1988 BMW M3 coupe

Earlier this month, my wife and I visited the small but excellent BMW Zentrum Museum in Greer, SC. Of course they had a first-generation M3 on display—time to write a blog entry about this game-changing little coupe.

“Created for the race track, destined for the road.”

It took the M3 two-and-a-half years to make it to the United States following its debut in Europe, but most agreed that it was worth the wait. Reviews were enthusiastic; Car and Driver exclaimed that “This is a car for us.”

The powertrain was the thing: an S14 192 bhp 2.3 liter/141 ci 16-valve inline four with four valves per cylinder and Bosch Motronic fuel injection mated to a five-speed manual. In a car with a curb weight of 2,734 pounds, this meant impressive acceleration—0-60 times were in the seven-second range. Given this, fuel economy wasn’t bad: 17 city/28 highway on premium gasoline by the standards of the day (15/26 by today’s standards). With a 14.5-gallon gas tank, the proud new owner of an M3 could expect a range of 265 to 295 miles with a 10% fuel reserve.

Standard exterior equipment on the pricey $34,000 M3 (about $75,500 in 2019 dollars or a little over what a base 2020 M4 coupe goes for) included boxed-out fender flares, a unique front bumper, and a cap over the C-pillar which helped to feed air onto the large for the day rear wing. Mechanical features included a limited-slip differential, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, and 205/55VR15 tires on 15 x 7 inch cast light alloy BBS wheels.

Inside, the M3 was comfortably equipped; leather sport seats, full instrumentation, power door locks, power windows, cruise control, air conditioning, a trip computer, and an AM/FM stereo cassette were all included.

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1988 BMW M3 advertisement

Over the last decade or so, the first-generation M3 has become one of the definitive eighties collector cars. According to Hagerty’s valuation tools, all the money for a 1988 M3 in #1/Concours condition is an astounding $142,000, with a more normal #3/Good car going for $59,700. Some M3s come up for sale in the Hemming’s Motor News classifieds or on eBay Motors, but many are now sold at auction.

Make mine Salmon Silver Metallic, I think.

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