The E36 M3 debuted in February 1992 and was in the dealer’s showrooms in November that year. It was the first M3 powered by a straight-six engine; the engine used was a 2,990 cc (182 cu in) S50, which produced 210 kW (282 hp).
Initially available as a coupé only, BMW introduced M3 convertible and saloon versions in 1994, the absence of any M5 models in the BMW line-up between the end of E34 M5 production in 1995 and the launch of the E39 M5 in 1998 prompted the introduction of the 4-door Motorsport model.
Also in 1994, BMW produced the limited-edition M3 GT as a racing homologation special; all GTs were British Racing Green and featured an upgraded 295 PS (217 kW; 291 hp) 3.0-litre engine. 356 GTs were built.
In September and November 1995, the M3 coupe and saloon, respectively, were upgraded to the 239.4 kilowatts (321.0 hp) 3.2-litre S50B32 engine. At the same time, the cars received clear indicator lenses, new wheels and a 6-speed gearbox. The convertible did not receive these changes until February 1996.
The majority of E36 M3s were produced at the Regensburg factory; however, a small number of low compression right hand drive M3s were assembled at BMW’s Rosslyn plant in Pretoria, South Africa. In total, 46,525 coupés, 12,114 convertibles and 12,603 saloons were produced. The saloon ceased production in December 1997, the coupé ceased production in late 1998, and the convertible ceased production in December 1999.
The E36 chassis M3 was touted as one of the best handling cars of the 1990s in independent tests by Car & Driver. Known for its benign handling and balance, the car is popular amongst circuit racers and track enthusiasts. The E36 was also one of the first cars BMW designed mainly with computer aid with the use of detailed Finite Element Analysis and other software.