Let me start by saying that I have loved M3s since the first E30 incarnation and was initially blown away by the looks and performance of the first E36s back at their 95 introduction. You would have thought, then, that I would have driven one before today.
Nope. Never lucky enough. My friend Ryan (the 540i sport driver on my BMW page) had one for about 600 miles before it was stolen in Andover, Ma. We never really had the chance to seriously drive it, and now I regret that fact terribly.
My $500 deposit for the E46 M3 is doing me no good, I need a car very soon and cannot wait the necessary year to get it. Today my sales rep called to tell me that he had an Estoril E36 on the lot with 37,000 miles and it was exceptionally clean and well-maintained. I spent a good portion of the afternoon driving it and boy did I hate getting into the 318i afterwards! The pull over 2500 RPM was a thing of beauty, but when the full-whack thrust of reaching 400 rpms hit it simply did not feel like 240 hp. More like 300! I am used to either the 318i, my friend's modified E36 323is, and my cousin's 328is, and not one of them comes close to this baby. I took an offramp at 90 mph and there was no wheelspin, and most importantly, absolutely no hint of instability. The car just hunkered down and said "bring it on," which is when I realized that I wasn't even exploring its limits. First gear gets up and out like my old VR-4 (once moving, at least) and the overall handling is so wonderful that I could not get that stupid silly grin off my face for hours after.
I don't know if the car is right for me priced at $34,900 - it seems a bit high for a 97. The warrantee does stretch to 2003 and my rep said he would throw in a new clutch if I buy it, which I know is at least a $1800 job, maybe more. The body is in perfect - and I mean perfect, I checked - shape for a 97, hell, for any year....I have to stop myself because I keep trying to find any justification to just go back and buy it tomorrow.
So congratulations anew to those lucky enough to drive this wonderful car. It is an enthusiast's dream.