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M3 Group A
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Country of origin:Germany
Produced from:1987 - 1988
Internal name:E30
Predecessor:BMW 635 CSi Group A
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:May 21, 2008
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Click here to download printer friendly versionHaving successfully conquered Formula 1, BMW Motorsport returned to the familiar territory of touring car racing in the mid-1980s. Instead of using an existing model, the German manufacturer decided to create an altogether more potent version of the recently introduced 'E30' 3-series. At that time the popular German and European touring car championships were held under the Group A regulations, which stated that a car could only be homologated if at least 5000 examples within twelve months had to be constructed. This meant that BMW not only had to build a new racing car, but also a homologation special for the street.

Even though BMW had been very successful in the previous years with Turbocharged engines, they decided against using forced induction for the new 'M3'. The main reason was that it would not be very practical on a road car designed for every day use. The most powerful engine available in the E30 at the time was the 2.5 litre straight six cylinder engine, but that was determined to be too long and heavy for this application. Instead the Motorsport team decided to create a brand new four cylinder engine, which with its shorter crankshaft would be able to rev more easily compared to the 'six'.

Designed in just fourteen days, it is no surprise that the 'S14' was a mix of existing parts. Simply put, it was the M1 engine with two cylinders cut off. The block was derived from the two-litre 'four' found in the 320, equipped with a DOHC, sixteen valve head. Sharing its bore and stroke with the bigger six cylinder engine, the new S14 displaced just over 2.3 litre. In stock form it produced a cool 200 bhp, with the competition spec engine putting out at least 300 bhp at 8000 rpm. Shortly after the M3's introduction, the car was equipped with a catalyst, knocking five horsepower off.

Mated to a Getrag five speed gearbox, the S14 was mounted in an extensively modified 3-series chassis. With its racing intention in mind, the M3 chassis was stripped down to its bare necessities, resulting in a kerb weight of just 1200 kg. The suspension and brakes were also extensively modified, giving the street car close to racing car handling characteristics. Externally, the M3 could be easily distinguished from its more docile brothers by wider wheelarches, a front airdam, extended rocker panels, a large rear wing and two small M3 badges front and rear.

After a summer of rumors, the 'E30' M3 was first shown to the public during the Frankfurt Motorshow in the fall of 1985. Despite its high price and the many other potent homologation specials available at the time, the M3 was an instant hit. Instead of producing the minimum number of 5000 cars, nearly 15,000 of the stock model were built when production ceased in October of 1990. In those five years, several 'Evolution' models were also built with a 500 car production run to homologate new parts for racing. There was also a convertible version, which was noticeably heavier, but with 786 examples produced still a good seller.

Further helping build the M3's legacy was the success on the track and even in rallying. In the late 1980s, a variety of racing versions clinched many national and international touring car titles, including the highly acclaimed DTM trophy in 1987 and 1989 against very strong competition from Ford and Mercedes-Benz. There was also success in the World Rally Championship (BMW's first in 14 years), with the M3 taking victory in the 1987 Corsica Rally. Olaf Manthey's team further increased the M3's racing record by scoring a one-two in the Nürburgring 24 Hours race.

Featured is one of the original Group A cars that raced in a wide variety of events and on various surfaces. Still owned by BMW, this example is pictured driving up the hill at Goodwood in 2007; some twenty years after first setting the racing world alight.

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  Article Image gallery (47) Chassis (2) Specifications