The Best Old-School BMW Models For True Driving Enthusiasts

1 June 2015
 Categories: , Blog


For years, BMW has boasted about its performance heritage by claiming that its cars are "the ultimate driving machines." However, as with every automobile manufacturer, not all models are created equally.

There's no debating that models such as the 5-Series and 6-Series are great grand tourers that offer outstanding performance. But those models are far too large and luxury-focused for driving enthusiasts who crave the lightweight, nimble handling of a dedicated sports car. If you're a gear head who lives to tear up twisty roads, racetracks, and autocross courses, below are the best used BMW models that your money can buy.

The S54 M Coupe: Performance Without Compromises

Shaped like a shoe and powered like a rocket ship, the S54 M Coupe is a truly special car. Basically, it's a hot-hatch version of the E46 M3. Though the M3 itself is no slouch, the M Coupe is a better driver's car in practically every way.

Stuffed into the M Coupe's long nose you'll find the same straight-6 engine that powers the E46 M3. Churning out 315 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque, the 3.2-liter I6 motor allows the M Coupe to sprint from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds and tackle the quarter mile in a mere 13.2 seconds.

However, specs only tell half the story of why this engine so great. It has a high 11.5:1 compression ratio, performance tuned camshafts with ultra-light rocker arms, and continuously variable valve timing. Those features help give the I6 instant throttle response and allow it to rev incredibly fast and smooth all the way up to its sky-high 8,000 rpm redline. Arguably, it's one of the greatest naturally aspirated six-cylinder engines ever produced.

The downside of the S54 M Coupe is that BMW only produced 678 models for the North American market, so today it's pretty hard to find. You may be thinking, "Why not just buy an E46 M3 that has the same engine?" Well, with a curb weight 3,121 pounds, the M Coupe is almost 300 pounds lighter. With a wheelbase of 96.8 inches, it's over 10 inches shorter. That means the M Coupe can outhandle its bigger brother and it feels much more nimble in tight corners, making it the undisputed superior driver's car. 

The E30: Lightweight Simplicity

If the S54 M Coupe is too rare and pricey for your tastes, there's a much easier and cheaper way to get your hands on a lightweight, nimble BMW. The E30 chassis was the base of BMW's various 3-Series models produced from 1982 to 1992. Due to lightweight design and nearly perfect weight distribution, the E30 has become one of the most popular platforms for drifting and track day enthusiasts.

Compared to the M Coupe, E30 models were certainly lacking in power. The rare M3 models produced a quite decent 192 horsepower, but the more common 3-Series models produced as little as 101 horsepower in the case of the 1984 318i. However, considering a bare-bones model weighed in at only 2,460 pounds, the E30 doesn't need much power to get up and go. More importantly, it offers nimble cornering, outstanding balance, and great driver feedback, making it the perfect car for budget enthusiasts who appreciate twisty roads more than drag strips.

Of course, the main risk of buying any used sports car is the possibility that the previous owners have abused it. Regardless of which BMW model you're in the market for, use vehicle history reports and thorough test driving to gauge the condition of the car. To avoid getting stuck with a lemon, have a BMW auto repair shop like Autowerkes inspect the models you're interested in before you make a purchase. That way you'll know if the engine is on its last legs, or if any other extensive repairs will be required in the near future to keep your new toy on the road.