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Life As A Car Guy, Episode 3: The Unloved M3


The under-appreciated middle child of the M family

The US-spec E36 M3 is probably the least admired of the M cars. Some say that it’s not a real M car, primarily due to its engine. The S50B30US is basically a mildly tuned M50 motor out of a 325i. M purists also point out that this engine did not rev very high, or have individual throttle bodies – the traits of all M-power engines. As a result, it produced a whopping 42bhp less than its European counterpart. And horror of horrors, the American market M3 was offered with… wait for it… an automatic transmission!


The S50B30US engine. Looks like a standard M50, save for the valve cover that reads “BMW M Power”

If it sounds strange that BMW would leave their most important export market without a “real” M3, the BMW M Registry website can explain everything:

When the E36 M3 made its European debut in 1992 there were no plans to produce a North American version. Sales of the previous M3, the E30 of 1988-91, had amounted to just under 5,000 units and BMW’s only other North American-spec M car at the time, the E34 M5, was not selling in large enough quantities to justify the addition of another M model in the American market. However, a letter-writing campaign initiated by the BMW Car Club of America sparked such an overwhelming response by the enthusiast BMW community that BMW of North America decided to reconsider. The main issue was price: BMW NA was determined to keep the MSRP down to around $35,000, about the same as the last of the E30 M3s. The only way to meet this price point was to develop a specific version of the S50 engine without the costly individual throttle bodies and continuously variable VANOS valve timing system of the European-spec motor.

So why on earth would anyone want this bastard child of the BMW M Division? For starters, it’s still a child of the BMW M Division. All US E36 M3s come with the WBS prefix to the VIN number, which means that the vehicle was a product of BMW M Gmbh. Standard BMW models have a WBA prefix (there were reports of several E30 M3s with the WBA prefix, for reasons unclear). The amazing chassis dynamics of the Euro M3 was mostly unchanged. And best of all, the simpler engine means having a car that’s easier to live with on a day to day basis (no more periodic valve adjustments).


The WBS prefix on a BMW VIN identifies the car as being a product of BMW M Gmbh


All non-M BMWs will have a WBA prefix to their VIN


What you get is a great entry-level M car, that can serve as a great starting point for something that can truly special. And that leads us to the AutoPerformance Ph project car. The idea is simple – enhance the characteristics that make the M3 a great car, and work on the perceived weak points of this forgotten classic. The end goal – to have a car that’s at home both on the street and on the track, the best of both worlds. Before all the upgrades go in, however, we need to get the car back to proper working order, and for that, we take the car to ARC Automotive.


That ///M badge. A little trivia: the red represented Texaco, BMW Motorsport’s major partner. The light blue is the color of Bavaria. And the dark blue/purple stripe represents the merging of the two.


Tune in to the next episode and see the surprises we uncover with this M3. As always, drive safe!

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  • gigi kent

    For Sale – BMW Mpower Cylinders head ornament style S50 S52 for M50 M52 M54 or style S14 for M42 M44

    Cylinders head ornament engraved BMW MPOWER style s50 S52 M3 Us which apply over the original engine cover.
    Material plastic/aluminium . No decal ! Needs (black) silicone fixing .
    Silicone not included.

    Model for 6 cylinders – M50, M52, M54
    3 pieces per package ( BMW MPOWER board + 2 caps)

    E34 – engine M50
    E36 – engine M50 M52
    E46 – enginer M52 M54
    E39 – engine M52 M54
    E60/E61 – 2003-2005 520i
    Z3 – engine M52 M54
    Z4 – engine M54
    E83 X3 2.5i
    2001-2006 E53 X5 3.0i

    Aplications for M50 :

    1990-1992 E34 520i
    1991-1992 E36 320i


    1992-1994 E36 320i
    1992-1996 E34 520i

    Thailand market E36 3-series and E34 5-series


    1990-1992 E34 525i/525ix
    1991-1992 E36 325i/325is


    1992-1995 E36 325i/325is
    1992-1996 E34 525i/525ix

    Aplications for M52 :


    1994-1999 E36 320i
    1995-1999 E39 520i


    E36/7 Z3 2.0i
    1998-2001 E46 320i/320Ci
    1998-2001 E39 520i


    2.4 L. For Thai market only.

    1995-1999 E36 3-Series
    2000-2002 E39 5-Series (M52TU)


    1995-1999 E36 323i/323ti
    1995-1999 E39 523i


    1999-2000 BMW E46 323i
    1998-2001 E39 523i
    1998-2001 E36/7 Z3


    1995-2000 E36 328i
    1995-1999 E39 528i
    1995-1999 E38 728i/728iL
    1997-1999 E36/7 Z3 2.8
    1997-2000 Land Rover Defender for South Africa


    1998-2000 E46 328i
    1998-2001 E36/7/8 Z3 2.8
    1998-2001 E39 528i
    1998-2001 E38 728i

    Aplications for M54 :


    2001-2006 E46 320i/320Ci
    2001-2003 E39 520i
    2001-2002 E36 Z3 2.2i
    2003-2005 E85 Z4 2.2i
    2003-2005 E60/E61 520i


    2001-2002 E36/7 Z3 2.5i
    2001-2005 E46 325i/325xi
    2001-2006 E46 325Ci
    2001-2004 E46 325ti
    2001-2004 E39 525i
    2003-2005 E60/E61 525i/525xi
    2004-2006 E83 X3 2.5i
    2004-2006 E85 Z4 2.5i


    2000-2005 E46 330i/330xi
    2000-2006 E46 330Ci
    2000-2003 E39 530i
    2000-2002 E36 Z3 3.0i
    2003-2005 E60 530i
    2003-2005 E85 Z4 3.0i
    2004-2006 E83 X3 3.0i
    2001-2006 E53 X5 3.0i
    2003-2006 E60 530i


    Models Black/silver for 4 cyliders. Style S14 for M42 M44.
    Needs Double-sided tape, not included.
    1 piece per package. ( Bmw MPower board Black or Silver )

    For E30 E36 and Z3

    Applications for M42:

    1989-1991 E30 318i (only North American models)
    1989–1991 E30 318iS
    1992–1996 E36 318i/318ti (only North American and South African models)
    1992–1996 E36 318iS
    1996 Z3

    Applications for M44:

    1996-2000 E36 318iS and 318ti
    1996-2001 Z3 1.9
    BMW Compact Cup Race Series

    WE can do this through paypal

    Price: 39.99 euro

    2 pounds for UK – in 7 days
    2.5 euros for Eu – in 7 days
    3 dollars for US – in 7-10 days
    2,5 euros (or 3dollars ) world wide in 7-10 days

    Items location : Bucharest, Romania.

    Please contact me here , P.M. or email

    Thank You