E36 BMW M3

The second generation of the BMW M3 entered the market in 1992 as a brand-new and completely different car.

The new model was based on the highly successful E36 model series coupé, differing from outside only through a number of refinements such as the side-sills completely painted all round and a newly designed front spoiler.

The designers had consciously decided against widely flared wheel arches or a wide and extra-large rear spoiler like on the former model, thus clearly stating that the new car was taking on a new position in the market:

Instead of an uncompromising sports machine focusing consistently on competition and racing qualities, BMW M GmbH had now created an elegant and discreet coupé featuring an ultra-powerful engine. So the “only” sign of distinction at first sight was the aerodynamic design of the exterior mirrors immediately setting the second generation of the BMW M3 aside from its regular production counterparts.

Read more of part 2 of this special 3-part piece on the history of the BMW M3 by the BMW Group Press Club after the jump.

Related Posts:
The History of the BMW M3 Part 1 – E30 M3
The History of the BMW M3 Part 3 – E46 M3

E36 BMW M3

The “heart” of the new BMW M3: the six-cylinder power unit.

The launch of the new model also marked the beginning of the six-cylinder age with the BMW M3. To generate even more power and torque, the responsible engineers had followed the proven motto that there is “no replacement for displacement”, except of course even more displacement. And so the capacity of the new engine was almost one-third greater than on the former model (2,990 cc instead of 2,302 cc).

The new engine was however a truly outstanding performer not only because of its extra capacity, but also and in particular on account of its VANOS (variable camshaft spread) technology, a revolutionary new development by BMWs engine specialists.

VANOS is able to adjust the opening times of the intake valves to engine speed and load, optimising torque, output and fuel consumption in ongoing, steady and consistent process.

Hence, the power and performance data of BMWs new four-valve power unit told a clear story, with the new M3 offering 46 per cent more power than its predecessor, that is with engine output now amounting to 210 kW/286 hp. Maximum torque of 320 Newton-metres or 236 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm, in turn, likewise placed the new power unit of the M3 right at the top in the normal aspiration segment. Indeed, the six-cylinder offered as much torque just above idle speed – 230 Newton-metres or 169 lb-ft – as the former M3 engine at its highest point.

At the time no other normal-aspiration engine in the world offered the same kind of specific power – 70.2 kW/95.2 hp per litre – and the same specific torque – 107 Newton-metres/79 lb-ft per litre.

E36 BMW M3

As a result of this supreme power, the new coupé accelerated to 100 km/h in just 6.0 seconds and offered a top speed of 250 km/h or 155 mph. And even this top speed was limited electronically – and not on account of “inadequate” engine power – since BMW had decided voluntarily to apply this limit to all of the Companys road cars.

The low fuel consumption of BMWs new supersports was also quite remarkable, remaining at the same level as a “normal” midrange model at the time: 9.1 litres of premium fuel (equal to 31.0 mpg Imp) in the one-third cycle. And this was of course unleaded fuel, since the catalyst had become state-of-the-art technology by the early 90s.

BMWs engineers had indeed upgraded the existing catalyst technology specifically for the new engine, developing so-called stereo lambda control in the process, with the fuel/air mixture formation for three cylinders being controlled separately by separate exhaust gas pipes, each with its own lambda probe or oxygen sensor. As a result, the new six-cylinder not only complied with the emission standards required, but even outperformed the emission limits by more than 50 per cent.

Chassis and brakes: adjusted to the engines performance data.

E36 BMW M3

Obviously, the far greater engine power of the new model called for an upgraded chassis and suitably enhanced brakes: purist and dynamic, but nevertheless suitable for everyday use, and naturally tailored to the specific requirements of 17-inch series-40 tyres. For despite the extremely wide tyres and low tyre profile, the driver of a BMW M3 nevertheless expected an acceptable standard of driving comfort as well as good directional stability.Once again, the chassis and suspension featured a single-joint spring strut front axle with reinforced spring plates and stub axles. The central-arm rear axle featured for the first time on the BMW Z1, in turn, served to reduce body squat and dive when accelerating and applying the brakes to a minimum, and was therefore also featured on the new BMW M3. The only modification was on the longitudinal control arms, which had to be reinforced accordingly to match the extra power of the engine.

