Three BMW M fans; three amazing BMW M cars; one great road trip to Goodwood
We had the opportunity to give two of Autocar’s most passionate BMW M owners the definitive VIP Goodwood fan experience. Here’s their story
If ever a brand was defined by the passion of its fans, it’s BMW M. In the 50 years since BMW’s race-bred road car division was founded in 1972, it has produced an epic catalogue of truly game-changing epoch-defining models that have thrilled and delighted those lucky enough to drive them, and left the rest of us salivating.
So, when we got the chance to invite two of Autocar’s most ardent BMW M-loving readers on a VIP road trip to the Goodwood Festival of Speed to celebrate BMW M’s 50th anniversary we knew you’d jump at the chance – especially with the prospect of a thrilling money-can’t-buy passenger ride in the new BMW M3 Competition Touring and the BMW M4 CSL up Goodwood’s iconic hillclimb course.
We were inundated with amazing cars from fans with a unique love of BMW M, which is why we brought 50 of the very best together at Caffeine & Machine for a truly spectacular BMW M-Fest meet. Sadly, we only had two spaces available on our Goodwood road trip. But we like to think we found two particularly passionate BMW M owners, each driving best-in-breed models with truly wonderful stories.
Just click the video below to hear their tale and watch their amazing journey – all the way from Autocar’s BMW M-Fest to their high-speed passenger ride up the hill at the Goodwood Festival Of Speed.
Meeting Autocar’s biggest BMW M fans
A quick stroll around the Caffeine & Machine car park on a balmy June evening, and the sheer breadth and diversity of models that BMW M has crafted over the past five decades instantly becomes clear. As does the love of BMW M fans for all of them.
In one corner, a pair of BMW Z4M Coupés. In another, a brand-new BMW M3 Competition in bold Isle of Man Green. Surrounding them, a wealth of stunning-looking BMW M3 E30s and M3 E46s. However, we’re on the lookout for the two special cars and their owners who we’ll be taking on our road trip to Goodwood. First up, Roland Scull, who owns a mint-condition BMW M3 E46 in stunning Estoril Blue.
Following in the tracks of the iconic BMW M3 E30 and E36, the BMW M3 E46 is the apex predator of mid-1990s M cars. With its widened fenders and chrome-plated gills, it redefined how fast four-seater performance saloons could look. Its 3.2-litre high-revving straight-six delivered up to 343hp and 365Nm of torque to the rear wheels through a limited-slip differential. With over 85,000 examples sold, it’s easily one of BMW M’s most successful – and ubiquitous – models.
What makes the story of Roland’s BMW M3 E46 special is that, even though he’s owned a succession of BMWs, this is his first ‘full fat’ BMW M model. Crucially, it’s the one he was prepared to wait for. “I’ve loved BMW M cars since I was a kid. It’s something I got from my dad, and I actually bought my first BMW off him. I’ve had a few BMWs over the years, but the BMW M3 E46 is the one I always wanted, since I was a teenager. I’ve always been waiting for the right one to come around.
“My friend owned a few BMW M cars, so a lot of my early BMW M moments were experienced through him and his cars. He knew I was looking for an M3 E46, so last year he said: “Buy mine”. It’s so weird to have one myself now. I just love everything about it: the way it looks, the way it drives, the way it sounds. It’s just the peak BMW M car for me. It still hasn’t sunk in.”
Next up, it’s hard to miss Matt Parting and his head-turning BMW Z3 M Coupé. Launched in 1997, the Z3 M Coupé was introduced to add a touch of extra grand touring versatility to the BMW Z3 roadster. Under its long bonnet, the 3.2-litre straight-six delivered 325hp and 350Nm of torque.
The rear – another of former BMW designer Chris Bangle’s distinctive (and divisive) love-hate creations – delivered a stiffer tauter interpretation of the BMW Z3’s vaunted handling, with a raucous rasp from the four-pipe exhaust. It remains one of BMW M’s most exclusive models, with only 165 right-hand drive examples making the UK market.
The BMW Z3 M Coupé was the Autocar cover star on 1st July 1998, and this was where Matt first saw the car at the age of 14. He still has a copy of that magazine and knows the history of how the car came to be in intimate detail.
