List: Top 10 Sporting BMWs Of The Past 50 Years

By Winding Road Staff

March 19, 2009


1986-1992 E30 M3 Legends have to start somewhere, and the E30 M3 set the bar high for future performance oriented 3-Series cars. Power came from a heavily reworked 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, cranking out just under 200 horsepower. Not only was this BMW's first serious everyday sports car, but tuning companies like Prodrive and AC Schnitzer even called upon the E30 M3 to compete in rally, touring car, and DTM racing competitions. Near the end of its life, the E30's engine was boosted to 2.5 liters and could make up to 340 horsepower in full race trim.


2006-2008 Z4 M Roadster There was a lot to love about the original Z3 and Z3 M roadsters, but the second-generation droptop M really stole our hearts. It's attractive, powerful, and a true example of what fun, sporting convertibles should be. While there aren't any definite plans to bring on an M version of the new-for-2010 Z4, the last-generation M Roadster will always have a special place in our hearts.


1969-1977 2002 tii This is the car that started it all for BMW in America. The 2002 was such a success that it really confirmed BMW's place in the world as a premium sports car brand, and the 2002 tii started a huge trend of small, sport sedans. After all, this car is the ancestral grandfather to the original 3-Series, and in modern times, the new 1-Series. Thanks, 2002, for getting the party started.


1998-2005 E39 M5 Certain people in the NextAutos staff still swoon over this car. The last-generation 5-Series was an iconic, elegant design, and the M5's 395-horsepower V-8 engine made it a great choice for people who didn't want to compromise performance for luxury. Available with only a six-speed manual transmission, the M5's tuned suspension, brakes, and steering ratio made it a worthy track car while still being a smooth and powerful cruiser for the highway.


1995-1999 E36 M3 America didn't get to taste the E36 M3 until the 1995 model year, but it was well worth the wait. Power came from a 3.0-liter inline-six capable of around 240 horsepower, and this M3 was eventually sold in coupe, sedan, and convertible configurations. In 1996, displacement was boosted to 3.2 liters, and while horsepower figures didn't change, torque was boosted to 236 pound-feet. The E36 M3 is considered to be one of the best-handling cars of all time, giving it an eternal spotlight in any enthusiast's mind.


2007-2008 Alpina B7 Near the end of the last-generation 7-Series' life-cycle, BMW brought out the Alpina B7 packing a 500-horsepower supercharged engine, a sporty body kit, and some nice interior upgrades. And while a lot of people took issue with the 7's Bangle design, the Alpina's mix of luxury and power was sure to win people over. In fact, some tests say that the B7 was quicker in the quarter mile than a 911 Carrera S. If this isn't BMW's version of an M-badged 7-Series, we don't know what is.


2008-Present 135i When BMW launched the new 1-Series in the U.S., they were hoping that it would be sort of a modern-day 2002. While that may not be the case, there are a raft of reasons why the 1 is one of our favorite BMWs available today. The 135's twin-turbo six and superb driving dynamics make it an attractive choice for enthusiasts, though the price point can get to eyebrow-raising levels when fully optioned out.


1978-1981 M1 The M1 was exactly what you might have expected out of a partnership between BMW and Lamborghini. Not only was the M1 impressive to look at, it was the only mid-engined BMW vehicle to be mass produced and sold to the public. Power came from a twin-cam 3.5-liter six and tuned up racing versions were capable of producing over 800 horsepower when properly turbocharged. In fact, the M1 is such a cult classic that BMW created its M1 Homage concept this past year, which stunned enthusiasts of all ages.


1998-2002 Z3 M Coupe The original M Coupe's love-it-or-hate-it design won big praise within the automotive press, though some enthusiasts were a bit skeptical about the hatchback's overall appearance. The odd proportions were in line of a true "shooting brake" vehicle, and the powerful straight-six powerplant made this a friendly track day competitor.


1983-1989 E24 M6 After the huge success of the M1, BMW decided to take a modified version of the 3.5-liter six and put it into a true Grand Touring car. Not only was the M6 sleek and stylish, Motor Trend magazine featured the M6 as one of the ten fastest cars in America -- understandable, what with the car's suggested 0-60 time of just 6.1 seconds. Not bad for the original land shark.

1986-1992 2006-2008 1969-1977 1998-2005 1995-1999 2007-2008 2008-Present 1978-1981 1998-2002 1983-1989

We're right on the heels of getting the first drive impressions about BMW's latest Z4 hardtop roadster. Because of this, we began to think about the sporty, road-going BMWs of the past and how there have been a few really great cars that have come from the fine folks in Munich. Thus, we present our list of the top ten sporty BMW's from the last fifty years.

To note: We only stuck with mass-produced street cars (sorry, Batmobile CSL) which were sold in the United States. This list represents some of our favorite drivers cars from the past few decades, some of which have helped shape the overall sports car scene of the automotive marketplace.

Scroll through our gallery above to see all ten of these great cars, and if you think we missed one, be sure to debate it out in the comments section.