I'm not surprised to find myself looking at old M3s again. Seems like no matter how many cars I own or lust after, I always come back to the E30 M3. Never owned one, but driven a few.
They're harder than hell to find, most having been molested by wishful kids with big wallets and/or mashed into guardrails and trees. Many have been put back together shoddily-thank god for Carfax. The fact that 5000 were made altogether means that if you want a clean one in 2007, you're going to pay for it. And it's widely known in M3 circles that the E30 is a car you can pay $10,000 or $15,000 for.
Spend $10,000 and you'll drop at least another $5000 bringing it to good working order. The fifteen grand, on the other hand, buys a well-sorted example. Naturally, I'll be looking for a $10,000 M3, because like most car people, I enjoy putting myself through the pain of 'fixing it up.'
You have to really want one to take the plunge. Why consider dropping 15 large on a car that's about 20 years old and probably isn't making anything close to the paltry 195bhp it did when it was new? Better yet, for about $4000 more, it's possible to have a 2003 Lancer Evolution.
Horsepower is cheap these days, and plentiful. In the era of the E30 M3, 195bhp was miraculous from a road-going 2.3-liter in-line four. Nowadays, a Civic Si makes more from two liters flat, gets twice the gas mileage and isn't anywhere near as temperamental. Maintenance means changing the oil every 3000 miles. That's it. The M3, on the other hand, demands constant attention. What's wrong with people like me-why do we still want the thing?
A similar argument exists in the world of watches. The best timekeeper made is a Casio, not a Rolex. But there's just something about a 'nice watch' that keeps people spending their thousands. The vision, perhaps, that somewhere in Switzerland, there's a white-haired man with a pair of fine tweezers putting the thing together.
The M3 is the epitome of the fine watch argument. The fact there are road-going versions at all is a fluke-BMW wouldn't have built a single one but for racing homologation reasons. There isn't a part on the car that wasn't designed for racing: individual throttle bodies; three times the caster angle of the standard 3-Series; a Getrag dog-leg gearbox; big brakes from the 5-Series and a limited-slip differential. The list goes on.
Brands like Rolex and Omega, once noted for their accuracy, should have folded the day the quartz watch was invented. Ten bucks will buy a watch that keeps time better than any expensive Swiss chronograph. Similarly, there are scores of modern cars with chassis 10 times as stiff as the old M3. Thanks to turbochargers, they have gobs more power too. Like high-end timepieces, the E30 M3 is utterly obsolete.
But the fact it hasn't faded proves a valuable point. With all the advances in the automotive world in the past few decades, the fun factor hasn't improved at all. Seems you can't really engineer 'fun' into a car.
As cool as outright speed and point-to-point potential is, I don't really care about setting a record time on my way to the drugstore (or, for that matter, on the track). I also couldn't care if all-wheel drive is the fastest way over a twisting road, or if there are systems that can make me a better driver by applying the brakes at each wheel at exactly the right time. It doesn't matter to me that a monkey can make a car with 195bhp, either.
Twenty years later, the E30 M3 still has the capacity to keep its owners on the edge of the driver's seat. Most car people will still admit to lusting after one at least once in their lives. It's a pain in the ass to maintain, it doesn't like doing errands and it gets crappy gas mileage. There's nothing sleek about it, girls will laugh at you and, by modern standards, it's slow.
I want one.