Ultimate Driving Machine: 1988 BMW M3

If ever a car deserved to wear the badge of “Giant Killer,” then the BMW E30 M3 could wear that badge both rightly, and proudly. In world motorsport competition, this is a car that was able to take on the might of Ford’s fire-breathing Sierra RS500 turbo, Nissan’s R32 Skyline GT-R, and other more potent vehicles across both rally and circuit racing competition. In many cases, it was a car that was able to inflict humbling defeats upon such mighty opposition. It was also the car that in the hands of Italian driver Roberto Ravaglia secured the inaugural World Touring Car Championship in 1987. This 1988 model is a clean and tidy example that is now looking for a new home. If a European thoroughbred is high on your list of motoring “must-haves,” then you will find the M3 located in Paramus, New Jersey, and listed for sale here on eBay. The owner has set a BIN of $42,300, but the option is there to make an offer.

You only have to look at the little M3 to realize just how much of its development centered on building the ultimate class competitor for motorsport. At that point in time, European racing was heavily focused on International Group A competition, which made use of production body-shells and drive-trains, allied to a complex formula to link engine capacities, tire widths, and minimum vehicle weights. This was part of the motivation behind the aerodynamic aids and pumped fenders on the M3. Essentially, if it wasn’t part of the production car, you simply couldn’t use it in Group A competition. Therefore, effective aerodynamics and wheel arches that could house fat racing slicks were all key to the car’s potential success in competition. This particular M3, finished in Alpine White, appears to be in very nice condition. The very nature of these cars has tended to see the vast majority lead pretty hard lives, and today, that is a life that can really show. Front spoilers and side skirts are particularly prone to issues, but those items appear to be in nice condition on this car. Panel fit and finish seems to be very good, although the gap between the front fender and the door on the passenger side is probably greater than I would have expected. The M3 has been in the possession of the current owner for around 7-years, and he is only the little classic’s 2nd owner. He does state clearly that the car has never suffered any accident damage. The trim and glass look to be pretty good, and it doesn’t look like the exterior of the little BMW is going to need anything in the way of work.

The M3 was also an object lesson in how to extract maximum performance from a minimal package, and nowhere was this more apparent than when you take a peek under the car’s hood. The 2,302cc DOHC S14 engine is no giant in capacity, but it certainly is when performance is considered. This engine produces 192hp in road-going form, which is sent to the rear wheels via a Getrag 5-speed manual transmission. With a weight of 2,734lbs, the M3 was capable of accelerating from 0-60mph in 6.3 seconds, demolishing the ¼ mile in 14.7 seconds, and hauling on to a top speed of 146mph. When you consider those sorts of figures within a road car environment, you can only begin to imagine what its racing performance was like when you consider that race teams could easily extract 300hp or more quite reliably from these engines in their M3s. When I use the word “reliably,” I’m talking about the sort of reliability that allowed the car to win the Spa 24-Hour race on four separate occasions, and the 24-Hours of Nurburgring on five occasions. The engine in this M3 should be in good health, having recently been treated to a rebuild. This was done properly, with only OEM parts utilized in the process. The car has covered 8,000 miles since this work was completed, and it is said to run and drive nicely.

When it comes to revealing a life of abuse, the interior of an M3 is another good place to look. Weight, or lack of it, was everything to BMW when they conceived and built the M3. There wasn’t room for one excess ounce in the car’s construction, which means that a lot of plastic trim items are both light, and fragile. Overall, the interior of this car presents quite well, although there are a few issues that are beginning to emerge. However, I am more inclined to attribute these issues to the aging process rather than to abuse. The leather wrap on the wheel is looking tired, but I suspect that some work with a quality conditioner could make the world of difference there. The same is true of the front seats, especially the driver’s. The leather on the front edge is looking cracked, and I can almost hear it begging for some conditioner. Given how expensive replacement covers can be for the M3, I would actually be inclined to bite the bullet on this one and take the car to a reputable business to have the leather conditioned professionally. I can’t help but feel that this would be money well spent. Apart from an aftermarket CD player, the rest of the interior appears to be both stock, and in very presentable condition.

It only seems like yesterday that I was at a customer’s premises who happened to own an M3. He showed me around the car and then told me to climb behind the wheel to see how nice the driving position was. He climbed in the passenger side, handed me the keys, and said, “Okay, let’s go!” I have had the opportunity to drive some pretty amazing cars throughout my life, and some have left an indelible impression upon me. The M3 impressed me because it was simply the most beautifully balanced car that I had ever driven, and if I’m brutally honest, nothing has come near it since. If you ask the question of true BMW enthusiasts who have driven them, they will almost universally place their hand on their heart and swear that this is easily the best version of the M3 that BMW ever produced. Is it the ultimate driving machine? It is almost certainly the ultimate 4-seater road car, which also makes it a strong contender for that crown.


