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Christopher Bruce2012-04-27 15:12:36

BMW Looks Back on 25 Years of M3 Race Cars

The original E30-chassis M3 was powered by a 2.3l four-cylinder engine

The original BMW M3 entered production in 1986, but it did not make its competition debut until 1987 in a World Touring Car Championship Race. Since then over four generations the M3 has chalked up race wins around the world. This weekend, the M3 enters a new chapter by beginning competition in the DTM for the first time in 20 years. 

The street version of the E30 M3M3BMW M3Germany, 1985 > 19922 photos
came with a 200hp, 2.3l engine that actually had the same cylinder block as the BMW Formula 1 car from earlier in the decade. It bored the engine up to 2.3 liters and used the valve train from the BMW M6. For the racing version, power was boosted to 300hp at 8200rpm. BMW did not enter the car itself but let teams from Schnitzer, Linder, Zackspeed and Bigazzi campaign the car.

The beginning of the M3's racing history was inauspicious to say the least. All of cars were disqualified because their sheet metal thickness did not meet qualifications in the WTC. However, things had been fixed by the end of the season, and M3 driver Roberto Ravaglia won the championship that season. BMW also won the DTM championship in 1987, and it won the Corsica Rally. 

Success continued in 1988 with Ravaglia winning the DTM, and it also won championships in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Finland, Spain, Sweden and Yugoslavia. The cars also took wins at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring from 1989 to 1992. 

By the end of the car's competition career, it was displacing 2.5 liters and producing around 355hp.

For 1992, BMW introduced the new E36 chassis M3M3BMW M3Germany, 1992 > 19992 photos
1 video
with a new 3.0l inline six-cylinder engine with 325hp. The car was not as competitive as the previous version and stopped competing in the DTM; instead it moved to the ADAC GT Cup. It won the championship, but rules changes meant that it did not compete thereafter. 

BMW did not have a works-prepped M3 again until 2001, when it began campaigning the M3 GTRM3BMW M3Germany, 2000 > present4 photos
with a 4.0l, 450hp V8. It raced in the American Le Mans series and won seven of the ten races that season winning the championship. It also won at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring and took a class win at the 24 Hours of Spa. It raced again in the ALMS series and at Le Mans in 2002, but rules changes in the ALMS again meant the M3 GTR was legislated out of competition in 2003.  

The E92 M3 GT2M3BMW M3Germany, 2009 > present2 photos
1 video
began racing in 2009 in the ALMS. It struggled in 2009, but won the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring in 2010. The car really became competitive in 2011 when it took first and second in the 12 Hours of Sebring and won its class in the ALMS GT2 Championship. After an amazing final lap, the M3 GT2 also won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 2012, and currently the team is tied for first place with Corvette Racing. 

This weekend, the M3 will be returning to its roots. One of the series that it started in in 1987 was the DTM, and it is returning to it this weekend at Hockenheim. 

3 Series3 Series
3 Series Gen.53 Series Gen.5
V 8 ( 90.0º vee)
244 cu in
Top Speed
155 mph
6, Manual
Maximum power
420 hp @ 8300 rpm
Fixed-head coupé
Fuel consumption (combined)
18.97 US MPG
$ 151.067
* based on Portugal prices
annual ownership cost
$ 3.165




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