When I hopped on board european car, I thought I was landing the best job in the world--driving and writing about some of my favorite cars in the world! As a longtime subscriber to this publication, I had envied the writers and drivers of some of the amazing featured machinery, and I was determined to get my foot in the door. So, after three months of constant E-mail and telephone calls, Editor Brown finally took me on as an intern. I was on cloud nine! Here I was getting paid to drive cars and assist in photo shoots! What more could I ask for? I have been an avid car nut since I got my driver's license back in 1990. My family figured, "Oh, he'll get over this fast-car craze!" Well, it's been more than 10 years now, and they still cannot understand it. So, I asked my father a couple of questions: "Dad, why did you buy the Mercedes-Benz 300E instead of the 260E? And why did you choose the Alfa Romeo Milano 3.0 versus the three lesser 2.5-liter versions?" Once the true answers were pulled out of my father's mouth ("Because they were faster!"), my family finally realized my "speed craze" was a product of his influence and turned out to be his fault after all.
My quest for speed included a couple of modified Alfa Romeo GTV6s before I moved into the world of BMWs in late 1996 with a '97 M3 sedan. Soon I became hooked on the racetrack scene and participated in a number of driving events run by such sanctioning bodies as the Touring Car Club, Speed Trial USA, Tracquest, the Alfa Owner's Club and Driving Concepts.
The course of modifications to my M3 switched from focusing solely on power to a path involving more camber, aggressive aerodynamics, better brakes, suspension components and tires. But, just when I thought things would only get better, the M3 suffered a scary 100-mph spin at Willow Springs Raceway (see January 2001 issue, "The Personals"). The car was totaled, and I was left with a big decision to make on what to buy next.
However, prior to the accident, senior editor Les Bidrawn had approached me about a possible BMW M3 project in the near future. At that time I knew that the '97 M3 was out of the question, since it had already been pretty heavily modified. But, after the accident the magazine had not yet decided on an M3 to use for the project. This was the opportunity for me! I got the green flag, and, after looking hard for two months, I picked up this low-mileage, clear-titled 1995 Cosmos Black M3 in great condition. Thankfully, as you'll see later, this turned out to be a really strong car.
The goal of this project is, frankly, to produce the ultimate BMW M3, one that will more than serve its purpose on the streets as well as the racetrack. A street-legal race car, if you will--a car that will shine on the road course as well as the drag strip, while terrifying some of the unsuspecting street rockets out there for a little more added fun. We will witness dramatic improvements in handling, braking, horsepower, weight and overall performance. Aesthetically, the car will go through some changes as well. And, very importantly, lots of attention will be focused on making the car reliable and safe to operate in both high-performance street and track environments as well. When the project is finished, this will truly be a BMW M3 to remember, and will be seen at various track and race events in the near future.
To do a proper project, I must first look at the baseline performance numbers. Comparing these numbers with the numbers I'll get after modifications will give me a better picture of how well the car is responding.
The early-model E36 BMW M3 (up to 1995) was preferred for the project because of the ease of tuning the OBD-I engine. The '96 and later M3s came equipped with the more restrictive onboard diagnostic software known as OBD-II. Plus, the '95 model pricetags generally run a lot less than the newer 3.2-liter M3s. However, OBD-II isn't the only difference between the '95 and later M3s. The '95 M3 has a 3.15:1 differential, whereas the '96 and later M3s have the same 3.23:1 differential that helped make the '95 M3 Lightweight quicker. The '95 M3 was also the only model to sport a smaller, more peaky 3.0-liter (2990cc) engine, compared to the '96 and later M3s, which came with a much more torquey 3.2-liter (3151cc) engine. From the factory both engines were rated at 240 bhp, with the 3.0 putting out 225 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm and the 3.2L putting out 236 lb-ft of torque at only 3900 rpm. Although factory-rated numbers make a good ballpark figure to go by when comparing vehicles, I felt that a proper project would involve only real dyno testing at the wheels.
