What are collectables?
These are cars of special interest and therefore deserving of preservation. Not necessarily old, yet they exist in a defined quantity, either because the manufacturer has decided so, or because their production is stopped. Then, they take advantage of features that make them especially desirable: an engine, a chassis, a design, or a concept. Finally, they are likely to see their rating increase. An additional argument to collect them before everyone else!
Why is the BMW M3 E46 collectible?
Already, the 3 Series E46 is the latest representative of old-fashioned BMW, classic in style and with an ultra-polished finish. Then, its M3 variation is the ultimate equipped with an atmospheric 6-cylinder (thereafter, the M3 will have a V8 and then supercharged units). This high-performance block also produces fantastic music: we don't make them like that anymore. Finally, its chassis refined as never before makes it a very efficient sports car but also suitable for family use.
For many fans of the brand, the 3 Series E46 is the last traditional BMW. However, if it was drawn with classicism, it is under the aegis of a man particularly hated by "behemists": Chris Bangle! Yes, the one to whom we owe the highly questionable (to be polite) Series 7 E65 and Series 6 E63.
It must be said that for the best-selling model in its range, the Bavarian manufacturer has never taken any risk, except perhaps with the E36, launched in 1991. The E46 which succeeds it at the end of 1997 takes over the large ones. lines, but, aesthetically, it is polished and softer, while technically, it clearly stiffens its hull without being too heavy, thanks to the use of aluminum. And inside, that's the nice surprise: the finish is back to an excellent level, that of the E36 being unworthy of the brand. Suddenly, the E46 immediately found its audience, and the press praised it, even in diesel.
In 1999, purists wriggled when the M3 concept was unveiled, almost identical to the final M3 which came out in 2000. Judiciously modified, the bodywork sees its wings inflate and adorn the front with air intakes reminiscent of those of the sculptural 507 from the 50s. Under the hood, also inflated, we find the fabulous in-line 6-cylinder 3.2 l of its predecessor, admittedly somewhat modified. Coded S54B32, this block now benefits from 6 additional butterfly bodies and 45 cm3, all resulting in a gain of 22 hp. Now developing 343 hp, this engine once again transforms the 3 Series into a remarkable sports car, even if due to its increased weight (1495 kg compared to 1460 kg at its predecessor), its performance hardly improves. They remain at a very high level, with the BMW running as hard as a Porsche 996 while costing 100,000 F less, at 372,000 F, or 74,300 € today.
In addition, for 21,500 F, it can be complemented by the very fast six-speed SMG 2 robotic gearbox, changing pinion in 80 ms. In France, the equipment is complete since it includes electrically adjustable leather upholstery, automatic air conditioning, cruise control, xenon headlamps and even 18-inch rims. Unlike the E36, the E46 is not available as a sedan, but a convertible appears in February 2001.
In 2003, the 3 Series benefited from a restyling which did not concern the M3, the latter simply receiving new LED taillights, modified controls on the dashboard, minor mechanical modifications for greater reliability. Above all, a highly desirable CSL variation joins the range. Lightened by 100 kg (air conditioning removed, bodywork elements using carbon, such as the roof), it is aimed at the sportiest of purists with its ultra-thin bucket seats, its hardened suspension with rigid ball joints, its faster steering, its reinforced brakes and its SMG box. The icing on the cake, the engine goes to 360 hp! It charges dearly for its increased sportiness: € 88,100 against € 58,600 for a standard M3. Especially since it can get the Competition Pack (€ 5,300) which includes suspensions inspired by those of the CSL. In 2006, the last convertibles rolled out of the factory. 85,766 units were assembled, all bodies combined: a record for the M3!
How much does it cost ?
You can access an M3 in good condition from € 17,000. At this price, it will be an example exceeding 250,000 km and equipped with the SMG II box, less popular than the manual control. This mileage is not a problem if the car has been well maintained.
For a mechanical transmission, count a minimum of 22,000 € (more than 200,000 km again). Then, the lower the totalizer indicates, the more the prices increase, logically. A 150,000 km SMG costs € 22,000, compared to € 27,000 for a manual, and so on. Note that convertibles do not require a supplement, unlike copies equipped with the Competition Pack, requiring an extension of around € 4,000.
The most expensive M3 flirt with € 50,000: they are manual coupes with less than 50,000 km. As for the very radical CSL, it is asking for at least € 70,000.
Which version to choose?
The SMG II, admittedly fast, generates a few jerks when used in automatic mode, and suffers from minor reliability concerns, so the manual gearbox, which is very pleasant, is preferable, which is reflected in the rating. If you can afford it, don’t hesitate, you will get your resale back up. Convertibles, very heavy, do not provide the same dynamic satisfaction as coupes, while the ruinous CSL is intended for typical circuit use. The Performance Pack is a significant plus.
We obviously think first of all of the exclusive CSL, very rare because 841 units are produced in left-hand drive. Then, a manual coupe with the Competition Pack and displaying less than 50,000 km will also be put aside.
