The History of ///M: Part 2: 1986 – ’00

Part 1 is here.

     In 1989, the next generation M5 was released by using a modified E34 535i chassis, and used an evolution of the E28 6-cylinder.  Each M5 was hand built by either one technician or one team throughout the whole process (of appromixately 2 weeks), and rumor has it that the test drivers of the M5s could tell which team, or which technician built that M5 due to the quirks resulting from the hand-built nature.

     Six years after the release of the E30, in 1992, BMW decided to roll out a new M3 with the recent introduction of their improved E36 chassis in 1990.  M went with a more subdued exterior this time around, and this was the first M3 to receive a 6 pot engine in the form of the S50.  Unforunately, the new chassis also gained an extra 500 pounds due to sacrifices of raw performance for a broader appeal.  This was evidenced by the plethora of options available to the consumer and the fact that  BMW even released a sedan version of the M3 to bridge the gap between the end of the E34 M5 and the arrival of the E39 M5.  Even after a power bump to 320 horsepower and a few special editions, many E30 enthusiasts still felt like the E36 was “soft”.

     In 1995, BMW decided to take a jab at Ferrari and started a project to create their own “Ferrari killer” in the form of the M8.  Luckily, BMW realised there was no market for such a product, and dismantled the project before it was fully realized.  Some of M’s hard work did trickle down though, and the E31 8 series CSi receieved the only BMW production V-12.  Outputting 380 horses, the CSi was never labeled as an “M”, but the engine clearly had the badge.  Unfortunately, the 8 series never sold well, and that’s the last 8 series in production.

     Then in 1998, BMW introduced two M models in the same year.  They decided to do something new, and released an M version of BMW’s Z series roadsters. Two versions were released, one based on the roadster, and one on the coupe, which shared many of its parts due to the need to reduce production costs.  The whole project had a hard time getting green lit due to this, and their answer was to share as many parts as they could between the two models.  The other model was the third generation M5, based on the E39 chassis 5 series.  This M5 used a V-8 to power itself, and is probably the most loved M5 in history.  It was comfortable and luxurious, yet you could push the M5 damn hard on the track and have a fun time while doing so.  Part of its charm was the huge 4.9 liter V-8 that produced almost 400 horsepower which let you swing its large rear end with ease.

     And finally, with the arrival of the new millenium, we saw the introduction of the third generation M3, based on the E46 chassis 3 series.  Based only on a coupe and convertible this time, BMW wanted to keep this M3 as a pure sports car.  Though still beating with a 6 pot in its chest, BMW increased their new M3’s power to over 330 horses.  This gave the M3 over 100 horses per liter with the S54 engine, which also went on to win numerous awards.  This M3 model returned to its harder-core roots somewhat, as special editions included a CSL version (Coupe Sport Light) which shaved over 300 pounds and had its power increased by 30 horsepower and a GTR version which sported a 4 liter v-8 that had a limited run of only 10 due to its main purpose of endurance racing.  The third gen M3 definately had better success as a sports car (viewed as one of the best of all time) than the previous generation, which was partially due to its aurally breathtaking engine note.

     Everything past that point I’ll consider modern since the newer models have yet to stand the test of time.  In other words, I’m too lazy to keep on writing about them.


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December 2009
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© 2009 Rusi Li

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