BMW’s M division is one of the most storied in automotive history. It’s brought speed to the masses and both created and contributed to some of the most spectacular cars ever built. One car that isn’t often as lauded is the U.S. spec E36 M3 since it’s not as powerful as the version sold outside of the States. But now Jason Cammisa is making a case that not only is it the one to have, but that it saved the M brand in America.
This is a heated debate too because many hardcore BMW fans will argue that the E36 M3 we received here isn’t a “real” M3. That same debate continues down to this day now that BMW has started selling cars with M-Sport packages but it started with the E36. And it’s understandable to some extent because the car that arrived in America made 240 hp (178 kW) compared to the Euro-spec car which made 316 hp (235 kW).
Why the difference? Well, BMW struggled to sell the E30 M3 here in America and there was sincere concern that the E36 would suffer from the same slow sales. Thus, BMW sold it with the same engine as the regular 325i but with more displacement and different cams. That kept the cost and the final price lower while providing more power than the 325i.
The result was an M3 that sold so well that BMW struggled to make them quickly enough for the U.S. market. It sold roughly three times as many as it had originally planned on. Then the North American branch of BMW convinced headquarters to build a four-door variant which then sold even better than the coupe. That’s how impactful the North American market has been on the M-brand.
Oh, and there’s one other big difference: reliability. As Cammisa points out, just like many other high-revving M-engines, the S50 has serious maintenance issues that the U.S. cars don’t have to worry about including, but not limited to, spun bearings. So yeah, maybe the USA didn’t get the shorthand of the stick after all. They end the video below with a drag race and guess what, these cars come out neck and neck despite the power difference.