Endless love: The E46 BMW M3

Words by Jimmy Vervitas

This is the first weekend with my latest purchase, my new old 2003 BMW M3. This is my 4th time with the beloved E46 chassis M3 and my second time owning this particular car. My first time with the E46 M3 was back in 2006 when I bought a 67,000 km, Carbon Black on Cinnamon 2004 manual coupe.

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Young and broke at the time I super over extended myself to own that car and I can’t say it was an enjoyable experience. My ownership was riddled with panic and discomfort, every little noise the car would make would contaminate me, but then I realized!! I’ve made a lot of dumb automotive decisions, well beyond my means, why is this one so scary to me? It’s because there is one thing that E46 M3’s can do very well, better than any other car in fact, is it can make noises. From the first time you open the door there is this a sharp tough pull of the handle which makes these terrible clicking noises. Sounds like an early 90’s GM signal light stock, the next time you pull it, that shit is breaking off. You sit inside and find a very simple cabin, but it doesn’t appear cheap, just minimal and I love that.

But hold on…back to the noises. I close the door from the inner handle and you can feel the door panel stretch with you as you pull the door closed, creaking and crackling the whole way. But again, cheap is not what comes to mind, dare I say, special. Of course from there you go ahead start the classic 3.2L inline 6 and then you have a heart attack and say holy shit, the motor is done on this thing. The insulation under the hood trying so hard to calm the valve lash, you sit there staring at it and wondering, is this thing about to cost me ten grand? Jesus, that is a noisy engine, you give it a couple of hits hoping the cylinder head will be fed with lubricant, it doesn’t help, actually, the noise is amplified as you get the signature rasp from the center section of the exhaust, I wonder how many of those were replaced under warranty for normal operation.

Alright, this beast has 333hp, more that 100 hp per litre and Individual Throttle Bodies. Its a race motor, it’s ok for it to be weird. From there you select a gear and set off, the guibo clutch clacking away behind you as you apply drive to the rear wheels, it certainly wants you to drive it fast and smooth, otherwise it’s a culmination of impending doom from every angle. Again, all of these terrible noises and characteristics add to a personality I have not yet gotten to know. The E46 M3 would slowly prove to me they’re a standoffish bunch, but only until you learn their way and abide by their methods and what starts as everything mismatched ends by working in such glorious harmony.

You’re driving down the road through inner city traffic and between the long throw of the gear shift to the clutch delay valve choosing it’s own biting point you slowly learn the car more and more, the steering is light, the ratio is fantastic and the turn in is exactly what you expect. The chassis is alive as the car darts around very willingly, it’s trying to tell you it’s a looker and it can dance. You continue to motor around and you find some open roads where one can exercise the cars ability and extract even more special from it. Downshift as you approach an off ramp and the car hides it’s 3500 lbs so well, it displays such poise and so much confidence, the feedback is spot on. I know exactly what you’re going to do. Breaching the limits of the tires was very easy during the 17 degree days I took the car around. You can induce whatever kind of slide you want, front push or rear over-steer and your inputs to the throttle control it all. Throw it here and then throw it there. I’m going to get tickets in this car, it really does nag you to drive it fast and so i must succumb to it’s demands!!

And then there is that engine, all that noise that petrified me the first time slowly becomes a part of the experience over the 2 other cars I owned, the unmistakable sound of that S54 and all it’s glorious racket slowly becomes this special thing. Put your foot down and it goes from loose to tight, generating a very healthy pull all the way to redline. The rasp from the exhaust and the induction from those ITB’s give a clean mechanical sound, it’s delivery, perhaps slightly underwhelming for the chassis is still very adequate to make this road car fun. That’s really where this car shines. Its satisfaction on the road is it’s charm, it’s not 911 level by any means, but god was it an easy decision over 3.4L 996’s of the time.

It had one distinct advantage. It was Special.