BMW Depreciation: E30 M3, E36 M3, E39 M5. Andrew’s Thoughts.

1987-bmw-e30-m3-and-1996-e36-m3-photo-365393-s-1280x782As an automotive enthusiast, I am never content with the M5.  There will always be a car that is more comfortable, there will always be a car more reliable, there will always be a car that is faster, and there will always be a car that is just better.  However, at the price point E39 M5’s are at, it is a great do-it-all car.  And that is why I keep it around.

Cars depreciate.  Luxury cars face that fate, and get hit with depreciation much harder than their Japanese competitors.  This is exactly the case with the E39.  What once was a $90k executive sedan is now a $12k bargain that any teen can ask for instead of their pre-owned Civic.  On paper, they still perform well for a car that’s at least a decade old.  The gas mileage isn’t horrible either, as you can expect 20 MPG on the highway.  Car-people looking for a new car start to look towards the E39 M5 as a solution to a fast luxury sedan. Once these cars are bought at bargain-bin prices, the new owners quickly realize that the M5 is no budget auto, as the special Motorsport parts cost double the price of the already expensive BMW parts.  And because the price to maintain a BMW breaks people’s wallets,  there starts to be an influx of poorly maintained M5’s on Craigslist.

There are other BMW’s that have started to appreciate in value recently.  One prime example is the E30 M3, but I am not old enough to fully appreciate the car, or know of it’s complete history.  Another car I will talk about is the E36 M3, in both sedan and coupe forms.  A few years ago, sellers had a hard time giving away their E36 M3 coupes for $7k; it was truly a buyer’s market.  The car had hit rock bottom in depreciation, but that did not hurt it’s reputation as one of BMW’s iconic driver’s cars.  Now, in 2013, buyers struggle to find a E36 M3 coupe for $7k with double the mileage compared to those found 4 years ago.  Every well maintained M3 seems to want $9k+ and low mileage examples go for the low-teens.  Now don’t even get me started on the sedan variant, as they were only made for two years, and are highly desirable.  The sedan variant had better torsional rigidity, due to having a B-pillar, and it had rear doors, so it was more practical.  I like to think of it as an E39 M5 precursor that was more performance oriented than luxury oriented.

Now, it dawned on me that I really want to try out an E36 M3.  The M5 is a great daily driver, but I realized I don’t exactly need a car that is this refined.  There is leather everywhere, including areas where you will never touch such as the steering column.  And, running it is damn expensive.  Sure, I DIY a lot on my M5, but buying tires, gas, and suspension components to get the M5 track-friendly is much more expensive than getting an E36 M3 prepared.  However, I am faced with the dilemma that hit many E36 M3 owners a few years ago.  I bought my M5 when depreciation hit an all-time-low, so should I wait for the M5 to appreciate again?  I wonder, will the M5 follow the same path as the M3?  After all, Jalopnik loves the E39 M5, Drive on Youtube also loves the M5, and countless BMW enthusiasts always compliment my M5 when they see it out on an autocross course.

I guess my only solution is to get in that driver’s seat and drive.  Drive it hard.  Will I miss the V8 song with 400HP?  Or would I rather have a lighter car that rips my face off when going through corners?  As the saying goes in my fraternity…”Life’s so hard.”

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6 thoughts on “BMW Depreciation: E30 M3, E36 M3, E39 M5. Andrew’s Thoughts.

  1. Tough choice. There’s got to be an option for keeping the M5 and buying an M3. Both are reasonably inexpensive, as noted in the blog post, and both have a very unique character. Additionally as noted in the blog post, there are quicker, faster, and more luxurious cars, etc, but there isn’t a one have these unique characters respectively.

    And this is the point that one begins to realize, the goal isn’t to go “faster” then some other guy, it’s to experience the car on an emotional level. There is nothing memorable about a car that’s faster on paper but I dare anyone to forget the way a certain car made you feel. The way the rear end moves on corner exit, the feel of rowing through the gears, the intuitive precision of steering, the smell of comfort and hold from leather seats, and the way your stomach drops just a little bit when you see it.

    If possible, own both. And choose to drive each when you want to. If you can’t choose the car that speaks to you in this way…the car that you feel more. You won’t regret it.

    • Born in the 90’s. Yes.

      I don’t understand the E30 M3. Yes.

      E30’s are cool though. I still think it is easier for me to understand E36’s though.

  2. Hi Andrew,

    First let me begin by saying that you can’t fully answer your question because you are comparing apples and oranges!

    I speak out of experience…
    I owned an E30 M3 for 11 years, and only bought my E39 M5 because it was stolen from me ;-((

    The E39 M5 is a bigger car has more weight and so will never feel as taught and as nimble as any generation M3, but here is where is gets more confusing…

    The E30 M3 is a car that flatters you as a driver and allows you to pull off that 120 MPH mid bend as if you have the driver skill of Ayerton Senna… The E36 M3 does not!

    The E36 is a good car, don’t get me wrong but what it doesn’t do is what the E39 M5 does in spades. Play the split personality game very well, if you push it in the bends with the sports mode on you are surprised that such a lardy body shape can slip round and that the steering feels so well weighted.

    I would also comment on the chassis dynamics of the E36 M3, compared to the E30 M3, when the limit of grip is reached the E36 will demand some lightening fast opposite lock correction (much like the E39 M5 with traction control off)!

    The E30 M3 has a 2.3L 4 cylinder hand build engine that just screams to the red line in a linear way (as do all S model M engines) but because it is a four cylinder is amazingly economical.

    I would say the E46 M3, is more of a bridge between E30 M3 and E39 M5, but the economy is not much better.

    I got the impression that you really want a more focused M car to replace the M5, but can honestly say that I don’t think the E36 can fill those shoes :~|

    • A quick reply since I’m busy, but here it is.

      I do agree that the E46 is a better bridge between the E30 and E39.

      I do believe an E36 is the right car for me. The E30 is not. I don’t see anything that a E30 offers that the E36 does not.

      I also do not have the money for a $10k+ car. E36’s fit the bill for cheap-to-buy and cheap-to-maintain-BMW.

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