BMW M3 E36, M3 E90 and M3 F80 M3 Saloon trio
Owning one M3 would feel like an achievement, but James Daniel owns three M-badgedsaloons, each one special, each one modified, and each one awesome in its own right.
Words: Elizabeth de Latour
Photos: Keith Treder Photography
THE MAGIC NUMBER
E36, E90 and F80 M3 Saloon trio
For most BM enthusiasts, being able to own just one M car would feel like a huge achievement, let alone three of them, at the same time… Which makes James Daniel (@autoaddict_llc) a very lucky man because not only does he own three M cars, they’re all M3s, they’re all saloons, and they’re all modified. This is a stunning trio, and we’re just a bit jealous.
“I’ve been into cars my whole life!” enthuses James as we chat. “The point where I saw BMWs in a different light was when I began my autocross/track career. I had a Honda S2000 at that point, and I loved everything about it. Then I drove my cousin’s E36 M3 on the track, and the addiction began. There is something about the brand that speaks to me. Life is all about experiences, that’s why I feel BMW and the M division delivered a unique driving experience in every generation,” he smiles, and we absolutely understand that passion.
“After more time with my cousin’s E36 M3, I knew I wanted a change from my Honda S2000,” James continues as we discuss his entry into BMW ownership. “So on my way home from work, I saw a beautiful blue M3 parked in the dealer lot. I went in, test drove it and left in my new to me M3. I will never forget that day! My first BMW was a 2008 E92 M3 Coupé. It was my favourite car as it had a great colour, Interlagos blue, made all the right noises and literally felt like a race car on and off the track,” he says, and that’s a hell of a way to begin your BMW ownership journey.
Of course, you rarely stop at just one BM, and that’s especially true in James’s case, as you can see. With that E92 M3 taster, it was inevitable that more cars would follow. Though even James couldn’t have expected that he would end up with such a stunning trio of M machines, and we love his passion for and commitment to the M3 Saloon.
Naturally, it makes sense to begin with the oldest car in this trio, that being the E36. “I bought the E36 M3 because of the silky inline-six engine, the lightweight chassis and the timeless design. I honestly think BMW is one of the few car manufacturers that made cars that are still timeless and beautiful to this day!” enthuses James, and we’re definitely with him there. “I found the E36 M3 online, but the best part was buying it from a fellow track junkie, so I knew the car was well maintained!” he says, and he’s continued that approach of meticulous maintenance and measured modding.
This 1997 example is finished in its original Arctic silver, with all three cars retaining their factory colours as James is a fan of BMW’s OEM shades. It sets the trend for this trio in terms of James’s preferred approach to modding, enhancing the stock appearance for a more purposeful look while also adding a selection of enhancements beneath the surface. Up front, there sits a discreet splitter, along with a set of Depo headlights, while custom gloss black trim has been added around the car in place of the matt trim you’d usually find, and it’s a nice touch. The rear, meanwhile, has been enhanced with the addition of a gloss black diffuser, a set of Depo lights, along with a gloss black F80 M3 badge for that finishing touch.
Beneath the surface, James has added a fine selection of chassis upgrades, beginning with the KW V2 coilovers, which have been employed to deliver a tasty drop, one that the APEX ARC-8 wheels really make the most of. James is running a 9x17” square setup, and these lightweight concave wheels fill out the arches to perfection and suit the E36 shape so well. Beyond that, this M3 has been equipped with a set of Turner Motorsport front and rear anti-roll bars, Turner adjustable rear camber arms, and an Individual Racing Parts camber/caster kit. That’s a very impressive array of handling upgrades that go beyond the ordinary and make this an absolute blast to drive.
In terms of engine upgrades there’s an Injen Short Ram Intake to help the S52 breathe better and a UUC exhaust to enhance that straight-six soundtrack and make the driving experience so much more exciting. Finally, moving to the cabin, the finishing touches on the inside are a MOMO steering wheel with a BMW horn, plus a ZHP gear knob, and enhancing the audio is a Bavsound Stage 1 package. James’s E36 M3 is a fine build, with a choice selection of mods that do a good job of subtly enhancing the styling, as well as bringing out the car’s best in terms of the chassis and driving experience.
