Dear E36 M3 owner:
Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a once great automobile now relegated to the status of mere footnote in the annals of automotive journalism. Even worse, in all likelihood your car will be noted as the car that marked the transformation of ///Motorsports to ///Marketing. Remember the pride that you once held in owning one of the greatest handling cars on earth, the one about which all the magazines were singing praises to the cherubim and seraphim on high? Well that and 25 cents will now get you air in all your tires and you gotta hustle to even get that. Wanna know why the tiara tarnished? How did that once proud member of the promenade royalty gain such curly red locks? Well, Iíll tell ya, bucko.
BMW just announced the new M3.
So what possible impact could that have on your car, I hear you ask. Letís see: for starters it no longer handles as well as an E30 M3, that once tasteful interior is now dated and uncomfortable and, oh my, that oh-so-precise steering has gained a noticeable dead area. On top of all that, itÖ justÖ ainítÖ thatÖ special.
Ooooooh, that stings doesnít it.? From the looks of that vein thatís bulging and pulsing on your forehead, I bet you are positively seething now. I mean, what right does somebody like me have to say these things about a once mighty icon like the E36 M3? Truth is, not only do I not have any right, but I wasnít the one to utter such utter claptrap. The people that are saying this, this sacrilege are the same damn folks that put this car on the pedestal that fit so well under its sticky tires and buttoned down suspension. Yes, dear folks, the pundits that habituate the auto press are once again engaging in revisionist history and maligning a vaunted automobile for the sake of praising the new.
That ainít right, folks, that just ainít right. In fact, not only does it make me sick, but it cast a pall over the credibility of the entire field of auto journalism. Look at the December issue of Road and Track for instance. There they compare the E30 M3 against the E36 M3 with dire results. I own an E30 M3 and I love the little beast but I will be the very first to say this: this is not a good car to own. Donít get me wrong, itís a great car to drive and it gives me a terrific rush to drive it as hard as I possibly can; tossing it willy-nilly between corners under full throttle acceleration and hammered brakes. This, however, is not the way that you can drive it on the street. Normal suburban driving keeps the throttle smack dab in the middle of the great torque pit that is located below 4,000 rpm. The rest of the dynamics of the car are wasted since you can only just get a lick and a promise in day to day driving. In other words, sure the car is special, but as a driver that you have to live with, it just ainít there. It takes commitment and it takes compromises. You stick 99.99% of the population in the E30 M3 and not only will they completely miss the powerband but they will simply not enjoy the car. Put them in the passenger seat next to somebody who can exploit the car properly and all you will have is breakfast and bile on the dashboard.
Now cast a glance at the E36 M3. Yes it is more refined, yes it does have more creature comforts, no it isnít as racer raw, no you donít have to compromise as much. Are any of these things actually bad? Notice how weíre not seeing too many new cars for sale these days with leaking windshields, sidecurtains and heaters that merely operate by toasting your feet with the headers. Face it, weíve become accustomed to certain accommodations that are endemic to an affluent society. Even the beloved E30 M3 had A/C, power windows, amplified stereos and electric sunroofs, all of which you will not find on any serious race car.
So now that E46 M3 is nearly available, the luster is apparently gone from the E36. Iím not sure if itís an indication of how jaded the press has become, how fickle it is or simply that they are trying to build up the new at the expense of the old. If itís the latter, Iíd like to say that the E46 M3 will stand or fall on itís own, thank you very much and if itís the first two, Iíd like to say shame on you. Road and Track, Car, Top Gear, Autoweek are all guilty of these transgressions, of which there is no need. Every single last one of these magazines had nothing but high praise for this car when it came out. The criticism was slight, sparse and rightly so. Yes, I understand that automotive benchmarks are moving targets but the E36 M3 is still a damn fine handling and performing car by any standards, be they set five years or five minutes ago.
To their credit, Car and Driver, who awarded the E36 M3 with a position on their ten best list for five years running, offered nothing but praise for the car in their December issue. They alone offered consistent praise and criticism and I applaud them for it.
As for Motor Trend, if anybody hear reads it, could they tell me how they handled it? Nah, never mind. I donít really care.
Anybody that Iíve missed? Oh yeah, the big one. Roundel. I know most of you folks get that one. Iíll let you make up your own minds.
So people, donít let it upset you. Donít even let it get under your skin. Instead, take the E36 out for a drive and enjoy the car for exactly what it is, was and always will be: wonderful.