Car nuts and driving fanatics are obsessed with the idea of “purity”, cars that are the ultimate incarnation of a driving philosophy. Such cars are revered and loved by their owners and fans with almost religious dedication.
911’s have to be manual, air cooled and bare-bones; Alfa Romeos have to be light, rear wheel drive and able to produce the sound of the gods; M3’s have to be…well, track day machines crafted by Teutonic Gods.
The M3, in particular, has always played the role of the “ultimate BMW”. and one of the purest cars ever.
It is a car that has always thrived in BMW’s rich Motorsport history: say its name and you’re evoking 30 years of history and passion for making some of the finest performance road cars in the world. A highly sought after car by collectors and track day enthusiasts, it has become one of the most legendary cars in history.
Intially conceived as a homologation special to allow BMW to go compete in Group A with the E30 3 Series of the 1980ies, the M3 quickly became a hit for its remarkably good chassis and effective and powerful engine. It was an instant hit which evolved into more luxurious and more performing versions spanning 5 series and 30 years.
2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the BMW M3: to celebrate this birthday in proper Escape fashion, we travelled to the Breisgau region in Germany in order to put some enthusiastic km on this low mileage 2006 E46 Competition Pack.
Of all series (except for the original E30) the E46 is perhaps the most beautiful and stylistically well balanced. It is one of Chris Bangle most accomplished designs as it is discreet to look at yet very well proportioned. It’s one design that will never look old and the one that created the myth of the modern M3. The Competition Pack, also known as a “ZCP” was a 4.000$ option for the regular M3 Cupè which enhanced overall performance, although not altering the power of the engine. This special option was offering M Division most track focused customers some of the features which were standard on the rarer and highly sought after limited editon CSL. For a little bit more than the base price, ZCP customers could have the same spin-cast 19 inch BBS wheels, cross-drilled disc brakes, steering rack and the special “M Track Mode DSC” found in the lighter and more powerful CSL.
Although the standard 3.2-liter S54B32 engine was left untouched, the Competition Pack was the most democratic way for M3 customers to have their own piece of BMW’s track-day finesse.
Only offered between 2005 and 2006, the last two years of the E46 production life, the ZPC was a follow-up of the features of the CSL, which was produced between 2003 and 2004. An optional SMG II electro-hydraulic automatic transmission was also offered for the E46 and (with possible disappointment for many) this particular car was equipped with it.
As you would imagine, the Competition Package M3 seems to be in a slightly different league than a regular E46: it’s sharper, more focused and definitely grippier. Although the difference is not night-and-day with a standard model and it is not as extreme as the CSL, the ZCP is a joy to drive, enhancing the focus on the dynamic qualities that made the M3 so popular among car enthusiasts. The behavior is surprisingly neutral when the car is driven correctly: the excellent chassis and suspension balance allow for quick responses and predictable handling. I’ll make no mystery sayng that the M3 offers too many chances to drift its tail around corners: it seems it was born just to do that.
Allow me here to say a thing or two in favor of dated paddle-shifter gearboxes: they’re the folklore of an era when us, car enthusiasts, loved the idea of having a very own piece of racing technology in our cars. Consider that if nowadays we’re so obsessed with manuals is that because in the past we adored shifting gears with paddles behind the steering wheel. A racing-oriented car such as the M3 had to have such options: although we’ve preferred BMW excellent manual transmission in such a car, we’ve found the presence of the (now) slow SMGII gearbox very appropriate. At that time, nothing was cooler than shifting gears like an F1 driver.
Hearing the M3 raspy and metallic straight 6 roar in the fog is a surreal experience. With its Silver paint almost blending with the surroundings and BMW’s unmistakable aggressive kidney grille appearing like a lightning, the E46 was a spectacle to look at. Driving finesse at its very best, as the foggy environment immersed you into history. Excitement is a very real feeling.
Driving this car was like chasing one of the most successful driving philosophies in car history and enjoying the power of the M division.
Well, there you have it: Escape on Wheels’ tribute to the M3. A rare and low mileage M3 E46 Competition Package that celebrates 30 years of driving finesse was the best way to say how special this car really is.
Many thanks to our friend Nicola for the car