The History of the BMW M3 – E30 M3

E30 M3

The BMW M3 made experts and car buffs wax lyrical right from the very beginning, before the car even made its official appearance. For it was back in summer that 1985 car magazines all over Germany published their first reports on an “over-the-top 3 Series” based on the E30 model series and boasting exceptional performance data: 200 horsepower, a top speed in excess of 230 km/h or 143 mph, and acceleration to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds.

Obviously, the connoisseur immediately realised that the fastest BMW 3 Series the world had ever seen was about to make its appearance. In reality, however, well over a year was still to pass before the first car testers and customers were able to take their seat in a BMW M3.

Read more of part 1 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 2 – E36 M3
The History of the BMW M3 Part 3 – E46 M3

E30 M3

The BMW M3 project had started a few months before at BMW Motorsport GmbH. The legend has it that Eberhard von Kuenheim, at the time the Chairman of the Board of Management, gave the go-ahead for a particularly sporting and dynamic engine in the BMW 3 Series in a talk with the Technical Director of BMW M GmbH, Paul Rosche. So the order to develop such an exceptional power unit litreally came right from the top.

A high-performance power unit after just two weeks of development.

Rosche and his team were however well-prepared when they received the green light to build this exceptional power unit. For Rosche, incidentally also the “father” of the turbocharged engine which helped Nelson Piquet bring home the Formula 1 World Championship in 1983 in his BMW Brabham, had already checked out the “bits and pieces” he needed for the engine:

The new power unit was based on the crankcase of the four-cylinder already featured as a highly refined and dynamic two-litre in large-scale production, with its engine block already rendering an invaluable service in the World Championship engine.

The decision in favour of a four-cylinder and against the six-cylinder introduced in the BMW 3 Series in the meantime was taken not only to save weight, but also and above all for technical reasons: The longer crankshaft on the large engine started to vibrate much earlier at increasing engine speeds than the crankshaft in the four-cylinder.

E30 M3

Hence, the responsible designers made the crankdrive on the BMW M3 so stiff that it was able to run even at speeds of 10,000 rpm and more – an increase in engine speed by approximately 60 per cent over the four-cylinder built in regular series production. And at 6,750 rpm, maximum engine speed of the road-going BMW M3 was significantly below the critical limit, offering adequate margin for ongoing development.

The cylinder head also came from series production, as it were, with the engine specialists opting for the four-valve cylinder head of the six-cylinder and then simply “cutting off” two combustion chambers. This was possible without any major complications due to the same distance between cylinders in both versions, which obviously made things easier. The last step then required was to increase engine capacity to 2.3 litres.

After an incredibly short development period of just 14 days, the first prototype engine was ready to go, proudly bearing the abbreviation “S14” in a slightly modified version and destined to write history in both motorsport and series production.

The only bad news for Paul Rosche in this development process is that he was not able to integrate a turbocharger in the engine for reasons of homologation, since the “fathers” of the BMW M3 had planned the car from the start also as a Group A racing car, which required production of at least 5,000 units in 12 successive months. And that made it quite clear that the BMW M3 had to be a road-going car suitable for everyday use, making it impossible to give the car a technically very demanding and sophisticated turbocharged power unit.

Powerful and clean all in one.

While focusing particularly on the power and performance of the new engine, the responsible engineers also had other important developments in mind.

One point was that the four-cylinder in the BMW M3 was to pave the way into the future also in terms of emission management, forming a perfect team with a fully controlled catalytic converter – a combination quite unusual back then in the mid-80s, when the catalyst still tended to increase fuel consumption and reduce engine output.

A further potential drawback was that unleaded gasoline, obviously a must for an engine with a catalytic converter, did not have the reputation of being particularly good for a high-performance power unit. And last but certainly not least, the quality of fuel in Europe varied significantly from one region to another – again not good news for the reliable operation of such an engine.

But again, Paul Rosche and his team found the solution: They modified the engine and reduced its compression ratio from 10.5 : 1 to 9.6 : 1. As a result, the power unit featured in the BMW M3 did not develop any destructive knocking effect even in response to fuel with a varying octane rating.

