BMW’s are really at the top of the game when it comes to design, performance, and just overall quality. But, if you know anything about us here at Ideal, it’s that we love to buy cars we’re not going to lose money on!
So, I’ve come up with a list of BMW’s that are a blast to drive, make all the right sounds, and even James Bond would approve of. Yes, this list has a little bit of everything! I can’t wait to get into it!
1995 – 1999 BMW M3 – The “Worst” M3
Yeah, some may say it’s too big, it’s too soft, it’s not special enough, but they’re all wrong! It’s the first straight-six M3 that set the standard for what a modern M car actually should be! Not only is the chassis the perfect blend of racing technology combined with everyday usability, but you can snag them in coupe, sedan, and even convertible form. No matter what you choose, they are so much fun to drive!
I love my E36 M’s, and I’ve owned a few of them, my favorite being my 1-of-5 Estoril on Modena convertible that I bought and eventually traded for my Porsche 911! The M3 has great driving feel, it’s easy to work on, and still has great styling, in my opinion. They do take a bit of work though, so be prepared to get your hands dirty, or pay quite a bit to maintain it.
No matter what, the sound that 240-horsepower inline-6 mated to a 5-speed manual makes is next level! Now, you can get it in an automatic, but let’s be honest, the manual is the only way to go! And if you want to help save the manuals, go snag one of our Ideal tees before they’re gone!
The 2nd generation M3 is the perfect blend of modern luxury and old school mechanical feel, it’s just such a rewarding car to own and drive! Plus, having owned both E36 and E46 M3’s, I believe hands down the E36 is a better handling car overall! Although, for styling, nothing quite beats my white Competition Package M3, but that’s a story for another day!
Now, a lot of these cars have been ridden hard and put away wet, so that’s helped keep the values low, and I see it as an opportunity to get in before prices skyrocket! Looking at prices, you see that you can pay as little as $5,000 all the way up to $150,000! Right now, the sweet spot looks to be at or just above $10,000. We found a 1998 sedan 5-speed that sold for $12,500, which I think is more than a fair price for a clean E36 M3!
And we have to thank all of the success of that generation to the OG 3 Series M car, the E30 M3. Yeah, we all remember this little BMW right here is the one that started it all. It’s got to-die-for throwback looks, a little 2.3 lightweight 16-valve 4-cylinder that loves to play in the revs, but it’s so balanced that you can drive it at the limit and not be overwhelmed by the horsepower!
It’s easy to have a crush on the E30 M3, and fun fact, that motor is actually just a cut down version of this legendary BMW M1 straight-6 that revs to 9,000 RPMs. Now, I could talk about the 1st generation M3 all day, but they are expensive! You’re looking at paying between $60,000 all the way up to a $150,000 for a tip-top example! Even though I think they’re still going to go up in price, it’s too rich for my blood!
So, the BMW to buy, which was actually my very first car, is the baby M3!
1991 BMW 318is – The “Baby” M3
Yeah, the 1991 318is that also had a 16-valve 4-cylinder powerplant is nine-tenths the fun of an M3, but only a fraction of the price! And what makes this car special is that it was only built for one year! Adding that S designation to the 318i really ups the level on this 3 Series, giving it stiffer springs and dampers, better anti-roll bars, discs all around, and a limited slip differential.
Having owned one, I can attest that it just feels special when you jump inside! It’s a lightweight, balanced, Ultimate Driving Machine! Yeah, you won’t be fast, but it will likely be reliable and a hell of a lot of fun to drive.
Now, we found one that just sold on Bring a Trailer for $14,500. So, yes, they aren’t “cheap”, but I have a feeling they are only going to continue to go up in price! And if you want to grab something a little less rare but just as cool, you can get an E30 325is. It’s essentially the same car, but instead has an M20 in it, which is an inline-6 with roughly 170 horses, and they were produced from 1987 to 1991. We found an awesome red one that sold for just over $10,000! But, I’ve seen examples go for half that.
Either way, you can’t lose. And there’s no doubt you’ll be driving one of the coolest 3 Series coupes ever built. Plus, there’s a good chance your investment will be going up in value! But, if you fancy a sedan that’s not only large and in charge, but also hides a big V8 under the hood, the E39 M5 is quite possibly the best four-door sports car ever made. Yeah, I said it! And I mean it!
