So why is it going for so cheap?
The second-generation E36 BMW M3 has lurked in the shadows for many years due to a number of factors. It had the unenviable task of following on from one of the all-time greats, the E30 M3, a car that was heaped with praise from the start thanks to its sharp-handling and motorsport-derived running gear.
The E36 M3 was not quite so well received. It was a much more mature offering, trading some of its predecessors’ raw character for daily usability. While its 282 horsepower 3.0-liter straight-six was a superb powerplant, we got saddled with a less potent 240 hp version making do without individual throttle bodies and a less sophisticated variable valve timing, all thanks to our stricter emissions regulations.
What we did get was the same sharp chassis which gave the M3 handling comparable to a contemporary Porsche 911 and over the years the less stressed US-spec motor has proven to be ultra-reliable while still providing decent performance.
Prices for good condition examples have slowly been creeping up but they vary wildly from under $5,000 for a beater to well over $20,000 for mint condition garage queens. The example we have here from Bring-A-Trailer falls into the better condition category and aside from some minor issues like slightly worn front seat thigh bolsters, a loose ignition barrel and a sagging headliner, it looks very sharp.
The Alpine White exterior and pale grey leather are a good combination and the 3.2-liter inline-six (earlier cars had a 3.0-liter motor) has just over 77,000 miles on it and comes with a comprehensive service file.
So then why is it currently sitting at a mere $5,600? The obvious answer is, of course, the big old auto shifter sitting between the front seats. Most enthusiasts prefer a manual gearbox in these cars but before you write it off let us explain why it could actually prove to be a valuable future classic.
With prices for these cars having been so low for so long, many have been tracked or neglected which makes finding an unabused one like our Alpine White example here a lot rarer than you might think.
While it may have the less desirable automatic transmission, it is also far less likely to have been over-revved or driven aggressively and unless you are specifically planning to use it as a track day toy, it is a superb daily driver with a gutsy power delivery that is perfectly suited to roads where speed limits and other road users make today’s overpowered turbocharged sports cars seem rather pointless.
The US-spec M3 may not have the European versions stronger rear diff or enhanced brakes but it still comes with a decent limit-slip differential. While there are plenty of tuners who would be happy to modify your M3 with turbos, a transmission swap, better brakes and a more track capable suspension, if you leave it just as BMW intended it is quite likely to be worth far more in the years to come.
The four-door bodyshell is actually far less common than the coupe too, only 7,760 were built compared to 18,961 for the two-door variants. So, while this example ticks just about every box the fact that it is penalized so heavily for its automatic transmission makes it a rather tempting buy. If you can live with that, this Alpine White M3 could well be a superb investment.