BMW has produced hundreds of cars over its time as a car manufacturer, and it isn’t uncommon for certain cars to only be released in a certain part of the world. This can happen when cars are designed for a specific market, like the American market, or when cars won’t adhere to certain safety regulations. The E36 generation of the BMW M3 wasn’t one of those cars originally, and it was offered all over the world as one of the best performing cars you could buy. There was one package that BMW only offered in the US, however, and it might have been the coolest.
The E36 M3 Lightweight
The E36 generation of BMW cars refers to the generation of 3 Series BMWs produced between 1992 and 1999. Along the way, American sports car racing teams reached out to BMW for a homologated street-legal car for IMSA racing, which required a version of the racecar to be produced as a production car.
BMW obliged and produced an estimated 125 M3 Lightweights, and this low production is part of the reason the car seems to be so forgotten. The car was also a stretch from the normal luxury of the M3 we’ve come to know and love. As you might have imagined, this car was designed with weight reduction in mind, and that meant shedding a lot of non-essential luxuries.
Losing weight meant shedding just about every luxury you’d expect a BMW to have, which might have been why it lost its appeal to a wider audience. Gone were the leather seats, radio, air conditioning, and additional soundproofing, all of the things that made a BMW, a BMW. In doing so, the Lightweight shed a significant amount of pounds, making it as light as possible to give it a better power to weight ratio.
Lighter, faster, better
The E36 M3 Lightweight had some seemingly minor changes that made the car not only stand out but also perform better than the average street models. The Lightweight was only produced in the iconic BMW Alpine White and could be differentiated by the checkered racing flag on the hood and rear. It also has a fixed spoiler for aerodynamics and that addition of an aggressive look.
The drastic loss in overall weight wasn’t the only change made to the Lightweight. It also received considerable upgrades to the suspension and complete removal of a top-speed limiter that the standard E36 M3s had. It also received several structural upgrades to bring the car up to a better safety standard.
The US might have been the only country to ever see the BMW E36 M3 Lightweight, but it seems to be forgotten here and just about everywhere else anyways.