The Most Unloved BMW M3 Is a Performance Bargain

It might live in the shadows of the E30 and E46, but the BMW E36 M3’s lack of popularity is what makes this 1996 M3 a performance bargain.

When ranking the greatest BMW M3s of all time, the E36 generation tends to land low on the list. In production from 1992 to 1999, the E36 suffered somewhat from middle child syndrome, produced between the iconic E30 and legendary E46 generations. It also didn’t help that the E36 M3 took on a bit of a cut-rate reputation, featuring cheaper parts and materials, and employing less-radical, toned-down styling. But that’s not to say the most unloved BMW M3 of all is worthless when you show it a few turns — its lack of popularity earns it lower prices, but that’s what makes this 1996 M3 a performance bargain.

Four years into its production run, BMW gave the M3 a slight upgrade, bringing the engine up from a 3.0-Liter inline-six to a 3.2-Liter powerplant and installing a reinforced subframe and more aggressive front suspension. While horsepower didn’t change at 240 hp, torque increased from 225 lb-ft to 236 lb-ft.

Ultimately, the E36 gets a bad rap because BMW went out of its way to make it more affordable, plaguing it with numerous reliability issues. Because BMW opted to use plastic parts in critical components throughout the cooling system — like the thermostat housing, water pump, and coolant container — overheating can be an issue if and when those parts fail. While this E36 has an extensively documented history, it doesn’t show any of those problem parts were replaced, meaning it’d be smart to swap in better, more durable metal replacement parts.

At 113,000 miles, you should go into this with your eyes open. Some maintenance will be required to avoid larger problems. But at going bid of $6,900 this 1996 E36 M3 an affordable entry point into the world of M performance.

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