We now skip a generation due to the lack of E46 M3 Saloon (boo) and jump into James’s E90 M3. We already know he’s an E9x fan, so there was always going to have to be one in the collection, and with the four-door theme, it was going to have to be an E90. “There will never be another V8 M3. The S65 is one of the best engines you can experience in your life. The sounds it makes, the insanely high redline at 8400rpm, the intoxicating downshifts and the timeless design all make it a winner in my book,” says James with a smile, and we’re huge E9x M3 fans ourselves, so we understand its appeal all too well.
James bought the E90 M3 at a dealership and set about making it his own via a selection of carefully chosen mods. First off, you’ve got the Euro front bumper that he has added, and this has been enhanced with a set of gloss black grilles along with a pair of Spyder headlights and an M3 GTS V2 carbon front lip, and this sets the tone for the rest of the styling enhancements. There are carbon side blades, a carbon boot spoiler and a carbon diffuser at the rear, and they look fantastic against the Space grey bodywork, and these are joined by gloss black IND side trims and a gloss black M3 badge at the rear.
Further enhancing the appearance is a set of Eibach springs that get the M3 sitting perfectly, with James wanting to retain EDC hence sticking with springs, and then you’ve got the wheels. “I’m a simple guy. I love concave! I love when wheels are wide and add additional grip all while giving the tough look I desire,” grins James, which applies to all three of these cars, but especially the E90. It wears a set of 19” Variant Xenon wheels finished in brushed bronze, and they look stunning, super-aggressive, and serve up some serious concave flavour for maximum visual drama. The widely-spaced spokes of the wheels are perfect for showing off the massive BBK that James has fitted front and rear, and the Rotora Super Challenge setup he’s running comes with massive grooved discs paired with six-pot calipers up front and four-pot items at the rear.
The S65 isn’t exactly short on performance, but James has added a couple of mods to get the most out of it. The E9x M3 is virtually silent from the factory, but this one is anything but, thanks to a pair of Active Autowerke test pipes, resonator delete and a Meisterschaft GT axle-back exhaust. That combo results in an absolutely incredible V8 soundtrack, and makes revving the S65 past 8000rpm an awesome experience – it’s no surprise James is such a huge fan of this epic engine. And to make the most of those free-flowing test pipes, there’s an Alpine Motorsports Stage 2 tune that bumps power up and improves performance across the entire rev range.
The finishing touch here is on the inside, where you’ll find a Coby flatbottom Alcantara steering wheel with a grey centre stripe, and it rounds off a seriously sexy E90 M3 that combines styling and performance into the perfect four-door package.
Finally, we move on to the newest and most highly modded member of this trio, James’s F80 M3. “BMW took a different approach with the F8x, and that’s why I enjoy my F80 M3,” he says. “The relentless pull from any revs, the Yas Marina blue is so dynamic, the gas efficiency, all while being one of the most beautiful M3s ever made to date,” he enthuses, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in his passion. “The F80 M3 I completely built to my dream spec, and then I got to get the full experience by doing delivery at the Performance BMW Center in South Carolina. For any actual car enthusiast ordering a new BMW, this is the only way you should order. What an unforgettable experience!” he grins, and it was the perfect way for James start this F80 M3 ownership experience.
In keeping with the theme set by the other two M3s in James’s collection, the F80 has been treated to a host of carbon styling upgrades. First off, you’ve got the M Performance front carbon splitters paired with a matching front lip, and RKP carbon side blades enhancing the car’s profile. At the rear sits an Agency Power carbon diffuser, plus there are also carbon front and rear accent trim pieces, and all that black weave looks fantastic against the bold blue bodywork.
In addition to the carbon, you’ve got the IND gloss black front grilles and side vents, body-colour front and rear reflector delete, gloss black badges, M4 GTS-style rear lights, and joining them at the rear sits an M Performance high-kick rear spoiler, but it’s been colour-matched in Yas Marina, and it’s a really cool touch. But the crowning glory of the exterior styling upgrades is, without doubt, the M4 GTS bonnet. This makes such a huge difference to any F8x car, it completely transforms it and makes it so much more aggressive – it’s not a cheap mod, but it’s worth every penny.
