BMW M3 Showdown: 1990 E30 vs. 2005 E46

Here are two BMW M3s. They are both priced at around $23,000. The first one is the one that everyone loves, the original M3, the one and only E30 M3. The second is is the much more modern E46 M3, and while it does not poses the cache of the E30, it’s nothing to sneeze at. Which do you buy?

The obvious answer seems like it should be the E30, but is it?

It depends what you are buying this car for: daily driving? Weekend toy? Track days?

Let’s look at the E30 M3 first. The current, third, owner says that the car had rust issues, but those were taken care of a shop in New Hampshire, which may mean that the car spend a lot of its life in New England. It’s also been resprayed and the interior swapped from black to gray. Basically, the whole car has at some point been taken apart and put back together. No mention has been made about the engine (those valves are PITA to adjust) or transmission, which isn’t known to be the strongest or cheapest.

A look at the E46 M3 reveals that this is a late-model rare Competition Package with the SMG transmission. The crucial number is 82,000. That’s a very important figure for BMWs at that’s the time when shocks, window regulators, guibos, cooling system and similar stuff need to be looked at. The SMG transmission which performed great when new, if a bit jerky, should be questioned too. While this seems like a very clean car, the owner make no reference to its service history which is key to the potential buyer. The ad does not mention any accident history either.

Perhaps it’s time to re-run my not-so-famous Craigslist ad writing guide?

So, which do you choose?

In daily driving the E46 M3 wins hand down. It has the comfort and all the modern amenities. Add to that airbags, crumple zones, traction and stability control, and it becomes evident that the two are leagues apart. SMG helps in stop-and-go traffic which many of us experience.

Hey, you’re an enthusiast and you enjoy track days, so what’s better than the original M3? Well, an E46 M3 is a much better track car for most of us. Most of us are n00bs and frankly we lack the skill, if we know it or not, to drive either of those two at 10/10s. Stick with the E46 and its modern ABS and stability control, which on the Competition Package has a track mode which allows you to kick the ass end out a bit.

Weekend toy? Enjoy your E30 M3, you won’t lose any money on it unlike the E46. Additionally you’ll be a hero to every propeller-head.


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