It’s fun to watch the BMW M3 grow and adapt. BMW has tried many things with its M3, but the name of the game was always creating a balanced and fast passenger car. Though some compromises were made along the way, there’s no doubt that the M3 got better and better. Even the current G80 wipes the floor with the previous generations. However, it doesn’t erase the legacy that the M3 built for itself and the rest of the world. These are the best special edition BMW M3s from each generation.
1990 BMW E30 M3 Sport Evolution: the M3 special edition genesis
The first BMW M3 exploded onto the scene in 1986. A 2.3-liter inline-four sent 200 horsepower to the rear wheels via a 5-speed gearbox. BMW made several special editions of the inaugural M3, the best of which must be the Sport Evolution or Evo III. The M3 cut some fat out for its Evo III variant and packed on some muscle in the form of 2.5-liters, producing 235 horsepower. It had an adjustable rear wing and various cosmetic changes. BMW made only 600, and because of that, the car sells for around $200,000.
1994 BMW E36 M3 GT: the one that got away
It’s no secret that the U.S. got shafted when BMW of North America finally released the E36 M3. The Euro-spec M3 got variable Vanos valve timing and individual throttle bodies, while the U.S.-spec engine got a lower compression, older Vanos, and a single throttle body. The difference was 321 horsepower to the U.S.-spec 240 horsepower in later years. As if that wasn’t enough, Europe got a special edition BMW M3 called the GT.
This edition got 295 horsepower, special rear spoilers, aluminum doors, and a single color: British Racing Green. The U.S. got its version of the GT, called “Lightweight”, which used a thinner carpet, less insulation, slightly more power, no air conditioning, and no sunroof. This brought the car’s weight to just under 3,000 pounds, according to BMW.
2001 BMW E46 M3 GTR: the homologated street racer
The E46 M3 didn’t get the same treatment in North America. BMW built U.S.-spec E46 M3s with the same engine as in the European model, this time with just five less horsepower. The CSL package, which wasn’t available in North America, upped the horsepower and shed almost 250 pounds. However, that wasn’t the best E46 M3.
The best special edition BMW E46 M3 was the GTR road car, which America did get. For the GTR spec, BMW planted a 4.0-liter V8 under the hood, with dry sump and 382 horsepower. Though it gained two cylinders, the GTR lost some more weight, clocking in just under 3,000 pounds.
2010 BMW E90 M3 GTS: the only M3 with V8 power
BMW released the E90 M3 in 2007, which became the only M3 ever built with a V8. In stock trim, the M3 got 414 horsepower from a 4.0-liter, matched with a manual transmission or dual-clutch transmission. It received several special editions over the years until BMW moved on in 2013, the best of which is probably the GTS. This version increased displacement to 4.4-liters, and with it came 450 horsepower and an 8,300 RPM redline.
BMW sold the GTS with a dual-clutch transmission only, but it got a lightweight exhaust and shed some more poundage from several interior changes, like a rear seat delete and no radio or air conditioning. It’s not much faster than the base M3, hitting 60 mph in 4.4 seconds compared to 4.6, but who can resist all that horsepower?
2018 BMW F80 M3 CS: the prodigal car returns
The F80 M3 didn’t last for very long. It came onto the scene in 2014 and promptly departed in 2018, but it was incredible. F80 M3s took the car back to its roots. An inline-six lay under the hood, with two turbochargers and a six-speed manual or 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
There weren’t many special editions of the F80, but we did get the special edition BMW M3 CS, which increased horsepower to 460 (from 444) and lost 110 pounds. It used forged aluminum axles, adaptive suspension, an active differential, and semi-slick tires. This M3 could get to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds.
Whatever’s in store for the next generation, whether it be electric or hybrid, it will be one of the most exciting sedans ever built. We can’t wait to see the ludicrous horsepower figures and speeds this next M3 will achieve.