The dampers and anti-roll bars were likewise significantly firmer, again reflecting on the height of the body, with the BMW M3 being precisely 31 millimetres or 1.22´´ lower than the BMW 3 Series Coupé.

Superior lateral acceleration clearly showed the supreme interaction of all chassis and suspension components: Under normal circumstances the maximum lateral acceleration possible on a car of this kind was 0.8 g, that is 0.8 times the acceleration of the earth. But the new chassis and suspension of the BMW M3 put through its paces in thorough tests on Nürburgring, just like the former model, was able to withstand lateral forces of up to 1 g, a truly impressive figure.

Where there is a lot of power, that power has to be kept under control. Precisely this is why the new model was equipped from the start with extra-powerful brakes featuring large swing-calliper disc brakes inner-vented both front and rear. ABS anti-lock brake technology already a standard feature at the time in every BMW, had been specifically modified for the outstanding performance of this high-powered sports coupé, enabling the new BMW M3 to decelerate even faster and more smoothly from high speeds than its predecessors, which had already set the standard in this respect: The new model took only 2.8 seconds or 35 metres/115 feet to come to a standstill from a speed of 100 km/h. And it was able to complete the same exercise from 200 km/h or 124 mph in less than 6.0 seconds.

An athlete in everyday clothing: the sports coupé for the road.

E36 BMW M3

Although BMW had developed the new model as the starting point for successful participation in touring car racing, the Company also wished to appeal to the driver attaching great significance in everyday traffic to sporting performance, superior dynamism and, as a result, sheer driving pleasure.

And indeed, from the start the new BMW M3 pampered this target group with a standard of everyday driving quality never experienced before, going far beyond the cars straightforward and uncomplicated handling, which as such is one of the basic requirements made of every BMW M3.

One example was the ample space on the rear seats, which was far greater than in the former model. And the driver was even able to take along bulky objects within the interior thanks to through loading from the luggage compartment to the interior of the car.

Given these qualities, it is no surprise that the new BMW M3 immediately won over customers and the media everywhere, filling up BMWs order books and bringing home numerous honours and titles.

As an example, the readers of the German car magazine “sport auto” soon lauded the most agile BMW 3 Series no less than twice in a row as their “Car of the Year”, “Auto Plus” in France even praising the BMW M3 as the “Car of the Century”. And immediately after the new M3 was introduced in the USA, the editors of “Automobile Magazine” likewise awarded the title “Car of the Year” to the new star in the market, making the BMW M3 the first imported car in the United States ever to receive this award.

Open temptation: the BMW M3 Convertible.

E36 BMW M3

As elegant and beautiful as the BMW M3 Coupé was, demand for a re-make of the BMW M3 Convertible consistently became greater in the course of time. But BMWs Motorsport Subsidiary in the meantime re-named BMW M GmbH had expected this right from the start, thus providing for an open-air version from the beginning during the planning period. Precisely this is why the new open-air BMW M3 based on the four-seater BMW 3 Series Convertible was able to make its debut as early as in 1994, fitted as standard with a power roof and innovative safety technology.

The rollover system introduced by BMW at the time offered all occupants a standard of safety and protection never seen before in an open-air car. In conjunction with the extremely stiff windscreen frame, two rollbars fitted out of sight behind the rear-seat headrests ensured optimum occupant protection in the event of a rollover, sensors monitoring the position of the car and activating the rollbars upon reaching a certain limit, the rollbars then moving up instantaneously under spring pressure, without requiring any pyrotechnical activation.

When production ended in 1999, precisely 12,114 of these extra-safe and extra-fast BMW M3 Convertibles had left the Plant.

A further highlight came in 1994, when the BMW M3 made its debut as a four-door saloon. Indeed, introducing this car BMW fulfilled the wish of many customers for a compact and luxurious saloon with all the DNA of a high-performance sports car. Quite simply, the four-door model was the most successful combination of sporting performance and everyday driving qualities ever to be seen up to that time in the guise of the BMW M3.

