Launched in 2001 the E46 M3 was an engaging and thrilling driver’s car. With 338bhp and an 8000rpm redline this was a car to be driven hard. You could spec the E46 with a manual or the new SMG gearbox. A lot of people weren’t a fan of the SMG, the robotised manual box was clunky and you could lurch between shifts. However if you modulate throttle input during the shift you could smooth it out somewhat. The 3.2 litre flat 6 was taken from the 330ci. Featuring a double Vanos system, variable valve timing, a lightweight crankshaft and a few other pieces which rewarded drivers with an atmospheric redline.
Early cars can now be had from as little as £7000 which is staggering seeing as these were once a £40,000 drivers car. The important running-in service needs to have been done and always check that the delicate rear subframe has been reinforced. Vanos systems and big ends have also been know to fail so be weary of mileage or look for replacement parts in the service history. The E46 came with either 18 or 19” wheels although it’s common to see “CSL” setups also. Tyres aren’t massively expensive for premium grades. I would opt for Michelin Pilot Sport 4S personally. For me I’ve always been tempted by “cheap” BMW “tail-wagging “ fun and I feel if I’ve not got a 1M soon I may have to indulge in an E46.
The S54 engine has one of the raspiest engine notes I’ve ever heard, i absolutely love hearing them scream up to redline. Promptly followed by selecting the next cog myself , the manual is perfectly befitting of the E46. Perhaps improved with a short-shifter to hone your experience. Spend as much as you can afford on your E46 and I think it’s a vehicle that will really look out for you. I’ve seen thousands turned into cheap track monsters, so for scaring yourself on a wet Sunday morning I think this is the perfect proposition.
The cabin looks dated but what really can you expect for something aged nearly 20 years? I would re-trim the steering wheel and gear-knob , throw some buckets in it and enjoy as many power slides as possible. I would also spec CSL wheels with the carbon fibre air-box and an exhaust of some sort maybe a smidge over £10,000 but do you really care? A sorted E92 M3 would cost you minimum another £5/6k and substantially more to run. What would you spend £9/10k on it not an E46 M3? Let me know your thoughts.