David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/20/20 8:16 a.m.

[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

The original BMW M3 delivers pretty much everything a gearhead could want, from a high-revving engine and track-tuned suspension to big brakes and those giant flares. Oh, and it has the international competition record to back up all the muscle. Sure, you can argue that it’s just a tarted-up BMW 3 Series, but by that logic a Shelby is merely a Mustang with stripes and a stiffer suspension. 

M3 values remained fairly stagnant for years, with good drivers hovering in the teens. As a result, owners thought nothing of modifying these cars, putting them on track, and simply writing them off if something went wrong.

Well, those days have ended. At last summer’s Bonhams sale, a pristine example fetched $96,250–nearly triple the previous going rate.

Thanks to that sale and others like it, Hagerty’s value curve for the model now resembles a ski jump of totally biblical proportions. They’re saying $105,000 buys a concours-perfect example, while merely excellent ones are worth about $70,000. The market is following suit, as we’ve seen some asking prices near the six-figure mark. Others are still down near $30,000, though.

No matter what the price, you’re buying a piece of automotive history. As legend has it, BMW M Technical Director Paul Rosche was tasked with preparing the E30-chassis BMW 3 Series for FIA Group A competition. To be eligible for competition, at least 5000 road-going versions needed to be built as well. 

Both the race and street cars relied upon BMW’s S14 engine. The street version’s 2.3 liters made about 200 horsepower–impressive stuff at the time. Big brakes came from the BMW parts bin, and massively flared fenders allowed for an increased track. An equally effective spoiler was perched atop the trunk lid. Look closely and you’ll realize that even the rear window is unique to the M3.

European dealerships first received the M3 for the 1986 model year, with Americans getting a crack at it two years later. Production ran through the 1991 model year, and to be honest, all of the American-market cars were built to nearly the same spec. Collectors tend to gravitate toward the first-year cars, but only because, well, they came first.

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