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This 1990 BMW M3 Sport Evolution is a homologation masterpiece forged in the red-hot fires of domestic rivalry. It is the ultimate development of BMW’s M3 (E30), itself an earlier homologation special of 5,000 units executed for the 1988 DTM season. During the interceding race season, FIA regulations lowered homologation quotas to just 500 chassis. The hood, roof and door cards are the only untouched surfaces presented by the M3 Sport Evolution’s bodywork; a set of boxed wheelarches were implemented to incorporate wider wheels, and in turn, larger brakes — all of it underpinned by a race-revised multilink suspension featuring stiffer springs and thickened sway bars. A limited-slip differential is linked to a 5-speed close-ratio Getrag transmission. In Sport Evolution trim, the M3’s “S14” dual-overhead camshaft inline-4-cylinder engine received a more-aggressive crankshaft, revised valves and a ported exhaust manifold, bumping displacement to 2.5 liters and peak performance to 238 horsepower. This German-market Sport Evolution is one of just 600 examples produced and was completed on January 20, 1990. After several years in Germany, it was imported to the United Kingdom in 2001, and then in 2015 to the United States. Accompanying maintenance documentation shows several thousand dollars spent in regular upkeep, crowned by a mechanical and cosmetic refresh regimen executed by Classic Heroes of Buxted, U.K., in 2014. The gloss black exterior is complemented by an Evo-exclusive cloth “tricolor” interior accented by a tidy pair of Recaro seats, red belts, and suede trimmings on the shift assembly and steering wheel. It is notably optioned over standard with an electric sunroof, power windows and rear sunblind. This desirable and limited 1990 BMW M3 Sport Evolution is accompanied by a toolkit and spare.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1990 BMW M3 Sport Evolution
Years Produced:1989–90
Number Produced:600
SCM Valuation:$98,000 (standard M3)
Tune Up Cost:$750–$1,000
Chassis Number Location:Engine bay shock tower and VIN plate inside driver’s door
Engine Number Location:Back of the block where it meets transmission
Club Info:BMW Car Club of America
Alternatives:1987 Alfa Romeo 75 Turbo Evoluzione, 1987 Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth, 1990–91 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.5-16 Evolution II

This car, Lot 127, sold for $212,800, including buyer’s premium, at RM Sotheby’s Arizona sale on January 22, 2021.

In 1986, BMW began production of the iconic and highly collectible E30-series M3. With this first-generation M3, BMW extracted 192 hp from a naturally aspirated, 2.3-liter, 16-valve, inline 4-cylinder engine. The body of the M3 was easily recognizable from the standard 3 Series, with its flared fenders and quarter panels, as well as changes to the front spoiler, rear bumper cover, rear glass and trunk lid, which were all made to improve aerodynamics.

All E30 M3s came with Recaro sport seats, trimmed in either leather or cloth. European models like this example came with a dog-leg-pattern Getrag transmission (with first gear down and to the left), while U.S. versions came with a traditional H-pattern shifter. An automatic transmission was not available.

The ultimate iteration

The M3 Sport Evolution immediately commands respect from BMW enthusiasts as it represents the pinnacle of the E30 model, with multiple performance upgrades as well as additional horsepower.

These cars had an upgraded 2.5-liter engine and improvements were made to stiffen the suspension and sharpen the steering. The body had slightly taller fender arches, which were designed to mount larger 18-inch racing wheels.

One of the coolest features of the Sport Evolution was the functional and adjustable front splitter and rear wing, which tweaked downforce via three modes, dubbed “Normal,” “Monza,” and “Nürburgring.” Thinner glass for lighter weight and larger front cooling ducts for improved braking are present on the Sport Evolution. It should be noted that this rare model was never sold new in the U.S.

I recently spoke with Eric Keller of Enthusiast Auto Group of Cincinnati, OH, regarding the mechanical reliability of the E30 M3 Sport Evolution. Keller has many years of hands-on experience with these cars from a competitive driving, servicing and resale perspective, and has numerous clients who are longtime owners. Keller claims that these cars are extremely well built and, with proper storage, maintenance and exercise, will provide years of driving enjoyment. Parts are still readily available from BMW, which was confirmed by a good friend at my local dealership.

Highly valued across generations

It would be hard to argue about the collectible value of any E30 M3, as documented recent sales data will quickly confirm that these cars are a white-hot commodity. Examples that are well maintained but have over 100,000 miles typically sell in the $60k–$75k range. Lower miles, better condition and well-documented provenance and service history often equate to much higher sale prices.

The E30 M3 is notable for having broad appeal to collectors across generations. About a year ago, I had SCM contributor Philip Richter’s 1989 M3 in my shop for a few months for some cosmetic rejuvenation and a dry-ice cleaning of the undercarriage. To say that his example was a “rock star” would be an understatement. The car was immediately recognized by enthusiasts of all ages, especially younger ones in their 20s. Common sense will tell you that if the next generation of collectors find a particular make and model strongly appealing, that demand will continue into the foreseeable future.

A legendary car, well bought

With its limited production and impressive performance improvements, it is easy to understand the $212,800 price that this vehicle commanded.

Whether it was well bought or sold is another question. It is hard to draw a firm conclusion based upon the data provided online by RM Sotheby’s. I suspect that most of the bidders who participated in this auction did so remotely, which makes determining actual condition more difficult. Questions about the condition of the vehicle’s undercarriage and suspension and being able to see the vehicle’s service records would have been beneficial to the buyer. Had I been bidding, I would have reached out to RM Sotheby’s to ask a specialist to provide me with this crucial information.

The presence of non-factory paintwork to cosmetically improve some of the body panels may not be a deal-breaker to most. However, to many collectors, a vehicle that is wearing 100% factory paint is most desirable. Displaying paint-meter readings on every panel has become a common practice for those presenting a car for sale to a primarily remote audience. A video presentation of the vehicle running and driving, as well as a demonstration of the functionality of its power features, is also beneficial to a potential bidder.

While I have no reason to believe that this car isn’t completely as described, the subtleties of condition should always be demonstrated when selling a collector car in this price range.

Based upon what was provided, I would conclude that this car appears to have been well bought. The future appears bright for the popular E30 M3, and by paying up for the ultimate Sport Evolution variant, the new owner now possesses the best version of a legendary model. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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