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As the resident dubber of Car Bibles, I love Volkswagens… but I hold a deep-seated longing for BMWs. While I scratched that itch with my new BMW E46 ZHP, I couldn’t help but stop our Editor-in-Chief Andrew Collins in his tracks when we saw this insanely clean E36 BMW M3 at Radwood Norcal. Don’t take my word for how cool it is, you can see it yourself in HD!

Yes, we are indeed getting into the mix on YouTube (like and subscribe!) (but actually!) here at CB, and I had to have a BMW in one of our early clips if I could help it. We did do another bit on some E30s but that’s in the pipeline. For now, this late-rad era M3 in that classic coat of Estoril Blue ticks all of my personal BMW boxes.

While my love does lay primarily with post-rad BMWs like the E46 and E90, I can still appreciate a well-done E36. While not incredibly impressive or even compelling in factory form, some choice mods can make the diminished U.S.-spec M3 a compelling proposition. If I’m being frank, however, an E46 ZHP provides a better experience for the money, which sounds absurd. I miss when these cars were cheap. 

Anyway, you were asking what mods make this car so choice? Well, this E36 seems to have them all. The requisite Stoptech big brake kit, lightweight Volk TE37 wheels in hectic fitment, some nice aero, a chassis-mounted shifter, and a host of other things I couldn’t see. Get a load of that carbon air director from the outside to the driver’s face below the rear-view mirror!

That chassis mount shifter attracts much admiration from enthusiasts in its own. This one specifically is a kit from CAE that rips out the entire OEM shifting mechanism and replaces it with their motorsport-grade direct hardware with zero slop. It shifts extremely short, so the long shift lever helps give leverage and extend the throw a bit while bringing it closer to the steering wheel for easy access.

BMWs from E30 to E46 are kind of like legos, where things like steering racks can interchange, and engine parts are also somewhat interchangeable. Basically, the stuff that sucks most about E36s can be solved from the BMW parts pile.

I mentioned earlier that the U.S.-spec E36 M3 is diminished. This is because they pretty much removed the coolest part of the Euro-spec car: The S50b32 engine with just over 300 horsepower and individual throttle bodies. The S50 is the true predecessor to the legendary S54 of the E46 M3. We Americans got a lowly S50b30 or S52b32. Both were detuned and didn’t have much relation to the motorsport Euro-S50 engine, more like M50/M52s with cams and some extra displacement. Depending on the year, the US E36 M3 got these weaker engines.

I couldn’t easily find the owner of this M3 but I suspect that it has an engine swap considering the cost and quality of the parts on the car. It still had the stock gauge cluster though, so it’s anyone’s guess. Either way, this owner did good work here and made an E36 worthy of any Euro BMW out there. Maybe my ZHP can be half as clean someday.

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