By Dave Abrahams
Munich, Germany - Every member of the Blue Propeller Brotherhood knows that 2016 is not only the centenary of the Bavarian Motor Works (founded in 1916 to build aircraft engines for the Imperial German Flying Corps) but also the 30th anniversary of the original 1986 M3, the homologation special on which the M dynasty was founded.
Because the M3 was never intended as sporting flagship for the 3 Series, then in its second generation under the model code E30. The idea was to go racing in the German Touring Car series under Group A production-car rules - which meant that at least 5000 identical cars had to be sold for road use.
So the boffins at what was then BMW Motorsport built a racing version of the 3 Series, with special high-performance suspension geometry and dampers, razor-sharp brakes with ventilated front discs and a high-pressure engine-driven booster, in a special lightweight body with flared wheel arches and plastic bumpers, bootlid, spoilers and side skirts.
They also modified the actual bodyshell with a more sloping C pillar, wider at the base than that of a 'normal' 3 Series sedan, to smooth out the airflow towards and over the spoiler.
S14 hotrod engine
The standard two-litre, four-cylinder engine was bored out to 2.3 litres, and the original cylinder head was ditched in favour of a very special twin-cam, 16-valve head derived from that of the fire-breathing six-cylinder M1 supercar (itself a homologation special) which just happened to have the same cylinder spacing.
The resulting S14 hotrod engine revved to 7300rpm and was good for 147kW at 6900 in street trim (and more than 220 in race trim!) in a car that weighed less than 1200kg. Even in road-legal guise its performance was startling by the standards of the day: 0-100 in 6.7 seconds and 235km/h flat out on the autobahn.
Want proof that the E30 M3 is a racing car with lights? The original M3 has a five-speed manual 'box with a direct-drive 1:1 top gear and first on a dog-leg down and to the left instead of the usual position at the top left of the H-gate - because you only use first once in a race, at the start.
The M3s that never were:
The succeeding four generations of M3s, up to today's four-door M3 and two-door M4 versions, have been intended as sporting road cars rather than racers, but they've never lost that BMW Motorsport edginess, no matter how well-concealed it may be behind luxurious leather trim.
Here, to help us celebrate the five generations of the M3 that the M works has given us over three decades, are four very special M3s that never made it into production:
* M3 Pickup (1986)
When the street-legal version of the E30 M3 went into production in 1986, even the performance junkies who invented it wanted one - just to move test equipment and racing components around the Motorsport division at Garching, near Munich, you understand.
Trouble was, cargo capacity has never been the M3's strong suit. So the prototype workshop built an M3 bakkie on the chassis of a 3 Series convertible.
"We used a convertible body for two reasons," said M Division vehicle prototype building and workshops boss Jakob Polschak, who's been with BMW for more than 40 years.
"Firstly, we happened to have one in perfect condition that wasn't being used and, secondly, the built-in underfloor bracing of the convertible body made it ideal for a loadbed!"
Because it wasn't based on the purpose-built M3 shell, it didn't have the flared wheel arches, and it originally had a 141kW, two-litre version of the S14 that was produced for sale in Italy for tax reasons - but it was later given a full-power 2.3 engine, and ferried stuff around the plant day in and day out for 26 years before it was finally retired in 2012.
* M3 Compact (1996)
The idea behind this prototype was to create an entry point into the M family for younger customers. Polschak said, only half joking, that in that respect it was the forerunner of today's M2.
Had it gone into production it would probably have somewhat detuned, but the prototype has the full tilt boogie 239kW, 3.2-litre S50B32 straight six of the then-current E36 M3. It weighs just 1300kg and goes like a bomb; so confident were the M guys of the M3 Compact's future that they even let German motoring magazine Auto Motor und Sport test it.
"It is 150kg lighter, more agile, firmer and even more uncompromising," the report enthused but sadly, it was not to be and this remains the only M3 Compact in existence.
* M3 Touring (2000)
This prototype was an in-house project, to prove to BMW's bean-counters that it was possible to build an M3 station wagon on the 3 Series Touring production line.
Polschak explained: "One important thing we needed to show was that the standard rear doors could be adapted to fit flared M-style rear wheel arches without expensive new tools."
Once it came off the assembly line, the M3 Touring needed only a minor manual follow-up to fit M-spec add-on parts and interior trim detail - but once again, the bean-counters wouldn't bite.
* M3 Pickup (2011)
When it was time to pension off the E30 M3 bakkie, the M guys once again used a convertible body because of its existing strengthening elements.
“The conversion went on quietly as usual during late 2011," recalled Polschak. "But then somebody came up with the idea of marketing the pick-up as an April Fools' joke."
So spy shots of test runs at the Nurburgring were 'leaked' in March 2012 - and a number of motoring journalist took the bait.
And when the official press release came out on 1 April, presenting the M3 Pickup as the "fourth body variant" following the sedan, coupé and convertible, they reported it as a new model.
The release added: “With 309kW under the bonnet and a payload capacity of 450kg over the rear axle, the Pickup takes the M blend of racing-style driving pleasure and everyday practicality to a whole new level."
It also quoted a Cd only marginally higher than that of the M3 coupé, a weight 50kg lighter than the convertible and even said the 20kg targa roof could be removed to further lower the centre of gravity.
It wasn't until the final paragraph that the release discreetly let slip that the Pickup was a one-off built for use as a workshop trolley - but apparently some reporters didn’t read that far!