Counter Steer: Top 5 Collectible BMWs Since the Late 80s

On a recent drive with my family we pulled up behind an older looking BMW covered in salt and sand. The car was in such a state that I became quite infuriated. With my little guy in the backseat I made the executive decision to tone it down a notch and mumbled every swear word in the book rather than screaming them out loud. My wife was concerned for my sanity and seemingly set me off even more by saying it was “just an old M3, no big deal ” but was she ever wrong- the car looked to be a German Spec E30 EVO the original rims chewed up and wearing snows and the adjustable rear wing in disrepair.

I then began rambling about the future of collectible cars and how things are different in our generation than our parents… as well as my take on the Top 5 BMWs likely to become treasures in the years to come with their pros and cons.

For BMW collectibles, I think that only the saved low mile cars will be the examples worth any money.The reason for this is simple, today ‘s cars are extremely complicated compared to the ’60s Corvettes and Volkswagens I grew up helping my dad with. That generation of cars were able to be tinkered with, rewired and parts replaced in the garage or driveway under a shady tree on a summer ‘s day. With the advent of electronic fuel injection, OBD and OBDII and all the sensors that come with them cars are more complex than the average weekend warrior can get into.What that means is that high mileage repairs and restoration become more costly and will less likely to be undertaken.

The other glaring issue is that collectibles are cyclical in nature, collectors buy cars that remind them of the cars they dreamed of as children- the cars that lived on bedroom walls and were not even on their parents radar of what would grace the driveway. The baby boomers before the “great recession ” bought up muscle cars at a rapid pace, some things are picking up again but rather than the typical restorations and lusted after sports cars (Corvettes, Mustangs) to reconnect with youth it is the rare cars that are worth the money (the race models or those that have limited use). The rarer the car the more interest from people looking to invest and that do not even care about cars, driving the price up even more. Rare cars are a double edged sword though, if you have one that is great and consider yourself one of the privileged few that some day will cash in once your done staring out your pride and joy. If you are not in that group be prepared to pay up or pray to get lucky in your search.

In terms of BMWs we all know the real BMW collectibles, the original 328 roadster and 507, are untouchable to most but what about cars that are more modern and comparatively cheaper? Cars that scream enthusiast while still offering up some future collectibility after the Saturday morning show circuit has become more of a hassle than enjoyment? Here is the list of five cars that will be sought after by collectors and sure to appreciate in value. Order of collectibility is from 5 to 1, 1 being the modern day holy grail, stateside of course. All cars would need to be original in excellent condition with low miles to be considered a collectors piece.

#5 2002 BMW M Coupe

Pros: With only 690 S54 based coupes running around in North America it is a limited run model. Featuring a detuned S54 inline six from the M3 it is viewed as many enthusiasts as the most hardcore M model ever produced for US consumption. The car has tons of feel- steering, road and seat of the pants are all there. This is the original two seat M monster and it has a group of rabid fans.

Cons: Love it or hate it looks- affectionately known as the “shoe ” or “boot “. The engine did not get the same campaign as the M3 for bearings. Twitchy and difficult at the limit on the track- brings the biggest weakness: lots of track modifications and abuse are prevalent in used Z Coupes as the original and subsequent owners wanted to use the car for its intended purpose (tracking) so finding a stock car is more difficult. There are garage queens now on the market already and they are priced as much as they were when new.

#4 2011 BMW 1M Coupe

Pros: The single model year production of the 1M at final count for the US was 740 units. That may not seem like a lot of cars but on this list it has the highest production total and why it is not rated higher. It garnered much attention by the automotive community and took home many awards in its limited run. It was heralded as BMW M return to building cars for driving enthusiasts and it met expectations and then some. The much lauded baby M car featured an inline twin turbo N54 massaged by M to produce 330 hp and up to 370 lb-ft of torque. It utilized the M3 ‘s brakes, suspension, wheels and more in a smaller lighter package. Simply the lusted after car of the year. Limited numbers and high demand made it an instant classic with many selling over MSRP.

Cons: Marketed and understood as a limited run car made the 1M hard to get by those that wanted them. Good thing for those selling cars and those that had a build but left a bad taste in many a would be purchasers mouth- some wrote the car off and invested in competitors offerings and have moved on. The instant collectible status also means that there are some collectors out there that bought them and have them in storage hoping to cash in at a later date. More mint condition cars later yields a lower price than would be if these things were being driven. Although, climate controlled queens will be few and far between.

#3 2000 BMW Z8

Pros: As new the Z8 was just under $130,000 a huge chunk of change and the most expensive BMW of the time. This greatly limited sales but the product itself was revolutionary.While costing less (imagine that) it outperformed super cars of the time. BMW produced only 317 Z8s in 2000. It featured an all aluminum chassis and body while utilizing the M5 ‘s S62 400hp V8 race bred motor. The design and styling are modern interpretations of BMWs classic roadsters that are simply beautiful. BMW marketed these as collectibles from the start of communication.