2000 – 2003 BMW M5 – The Dollar Store Supercar
What you’re looking at is a Bavarian missile that will comfortably carry 5 adults and will get over 26 miles to the gallon on the freeway. And when you want to push it, it handles like a car half its almost two-ton mass. But, what makes this thing special, like really special, is that powerplant!
The S65 has 8 cylinders, 8 individual throttle bodies, 4.9 liters, and 394 horsepower at its disposal ready to rip to its 7,000 redline! This is like a supercar engine in a German sedan, and the noise this thing makes, is just straight up automotive bliss! Man, I bet you and your neighbors could get used to that!
Now, the best part is they made less than 10,000 of these for North America, whereas they built over 4 times that amount of the E46 M3’s. And you know I love those, but unfortunately they didn’t make this list! So, the E39 M5 is a rare bird, and one that’s going to continue to demand more dinero!
And another plus, you could get any transmission you wanted as long as it was a manual! We found one that just sold for $15,000, which is roughly what you want to pay for a pre-facelift M5. That is, unless you want something that’s just as engaging, but easily one of the most oddball looking cars BMW has ever made.
I say “one of the most odd ball” because the winner is totally the BMW Z1 with those pop-up-and-down doors.
1999 – 2003 BMW Z3 M Coupe – The Clown Shoe
Well, the Z3 M Coupe, affectionately known by enthusiasts around the world as “The Clown Shoe“, is the silly 2-door that a bunch of parts from the E36 M3 and its stable partner, the M roadster, to make something truly unique. Sometimes automakers create something really special, and it takes a while for people to realize how special it actually is!
BMW engineers shoehorned a 3.2-liter dual overhead cam S52 from the E36 M3 to give this little wonder 240 horsepower. And since the hatchback has 2.7 times the torsion rigidity of a roadster, this thing handles like it’s on rails!
Then, the Holy Grail is the 2002 and 2003 models with a modified S54 engine from the E46 M3, which gave it a hefty jump in performance to 315 horses! Now, they only made 678 with that motor, and 2,850 M Coupes overall. To put that into perspective, they imported 5,115 E30 M3’s into the USA.
So, regardless of what you think of the shooting brake styling, prices are going to continue to inflate! Expect prices to be in the high teens, like the one we found that sold for $18,500. Prices for the S54 models should be at least double that!
And, guys, there’s one investment quality BMW that was good enough for Bond… James Bond in The World Is Not Enough. And if that’s not enough for you, then it was the flavor of the week for my man Steve Jobs too. So, let’s just say, it’s good enough for me! The car is a contemporary play on the absolutely stunning multi-million dollar BMW 507.
1999 – 2003 BMW Z8 – James Bond, Nuff Said
The BMW Z8, a roadster combining sleek retro styling from the 1950’s with a touch of modern performance is absolutely amazing. One of my favorite parts about this halo sports car is that BMW repurposed the engine in the E39 M5. Yeah, they pulled the 4.9-liter V8 and the six-speed manual to give this thing enough grunt to go 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds. Plus, just look at that thing, I could stare at it for days!
This collector car potential has been pretty much guaranteed since day one, but I still think there’s plenty of room for these Z8’s to appreciate, and follow the footsteps of the now multi-million dollar 507 it’s based on!
You’re looking at roughly $130,000 to get into a Z8, but I could see that more than doubling in the coming years! With this car, and really every car on this list, you could say that “they don’t make them like they used to”, and that’s why it’s the perfect opportunity to pick one of these up before the prices become astronomical!
So, out of these, which one is my ideal car? Easy. The Z8. In 20 years these haven’t dipped below their $128,000 MSRP new price tag. And the fact it has the S62 powerplant from the E39 M5, I could actually do most of the maintenance on it myself!
I mean, a boy can dream, right? But if I’m being realistic, my ideal car from this list is “The Clown Shoe”. I just feel like even the ones with the S52, given the low production numbers will continue to appreciate in the coming years. Plus, since they made so few, you won’t go to car shows and see a bunch of other ones there like you would an E36 M3.