E36 M3 Buying Guide
The E36 M3 received a mixed reception when it was released in 1993.
It was a turn in a new direction for the M3, the E36 M3 was intended to be more liveable on a day-to-day basis in contrast to the homologation special E30 M3. This more road friendly focus alienated some buyers but some argue that it opened up the E36 M3 to a new range of buyers.
E36 M3 Buying Guide
The E36 M3 came with 2 engine choices, the 3.0litre straight 6 and later the 3.2litre EVO M3 which was a response to the E36 325i being given a 2.8litre motor. The E36 M3 was immensely popular so there is not shortage of choice.
Although the E36 M3 is now cheap to buy, they were never intended to be a cheap car to run, the lower the price of the car you are looking at the more work will probably need to be done to it to bring it back up to tip-top condition
E36 M3 Brakes
The standard discs on the E36 are fine for trackday use and are cheap to repair. As with all cars, the standard brake pads are hopeless but there are many performance brake pads on the market from EBC, Ferodo, Pagid and Roesch to name just a few.
E36 M3 Buying Guide
E36 M3 Bodywork
Although the early E36s had rust issues, the M3 was much better though not immune. Check the windscreen surround, around the lights, inside the boot behind the interior pieces. The 3.2 models had aluminium door skins to save weight but they doors are easily damaged and are rare to find used. As always check for accident damage everywhere.
E36 M3 Engine
Various opinions circulate about whether the 3.2 or the 3litre is the best engine to go for. It seems general consensus is that the 3litre is stronger as there is less to go wrong but has less power.
The 3litre engine is based on the iron block so no concerns with cylinder wear issues with this motor unlike the 3.2. The 3litre bottom end is based on the M50 unit but has a steel crank instead of cast iron. These engines, the 3.2 and the 3litre are very expensive to fix so make sure you give the engine a good thrash on the test drive to make sure there are no worrying sounds. There should be a little bit of noise coming from the top of the engine, too much or near silence can spell trouble.
Failure of the Vanos system can be pricey and cause damage to the rest of the engine through loss of oil so make sure all the workings are in good condition.
E36 M3 Footwork
As with all used cars, a very good indicator of how well the car has been looked after is the tyres it runs on. If the tyres are old and from a budget manufacturer, the rest of the car has probably been treated in the same way. The more expensive the tyres the better, and they should match left to right.
E36 M3 Interior
Hard wearing but the heater can fail, easy to fix. Windows can be a problem so check them out for smooth operation and as with all cars, check that all the electrics are working properly. The keys have a chip, so if you only have one original it would be worth getting an extra one made by a dealer.
E36 M3 Suspension
As always listen out for knocks on the test drive, if you hear anything it is most likely worn bushes. Particular weak spots are the rear shock top mounts. At the same time it is worth getting reinforcement plates fitted for the top rear shock mounts. They are available through the aftermarket.
Rear trailing arm brackets have been reported to fail, strengthening brackets are available which weld on. The bushes fail before the bracket so be sure to check their condition.
As with all cars, uprated suspension kits are available from lowering springs to full coil over suspension.
E36 M3 Transmission
The 3litre cam with a 5 speed box which is the same as found in the 328i. This is supposed to be near enough bomb proof and if it does fail should be pretty cheap to replace.
The EVO M3 gave with a 6 speed Getrag item which is much rarer. Check for whining and or grinding and also check the shift into second is easy. The 6 speed box has longer gearing than the 3litre.
The E36 with SMG was BMWs first attempt at the SMG. It is basically a 6 speed box, hydraulically operated, steer well clear as they apparently not nice to use. But an E36 M3 with a blow SMG could be cheap to buy and then replace it with a manual if the extra work doesn’t put you off.