There is a stock pile of extra parts said to be enough for 50 years as well as training manuals to keep techs familiar with repair and maintenance procedures. These considerations make it easier to keep the investment in top shape.

Cons: As the first modern BMW model marketed in the US as an instant collectible it will suffer from an over abundance of cars with low miles and limited use. There are countless cars sitting in climate controlled warehouses just waiting to go to auction. While this is good for preservation of museum quality examples it limits the limited nature of low mile offerings. Some estimate that less than 50% of these cars have seen more than a few thousand miles on the odometer. While these cars will surely appreciate in value and be sought after for many years there will not be an extremely rare find outside of the BMW INDIVIDUAL coloring options, this is not the modern day 507 it was proclaimed to be.

#2 1987 BMW E30 M3

Pros: You might be saying there was no US M3 in 1987 well you are partly correct. Unknown to most, the first 101 E30 M3s imported by BMWNA carry an “H ” (as opposed to a “J “) in the 10th position of their VIN, which technically denotes them as 1987 models although sold as 1988s. These are the rarest of the E30 M3s produced. What is there to say about the original M3, it is the original. It set the stage for future M products and chalked up a whole lot of racing wins. Built by BMW M to be a street legal race car for homologation purposes it was marketed to be a competitor to Detroit ‘s more powerful offerings like the Trans Am, while being able to take corners and featuring a high revving 4 cylinder. The Warsteiner racing machine being the most recognizable M3 of the period.

Cons: There are some issues with aging E30 M3s. The first 101 are the rarest for obvious reasons but there were nearly 5,000 US Spec cars built during the production run so in the grand scheme they were not all that limited. They were not well known pop icons of the time, like the true super cars so the audience is not as wide spread. Many after the first owner were not taken care of and have lived a hard life with track modifications prevalent. There were some persistent issues such as the rear wing cracking and rust along the windshield, that over time has necessitated repairs which often were not properly completed. There are fewer good examples now than even a few years ago and garner a hefty sum of cash to take ownership of already.

#1 1994 BMW E36 M3 Canadian Spec

Via: Google

Pros: How do you obtain a European Spec E36 M3 in North America? Ask Canada for some help. Back in 1994 a handful of enthusiastic employees of BMW Canada came up with a killer idea, import 45 European Spec E36 M3s to the accepting Canadian market, charge a boat load of money ($60k) and create one of the rarest BMWs in existence. Can ‘t go wrong. Each of the 45 has a numbered plaque and commemorative leather owner ‘s manual cover. Owner ‘s could build them with any option or color available to the M3 in any market for the price from the factory. There were 45 individually specced cars making each rare in its own right. These cars featured the higher output Euro engine, and all the other EU exclusive features the latter (1997) North American spec cars lost out on. More than a few have come south of the border and have gone up for sale. Being an advertised limited run would normally indicate that a portion of the sold cars would instantly become garage queens; this is less prevalent thanks to the sales being in Canada where people rather drive their cars than stare at them under a dust cover. What that means is a low mileage car is truly limited and with a run of 45 every car is limited.

Cons: These cars were sold in Canada meaning designed to meet Canadian rules. Most states will allow them in under certain conditions but California seems to have issues with it. They are hard to find, 45 cars floating out in the vast North American landscape is like finding a needle in a hay stack. Parts will need to come from Europe which can get pricey and limited nature of the car.Some of the cars have high mileage and have been tracked extensively and openly. The E36 while the most livable M3 outside the current generation it is not the most sought after and thus garners less interest from would be collectors.

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  • Amit

    Great article! So fortunate to have two from your list. 1M & e30 M3. I always loved the ///M Shoe and fondly remember when I first drove one on track. It was quite twitchy and a bit too cramped for my 6 foot frame. 

  • 03BeastCharmer

    Nice list.  I was going to take issue with the Shoe being on the list versus the Z4 based M Coupe but there were less produced and you did note it’s twitchy nature on track.  From a collector standpoint I’d agree, but from a drivers standpoint, the newer M Coupe is superior (in my opinion). 

    What about the Z1?

    • Fair assessment and I definitely agree with you. The Z1 is tough to include because it was not formally imported.

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    • Anonymous

      The Z4 M is the better car hands down, it is not the more collectible though. In fact I would bet it takes a long time for it to be truly sought after- remember BMW took a bath on them and many sat on lots for in some cases years; it got so bad they stopped building them so those that sat would sell at rock bottom prices. 

      The limited nature of the S54 M Coupe makes it collectible rather than its driving prowess- it is a scary good time though!

      • I think it falls under a different list – best M bargains.