This model appealed particularly to customers who regarded the Convertible or Coupé as too purist or, respectively, too sporting. Apart from its performance identical to that of the Coupé, the Saloon excelled in particular through a superior range of interior features with wood trim and nappa leather seats. And production figures spoke for themselves, with no less than 12, 435 Saloons being sold up to 1999.

E36 BMW M3

In spring 1995 BMW M GmbH introduced something very special – a small, limited-edition series of the M3, the BMW M3 GT Coupé built for homologation purposes.

On the race track this car was destined to make its appearance in, say, the IMSA GT Series in the USA. But at the same time this special model appealed above all to the enthusiast seeking even more power and performance in his – or her – BMW M3, with the superior output of the engine being increased to an even higher level: In this special version available only in British Racing Green, the upgraded 3.0-litre six-cylinder now developed maximum out of 217 kW/295 hp, accelerating the BMW M3 GT to 100 km/h in 5.9 seconds.

The car was also upgraded in aerodynamic terms, now featuring striking spoilers both front and rear. A special feature was that the driver was able to adjust the front spoiler for angle in the interest of even better aerodynamics.

The BMW M3 GT Coupé also set the benchmark in terms of equipment, two airbags naturally coming as standard, together with sports seats finished in nappa leather and carbonfibre trim within the interior.

Built in small run of just 350 units, this special model retailed in the market at a price of DM 91, 000 (German market price).

Entering the scene with double-VANOS: new 3.2-litre engine developing 321 horsepower.

E36 BMW M3

It is a well-known fact of life that even the very best is open to improvement. And so, on 20 July 1995, BMW AG announced that the BMW M3 was becoming even more sporting and dynamic with a new six-cylinder power unit now displacing 3.2 litres and developing maximum output of 236 kW/321 hp at 7, 400 rpm. As in the past, the new adjustable intake camshaft served to improve not only engine power and torque, but also idling smoothness and emission management.

Another new feature added for the first time was synchronous management of the exhaust camshaft allowing internal recirculation of exhaust gas within the engine to significantly reduce the emission of nitric oxides – a technology appropriately referred to by BMW as double-VANOS.

Catering for the wish expressed by many BMW M3 customers looking for an additional driving gear, BMW introduced the new model from the start with a new six-speed gearbox. A further highlight was the introduction of compound brakes on the front axle, the combination of an aluminium brake disc carrier and a grey-cast-iron friction ring allowing the brake disc to expand appropriately upon application of the brakes, without any distortion or undue tension.

Shifting gears even faster: the Sequential M Gearbox.

E36 BMW M3In 1997 BMW M GmbH introduced the Sequential M Gearbox in the BMW M3, making this the first large-scale production car in the world to feature this trendsetting technology. SMG enables the driver to shift gears on one level from front to rear, with electrohydraulic operation of the clutch. The result, first, is an extremely fast gearshift, while, second, it is virtually impossible for the driver to confuse gears and make a mistake in the process of shifting.

While some people were a bit sceptical to begin with, the Sequential M Gearbox soon proved to be a great success – by the end of its production life, nearly every other car in the second generation of the BMW M3 was fitted with a Sequential M Gearbox (SMG).

Entering the 1997 model year, all BMW 3 Series were facelifted, including the various M3 models. Now the BMW kidney grille was even rounder and gave the headlight units even greater significance, while the direction indicators were now housed behind white glass covers.

The BMW M3 again became a sales hit over the years until its end of production in 1999, exceeding sales of the first generation by far: In all, BMW built and sold exactly 71, 242 units of the second-generation M3 in the guise of the Coupé, Convertible, and Saloon.

BMW M3 (E36):
BMW M3 (210 kW/286 hp)
BMW M3 (236 kW/321 hp)
BMW M3 Convertible (236 kW/321 hp)
BMW M3 Saloon (236 kW/321 hp)
BMW M3 GT Coupé (217 kW/295 hp)

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3

E36 BMW M3