For many enthusiasts, the E46 generation of the M3 is regarded as one of the German automaker’s greatest engineering accomplishments. With 50:50 weight distribution, a buttery-smooth 3.2-liter inline six, and its inimitably raspy exhaust note, it’s easy to see how (and why) the E46 M3 has found its way into many enthusiast’s garages, both real and imaginary. Option your coupe or convertible with the ZCP Competition Package (hello, Style 163Ms!) and three pedals, and you’re really in business.
The so-called “future classic” has rightfully earned its name, with low-mileage ZCP examples regularly fetching bid prices that are comparable to the going-rates of new F80 M3 base models, which are two generations removed from the E46. Over the last five years, we’ve seen this upward swell in E46 M3 prices become almost exponential in its increase; the coveted 3 Series is no longer only a weekend racer and enthusiast’s daily—it’s also an investment. As expected with collector influence, this trend has caused hammer prices to soar, with some especially mint variants selling for nearly six figures.
Those who are cognizant of the M3’s racing pedigree and overall legacy, however, know that there’s a bigger, badder version to pine after than the regular E46 M3: the CSL.
Not even a fully-optioned Competition Package M3 can top the CSL’s re-tuned S54 with its extra horsepower. The special-edition Coupé Sport Leichtbau, or Lightweight Sport Coupe, was available for just one year, 2004, and had a limited production run of only 1,353 units—all of which were exclusive to the European market. The characteristic single-air-inlet design of the front bumper defines and distinguishes the car for many enthusiasts, and (almost) makes us forget about the fact that it was available only equipped with the controversial SMG-II transmission.
Customization options were very limited, with Silver Grey Metallic and Black Sapphire Metallic your only means of individual expression. A 240-pound-lighter curb weight, thanks to BMW’s Formula 1 engineers’ love of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastics (CFRP), helped the model earn its CSL name—and back that name with on-track performance. Sans mass-airflow sensor and solely reliant on the DME, the CSL’s re-tuned S54 pumped out an impressive 355 horsepower when rung out to a screaming 7,900 rpm, good for a 4.6-second zero-to-60 time—pairing a timeless exterior with unforgettable under-the-hood performance.
While it is becoming increasingly common to see run-of-the-mill low-mileage and otherwise concours-worthy E46 M3s reach near-six-digit hammer prices at auction, like this tastefully modified Laguna Seca Blue one, the CSL variant will cost you a hefty premium from the get-go.
But if you’ve been looking to add one of the best examples of the Ultimate Driving Machine to your stable, you’re in luck. A well-kept Silver Grey example has just hit the online classifieds, with only 9,500 original miles on the odometer. This pristine example, which was previously housed in a private collection belonging to the former owner of Lind BMW, is one of 535 right-hand-drive models built, and one of 483 UK-market models. According to the Silverstone Auctions classified details, the coupe was optioned with air-conditioning, a sound system, and xenon headlights, but deleted the parking distance control (PDC) from the factory.
Given the current surge in the value of all E46 M3s, Silverstone staff estimate that the M3 CSL at hand could realize anywhere from $94,000 to $107,000 when the hammer falls. When looking at the current market for the cleanest, and most special M3s in the U.S., those numbers seem like a relative bargain.
This leads us to believe that the ultimate version of the E46 M3 may only stay cheap for so long. Don’t wait until they’re 25 years old.—Malia Murphy
[Photos courtesy Silverstone Auctions.]