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30 Years of BMW M3: E36 M3 Compact

By Scott Newman, 03 Oct 2016 Features

30 Years of BMW M3: E36 M3 Compact

Pocket rear-wheel drive rocket

The BMW M3 turns 30 this year and to celebrate BMW has let some of its M3-based one-off Frankenstein creations out into the sunlight.

In an attempt to lure younger customers to the brand, BMW unveiled the Compact in 1993, a truncated hatchback version of the 3 Series. It was essentially a predecessor to today’s 1 Series, the car that more or less replaced it when the Compact ceased production in 2004.

BMW E36 M3 Compact interiorBMW did offer a sporting version of the E36 Compact, however with 125kW/245Nm from its 2.5-litre inline-six the 323ti’s acceleration was best described as enough rather than ample.

Its light 1290kg kerb weight meant 0-100km/h took around 7.8sec, which wasn’t bad for the day, but it was clear that the chassis was crying out for a proper engine.

BMW E36 M3 Compact rearM Division clearly agreed, as it wedged the 236kW 3.2-litre inline-six from the second-generation E36 M3 between its front strut towers. Though it never made production, the E36 M3 Compact could be seen as the forefather of cars like the M135i, 1M and M2.

Weighing 150kg less than a four-door M3, performance was extremely impressive, though the Compact’s semi-trailing arm rear suspension could make for occasionally wayward handling.

BMW E36 M3 Compact engineBMW offered the prototype to a number of media outlets to test in an effort to gauge public interest, including German motoring outlet Auto Motor und Sport who declared it “more agile, firmer and even more compromising.”

BMW's M3 '30 Jahre' anniversary model goes on sale later this year.