On March 14, the local pizza places sell pizzas for $3.14. If you let May the Fourth be with you, that’s a fantastic day to catch up on your Star Wars movie binging. On July 11, 7-11 gives out Slurpees.
And on March 6, we celebrate the BMW E36 3 Series.
This celebration may occur in your neighborhood as well (and I hope the pizzas and the Slurpees do, too!), but because I was at the E36 Day Meet in Southern California, that’s the one you get to absorb here.
Let’s talk about the community that created this event, check in with some of the E36 Day celebrants, and a look at some of the reasons for their passion.
This was the third annual E36 Day meet coordinated by Southern California BMW CCA member Blake Adams, a 25-year-old graphic designer for Eibach. “The first event was very low-key, just a bunch of friends meeting at an In-N-Out parking lot,” Adams recalls. “We held the second meet at a coffee shop where I live in Chino, and the turnout was more than double, with maybe 40 E36s.”
Adams must have sensed that he was on to something. For this year’s meet—the first one actually falling on 3/6—he aligned with Sunday Steel, a monthly any-make, any-body meet that in 2022 landed on March 6. This proved to be a good thing for the regulars and those celebrating the date: Sunday Steel blossomed to more than 200 cars.
“It blew me away,” Adams continues. “We ran out of our targeted E36 parking even before the show officially started. We estimate that there were between 80 and 100 E36s there.” That’s some growth since the 2020 event, where maybe twenty friends gathered for double-doubles.
That quick maturation mirrored Adams’ own automotive appreciation, too. “Maybe surprisingly, I didn’t grow up liking anything automotive,” Adams explains. “I was sort of a late bloomer when it comes to cars, initially getting hooked on the E46 M3, with everything snowballing from there. My first BMW—in fact, my first car—was a 1999 Titanium Silver-on-black 328i coupe. I was looking for an E30 at the time, but E36s seemed to be the best middle ground for a usable car that had some older charm without breaking the bank. I owned that car for three plus years encountering every common E36 issue imaginable. That taught me the basics of working on these cars, and led to theE36 M3 that I acquired in 2017.”
For many owners, the M3 inspires more spirited driving. Adams’ Boston Green-over-Modena luxury-package car looks great at car meets, but has also seen track time. “It’s a ton of fun aside from sliding around in the stock luxury seats,” he says.
Of the 100 or so cars at E36s Day, many did not have their original seats. Take Mike Burroughs’ 1993 E36, for example; the Granite Silver 325iS that he bought in high school in 2006 has become so well known in the E36 circles that it has become the smartphone wallpaper for more people than have lost their E36 glovebox covers (this statistic might need more research).
The car, in case you were already salivating, evolved from its purchase. It began with a nudge from Burroughs’ friend Eric Rumbaugh and Burroughs’ father. “Rumbaugh was a BMW technician. He said, ‘Oh, yeah, we can do this, we can figure it out’—and then my dad said, ‘Let’s do an engine swap.’” Burroughs recalls. “The car didn’t need it, but I just wanted to do something cool. It took a long time; I hadn’t done anything like this, and at the time, an S54 swap for an E36 wasn’t as common as it is now. My car is running more of a CSL tune, with open velocity stacks instead of an airbox. It’s a really healthy motor making 327 horsepower at the wheels.”The car hadn’t been seen much after a small accident and the discovery of cracked subframe mounts years ago, but the bug to get it back on the road was biting. “This past summer I said, ‘You know, I’m going to put the car together and finish this,’ says Burroughs. “My friend Khalil Kassem was there and encouraged me to put it up on a lift and get it going. Then Blake, being a good buddy of mine, said, ‘Hey, what are the chances that you could have the car at the E36 Day meet?’ It was good to have a target date to push myself.” It was also good for Burroughs to get back behind the wheel of the E36. “The car has sentimental, nostalgic value,” he says. “I’ve had it for sixteen years and it represents a lot of firsts for me: my first car, the first car I did much of anything to, my first engine swap. It’s been really cool to still have it. But I don’t feel that I have accomplished what I set out to do with it yet; I think that’s always an important milestone. It’s about the journey, the build. And I haven’t gotten there yet with this one.”
Burroughs’ favorite part of E36 Day was the drive to the event. “The event was great,” he says, “but for me, the drive was really sort of the first drive in the car. We had five or six friends driving down, with the sunrise and the morning fog; it was really cool.”
“The event itself was fantastic,” Burroughs continues. “A highlight was definitely seeing a lot of influential figures in the E36 tuning community. Seeing Jon Sibal there, Ryan Castro, influential cars like the E36 M3 GT and the Lightweight, plus a little bit of everything to appreciate if you were a purist or not.”
E36 M3 GT? Yes, when that car rolled in, people definitely took notice. There might have been more people asking, “Wait, is that a real GT?” than there were peeling door cards in the packed parking lot. BMW CCA member Jason Schoen traces his automotive passion back to the days when his grandfather would take him to the Petersen Museum as a child. “I always found myself fixated on BMWs, specifically on the M3 because of their perfect balance of performance and luxury,” he says.
He seems to know about balance; the M3 GT rounds out a BMW stable that includes an E46 M3, and E92 M3, and an F80 M3 CS—all fantastic cars, but none as rare as the E36 M3 GT.
“It took me a while to find the GT,” he explains. “BMW only produced 356, and most of them have lived tough lives. I wanted one because these rare-spec cars spark my interest, especially in the unique-to-this-model British Racing Green over Mexico Green interior. Since the GT was unknown in the U.S., I thought it would be a unique opportunity, being one the first people importing and eventually introducing it to the car scene in the United States.”
