The BMW M3 turned 30 in 2016. Which means you can legitimately roll out a series of well-worn BMW M3-based superlatives without fear. It put M Division on the map. It was a hugely successful touring car racer. It gave rise to a battalion of 318s desperately attempting to ape the Big Dog of performance sedans/coupes. It remains the sports sedan benchmark. And so on…
In honour of its anniversary last year, BMW released a full suite of pictures and details of four M3 prototypes that will surely pique your interest. And we urge you to stop everything you’re doing and click through for a very brief rundown of the M3 oddities that never were…
1986 BMW M3 Pickup
BMW’s Motorsport Division were, understandably, quite taken with the first E30 M3, long before Internet forums debated its magnificence. Specifically, they saw the car as a great way of moving equipment and parts around the premises of what has now become M Division, near Munich.
But there was of course, a problem: though the M3 could go, stop, steer and slide with the very best of them, it wasn’t really a transporter.
No problem, the good folks at M thought. They took the decision to transform an E30 3 Series convertible into an M3 pickup. This was a good decision.
Why the convertible 3 Series? Jakob Polschak, head of prototypes at M, said: “Firstly, we happened to have such a model at our disposal and in perfect condition. Secondly, the convertible’s built-in bracing made it the ideal choice for a pickup conversion.”
Because of the narrower body, the flared arches were canned, and it first came with a 192bhp 2.0-litre engine. Later on in its long, long life as a transporter, it was fitted with the more powerful 2.3-litre with 200bhp.
How long a life, you might ask? For 26 years, BMW used the car as a proper workhorse, shipping bits around the factory premises, and it was only retired four years ago. BMW says these prototypes are not ‘gimmicks’, but high performance cars that can a) do the job intended, and b) give apprentices and students valuable lessons in engineering.
Why this never made even a limited production remains one of life’s mysteries.
1996 BMW M3 Compact
The less said about the 3-Series Compact, the better.
This was presented as a sort of ‘entry-level’ BMW M3 to entice younger people into the world of M power. “To a certain extent,” explains BMW, “the M3 Compact can be regarded as the forefather of today’s BMW M2.”
Um, sure. Still, it packed the E36 M3 Evo’s lovely 3.2-litre 321bhp six-pot, and was 150kg lighter than the proper E36 M3.
2000 BMW M3 Touring
Oh yes. Just yes. This, ladies and gentlemen, is not only the E46 M3 we deserve, but the E46 M3 we need right now.
It was another in-house mule, this time designed and engineered to see if a proper production M3 Touring was feasible. It was, unsurprisingly, feasible.
“This prototype allowed us to show that, from a purely technical standpoint at least, it was possible to integrate an M3 Touring into the ongoing production of the standard BMW 3 Series Touring with very little difficulty,” explains our good friend Polschak.
“One important thing we needed to demonstrate was that the rear doors of the standard production model could be reworked to adapt them to the rear wheel arches without the need for new and expensive tools.”
Once through the assembly line, we’re told the wonderful M3 Touring required “only minimal manual follow-up work” to add the M-specific parts and interior details.
It’s not too late, BMW.
2011 BMW M3 Pickup
The M3 Pickup returns. The first E30 - as mentioned - was in service for over a quarter of a century, and was beginning to show quite serious signs of age. A new one was therefore needed.
This one was again built on the basis of a 3 Series convertible, because of the strengthening elements already added to that body. “The conversion work had initially proceeded in the usual, largely unspectacular manner during the spring of 2011,” explains Polschak. “But then someone came up with the idea of marketing the vehicle as an April Fools’ joke, as April 1 was just around the corner.”
You might remember spy shots at the time showing the M3 Pickup doing development runs around the Nürburgring. The internet got excited. We might actually be on the verge of a production M3 pickup.
And thus, the bait was set. April 1, 2011, and BMW revealed the “fourth body variant”, which packed the 414bhp V8 under the front, a 450kg payload over the rear, and the ability to set its tyres on fire. OK, so that last bit wasn’t actually mentioned, but you get the idea.
The whole thing weighed in 50kg lighter than the M3 Coupe of the day, while the targa roof could be removed to lighten it by an additional 20kg.
Of course, the whole thing about production viability wasn’t true, but this car actually exists, because we had a go in it a while back. Suffice to say, it was quite lairy…
E30 BMW M3
Of course, this is what the very first BMW M3 looks like. It looks good.
E30 BMW M3 racer
And here’s what it looks like in motorsport colours. Again, very good.
E36 BMW M3
Another real-life M3. The E36 is a magnificent BMW. End of story.
E46 BMW M3
We’ve pictured the best of the E46, here resplendent in CSL trim. Still sounds amazing today.
E92 BMW M3
The first (and last, as yet) M3 to pack a V8, here resplendent in its rather lovely GTS trim.
F80 BMW M3
The new one goes back to the straight-sixes of old, but here adds turbocharging. Also, the M3 Coupe is now called M4.
STORY Vijay Pattni