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  1. RayT Member

    I have fond memories of time spent behind the wheel of a very similar M3. It felt wicked fast to me at the time, and I suspect it still would, even though I’ve driven many more powerful cars since. Its best attribute — more, even, than the horsepower it put out — was the balance of ride and handling. It was a fine city car that could cover back roads in a big hurry. Although the one I drove had been flogged by experts, everything still felt solid, and worked with the kind of precision BMWs are known for.

    Sadly, I couldn’t afford one when they were new, and am not at all sure what kind of money these bring today. This being a New Jersey car, I’d want to look carefully at the underside to make sure none of the nooks and crannies are rusty. The ad suggests it has been treated with care, but who knows for sure? At $42.3K, it’d be a heavy investment, at least for me. And that’s not even taking future service/parts needs into account.

    I’ll have to go along with Adam. I’m not certain BMW has ever built a car that sits higher on my “ultimate” list.

    Like 4
  2. ken tillyUK Member

    Thanks for the great write up Adam. That’s exactly how I used to feel about my BMW 2002 roundie. Above all of the 300 plus cars that I have owned or driven in the last 65 years, the ’69 roundie is the first one that I would have back if given the opportunity.

    Like 1
  3. JCA

    Sold already? Crazy. Nice driver’s car but for $42k i’ll take a slightly used Shelby GT350. Does everything better this this M3. Light, nimble, high revving, so certainly comparable and its likely as collectable. Both about equally as rare. Certainly safer, and a lower cost of trouble free ownership with the Shelby. Nostalgia only goes so far…

    Like 1
    • Skippy

      What year GT350 are you talking about? If you mean a newer one, there are hundreds of choices and about a dozen much cheaper BMWs that are faster and more practical than an M3…..but that’s not why people buy M3s. Happy to let you doive one of my classic or newer BMWs so you can feel the difference. BTW, BMW has had IRS on their entire line since 1968. When did the Mustang line get it? Oh, 2015. Not trying to be an asshat. My 2009 335i E93 is faster than any of my 4 M5s, but again, that’s not what this car is about.

      Like 2
      • JCA

        The Shelby GT 350 is no run of the mill mustang. I’m talking about a 2016-17 for around $42k. Look at the press on the car. Motor trend had a shootout with cars double the price including BMW and chose the GT350 as the better car. Times have changed, BMW is not what was. Sales are down big for a very good reason.

    • djjerme

      Having personally witnessed someone putting a GT350 in to the wall (fully caged even) and the driver having to take a trip by medivac, more powerful doesn’t mean better..

      I do a lot of driver instructing, and often the guys with the more powerful cars are the ones I have reel in the most to keep from killing us. Course, they’re also the most pissed off when their big bad muscle car is getting out hustled around the track by a Miata or E30..

      Like 2
      • JCA

        This was a recent Motor Trend comparison which was not only track but living with it every day. There is no doubt mustang drivers take the trophy for biggest knuckleheads around. And you possibly witnessed a GT350R on the track that day which is a dangerous beast. I love German cars as well and spent many days in an 87 M6 and loved it. But 42k for an M3 with 189k? Gotta draw the line somewhere.

  4. Sam

    Harry’s Garage did a nice review recently of the “Ravaglia Edition” which I never knew existed. I just recall the “Evo” upgrades to the euro models. I can remember seeing one new in the local BMW showroom. What was seen cannot be unseen. Things were never the same. Too bad I could barely afford my ETA engine 3 series at the time. Talk about a dog.

  5. Joe

    Around 2000, I got an early start from Orlando to the 12 hrs. of Sebring. Spotty fog and very low traffic as I got down into some unpopulated stretches of Hwy. 27(?). I came upon what I recognized as a close-by neighbor of mine in his white M3. When he saw me, he dropped gears and skied. I floored my ’84 CRX as he pulled away slightly. No other cars on that divided 4 lane. The Hondas (2) got some revs on the clocks (2) and I gradually reeled him in. Eased right up close behind him at probably around 135 to 140 and flashed my brights. He eased over to the right lane, but we were both still running flat. I eased by him as he looked left and gave me a big grin. When we pulled into the racetrack, he said he was pulling 143. (Wikipedia says they top at 146) I was topped at 147. I just wanted to see what the M3 had. Oh, forgot to say that my stock engined CRX is the Car & Driver, Racing Beat built, twice on the cover, dual Accord 1800+cc, 2 automatics, 4WD, 2,700 lb. car. I still have it.

    Like 3
    • Neal

      Wait. What?!?
      Two engines in a CRX?!?
      Am I reading that right? Is that why you refer to the two Hondas?
      How is that even configured? One for the front and one for the rear wheels for AWD?!? Pics?

  6. Joe

    Sorry I didn’t see your comment. I would post pics but don’t see how I can do that here.

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