The First-Generation BMW M3 Is Now Gaining Traction among Collectors
The first-generation BMW M3—the most successful racecar of its time—is now gaining traction among collectors.
The hood of our Henna Red 1989 BMW M3 seems to glow, contrasting with the snow drifting across our path on a steep Alpine road. We are driving one of a very few pristine, stock examples of the first generation of the car, known as the E30 among the professionals at BMW and enthusiasts around the world. Built specifically for racing, the E30 M3 is raw and pure, a primal driving experience that demands full attention as we downshift to navigate the switchbacks, which, moments later, are bathed in sunlight.
Just as the weather suddenly shifts in the heights of the Swiss Alps, so has the value and desirability of the first incarnation of BMW’s M3, the high-performance version of the popular 3 Series and the most successful racecar of its time. After tepid initial sales in the United States, followed by a rash of hobbyists procuring examples to beat up at the track, the E30 M3 is poised to become the new darling of the collector world. In less than three years, its value has nearly tripled, according to the Hagerty Price Guide: In August 2012, a 1988 E30 M3 coupe in top condition was estimated at $24,500; the same car in April 2015 was valued at $67,900. But that estimate may be conservative: An E30 in top condition recently fetched $109,900 in a private sale, and in January, a rare 1989 E30 M3 convertible sold for $77,000 in Gooding & Co.’s Scottsdale auction.
BMW, too, is putting the car in the spotlight, commemorating the first 30 years of the M3 with events such as this drive through the Alps. BMW Classic, a division of the company that handles everything related to the brand’s heritage, owns a vast collection of vintage BMWs, from standouts like the BMW 507 and the 3.0 CSL to future superstars like the very M3 we are piloting. For this drive, it has brought a few pristine M3s out of the vault for a spin through the high country. For many BMW enthusiasts, getting behind the wheel of one of these early cars is a childhood dream come true.
“The E30 M3 speaks directly to younger collectors who are now entering their prime earning years and find themselves with the means to buy the cars they desired in their teens,” says McKeel Hagerty, CEO of the Hagerty insurance company, which produces the guide. “This generational shift is driving E30 M3 prices and is what is making cars from the 1980s and 1990s one of the hottest segments of the market at the moment.”
A major factor in the M3’s growing value is motorsport legacy. In 1972, BMW’s M division (formerly known as BMW Motorsport GmbH) was founded to develop the brand’s racing efforts. But it also spawned a new breed of road cars with race-derived technology and track-worthy performance. “The very first M3, the E30, is a special car for the reason that it was engineered at the same time as a production car and a racecar,” says Stefan Behr, head of communications and events for BMW Group Classic. “It was purpose-built.”
This is apparent as the turns get tighter, and we sometimes have to downshift all the way to first gear. On our Euro-spec car, that means putting it into the lower left corner, because our manual shifter uses a dogleg pattern, which helps racers more seamlessly shift between second and third, the most common racing gears. Even at such slow speeds, the M3 tackles corners with an ebullient determination.
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