And a truly sensational factor at the time was that even this reduction of engine compression and the integration of a catalyst meant a reduction in engine power by only 5 hp down from the regular 200 horsepower.

E30 M3

Proving its merits at Nürburgring.

Wherever there is light, there is also shade – an experience the development specialists creating the BMW M3 soon made on their first test drives.

For while the engine ran smoothly without any undue incidents, the exhaust system was obviously unable to handle the power the engine forced into the manifolds. So as a result, the exhaust pipes burst and required the development specialists to put in some extra overtime.

Ultimately the reason for this problem was determined to be the very high temperature of the exhaust gas when driving under full load: during test drives on the Nordschleife of Nürburgring putting all the cars materials to an incredible test, the high-performance exhaust gas system became so hot that it expanded by up to 25 millimetres or 1 inch, then being bent against the suspension units.

Only a short while later, however, the engineers found a very straightforward and basically simple solution to this problem by using different rubber units on the suspension and thus creating more play and flexibility.

This made the car ready to go, as the testers of BMW Motorsport GmbH soon proved impressively on the high-speed test track in the Italian town of Nardo: Driving the M3 full throttle around the circuit, they covered a distance of no less than 150,000 kilometres or 93,000 miles, even under such gruelling conditions. And the exhaust system passed the test successfully, just like all other components in the car.

E30 M3

Making its first public appearance.

Just a few months after the go-ahead for the BMW M3 project, the car itself was presented to the public at large for the first time at the Frankfurt Motor Show in autumn 1985. Even without the special paintwork otherwise featured on cars of this kind making their public debut, visitors had no problem to distinguish the BMW M3 from the other models in the 3 Series, the large front spoiler as well as a wing extending from one side to the other at the rear speaking a clear language. Air dams all round the car also bore testimony to the aerodynamic refinement of the entire body.

One example of such refinement was also the C-pillar somewhat wider and lower than on the regular production model in order to ensure a smooth flow of air along the edge of the roof and to direct the air rushing by even better to the rear wing. Mighty wheel arches all round ending in a striking contour line along the car, finally, gave the BMW M3 a unique look of speed and dynamism right from the start, even at a standstill.

A lightweight athlete with thoroughbred racing technology.

E30 M3

Without ballast, the BMW M3 weighed a mere 1,200 kilos or 2,646 lb, thus also standing out as a genuine lightweight athlete. At 6.15 kg per hp, the cars power-to-weight ratio was very good even by todays standards, benefiting in particular from the use of plastic components.

While the body of the car including its wide wheel arches was made out of traditional metal plate, the front and rear bumpers as well as the side-sills, the luggage compartment lid and spoilers were all made of plastic. But still, car testers and customers had to wait until spring 1986 before they were able to experience these sensational figures themselves.

To live up to the concept of the car, the active press driving launch of the BMW M3 was held on the Mugello Race Track in Italy. And although the cars presented on the occasion were still pre-series models, the testers able to enjoy the experience immediately confirmed that the specifications claimed for the BMW M3 were more of an understatement and certainly no exaggeration.

This was indeed not surprising, considering that the BMW M3 from the start offered the highest calibre of racing technology within its striking and muscular body: The axle kinematics, springs and dampers, for example, were all modified. The brakes featuring ABS as standard came with inner-vented brake discs at the front and a high-pressure pump driven by the engine.

This servo pump also supplied power assistance to the steering, thus making both systems independent of the vacuum currently prevailing within the power unit.

This aerodynamic refinement also had a significant effect on the cars handling and driving characteristics, providing an excellent drag coefficient of 0.33. Compared with the other two-door models in the BMW 3 Series, front axle lift was down by approximately one-half and rear axle lift was even about two-thirds lower thanks to the large wing.

The windscreen and rear window bonded on to the body helped to enhance body stiffness, again with a positive impact on the cars handling and driving behaviour. The obvious benefit the driver was able to feel right away was a significant improvement in driving stability and even more precise steering also at very high speeds. And this precision was indeed necessary, since the

E30 M3

BMW M3 in standard trim boasted a top speed of 230 km/h or 143 mph with a catalytic converter and an even more impressive 235 km/h or 146 mph without a catalyst – both figures previously only to be found with the fastest thoroughbred sports cars.

