Our Shed: BMW M3

By: James Robinson, Unique Cars magazine , Photography by: Daniel Groszek

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It may not be perfect, but it's huge fun

For every car enthusiast, there is always ‘that’ car, the one four-wheeled object of desire that kicked off an obsession that would span a lifetime.

Well, for me, that car was the BMW E46 M3.

I’m not sure if I’d go so far as to say it was kismet, but I really started to get into cars when I was nine or ten, which was right around the same time that the E46 M3 was first unleashed upon the automotive world.

2002 BMW E46 M3

I remember seeing photos of it in magazines and newspapers, and just being in total awe of its appearance. There was a toughness, an almost menacing look to it; those flared wheel arches, that bonnet bulge and of course, the quad-exhaust pipes. It just seemed perfect, and ever since first laying eyes on it, I knew one day I would have to own one.

And, on a cold and windy winter’s day in July 2016, the dream of owning what I consider to be BMW Ms finest achievement, became reality.

What was even more surreal than actually purchasing my E46 however was the process of how it happened. You see, like most tragic car fanatics, I wasn’t really even in the market to purchase one.

2002 BMW E46 M3

At the time I had what I thought was an excellent driver’s car, a 2011 Renault Sport Megane 250 Cup.

As brilliant as the Megane was when the roads got twisty, I still entertained my E46 desire with a bimonthly glance of the classifieds, just in case the right one popped up.

The thing is though, as a result of their sporting pedigree attracting the attention of a certain type of buyer, there simply aren’t many good examples of E46 M3s about at any given time. 

2002 BMW E46 M3

Anyway, one such cursory peruse of M3s on the market one night in July 2016 showed up a gorgeous looking Phoenix Yellow 2002 coupe.

The mileage was low, the service history immaculate (imperative when buying an E46), and the owner had, at great expense to himself, completely re-trimmed the car’s interior in black Nappa leather with contrasting yellow stitching. He’d also fitted a handmade Super Sprint cat-back exhaust system, which made the car scream (more on that later).

So, I gave the owner a call, met up with him at his place of work the next morning and laid my eyes on a gorgeous looking example of my dream car.

2002 BMW E46 M3

I drove it around for the next half-hour with the owner in the passenger seat and, when I parked up at the end of the test drive, I was completely besotted.

Negotiations followed, an accord was reached, a deposit was… deposited and I left with a massive grin on my face knowing that I would be back to pick up my M3 in a few days time.

It’s been the best car I’ve ever owned, hands down. Everything about it is simultaneously both theatre and competency, and it just makes you feel special.

2002 BMW E46 M3

The naturally aspirated and quite frankly herculean S54 3.2lt straight-six is probably one of the best performance engines ever made, the chassis is so totally and utterly sorted and the howl from the exhaust is a metallic, maniacal cacophony of the most splendid noises I think I’ve ever heard.

Genuinely, for the money, there simply isn’t a better sounding car on the market, period.

It’s got an SMG gearbox, making it a villain of chat groups and forums across the interwebs. But, you know what? It’s actually not that bad, not nearly as bad as some keyboard warriors would have you think it is anyway.

2002 BMW E46 M3

And you forgive it, just like you forgive all its other flaws: the appalling lack of headroom if you’re over six-foot, the laughable fuel economy, the weird rattles and creaks, the poor NVH levels, none of it matters once you’re driving it, preferably on a twisty mountain road with a liberal attitude to speed limits.

You know that old adage ‘You should never meet your hero’, well, that may be true of people, but it sure isn’t when it comes to cars.

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