As with the E90, a set of Eibach springs has been fitted to get the F80 sitting perfectly while also retaining the EDC, and they get the arches positioned perfectly over the 19” gloss black Signature SV104 wheels. They look fantastic against the Yas Marina bodywork and deliver some delicious concave, just the way James likes it.
With the S55 under the bonnet, it would be rude not to tap into all that performance potential, and so James has added a selection of mods that do just that. BMC intake filters assist with getting air into the engine, while Zima V2 cat-less downpipes help to dramatically increase exhaust flow, and an Active Autowerke equal-length resonated mid-pipe delivers a deeper exhaust note that does away with the S55’s factory rasp. It’s finished off with an Alpine Stage 2 tune, which results in a very healthy 550hp and 500lb ft of torque, which has turned this M3 into a beast, and M3 GTS gearbox software enhances the DCT to deliver an awesome driving experience.
Finally, there’s the interior, and James’s love of both Alcantara and carbon is evident here. There’s a Coby black Alcantara steering wheel with M tricolour stitching, carbon trim and a pair of Autotecknic carbon shift paddles, and this is matched by the carbon and Alcantara handbrake handle complete with Alcantara gaiter with M tricolour stitching. There’s a full carbon trim pack, which includes the gear selector, carbon seatback trims, plus there’s one more mod that you can’t see, and that’s the lightweight lithium battery from Antigravity, a fitting addition for such a high-performance car.
James has put together a very tasty trio with his M3 Saloon collection, and we’d be happy to own just one of these – each one has a lot of appeal, and you know you’d have a great time with any of them. “I usually take about a year to finish my build on each car. I love to modify, but I love to do thorough research and make sure a specific modification is the one I want out of the pool of modifications available,” James explains, and we like that approach.
And, speaking of mods, with so many spread out across three cars, does he even have any favourites? “For the E36 M3, my favourite modification has to be the KW V2 suspension. It makes an already fun and nimble car that much more confidence-inspiring.
For the E90 M3, I would say my Meisterschaft GT Exhaust setup and tune make it an experience to remember for years to come. On my F80 M3, the intake/ exhaust modifications and tune are what makes it amazing,” he says. “The power output makes the family sedan keep up with some impressive cars. The car also sounds great with intoxicating turbo spool noises. Each of my M3s is enjoyable for different reasons, that’s why keeping each one makes sense to me,” he adds with a laugh, and that makes perfect sense to us too.
Of course, there are always more mods on the horizon, like a set of M Performance seats and a carbon plenum for the E90, and even though he’s got four BMs (there’s also a modded 2015 X5 M), James is also thinking about what’s next. “I know, I know, with four BMWs you would think I don’t even know of any other car manufacturers,” he laughs. “But I think now that the new G8x has been released, to me, it seems very similar to my F80. So now I am going to try something new, and that’s why I can’t wait for my brand new Porsche Cayman GT4 in Guards Red to arrive this year,” he smiles. But whatever else might join the party, these three M3s aren’t going anywhere. “As you can see, I love M3s. But I really love them due to their different approach to providing an exciting driving experience. I hope to be able to keep these cars until my kids can drive. As we phase into the EV world, I want my kids to know how and why a passion for cars was created!” he says with a smile, and that’s something we can really get behind.
Eibach springs deliver the perfect drop Dinan exhaust with carbon tips and Agency Power carbon diffuser 19” Signature SV104 wheels Coby. Coby Alcantara steering wheel with carbon trim. Coby Alcantara steering wheel with carbon trim. S55 has received a few upgrades and is now making 550hp. M4 GTS bonnet. Carbon seatback trims.
