Few cars center in the Venn diagram of an analog experience, size, weight, power, balance, usability, and reliability as solidly as the BMW E36 M3 sedan—or an M3/4/5 in BMW speak—especially one with a manual gearbox. Add a rare color combination to the mix, and you could possibly have one of the best cars in the world. Make that color combination Estoril Blue over Modena leather, one of only 22 examples produced, and you have yourself a Rad-era unicorn.
Despite being a true unicorn, this Estoril Blue over Modena 1997 BMW M3/4/5 is the second E36 rarity that has landed on my doorstep in the last two years (the first was a Dakar Yellow over Magma example). Unlike that car, this M3 has been a known car within the Colorado community for the last two decades. It was originally delivered through Co’s BMW (now BMW of Loveland) in 1997 before landing with a good friend some ten years later in the late aughts. Those were good days in our BMW community, where we had a very active group on the mountain region of the R3VLimited forums.
Over the years, the M3 was treated to a complete repaint in Estoril Blue, and the seats were recovered in factory-correct Modena leather covers. Underneath the skin, strict compliance with the Lifetime Maintenance schedule has kept things in proper order. A Stewart water pump and safety-wired oil pump nut added insurance to thwart any E36 maladies. Performance upgrades include an ASC delete, Conforti Performance tune, Auto Solutions short shifter with a ZHP knob, Euro steering wheel, and a Corsa exhaust. The suspension was upgraded with TC Kline adjustable coilovers, Vorshlag camber plates, strut tower reinforcements, polyurethane bushings, and a Z3 cross-brace. The end result is an M3/4/5 that wears over 160,000 miles astonishingly well, and proof that proper ownership is key with a now-classic BMW.
But the thing that really makes this M3/4/5 stand out is the color combination. Estoril Blue was an archetypal color that honored the legacy of the E36 M3 with multiple individual offerings to follow on later models to the present day. Modena leather (slightly lighter than peanut butter) is not a color that would seem to go naturally with Estoril, but it has enough subtle orange that the two complement each other perfectly. It is impossible to drive this car without experiencing the colors, inside and out. You can’t help but take note of the compliments of others experiencing it as well in the form of waves, thumbs up, and gas station banter. A friendly blip of throttle resonating through the Corsa exhaust is always an appropriate reply!
In the mid-teens, the M3 went to another local enthusiast, who I eventually sold it for to a regular of mine during the COVID years. I got it back earlier this month, and by fate, chance, or destiny, I sold it to a co-worker of the owner of the Dakar Yellow unicorn. I’m glad it is staying local, where it will, no doubt, offer that wonderful old-school M BMW experience to another enthusiast.—Alex McCulloch