I mentioned earlier that this car was pretty strong. This was clear when I first drove it. The previous owner had installed a Dinan chip, but I knew I wouldn't get proper baseline numbers with the chip controlling the fuel management and spark timing. So, I called Active Autowerke, and the folks there kindly sent me a stock chip to use for the baseline tests.
My stock '95 M3 tested a whopping 217.8 bhp at 6100 rpm at the wheels (quite impressive when you consider my late 3.2-liter '97 M3 peaked at 220.9 bhp to the wheels with ECU, intake, flywheel and exhaust modifications). BMW M3s--3.0L and 3.2L--usually average between 205 to 212 bhp on a Dynojet, so I knew this was a good start. The maximum measured torque was 201.4 lb-ft at 4350 rpm. One thing to note is the car's flat torque curve--max torque ran from 4300 to 4550 rpm and maintained 95 percent of maximum from 3950 to 5900 rpm! These are very important ranges to consider, because they greatly affect the car's driveability and overall performance.
To gain an even better perspective on how the future power mods will change the performance of the car, I conducted some acceleration tests. Unfortunately, my best runs were done with a slipping clutch, so the project M3 was not able to yield its best results. In any case, the average of the fastest two acceleration runs from 0 to 60 mph yielded 5.8 sec., with a quarter-mile time of 14.2 at 98.5 mph. I felt that if the clutch hadn't been slipping and the soft O.E. Michelin Pilots were used, the M3 would have been in the 14.0s, with the needle perhaps even touching 100 mph at the trap. Needless to say, the dyno numbers and acceleration runs proved to me that this 3.0 will keep up with the majority of stock 3.2-liter M3s out there, while probably bettering quite a few of them as well. The best acceleration times were achieved by dropping the clutch at an indicated 3500 rpm from standstill, giving a little bit of wheelspin.
I haven't yet tested the project M3 in the slalom or skidpad. For now, all I can say is I know, through averaging the figures from several major car magazines, that this '95 M3 should be able to hold 0.88g on the skidpad and run the 700-ft slalom at 66 mph.
With more than 42k miles on the odometer, I figured the braking distances would probably suffer a little since the car was still relying on its original pads and rotors. But, to my amazement, the car came to a halt in 214 ft from 80 mph and only 118 ft from 60 mph, with very little fade! At 80-plus mph, I saw the test technician, who was standing right behind the radar gun, approaching at a frightening rate. But, the brake feel was so good it gave me confidence that I was not going to splatter him all over the pavement.
The curb weight of the car was taken with no driver and full fluids, including a full 17-gal. tank of gas. Its 3,220 lb means the engine has to motivate 14.8 lb per wheel horsepower. The testing weight, with half a tank of gas and a test driver, raised the overall weight to 3,340 lb.
It looks like this car has turned out to be an excellent basis for the project. You won't want to miss what I have in store for this fine automobile. I will first make sure the car is safer to run hard and stay strong under testing and tuning by replacing the entire cooling system. Stay tuned!
Project 1995 BMW M3
Engine code: M50
Type: Inline six, iron block, aluminum head
Horsepower: 217.8 hp @ 6100 rpm
(as measured at the wheels)
Torque: 201.4 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
(as measured at the wheels)
Maximum engine speed: 6600 rpm
Chassis code: E36
Weight: 3220 lb
Front brakes: 12.4-in. vented discs, single-piston calipers
Rear brakes: 12.3-in. vented discs, single-piston calipers
Wheels: BMW Motorsport alloys, 7.5x17 in.
Tires: 235/40-17 Pirelli P7000 Supersport
0-30 mph: 2.3 sec.
0-60 mph: 5.8 sec.
30-50 mph: 2.2 sec.
50-70 mph: 3.1 sec.
Quarter mile: 14.2 sec. @ 98.5 mph
Lateral grip (2,000ft skidpad) 0.88g
700-ft slalom: 66.5 mph
60-0 mph stopping distance: 118 ft
80-0 mph stopping distance: 215 ft