BMW E36 M3 Convertible Heavy Lightweight

The car found me, really: Kurt’s wife, Jean, told him he had to sell a car—or two. So I got an email about his situation, and replied with mild interest about the ’98 M3 convertible.

I was lukewarm on the interior—kinda orangey-tan. BMW calls it Modena. Kurt said it needed to be re-done. But mild became wild when he told me the friend’s price. Plus, I immediately had a vision for the car.

In 1995 I bought my first BMW, an Avus Blue E36 M3—stunning car. A month later I visited the dealership. In the showroom sat a white M3 with Motorsport flags on the fenders. “What’s that?!” I asked.

The salesman explained the M3 Lightweight (LTW) to me. He didn’t think I’d want it: no radio, no a/c, no sunroof. Only comes in white—basically, the starting point to build a race car.

He was right. I’d just bought a luxury sports car, and it needed to have comforts for this creature.

I’ve seen LTWs over the years. Nick Owen drove one back from Florida to work on for a friend. Paul Walker’s estate sold two of them for huge money. And a 100-mile LTW had shown up on Bring a Trailer. I appreciated them as they appreciated, but not enough to own one.

BMW never made an LTW convertible; extra bracing makes convertibles heavier, and the lack of a top takes away rigidity, so it didn’t make sense for BMW to build one.

But I could.

With some help, that is; I’m more DIYG (Do It You Guys) than DIY. But I had a partner-in-crime to help me along the way. You might know him; Dan Tackett’s been a partner to many automotive schemes over the years, some known, some unknown.

I told Tackett about my vision, and he got it right away. The car being in Colorado, Tackett immediately told me when he was free for a road trip. I guess we were now CO-conspirators.

Kurt had a PPI and an alignment done and made the purchase easy. He included a one-night stay at Casa Kurt & Jean—and even recorded that day’s F1 race. And made a gourmet meal. Yeah, turns out Kurt was a chef at a swanky LA hotel in a previous life. European delivery might be dead, but Colorado delivery is alive and well!

BMW E36 M3 Convertible Heavy Lightweight

The route through Colorado, Arizona, and California was just like the car’s upcoming improvements: planned for the enthusiast. Curvy switchbacks up and down mountains, long sweepers in gorge-ous™ canyons along rivers, high-speed jaunts through deserted deserts. Places like Silverton, Durango, Sedona, Jerome, and Prescott served as welcome waypoints.

The car’s vintage cassette player and inoperative CD changer required another music solution to prevent both of us from singing. A Bluetooth audio adaptor did the Cheap Trick. Each evening we chuckled while checking social media. Our posts of carefully cropped close-ups of the car and interesting location tags kept people guessing about our clandestine trip. #Secret ///Mission updates were seen by many but understood by few.

On the road, the public’s reaction to the car was favorable. At our first gas stop, a guy towing a trailer praised the car, calling it bulletproof. He used to be a BMW Texnician in the Lone Star State. At our next gas stop, a guy stepped out of his pickup and whistled at such a “clean” example of a “classic.” When we were almost home, a guy in Pacific Beach in a Mercedes yelled out his window, “Is that for sale?” We exchanged numbers and he made a solid offer, but not generous enough for me to sell it before I’d even brought it home!

Once there, I was out of garage spots, so the M3 was covered and parked in the driveway. My wife, Catalina, commented to Kurt’s wife, Jean, “How did your driveway problem become my driveway problem?” Little did Cat know that her own car would soon get bumped in a parking lot and be in the shop for weeks, freeing up a garage spot. Nature finds a way.

BMW E36 M3 Convertible Heavy Lightweight

Removal of the original pinstripes.

Mechanically, the car was in stellar shape: 68,000 miles, removable hardtop (rare for the E36), plus a Dinan intake, ECU, high-flow throttle body, and exhaust. The car howls above five grand, best appreciated with the top down. And the car had gained horsepower from Colorado to California. Seriously—naturally aspirated cars lose 3% of their horsepower for every 1,000 feet of altitude. I figured we gained about 15% more horsepower since Colorado! Maintenance records revealed an interesting provenance, too. Of its four previous owners, three are fellow Club members whom I know!

BMW E36 M3 Convertible Heavy Lightweight

BMW E36 M3 Convertible Heavy Lightweight

Now to make a proper tribute to the LTW. Photos from the 100-mile LTW on BaT helped me to identify key exterior features. Motorsport flag decals and a Motorsport front lip were ordered from Turner. Motorsport door-molding badges were located. The interior of BMW’s original LTW had cloth seats, so I chose my favorite M-Tech cloth from Relicate and paired it with Alcantara headrests and bolsters from Hydes Leather. Carpet replacement and re-dyed door cards and seat backs eliminated all vestiges of the original orangey-tan interior.

Finishing touches included pinstripe removal, paint-less dent removal, paint correction, and Ceramic Pro paint protection. I debated before putting a Dinan badge on: Would it be too showy? Tackett said, “Don’t worry. The flag decals take care of that!”

BMW E36 M3 Convertible Heavy Lightweight

And now she’s done: a convertible tribute to the ‘95 E36 M3 Lightweight. I hope you like her—I sure do! Out of garage spaces, we’ll see how long I can keep her. Hit me up at uhlerbiz@gmail.com if you are interested in being the next BMW CCA member to own her.

And yes, a custom plate is on order: HVY LTW.—Greg Uhler, president, San Diego Chapter

[Photos courtesy Bryan Gaier and Greg Uhler.]

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