On the way back from the Eurofest show at Birdwood, my friend Felix and I found ourselves travelling some of the best roads in South Australia in a rather esteemed convoy. Whilst the Volkswagen Scirocco R that we were driving would ordinarily be pretty cool, it was easily overshadowed by the three cars ahead of us; three high revving driving machines bearing the famous tricolour ‘Motorsport’ emblem.
For the record, I use the term ‘found ourselves’ very loosely – it was through subtle eavesdropping and possibly a little skullduggery that we learnt of Alvin Chua’s plans after the show, and thankfully due to his kind-natured sense of fun and generosity, and possibly simply not wanting to disappoint two guys with ‘kids-in-the-candy-store’ looks on their faces, that he graciously suggested we tag along. Feeling very much like the poor cousins, but not caring one bit, we pulled away from the National Motor Museum behind a lineup consisting of E30 M3, ultra rare E46 M3 CSL and new 1M. Three M cars, three different generations, and three different philosophies. But the one goal.
We might as well begin with the oldest car in our trio, a car which has gone down in history as one of the great drivers cars of all time, the E30 M3. The first of the 3 series to wear the M badge, the E30 M3 was a homologation model built from 1986 to enable BMW to go touring car racing against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz 190E.
Powered by the famous S14 2.3 litre inline 4 initially producing around 200hp, the E30 M3 is surprisingly quick given its age and power – a kerb weight of 1200kg in full road trim and an almost perfect 48/52 weight distribution means there is very little out there that can match an E30 M3 for sheer driving nirvana.
E30 M3′s are very hard to replicate because they differ from a regular E30 in just about every way that matters. Suspension, brakes, engine and gearbox are all different. Even the shells are different, in fact the M3 shares only the bonnet and roof in common with a regular E30 – everything else has been modified by the factory in the pursuit of speed.
There were more than 16,000 E30 M3′s built, yet they are such a thing of rarity here. They were only ever built in left hand drive, and they aren’t yet old enough to be registered in South Australia. The only way you’ll get one on the road here is with special import approval and a day permit, which excludes the car from regular use. Owning an E30 M3 requires you to spend all your money on a car that you can’t actually drive, which is quite an imposition for most people.
That, and despite their production numbers there aren’t actually a lot of clean E30 M3′s left anymore. They made such fantastic competition cars that a lot of them were raced or rallied and subsequently crashed, and those that weren’t were usually thrashed to within an inch of their life around the streets by over enthusiastic amateurs. Good, clean E30 M3′s like this one are a real rarity.
The next car in our trio appears at face value to be the polar opposite. Where the E30 M3 relies on balance and grace, the 1M comes to the party with sheer brute force – 340hp of twin turbocharged inline six, to be exact.
But the similarities aren’t all that abstract if you think about it. Both are short wheelbase, front engined, rear wheel drive coupes. Like the M3, the 1M is also significantly different from the car it is based on – lower, wider, meaner.
This example was fitted with a bi-mode Akrapovic exhaust system which sounded both heavenly and devilish at the same time. The 1M is the first car in BMW’s new direction for M – high spooling turbocharged engines as opposed to silky smooth, naturally aspirated motors. However a quick prod of the right foot left no doubt that this was most certainly an M car, just not quite as we know it. Not a bad thing though, just different.
But my favourite car without a doubt, and one of my favourite cars of all time, was the E46 M3 CSL. The E46 M3 is already known as one of the best modern drivers cars, and the CSL takes it one step further. Lighter, a little more power, and everything is just that little bit sharper and more responsive. Built only during 2004, just 1,400 CSL’s were built.
And what was even better, friend of Any Given Reason, Daniel, was charged with driving the CSL back to Adelaide, something he won’t forget in a very long time. I tried to ask him what it was like to drive – he attempted an explanation, but the unspoken smile told the story.
The CSL is some 110kg lighter than a regular E46 M3. The most obvious weight reduction is the carbon fibre roof, saving 7kg from the highest point of the car and lowering the centre of gravity at the same time. Most of the sound insulation is gone, along with the electric seats and satellite navigation. The rear window is formed from thinner glass, and the air conditioner and stereo system were no-cost dealer installed options. Lighter alcantara replaces leather in the interior, and carbon fibre replaces plastic for the trim.
You’ll notice the asymmetrical front bumper – that hole feeds air directly into the specially designed carbon fibre airbox. In the CSL the famous S54 3.2 litre straight six has been retuned to gain an extra 17hp along with increased responsiveness, and the exhaust system is made from thinner material to reduce weight. Specially developed springs and dampers, brakes from the E39 M5 and a quicker steering rack make for a sweeter drive. The CSL was only available with a race tuned version of BMW’s SMG II sequential manual transmission, and Daniel tells me that upshifts are lightning quick and only smooth at full throttle. No complaints from me!
And I guess that’s why, for me, the CSL is undoubtably one of my favourites and an all-time great. A lot of people, myself included, have ruined great cars by modifying them. But here is an example where a whole host of small subtle improvements have been made to an already brilliant car, turning it into something that beggars belief.
You get these guys that turbocharge M3′s and think they’re setting the world on fire, but they’re missing the point. The CSL might not have the numbers to brag over a beer down at the pub, but that’s not the point of this car. It’s about you, your favourite road, and a fast, 100% balanced and committed car that can interpret your thoughts and work them into good, old fashioned speed. It doesn’t matter what people down at the pub think because this car gives its drivers a knowing smile, and I saw it on Daniel’s face. You don’t need to brag about numbers, you just know what it feels like and that’s all that matters. And for that reason, it’s without doubt that the CSL does it for me.
Apologies for waxing lyrical about the CSL, it’s the sort of car that does that to you. It’s the sort of car that forces you to pull your own cars up next to it for a photo, for no other reason than to have a photo of your car with a CSL.
And for that reason, I think it’s the ultimate M car. But wow, we were certainly very lucky to be able to spend the afternoon pondering this important question in the presence of these cars, and for that I must thank Alvin for letting us tag along!