The BMW E46 M3 is without a doubt one of the most iconic BMWs ever made. Its timeless good looks and unusually high-strung six cylinder engine made it a force to be reckoned with. But is it possible to buy one of the roughest examples ever, restore it on a budget, and make a profit on resale?
Part 1: The Last "Real" M3
The E46 M3 was the last in a long line of analog six-cylinder masterpieces -the last true M3 to come out of Regensburg, Germany before the model got needlessly bulky and added the unnecessary heft of a V8 under the hood. And if you've heard that line before, it saves me the time of not having to welcome you to the internet - the only place where a person's anus comes a distant second in the body's ability to spew crap, first place going to the walnut shell that used to house a functional brain, now irreparably corrupted by years of forum debate, cat videos, and tentacle hentai.
In North America, the E36 M3 from the 90s was little more than a uprated 328i. It had a relatively tiny amount of horsepower, and shared none of the high-revving cutting edge race-car technology that its freaking fantastic European cousin got. I should know - I had one - and while it was a well-balanced car, it could get its doors blown rightly off by any Camry owner in a frantic rush to purchase the newest issue of Beige! Magazine.
Not so with the E46. It had a no-fooling 3.2 liter inline-six cylinder engine pushing 333 horsepower, which seemed like too much. It did this by using race-car trickery like independent throttle bodies and variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust cams. The chassis was unique to the M3 and didn't have nearly anything in common mechanically with the other pleb-level 3-series models. This version marked the last of the naturally aspirated six-cylinder autobahn destroyers, and although it would get overshadowed in nearly every conceivable way by the V8-powered E92, the E46 holds a special place in the hearts of countless internet trolls that would rather die than to be swayed with reason. Here's everything you need to know about this amazing car.
Part 2: The Street Of Hard Knocks
There's a certain element of danger associated with doing what I do. Sometimes you buy a pile of crap and risk losing money on resale. Sometimes you end up in sketchy neighborhoods far away from home. This one was a little of both.
As I browsed the local Craigslist classifieds for potentially restorable candidates, one car caught my eye. It was a 2002 M3 that had really amazing looking pictures that didn't really match its low asking price.
From the looks of things, the only cosmetic issue listed was a slight ding on the door and a blemish on the front splitter. It was a six-speed manual with some carbon fiber goodies, an upgraded KW adjustable coilover suspension, and apparently a flip-out touchscreen navigation system, for $9,500 or best offer. I called immediately and set up a time to check out the car.
If there was a car version of the show Catfish, this car would be the star of the season finale. Here's what the car actually looked like when I got to the cramped New York City street:
This car was trashed with a capital F. There wasn't a panel on the car that didn't require some sort of attention. The suspension looked as if it was collapsed in the rear, the front wheels were different widths (one was a OEM front, the other was an OEM rear), the front and rear bumpers were cracked and dented beyond belief, the car had AC Schnitzer badges, despite not having any actual AC parts, the taillights were cracked, and the door's "slight ding" resembled the aftermath of a drunken knife fight between the two slightly frumpy guys in accounting - hilariously sloppy and hard to look at. This was way before I even called the guy to come downstairs and hand me the keys to this Bavarian turd. But like any Englishman worth his salt, I kept calm and carried on.
The car turned on without much drama, but so did nearly all of the dashboard's warning lights, other than the Check Engine Light, which was either a good sign or an indicator that the Check Engine Light was broken. The valve cover gasket was leaking quite badly and the plastic expansion tank in the cooling system had ruptured, sending expensive BMW coolant everywhere but in the engine.
I took the car for a test drive around the block and it had the poise of a dehydrated ox. The ride was uncompromising and the car was all over the road. Since the coolant needed to be topped up on every ride and leaked out in short order, the running of the car likely sent a few neighborhood cats to meet their maker prematurely. This also made the car smell quite badly, not being helped by the obvious oil leak and various maladies that plagued the interior and exterior of the car. Most people would run away. Most smart people. But I'm not most people. And I'm definitely not smart.
Here's what I did know that made the car eligible for a flip: the vehicle history was clean with no accidents or dodgy title-washing, I found out from a friend that worked at BMW that this particular car had the notorious rod bearing recall done early in its life and actually was serviced at the dealer for quite some time, the car had none of the common subframe cracking issues that these models tended to get, and the engine didn't emit any sort of VANOS rattle or timing chain guide noise. It was a solid foundation with one hell of a rough surrounding structure. Against my better judgment, I offered $7,000 for the car, not budging from that number and ready to walk away. The seller accepted, and I bought myself the roughest BMW M3 in the world with a healthy side of instant regret.
Do you have a car flipping or restoration story? We'd love to hear it!
If you liked the article, consider supporting us by bookmarking the Amazon.com link below and using it before you buy anything. It costs you nothing extra, and it lets us keep producing free content for car people everywhere. Thanks for your support!