Despite this very high speed, the BMW M3 was relatively fuel-efficient in its consumption of premium grade gasoline: In the one-third composite test cycle applied at the time, at a speed of 90 km/h, 120 km/h and in city traffic, the BMW M3 consumed far less than 9 litres per 100 kilometres, equal to 31.4 mpg Imp.

Such exclusive technology and outstanding performance nevertheless had a price, the BMW M3 entering the German market in 1986 with a price tag of DM 58,000. By comparison, this made the BMW M3 DM 14,700 more expensive than the next model in the BMW 3 Series, the BMW 325i Convertible.

Despite this relatively high price, BMW had no problem selling the 5,000 units required for homologation. On the contrary – purchasing contracts for the BMW M3 soon appeared in the advertising sections of virtually all car magazines, with customers lucky enough to have a contract in their hands only willing to pass on the car in return for a considerable premium.

The first BMW M3s were only actually handed over to their proud owners in 1987 when, following a “family photograph” of all 5,000 cars at BMWs car park in Munich-Freimann, the BMW M3 was finally delivered to customers.

Up to 300 horsepower for the race track.

E30 M3
E30 BMW M3 Group-A 24h Spa-Francorchamps 1992

While the BMW M3 was also conceived as a road-going car suitable for everyday use, it remained first and foremost a racing car. So now it had to prove that its creators had given the M3 the right DNA from the start.

With a World Touring Car Championship being held for the first time in 1987, the BMW M3 was simply perfect for this new challenge, the 2.3-litre power unit being boosted to a maximum of 300 hp at 8,200 rpm compared with the 200 hp of the 2.3-litre road-going version and thus offering the same power as the BMW 635 CSi.

Instead of entering a works team, BMWs decision in this first season was to support a number of renowned private teams such as Linder, Schnitzer and Zakspeed. And the famous drivers to be admired at the wheel of the BMW M3 included the likes of Christian Danner, Markus Oestreich, Roberto Ravaglia, and Emanuele Pirro. Featuring Anette Meeuvissen and Mercedes Stermitz at the wheel, there was also a ladies team driving the new sports car from Munich in the World Touring Car Championship.

The first race in the new series was in Monza, Italy, on 22 March 1987 – but it did not come under a good star for BMW, with all M3s being excluded from the final scoreboard after the cars had been scrutinised under partly chaotic conditions and disqualified because of allegedly illegal panel thickness. And although BMW naturally appealed the decision, the Companys complaint was rejected by the sports officials on the grounds that it had been submitted “too late”.

Subsequently, however, there were no further claims that the cars were “illegal” in any way and the first race did not even have any effect on the result of the championship, with Roberto Ravaglia ending the season as the first World Touring Car Champion.

Even that was not all, with other BMW M3 drivers also ranking right at the top, among them Winfried Vogt who clinched the title of European Champion, and Altfrid Heger, who finished as the runner-up.

Winning the Corsica Rally – and thus scoring BMWs first win in a race for the World Rally Championship in 14 years – the BMW M3 impressively proved that its success was not limited to circuit racing or the race track alone.

E30 M3
1988 E30 BMW M3 Evo1

“Most Sporting Saloon of the Year.”

Clearly, the unique story of success written by the BMW M3 right from the start soon aroused the attention of both the public and the motoring press. Not surprisingly, therefore, the readers of the German car magazine “sport auto” immediately chose the new model as the “Most Sporting Saloon of the Year”.

At the same time the BMW M3 gained growing appeal also in its “civilian” version, becoming the first BMW in 1987 to be equipped with electrically adjustable dampers: Turning a knob next to the handbrake lever, the driver was able to choose among the Sports, Normal and Comfort settings, telltales in the dashboard presenting the set-up chosen.

Two very special offers for the private enthusiast followed in 1988: Bearing the additional letters “Evo” for evolution, BMW introduced a small special series of even more powerful M3s. Standing out clearly through its opulent spoilers, this very special BMW M3 was powered by a 220 hp engine again also available in catalyst trim with maximum output of 215 hp.