      • 03BeastCharmer

        I think the Z4 M Coupe is starting to be sought after now.  I bought my Sept ’07 built M Coupe in Oct ’07 for $10K off MSRP (thank you trunk money), and sold it in December of last year. The delta between what I paid and sold it for means it cost me about $275 a month over 4 years 🙂  You can barely lease a Camry for that.  That was def. the best bargain buy I’ll ever experience.

        It would be interesting to put a twist on this to say most collectible from a desirability to drive standpoint.  The 1M and E30 M3 (all years) would be on there, but I think the E36 would fall off, as might the Z8.  E39 M5 would get added and the Z4 M Coupe would replace the Z3 M Coupe.  Not sure what the 5th car would be…….

  • sackboy

    Well – I must say- great article Michael !  Will start a firestorm, for sure as others will have to add their favorites, but must say your “pros vs. cons” section is spot on!    Must admit to two of your`s in my garage now: #17/45  1994 Canadian M3 [ fast!], and 2011 1M [FUN!].   Great minds?  Heck- I wanna say: Thankyou BMW !    Sackboy

    • Anonymous

      Jealous of the E36…. I am sure you know that 🙂 

      I think that the E92 M3 in one of the Special Editions to come, not just the paint but the full on end of the road M3 edition will be the most sought after, I have a feeling your garage will have one of those bc as you say great minds….


  • I’ll take the BMW Z8 any day.

    • Adam

      I hope you enjoy straightening the aluminum space frame out after a few thousand miles.  Those things were notorious for bending their own chassis.  “why the hell are all the pannel gaps off? and why the hell are my doors so hard to close?” after I heard that I swore off the Z8.

      • You might be right as I never drove or had the chance to put my hands on a Z8 but it’s a hell of a car. It turns heads and is so unique in design.

      • Anonymous

        The latter Alpina version was made to “soften” the car and take away some of the harsh and damaging pounding of the original. 

        I didn’t include the bending frame in my “cons” for the Z8 simply because the reports are isolated and it is unknown what the owners did to the cars to create the issues- cars could have been in minor accidents and repaired for all we know. BMW also attests that the aluminum frame was structurally more rigid than the steel offerings of the day- they believed in it so much they built the E60 front clip out of aluminum.

  • bc works

    I can’t see how anyone who considers themselves an enthusiast could garage any one of these and NOT drive it. These cars are meant to be driven, not looked at. I’m glad there’s a few examples being preserved by someone, but that game is not for me.

    By ‘drive’, I mean: care for, maintain, enjoy; not abuse, mistreat, thrash. No quality car deserves that.

  • RKCA1

    I still kick myself for not buying a 2002 Z8 with less than 10K miles for $69K when I had the chance. ;(  I thought they would continue to decrease in value… boy was i wrong 🙁

  • AC

    Obviously you have the  order all wrong! 🙂    But wait, No e36 CSL?

  • Ac

    i meant LTW…

  • Rfritz

    Minor point …. but the M Coupe pictured is the earlier S52 model, not the later S54-powered 2001/2002 car, judging by the wheels.

    • RKCA1

       Don’t want to be too picky but if it is indeed an euro model as the license plate suggests, then it is a S54 since the Euro model never had a S52 version. They had the S50B2 but never the S52. 

    • Andrew L

      They’re just general stock photos the author pulled up to use as references for the five collectibles he speaks of. 

      The M Coupe pictured is actually an S50B32 Euro model, and the wheels aren’t the only distinguishing feature but also the flat (as opposed to curved on the later S54 powered models) M badges and the ’99-’00 only Kyalami interior.

    • Anonymous

      Stock image just to show the model not necessarily the specific rarer one described. While normally I try to use the correct image sometimes it is unavailable at time of post due to copyright or search difficulties.

  • MC
    • BimmerFile_Michael

      The E46 M3 GTR was never sold to the public at large, even though BMW claimed to sell 10 copies they never truly were certified for the street…. the few that do exist are in the hands of BMW corporate around the globe. There may be a few in the hands of private collectors that have been sold grey market. The US market did not see them outside of BMWNA and PTG.

      A truly better example of a rare car that was street going and sold was the E90 M3 CRT which launched after this article was written. I had the chance to purchase CRT #1 and passed it up…… poor choice? Time will tell. There is a single CRT that made it to the US, and that is the rarest factory BMW in the USA- BMWNA does not even have one because it was not sold stateside. 67 total produced and they are killer.

  • Michael Carbone

    So, I have an 1987 e30 M3 – the H is in the 10th position in the VIN. Love this car…love it even more now that I know it’s one of the first 101 M3’s on the market. She has about 116,500 miles on her. Never tampered modifications made. There is a little bit of rust around the windshield. If I were to sell this car, what would be the going price?