BMW took a different approach with the F8x, and that’s why I enjoy my F80 M3. The relentless pull from any revs, the Yas Marina blue is so dynamic, the gas efficiency, all while being one of the most beautiful M3s ever made to date”
DATA FILE F80 M3
- ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.0-litre twin-turbo straight-six S55B30, BMC intake filters, Dinan exhaust, Active Autowerke equal-length resonated mid-pipe, Zima V2 catless downpipes, Alpine Stage 2 tune. M DCT seven-speed gearbox, M3 GTS DCT software
- POWER AND TORQUE 550hp and 500lb ft
- CHASSIS 9.5x19” (front) and 11x19” (rear) Signature SV104wheels with 265/35 (front) and 305/30 (rear) tyres, Eibach Euro V1 springs
- EXTERIOR IND gloss black front grilles and side vents, IND paint-matched front reflector delete, M4 GTS bonnet, BMW M Performance front carbon fibre splitters and front lip, front and rear carbon fibre accent trim pieces, RKP carbon fibre side blades, BMW M Performance paint-matched high-kick spoiler, Agency Power carbon fibre rear diffuser, M4 GTS-style rear lights, Acexxon rear reflector delete, IND gloss black emblems
- INTERIOR Coby Wheel black Alcantara steering wheel with black leather 12 o’clock stripe, AutoTecknic carbon fibre DCT paddles, BMW M Performance carbon fibre interior trim, Antigravity 60Ah lightweight lithium battery
- THANKS Big thanks to IND Distribution, Crown Customs and Coatings, AlpineMSS, Mr. DIY (Chris), and big thanks to Keith Treder Photography. And biggest thanks to my supportive car-loving wife Christine!
DATA FILEE90 M3
- ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 4.0-litre V8 S65B40, BMC air filter, Meisterschaft GT axle-back exhaust, resonator delete, Active Autowerke test pipes, Alpine Motorsports Stage 2 Tune. M DCT seven-speed gearbox, M3 GTS DCT software
- POWER AND TORQUE 430hp and 310lb ft
- CHASSIS 10x19” (front) and 11x19” (rear) Variant Xenon wheels with 265/35 (front) and 285/35 (rear) tyres, Eibach lowering springs and bump stops, Rotora Super Challenge BBK
- EXTERIOR Euro M3 front bumper, JL Motoring M3 GTS V2 front lip, Spyder headlights, IND gloss black grilles and side vents, JL Motoring M3 GTS carbon side blades and rear diffuser, IND gloss black M3 badge
- INTERIOR Coby Wheel Alcantara steering wheel with grey 12 o’clock stripe
Coby Alcantara steering wheel with grey centre stripe 19” Variant Xenon wheels and Rotora BBK. Carbon side blades. S65 V8 has been enhanced with test pipes and a tune. This E90 M3 looks sensational Meisterschaft GT exhaust
There will never be another V8 M3. The S65 is one of the best engines you can experience in your life. The sounds it makes, the insanely high redline at 8400rpm, the intoxicating downshifts and the timeless design all make it a winner in my book”
DATA FILE E36 M3
- ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six S52B32, Injen Short Ram Intake, UUC Exhaust. ZF Type C five-speed manual gearbox
- POWER AND TORQUE 260hp and 250lb ft
- CHASSIS 9x17” (front and rear) APEX ARC-8 wheels with 245/40 tyres, KW V2 coilovers, Turner Motorsport anti-roll bars (front and rear), Turner adjustable rear camber arms, Individual Racing Parts camber/ caster kit, Turner discs, Pagid brake pads
- EXTERIOR Custom gloss black trim, lip and diffuser, F80 M3 badge, Depo headlights/rear lights/ cornering lights
- INTERIOR MOMO steering wheel with BMW Horn, ZHP gear knob, Bavsound Stage 1 audio upgrade
The original M3 Saloon, the discreet E36 still looks good today Injen Short Ram Intake has been added. MOMO steering wheel with BMW horn 17” APEX ARC-8 wheels Dinan strut brace. UUC exhaust.
I bought the E36 M3 because of the silky inline-six engine, the lightweight chassis and the timeless design. I honestly think BMW is one of the few car manufacturers that made cars that are still timeless and beautiful to this day!”