering, and captivating driving dynamics which are still a hallmark for BMW to this day. The unadulterated driving experience resonated with drivers the world over, as did the engine noise which rivalled that of supercars many times the price.

A unique combination of light weight and agility, the M3 found just as much success on the track as it did on the road. The M3 went on to win the World Touring Car Championship in its first year, whilst a win in the Corsica Rally was BMW's first World Rally Championship victory for 14 years!

BMW planned an initial run of just 5000 cars to meet homologation requirements, though due to unprecedented demand this soon expanded to over 17,000. It was clear that the team were on to something special, and the legacy of the M3 was set in stone.

2015: The BMW F90 M3

30 years on from its ancestors, the qualities which endeared the BMW M3 to its fans still stand true today. The F90 M3, now in its fifth generation, was the first model to have four doors as the new BMW M4 stepped in to the role of the coupe. Together, they continue to set the benchmark for other super-saloons with a blend of old-school driving dynamics and modern-day innovation.

Thanks to materials like magnesium and aluminium, the newest iteration has shed over 90 kilograms over its direct predecessor, going back to the core essentials of the first M3: agility and light weight. Every element of this car points to attention to detail. The wing mirrors have been optimised to keep the car as aerodynamically stable as possible, whilst the carbon fibre roof helps to reduce overall weight and lower the car's centre of gravity.

Over the years the M3 has housed many engines, from the four-cylinder unit found in the original through to a thunderous, naturally aspirated eight cylinder. A first for BMW, the new model features a 3.0 litre twin-turbocharged engine for a 0-60mph time of just 4.1 seconds. This combination of power and weight-saving dexterity ensures that this is the fastest M3 to date. Composure is equally important, and the M3 utilises adaptive suspension to give the best traction and comfort possible.
A remarkable achievement, but also still great fun to drive, the fifth generation M3 is a worthy successor the original which wowed crowds at the Frankfurt Motor Show over 30 years ago.