BMWs’ Motorsports Division (the creators of the legendary BMW “M” cars) marks 40 years of car production this year. Although it was actually formed in 1972, the 1973 3.0CSL “Batmobile” is generally regarded as the first real “M” car. Over the years, production has gone up and the “M” cars have become a little more accessible, but they remain special — think of them as the ultimate, ultimate driving machines. Nearly all of them have bright futures as collectible cars. Here are five of our favorites from each of the five decades:
1979 BMW M1: The first car to be branded an “M” car, the M1 was undeniably special. Developed with some assistance from Lamborghini (whose precarious financial condition led to far more of the M1 development being shouldered by BMW than originally intended), it’s the thinking person’s supercar. Understated and businesslike, as you might expect a BMW to be rather than a flashy fashion accessory, it remains BMW’s only mid-engine production car to date. Values have soared in the last five years.
1988 BMW M3 (E30): The first M3 was certainly the edgiest and the only M3 to feature four-cylinder power. Although based on the E30 three-series, there were numerous exterior changes and few of the body panels actually interchange between the two. It’s fair to call the M3 one of the seminal cars of the late 1980s.You should have bought one 10 years ago; prices for the few unmolested examples remaining are high and climbing ever higher.
1992 BMW M3 (E36): If there’s a bargain in the “M” car world now, it’s the E36 M3. Handsome in the extreme (although with far less to differentiate it from the normal E36 three-series than its predecessor), the E36 was the first M-car to come in multiple body-styles (coupe, sedan and convertible), and with an automatic transmission, it brought M-car ownership to a far wider audience. Our choice? A coupe in the outlandish shade of Dakar Yellow.
2005 BMW M5 (E60): The M5 sometimes toiled in the shadow of its smaller sibling, the M3. The E60 M5 focused some much deserved attention on the bigger car. It was the first sedan to feature a V-10 engine (in this case, an exclusive-to-the-M5 5.0-liter unit that made exactly 100 hp per liter). Europeans got the insanely cool and quite rare station wagon version. Only out of production since 2010, the E60 is still looking for the bottom of its depreciation curve. Our sense is that it won’t be a long search for this very special sedan.
2014 BMW M6 Gran Coupe: This is BMW’s newest M-car and quite possibly the most spectacular to date with a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 that makes 560 hp. Bless BMW’s heart, it’s the only car in its class to offer a real three-pedal conventional manual transmission. I tried one last month at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, and it’s simply stunning what this 4,400-lb. car can do on what is a very challenging circuit. There’s little doubt that we’ll be talking about the very special M6 Gran Coupe as a desirable collectible 20 years from now.