The BMW M3 celebrates its 30th anniversary for 2016 and what better time than to take a closer look at a few rarely seen prototype BMW M3’s that could have been.
1986 BMW M3 Pickup
The BMW Motorsport department who were responsible for development of the M3 used the body of a BMW 3 series convertible and converted it into a utility/pickup for use of transporting work equipment and parts around the BMW M Division in Garching, close to Munich.
“The convertible bodyshell was chosen as the basis for two reasons,” recalls Jakob Polschak, head of vehicle prototype building and workshops at BMW M Division and an employee at the company for more than 40 years. “Firstly, we happened to have such a model at our disposal and in perfect condition. And secondly, the convertible’s built-in bracing made it the ideal choice for a pickup conversion.“
Because the base of the car used the high volume standard 3 series body the BMW M3 Pickup lacked the flared arches of its full bodied sibling. Power was also lacking as originally a 2.0 litre Italian export engine was fitted producing 141kW (192hp). “Later we switched to the original 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine with 200 horsepower,” reveals Polschak. For 26 years the BMW M3 Pickup worked away at the facility only being retired 4 years ago.
The long working life goes to show that a one off version is more than a mere gimmick or engineering exercise, rather it proves that they are high performance vehicles that have been optimised to complete their desired task perfectly. In addition these cars also serve another purpose, “Our apprentices, graduate trainees and placement students assisted in the construction of all of these prototypes,” explains Polschak. “This allowed them to gain invaluable hands-on experience at the same time as freeing up resources for us – a classic win-win situation.“
1996 BMW M3 Compact
The thought process behind this incarnation of the M3 was to produce a model for younger customers as an entry point into the world of BMW M cars. “To a certain extent, the M3 Compact can be regarded as the forefather of today’s BMW M2,” remarks the BMW M workshop chief. Had this model made it past the prototype stage into a fully fledged road going BMW there’s a high chance the power output would be reduced. The prototype however enjoyed the full extent of 321hp from the M3 powerplant which coupled with a 150kg lighter body produced a seriously high performing M3.
2000 BMW M3 Touring
This prototype was forged into existence because a production model was a very real consideration. While the M3 Compact was handed over to journalists to test to further BMW’s image and test the market for customer interest, the M3 Touring served in-house purposes. “This prototype allowed us to show that, from a purely technical standpoint at least, it was possible to integrate an M3 Touring into the ongoing production of the standard BMW 3 Series Touring with very little difficulty,” explains Jakob Polschak. “One important thing we needed to demonstrate was that the rear doors of the standard production model could be reworked to adapt them to the rear wheel arches without the need for new and expensive tools.” After working its way through the assembly line, the M3 Touring didn’t require much additional labour to fit the M-specific add on parts and interior details.
2011 BMW M3 Pickup
With the original M3 Pickup from 1986 heading towards retirement a replacement was in order and following tradition, a convertible was again adapted to create the 2011 M3 Pickup. “The conversion work had initially proceeded in the usual, largely unspectacular manner during the spring of 2011. But then someone came up with the idea of marketing the vehicle as an April Fools’ joke, as April 1 was just around the corner,” recounts Polschak.
Adding further fuel to the speculative fire, BMW ran the car on the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit for a series of calibration runs, naturally spy shots emerged and the rumour mill went into overdrive. The official press release which was published on April 1st 2011 did set the record straight but not before getting public hopes up one last time. The BMW M3 Pickup was presented as a fourth body type along with the sedan, coupe and convertible. The press pack stated “309 kW/420 hp under the bonnet and a payload capacity of 450 kilograms over the rear axle take the BMW M models’ hallmark blend of racing-style driving pleasure and everyday practicality to a whole new level.” before finally mentioning in fine print that the M3 Pickup was just a one-off workshop transport vehicle.