My friends have always known me to be a bit obsessed about my E46 M3. What is so special about it? In words, it is truthfully hard to describe and at times a pain to even try explain to them. After all, it is just a BMW with M3 badge on it.  I do not even come close to exemplifying the significance of the E46 M3. The E46 M3 is one of my dream cars and yet I struggle to explain why.

Frequent blank stares or rolling eyes usually meets my eyes as I struggle to explain why I choose to endure the demanding maintenance and preventive maintenance schedules. They won’t ever understand why I picked this car or even why I am such a fanboy of this platform. To me, a car is the embodiment of soul and passion of all the engineers who had designed it. The car exists as a story that is left behind to tell the owner exactly who the men and women that built the car were and what they were capable of at that time. A snapshot of history and engineering to serve as inspiration for those who follow.

I do not consider myself a writer but I consider myself as a storyteller. This is my attempt to try to tell the story of an engineering icon, the BMW E46 M3.

The Caveat

The E46 M3 was never designed to be a reliable car, instead it was designed to be as close of a race car as possible. There is no such thing as a reliable race car. To this day the E46 M3 is still considered one of the more reliable sports car with a race derived engine especially when compared with Porsche 911s and other comparable sports cars. With that said, VANOS adjustments, exploded rod bearings, VANOS hub tab, rear subframes cracking, etc. lurks in the back of every E46 M3 owner’s head.

My friends and family would ask why I would keep such a high maintenance car. I guess the purpose of this article is to remind ourselves as we throw money at our cars to revisit what made us fall in love with the car in the first place. Sometimes we take it for-granted.

Oscar Li E46 M3

The History

Imagine the year 1999, the BMW Motorsport division had long crafted two of the finest race cars in history that will be remembered by all. The E30 and E36 M3 have both left countless magazines and hardcore enthusiasts raving for more.

BMW E30 M3 Touring Car Racing

E46 M3 S54 was not the most powerful engine of its time nor was it the newest engine design in the industry. Nor was it meant to be, the engineers at M simply imagined as the S54 as the last evolution of their final inline 6 design. Their pride and joy, the final hurrah to the naturally aspirated six before the influx of the turbos/superchargers era takeover. The engineers knew that the physical boundaries for naturally inline 6 engines was close, the technology at the time made it possible to potentially pay proper homage to the famed engine design that made them ever so famous.

BMW E36 M3 Touring Car Racing

Enter the E46 M3, the host for the last and final evolution of the BMW naturally aspirated inline 6 engine. The german engineered S54 engine pushed the absolute boundaries and edged upon what was physically possible in mad scientist attempt to perfect the N/A inline 6. It was more than just an engine but rather a symphony of meticulous work that reflected the M division everlasting respect for the fandom, respect and knowledge that the inline 6 platform gave them.

BMW E46 M3 S54 InternalsLooking back now, I don’t think that they fully realized the lasting effect they had on automobile history and they were setting an icon for auto history for years to come. Even now, I struggle to understand and conceptualize the design decisions made by the M division crafting the E46 M3. Did the engineers shed a tear after masterfully created this car knowing that their creation will be experienced by countless others…

As owners experience both the joy, fears and frustrations from owning this car…did they know what they have created something special that people love and hate?

At its core of the E46 M3, they produced a race derived motor. A high revving engine with a respectable amount of torque. An iron block 3.2L with an 8,000 RPM redline offering a linear torque curve that made many other engines green with envy. The torque was made possible with fast piston speeds and long stroke making usable torque available at relatively low RPMs. Independent throttle bodies kept the engine response crisp and instant.

BMW E46 M3 S54 Engine CompleteS54 has the 4th fastest piston speed of all production engines in history.

  • Bore/Stroke: 3.43″ X 3.58″
  • Redline: 8,000 rpm
  • Piston Speed: 4773.33 Ft/min

The experience, feel and the thrill of just hearing the silky smooth inline 6 motor screaming to 8,000 RPM is something a car nut must experience. The last evolution of a naturally aspirated
inline-6, simply perfected by meticulous German engineering. Matched to years of testing and dampening suspension development on the Nurburgring race track. It was a time and era where
M Motorsport division had free reign and political power to pursue engineering projects without worries for budgeting, lawyers or the environment. A car, I have long considered to be one of the latest and greatest representations of the analog/mechanical technology of the late 90’s. At its inception, the E46 M3 managed to reach 0-60 in under 4.5 seconds. Something that modern cars even now struggle to do.

In 2001, the E46 M3 with the S54 was launched and released. It won Ward’s new best engine of the year and best international engine of the year. From 2001 to 2006, won the best engine award in 3.0-4.0L criteria in all years that the E46 M3 was produced. It was the Michael Jordan of european sports cars.

The Looks

A stock E46 M3 looks absolutely amazing. There is something about the way the car looks and how natural it the lines flows. The car needs no validation and yet still demands respect.   Subtle, elegant and fierce. It fits in with other cars in the crowd and yet stands out. There is a certain presence and aura that hints of its Motorsport heritage. There is something just about this car that tells us that there is more than meets the eye.

E46 M3 Trio at Santiago Canyon

The Complete Package

Today the E46 M3 exists, as one of the most affordable and iconic sports car in the world, I would argue the best sports car in the 10-30k range. There is almost no other car that offers the performance, luxury and classiness of the E46 M3. Daily driver and a weekend warrior. What a machine…and lets not forgot the racing heritage from the M-Motorsports division. The M3 remains to boasts the most titles than any other car in the world including the Porsche 911 and remains one of the most successful GT car in the world. I’m not talking out of my butt either, I have tracked my personal M3 and let me say that this is absolutely how the engineers expected the car to be experienced. There is no question about this. Everything from the braking, suspension, motor, chassis and handling all comes together and you simply marvel at what magic the BMW M engineers created more than 10 years ago. If you have an E46 M3, please go to the track with it at least once. You will be amazed how it behaves at home. To those about to purchase one, please do not keep it caged. Experience the car in its entirety as it was intended to be.

The End

An era of analog and mechanical feel is ending with the introduction of turbo/superchargers, electrical steering, and whatchamacallits. I look forward in what the future holds for the M division as technology IS without a doubt the future but I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the old analog driving experience that older Ms provides. No matter how great the newer Ms are, always remember that they were inspired by the previous generations.

Major Mods:

  • AST 4200 Double Adjustable
  • Linear Race Spring , 10K Front Swift / 11K Rear Swift
  • 6K Swift Assist Spring
  • WPC Rod Bearings
  • TMS Subframe Reinforcement (Performance Technic)
  • Bimmer World FCAB
  • AFE Intake Elbow, BMC Air Filter
  • RevShift Diff Bushings, E92 m3 Engine Mount Bushing
  • Beisan Vanos (Lang Racing)
  • 4 Pot Brembos, EBC EDX Blue Front, Hawk HPS Rear, Castrol SRF
  • AP Racing Brake Lines
  • Slotted Rotors
  • Ceramic 75% Tint
  • Ground Control Spherical Swaylinks
  • Bimmer World Monoball RTABs
  • Deka LightWeight Battery
  • Apex ARC 8 18×10 ET25 Anthracite
  • Federal RSR 265/35/18
  • -2.5* Front -1.8* Rear
  • Ground Control Camber Plates
  • Hotchkis Front Sway
  • AST Spherical RSM
  • Evolve R Tune + Custom
  • IAT Relocation
  • F1 AutoHaus Ceramic Headers
  • Status Gruppe Exhaust Titanium Tips
  • AR20 x 2 Resonators
  • CSL Trunk, CSL Diffuser
  • SPC Camber Arms