I started participating in track events in an E36 M3 after getting to ride in one at Pueblo Motor Park with my instructor, which was a great experience, the car was awesome. SCR out of Colorado was there supporting 4 or 5 E36 race cars and their operation was impressive. I purchased a stock 1998 M3 with about 138K from a BMW CCA guy in New Mexico who preferred autocrossing his E30. After a year or so driving the stock M3 to NASA and The Drivers Edge events across Texas (TWS, MSRC, MSRH, and COTA) from my home in Midland the only big problem I had was needing to replace the detents in the transmission after a 4 to 1 money shift, luckily no damage to the engine, but the transmission had to be removed in order to replace $75 in parts. Also I’m 6’2” and my head would touch the roof even with the seat all the way down in a rather awkward driving position. The car had pronounced body roll in corners according to other HPDE drivers, and my instructors convinced me it was time for some safety and suspension parts.
I had met Greg Smith, proprietor of GSR Motorsports in Ft Worth who supports many E36 and E46 race cars at all the NASA events, and he agreed to help me upgrade the M3. We pulled the sagging headliner and sunroof out and replaced it with a paint matched fiberglass panel, also replacing the control arms, bushings, anti roll bars from Bimmerworld and installed MCS non remote 2 way adjustable shocks. He built and installed a custom made welded in roll bar, put in Cobra Suzuka fixed seats and Scroth Harnesses. The stock brakes on an M3 are really good, so we left those but I upgraded to Hawk HP+ pads. I kept the front carpets and AC, while the engine was left stock along with the exhaust, transmission and rear diff. I ran a square wheel and tire set up (17x9”)with 245/40 Michelin PSS and later tried RE71’s and Nitto NT01’s, all very good, the stickier tires worth several seconds with the added benefit of saving my street tires.
I drove the car to and from events for the next year getting lots of compliments from instructors regarding the build quality and handling, and then used it to participate in the BMW CCA Race School and the NASA Comp School. I drove the modified M3 to many HPDE events across Texas from my home in Midland, MSRC (4hrs), COTA (6hrs), TWS (7hrs), and MSRH (8hrs) and it was a joy to drive, albeit rather loud, requiring ear plugs, or better yet noise cancelling head phones. Eventually I found a deal on an open trailer and used that for a while, but I still drive it occasionally to Lubbock for PCA autocrosses. The new suspension is definitely stiffer on the road, but I really enjoy it, except for cross street drainages and speed bumps that I encounter when driving to work.
After getting my race license I had GSR Motorsports build me a SPEC E46 (BMW E46 330ci) that I campaign in NASA and BMW events.
Its hard to compare the SPEC E46 race car (dyno’s about 215 HP) to the modified E36, but I wouldn’t hesitate to go with an E36 M3 initially. The E36 was really easy to drive quickly without a lot of excess effort, but it won’t stay with a corvette or an E46 M3, there’s just too much of a horsepower difference. It will help you improve your driving because while it’s not considered a momentum car it really is compared to the other two.
Over the years I had a few annoying problems in the E36 M3, check engine light after filling up which ended up being a crack in the fuel overflow tank behind the rear wheel, a heater hose leak that was buried under the cowl, an emission system in the trunk that needs cleaned occasionally, and the AC needs frequent attention.
You can’t beat the level of support for BMW’s between folks like Greg at GSR Motorsports, SCR, Texas Track Works, Bimmerworld, and Turner Motorsports. I would definitely give Greg a call; he knows these BMW’s inside and out. (817) 253-7170.