Many people think that BMW’s tagline—The Ultimate Driving Machine—was referring to this car, the E30 M3.
It is styled with almost classical simplicity. Back in an era when compact meant rod-straight and low to the ground, it emphasizes purity to the degree that it’s been called, “a shining example of how to not over-design a car.”
But does the fact that it was really compact mean that it was the best BMW ever?
No. However, it does tell us something. It says that in the pursuit of greatness, there is something to the adage that less is more.
The E30 M3 was built to race in fancy German car circuits. The rules were that entrants had to build at least 5,000 models of the car they wanted to enter. It kept automakers from dumping all their resources into a handful of supercars that would likely kill anyone who wasn’t a NASA pilot.
The good news is that BMW made 16,000 E30 M3s. That’s 16,000 stripped-down, bare bones examples of the best that BMW had at the time. Before iDrive, touchscreens, smartphone integration, and head-up displays, BMW took the best chassis and suspension technology it had, like ligaments and tendons, and created a tensile race car that still resonates with drivers decades later.
Surprisingly, this M3 does not have a big engine. It has a 2.3-liter four-cylinder that is actually a six-cylinder Formula One engine with two cylinders light-sabered off. As you might imagine with an F1 engine, it likes to rev. It buzzes and seethes and excels at being kept at high RPMs, which is fantastic for the driver and terrifying for passengers.
Some people say that the shifting is chunky and feels a little over-gated, while others find closure in locking each gear into place and modulating speed with the throttle. In that sense, the E30 will reward drivers who can adapt their style to the car they’re driving.
Overall, this is a collector’s car that will likely continue to increase in value over the next several decades. As more and more of them get locked up behind garage walls and snapped up on private auctions, the likelihood of getting to experience this particular model will become the sole provenance of owners with cash to spend.
Jalopnik has said that if you want one, now is the time to buy. However, we think that you should look instead for other BMWs that share its qualities of lightness of being, instead of trying to dogpile onto the collector flavor of the month. How else will we know which BMW really is the ultimate driving machine?