What to watch out for?
Solidly built and top-notch finish, the M3 visually ages very well. Mechanically, it is different. A weak point is the connecting rod bearings, which have been recalled, as are the ignition coils. The Vanos is also prone to damage, at around 150,000 km, when the axle can fail if the car has been too abrupt.
The SMG II gearbox is significantly better than its reputation, even though it has undergone a recall for reprogramming. However, its hydraulic control can break at high mileage, its repair costing around 2,800 €. There are also rare cases of the rear axle torn off (the fasteners are weak), which can be repaired very well if you pay the price.
In the passenger compartment, we must ensure that the passenger airbag warning light is not on, while the left bead of the driver's seat is often grated.
We could not recommend too much to choose a well-maintained copy, all of whose components (engine, gearbox and axle) have been drained on time with the right oils. Better a neat phase I than a phase II with too long maintenance intervals! Either way, a pampered M3 – which is expensive – achieves very high mileage without major breakage.
What a pleasure to settle into a traditional BMW interior! Sleek dashboard, central console oriented towards the driver, clear ergonomics, quality materials… Even sport, the seat offers excellent comfort, while the driving position is impeccable. I'm behind the wheel of an SMG II version, and if the engine gives me a heart rate when I start up, the gearbox leaves me wary at first. In fact, it works very well. I did not touch the settings chosen by its owner, and it reconciles with a certain happiness, for a single-clutch robotic unit, speed and smoothness of operation, especially when controlled with the paddles. In manual mode, we feel jolts of course, but nothing brutal. A good surprise!
But the piece of choice is the engine. Supple, progressive, then explosive when you reach high revs, it provides intense pleasure, especially as its melodious song turns into a roar as the switch approaches, around 8,000 rpm. What a machine! It always provides exceptional performance, and on its own, it justifies the purchase of the car.
The chassis is not bad either. In terms of precision, it has certainly aged compared to that of an M4, but its excellent grip and balance combine with well-suspended and cushioned running gear. Obviously, the set is firm, but the comfort remains very adequate. For its part, the management, specifies, is not sharp but we appreciate its consistency and its communicative character.
Large atmos engines have a big advantage over supercharged: they deliver their torque in a much more progressive manner, for example avoiding saturating the rear axle from 2000 rpm. They thus allow smoother sporty driving, and on exiting a turn, finer control of the rear axle. Clearly, after all the same a little learning and a certain humility, we have fun drifting the M3 (on the track of course) without going straight into a spin.
There remains the question of the brakes: in road use, they are absolutely sufficient, their lack of endurance only manifested in sporty driving, therefore on the circuit.
The icing on the cake, the M3, when driving within limits, carries family and luggage in good condition, while consuming less than 10 l / 100 km. Downsizing? To do what ?
The youngtimer alternative
BMW M3 E30 (1986 – 1991)
In the 1980s, car rallying was very popular. BMW wants to get involved and is developing a special version of the 3 Series E30, which must be produced in 5,000 units to be approved in Group A. This is the M3, which appeared at the end of 1985 and marketed in 1986. Under the hood, surprise, not a 6-in-line but a 4-cylinder, the old M10 prepared by Paul Rosche. Pushed to 2.3 l atm, it develops some 200 hp thanks to its 16-valve cylinder head, while largely reworked, the body lowers its Cx from 0.38 to 0.33. For their part, the running gear is duly adapted, a limited slip differential is installed, so that the M3 becomes both the fastest and the safest of the 3 Series. Without neglecting comfort. Ultra-nervous (its block crosses 7000 rpm), the M3 goes 100 km / h in 6.7 s, a very competitive time against the Mercedes 190 2.3-16 and other Ford Sierra RS Cosworth.
Subsequently, the M3 will benefit from series limited to 500 units according to the needs for race homologation, the Evo I in 1987 (detailed modifications), and Evo II in 1988 (new aero kit, engine pushed to 220 hp). In 1989 the Sport Evo was released, produced in 600 units, lightened, radicalized and equipped with a 2.5 l of 238 hp, the most desirable of all. Let us also mention the Cecotto and Ravaglia, not sold in France. On the production side, a convertible appeared in 1988, while a year later the power climbed to 215 hp. In 1991, the M30 E30 retired, produced in all 17,970 units. Its price has soared: from € 45,000.
BMW M3 E46 (2000), technical sheet
- Engine: 6-cylinder in-line, 3,246 cc
- Power supply: electronic injection
- Suspension: McPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (AV); multi-link axle, coil springs anti-roll bar (AR)
- Transmission: manual or robotized 6 gearbox, rear-wheel drive
- Power: 343 hp at 7,900 rpm
- Torque: 365 Nm at 4,900 rpm
- Weight: 1,570 kg
- Maximum speed: 250 km / h (manufacturer data)
- 0 to 100 km / h: 5.2 s (manufacturer data)
> To find adverts for BMW 3 Series E46 and M3 E46, go to the La Centrale website.