We felt pretty special seeing the GT at the E36 Day meet with Sunday Steel, but Schoen’s not afraid to drive it. “I bring it out anytime the weather permits,” he says. “Luckily, I live in sunny SoCal, so that is thankfully never an issue. Having almost 300 horsepower in a car that weighs just above 3,000 pounds makes it an absolute joy to drive. The raw analog experience connects the driver to the road unlike any other modern performance vehicle; you feel fully engaged no matter how fast you are going. I’d rather drive this car on a canyon road than any of my other M3s—you can get everything out of this car on a public road without having to go to jail.”
It’s not every day you can have hundreds of people surround an M3 GT and be split on whether that was the rarest or coolest car present. But at the E36 Day meet, another treat was BMW CCA member Milo Gonzalez’ E36 M3 Lightweight, its Alpine White with corner Motorsport flags making a bold contrast to the GT’s British Racing Green.
Gonzalez has had the Lightweight for four years now, complementing a collection that includes a 2021 M4 Heritage Edition, a BMW M 1000 RR motorcycle, and an E30 M3. “I have known about this special car since it was released, even if it wasn’t popular back then,” he explains. “I jumped at the chance to own it when I saw it come up for auction. The car is extremely rare and has a great history and pedigree. I see the E36 platform as a high point in BMW design and racing history.”
Fortunately for Gonzalez (and us!), the car’s lack of air conditioning or stereo did not dissuade him from making the twenty-minute drive to the E36 Day meet. “The event exceeded my expectations,” he says. “It was really well attended and had lots of variety including historically important cars—not just BMWs, either.”
Another unique car was BMW CCA member Keaton Macon’s 1995 Daytona Violet M3. E36 fans might realize that also means the S50 engine and OBD1, which is actually what Macon was seeking. He found this car in Northern California and flew from SoCal to drive it home. It turned out to have been previously owned by an enthusiast at a respected SoCal BMW shop, The M Shop LA, so it came full circle.
It first appeared at SoCal Vintage in November—and now at the E36 Day meet. “I was really impressed with the E36 turnout at this meet,” Macon says. “The wide range of models and specs was really great to see. The Dakar Yellow and Estoril Blue lineup really stuck with me. And even beyond the E36s, the array of cars and people at Sunday Steel was fantastic.”
Macon is right: Almost every model of E36 was present (I’m still waiting to see an E36 Baur roll around here). Marlon Magsino De Jesus contributed to the variety by bringing eight E36 doors in total: He brought two sedans—one in Estoril Blue and the other in Cosmos Schwarz. We’re going to chalk up his sedan appreciation to his early influence from his dad and uncle with their E38s, E39s, and E28s. “My first BMW was a silver 328i sedan, but I actually used my mom’s 325i coupe to take my driver’s test,” saysDe Jesus. “I’ve always been in love with the E36 chassis.”
We’re guessing with that devotion, he must have passed that driving test. But the cars have passed tests with him, too. “I love the reliability of the S52—with regular maintenance, they are bulletproof—the size and dimension, the raw driving experience,” adds De Jesus. “They’re not too old, like E30s, and have some ’90s creature comforts. They’re easy to work on and have huge aftermarket support. And I love the sedans—something about having those two extra doors,” he continues. “There is no sacrifice to performance or drivability. They’re basically the exact same chassis, but are more structurally rigid than the coupe.”
BMW CCA member De Jesus is a regular at Sunday Steel, so he wasn’t going to miss 98 other E36s descending on his monthly playground. “The E36 day meet was awesome,” he says, “with so many different models, colors, and mods. The turnout was amazing, and the vibe was special. Seeing so many E36s at Sunday Steel was a special treat. People were rallying specifically for this meet, eager to get their cars ready in time for it. I’m so glad I was able to bring both my M3/4/5s!”
We couldn’t do a story on event held at Sunday Steel without talking to the man BMW Classic profiled, Sunday Steel founder and BMW CCA member Dan Millwood. Founded in 2017, Sunday Steel has long been a great monthly destination for all types of cars (and people), but it was this E36 Day meet that might have raised the bar with new records for people, cars… and dogs.
“I was really looking forward to the E36 Day meet here,” Millwood said, beaming over the hundreds of cars gathered that first Sunday of the month. “I have a personal love for the E36 chassis and knew the owners would come out in full force. The roll-in of E36s was a sight to behold, with people arriving as early as 7:15 a.m. The lot was essentially full by eight—with E36s as far as the eye could see! We usually patronize the neighboring coffee and food shops, but with this anticipated crowd, we called on Commodity Long Beach, who supplied the coffee, donuts, breakfast burritos, and a much-appreciated Port-o-Potty. It was a perfect morning spent with friends and awesome cars.”
Millwood identified some of the same cars as standouts within the crowded field. “The M3 GT, the M3 LTW, the Alpina B8 Touring, and Mike’s Stanceworks S54 E36 seemed to gather the most consistent crowds. Owner Robert Tran reports that his B8 Touring is one of just 27 made. But even with those highlights, Sunday Steel is first and foremost about the people—and the E36 Day meet maintained that. We’re all aware of our love and passion for all things automotive. The friendships I have made and grown through this meet are priceless. The vibe has always been laid-back and welcoming to people of all backgrounds.”
It was definitely a good vibe. E46 fans, the standard has been set for April 6. Show us what you’ve got!—Kyle van Hoften
[Photos courtesy Kyle van Hoften unless otherwise noted.]