The second new model was addressed to the aficionado of open-air motoring – the BMW M3 Convertible based on the “regular” BMW 3 Series Convertible. Developing maximum output of 215 hp and offering a top speed of 239 km/h or 148 mph, this was by far the most powerful and fastest open four-seater available in a small production series.

E30 M3
E30 BMW M3 Convertible

24-hour races: the BMW M3 scores a one-two victory on Nürburgring.

By this time the BMW M3 had really got going on race tracks almost everywhere, this outstanding two-door model clinching not only the German Touring Car Championship (DTM), but also six other national titles including the championships in France, Britain, and Italy.

A year later BMWs racing machine remained virtually unbeatable, engine output of 300 horsepower enabling the BMW M3 to easily outperform its touring car competitors in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Finland, Spain, Sweden, and Yugoslavia. Belgian driver Marc Duez entered the Monte Carlo Rally in the same year in his BMW M3, finishing 8th as the fastest driver in a car without all-wheel drive. And the driver teams Emanuele Pirro/Roberto Ravaglia/Fabien Giroix as well as Altfrid Heger/Harald Grohs/

Olaf Manthey added the final touch in this series of success, scoring a one-two victory in the 24 Hours of Nürburgring.

Special model series: Evo 2 and 320is.

E30 M3
1988 E30 BMW M3 Sports Evolution

The BMW M3 led the way in international touring car racing in supreme style for no less than five years. Bringing home the European Touring Car Championship several times, winning the German Touring Car Championship (DTM) twice, and scoring a number of victories and championships on an international level, the BMW M3 soon became the most successful touring car of all times.

Depending on current racing rules and regulations, the four-valve power unit had to be modified for the various national events: In Britain, for example, engine capacity was limited to two litres, while starting in 1999 it was increased to 2.5 litres in both Germany and France, giving the four-cylinder maximum output of up to 360 hp.

The engine and fuel management systems also varied from one version and type of race to another, with the engine featuring not only single throttle butterflies, but in some cases also valve slides on the intake side.

Introducing the largest version of the M3s power unit, the engineers at BMW M GmbH went all the way to the absolute limit: To obtain maximum engine size of 2.5 litres, they not only increased the stroke of the 2.3-litre power unit from 84 to 87 millimetres (3.31 to 3.43″ ), but also enlarged the four cylinder bores from 93.4 to 95.5 millimetres (3.68 to 3.76″), reducing the topland gap between the cylinders to just 4.5 millimetres or 0.18 inches.

But supreme success on the race track once again proved that the engineers were right, the engines smoothly taking in all the strain of the toughest touring car events even when pushed to maximum power and performance.

Discerning customers had the option to buy a civilian version of this then most dynamic BMW M3, the Sports Evolution model developing maximum output of 238 hp. Limited to a small production series of just 600 units, this special model was recognisable by its adjustable front air dams and rear wings.

There was also a special version of the 2.0-litre power unit raced in Italy developed specifically for everyday use: This was the BMW 320is with stroke extended to 72.6 millimetres or 2.86″, and with a further increase of the compression ratio to 10.8:1. Maximum output of the 2.0-litre power unit with these specifications was 192 hp, making the car very popular in Italy and Portugal, where it remained below the engine displacement limits for luxury cars subject to significantly higher taxation.

By the end of 1991 no less than 17,970 units of the first-generation BMW M3 left the Plant, among them 786 Convertibles.

BMW M3 (E30):
BMW M3 (144 kW/195 hp)
BMW M3 (159 kW215 hp)
BMW M3 Evolution (147 kW/200 hp)
BMW M3 Evolution II (162 kW/220 hp)
BMW M3 Convertible (159 kW/215 hp)
BMW M3 Sports Evolution (175 kW/238 hp)

E30 M3

E30 M3

E30 M3
E30 M3 Sports Evolution Seats

E30 M3
E30 M3 road car and track car engine bays – CLICK TO ENLARGE

E30 M3
E30 BMW M3 Evo1 Engine

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Paul Tan

After dabbling for years in the IT industry, Paul Tan initially began this site as a general blog covering various topics of personal interest. With an increasing number of readers paying rapt attention to the motoring stories, one thing led to another and the rest, as they say, is history.



  • aesthari (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Wow, sure is impressive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  • BanyakMasukWorkshop (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 11:42 am


    the S14 engine from the E30 M3 is expensive and also very rare in malaysia. Spare parts are also difficult to source unlike overseas.

    Thats the reason why there are many in Malaysia who opt for japanese engines in their E30 when big horsepower is desired.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • proton.GL. (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 11:45 am

    e30 e46 favorite m3?

    extended track stance, wide body and fat wheel arch ,others e not really

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • dr_blur (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 11:51 am

    thanks paul!

    my all time favourite!
    lovin it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • Infinitt (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    It s a great nice so much..thank you also Paul for this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • mystvearn (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    nice long article

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  • redragon (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    great article Paul. I remember I was drooling all over my car magazine when it was first featured. I was driving an M3 wannabe then (already felt like king of the road), the limited edition BMW JPS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • BanyakMasukWorkshop (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    the 1st M3, and the best M3 ever. it also showed everyone that bmw did not only make great 6 cylinder engines, but great 4-potters as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • KidDie (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 5:23 pm


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • xg9 (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    the spoiler is gonna look nice on my iswara…………………………………………………….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • Joe Ooi (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Nice article, same generation with our stoneage Iswara. Paul may write similar article on history (indeed “living history”) about Iswara!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • danoneism (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    i always luv dis ride…..
    wonder hw much cost to buy dis ride nw????

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • ynnad (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    hmm.. this must be a promotion thingy from BMW for the upcoming M3… kinda like what honda did when they introduced the civic

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • szw (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 6:23 pm


    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • Dj_VaniLLa (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    Good Paul,

    u brought out this old timer..

    but Paul,just wondering..

    the M3 engine was good engine already,but why those Malaysian still prefer the Godzilla(skyline) engine than the ori 1..

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • transformer (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 8:32 pm

    only drool on its chassis and handlings…..

    but not at engine side… juz that mini SR20DET would simply eat this up!
    not forget thier monsterous RB’s… (IMHO)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • bobdbilder (Member) on Jul 16, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    If BMW wanted to sell the new M3, this article would be counter productive. Coz it shows the 1st M3 has its roots in real race day motor sports. Translated: Single minded pursuit of the art of engineering. Two doors is enough. And a manual. Now they’ve got all manner of gadgets that dilutes where it matters most; Driving. U know A to B via D and Genting Sempah. Not single seaters which no daily driver can relate to. Sat nav? Who cares? We want to be lost in a BMW. It gives you plenty of reason to be late for the board meet. But I guess that’s how things go nowadays.

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  • king (Member) on Jul 17, 2007 at 1:08 am

    transformer said,
    July 16, 2007 @ 8:32 pm

    only drool on its chassis and handlings…..

    but not at engine side… juz that mini SR20DET would simply eat this up!
    not forget thier monsterous RB’s… (IMHO)

    right, but lets not forget that the silvia’s SR20 turbo were from the 90’s…..and its not N/A

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • Kaboda (Member) on Jul 17, 2007 at 10:36 am

    The E30 M3 is an absolute classic ! I drove one and I didnt realise it was Miles not KM. The thing was just so quick, the suspension was fantasic.

    A true legend to what started a fantasic range of cars.

    Great post Paul :)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • vernieman (Member) on Jul 17, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks for the post, Paul. Just one thing to tell ya. I am getting one :D Of course not a M3 version, but an E30 nonetheless. Always a favourite! :) SR3 is for sale.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • ingolstadt (Member) on Jul 18, 2007 at 1:53 am

    Still my favourite BMW. When you compare this with the recent soon to be launch 1 series coupe… you can see how far BMW has gone – backwards.

    This is the last small, functional, subtle, nothing to boast nor hide no – nonsence BMW.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  • nizam80 (Member) on Jul 18, 2007 at 3:03 am

    Wonder how much a 2nd hand E30 will cost now?

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  • ingolstadt (Member) on Jul 20, 2007 at 12:38 am

    RM20k – RM30k

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  • Pierre on Mar 02, 2012 at 10:43 am

    something very interesting about the E30 M3 and that is the E30 M3 Sport Evolution Convertible where there is only one officially ever made by the M Division.

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