“For me, it’s the way it looks,” says Matt. “It’s so rare and weird. There’s absolutely nothing else on the road that looks like it. When I first saw it, I always knew that was the car I’d own one day. I’ve always loved outliers. When you look through my car history, that’s the case with every car – the interesting ones, or the weird ones that nobody wanted at the time. But that works out really well, because they’re rare – and now people do want them, because they’ve realised they’re the coolest models.
“Like so many BMW M cars, the Z3 M Coupé was conceived in the basement as a Skunk Works engineering project. A designer would never have come up with that concept, which is why it’s such a bizarre creation. It’s one of the few BMWs without the Hoffmeister kink. When they got the management team down to look at it, apparently half love it and half hated it. But I think that’s what I love about it. It’s a real Marmite car – an outlier in the BMW canon.”
“In between first seeing the road test in Autocar and buying one, I think I saw only one or two on the road. One time, it was in a car park in B&Q, and I just had to take a photo with the kids – explaining to them that it was my dream car, because I didn’t know if I’d ever see one again. About three or four years ago, the opportunity finally came up to own one. So, I’m a very happy man.”
While Matt has owned an extensive roster of BMW M models and spent plenty of time enjoying the shared enthusiasm of BMW M fans, Roland is still a relative newcomer to the attention that comes with being a BWM M owner. His BMW M3 E46 has its own Instagram account, but our Autocar BMW M Fest is one of the first events where Roland has been able to show off his BMW M3 E46 to the community.
“I love events like this,” he says. “Normally, I’d be lusting over other people’s cars and thinking it would be nice to own one someday. Now I’ve got one, and people are talking to me about my car and taking photos of it. It’s a whole new experience. Everyone knows you’ve got a special car. It’s the badge; it’s the prestige. I get home shopping delivery drivers talking to me about my car. It’s a whole other level with a BMW M car.”
An ingrained passion for BMW M
The next morning, as we reconvene at Caffeine & Machine for an early-morning coffee ahead of our drive to Goodwood, we have the chance to chat to Roland and Matt in more depth about where their love of BMW M models started.
“As I said, my dad was into cars, and he definitely passed his passion onto me,” says Roland. “But a lot of my experiences of BMW M models have come through friends. I remember when I’d just learned to drive, a friend and I went to visit a big local BMW dealership. It was the 1990s and he had a flip-phone with a yellow case. The dealer had a BMW M3 E36 in Dakar Yellow in the window – such a 1990s colour. And I remember sitting in it, thinking: ‘This is pretty cool; one day this is going to happen’.”
It’s a similar story for Matt. “Like Roland, my appreciation of BMWs came from my dad at an early age,” he says. “BMWs were a big part of my life growing up. My uncle and father had me driving cars, sitting on their lap, from the age of three, and I started reading Autocar at way too young an age. Definitely what you’d consider a nerd. The smoothness of a straight-six, the idea that that’s how a car should feel – that was drummed into me from my dad at an early age. That’s where it all started.
“He had a whole bunch of Ford Sierras, then – one day – he came home in a white BMW 320 E30. It’s not a quick car; we’re only talking 129 horsepower. But it was a BMW and a straight-six. He told me: ‘This is a smooth engine’. From then on, all his company cars were BMWs. I remember coming home from a school trip, and he’d just taken delivery of a BME 520i E34 in Avus Blue. He just walked towards it, clicked the button and I was like: ‘No way is that our car’.
“When it came to getting my first car at the age of 17, my mates all got little French hatchbacks. But I always knew it would have to be the cheapest straight-six I could get myself into – a BMW 320i E30 in Arctic Silver. Since then, BMWs have been a big part of my life. At every life moment, there has been a BMW. On my wedding day, we drove away in my Dad’s BMW 635 CSi. When we had our first kid, I picked them up from the hospital in the back of a BMW 530d Sport Touring.”
The ultimate BMW M road trip
Leaving Caffeine & Machine in convoy with the future of BMW M performance – the all-electric BMW i4 M50 – as our lead car, Roland and Matt get a chance to kick back and relax as we head down through the scenic roads of the North Wessex Downs and the South Downs to Goodwood.
“For me, driving is one of the real joys of life,” says Matt. “Like a lot of people, I’ve got a busy family, a busy job. But driving is an opportunity to get time on my own to relax. I’ll get up early, maybe four or five o’clock in the morning and meet up with friends. The BMW Z3 M Coupé, it’s a really interesting car to drive. It feels a lot like a Roman chariot. You sit so far back between those rear haunches and those big fat wheels. You’ve got the big bonnet with the big straight-six engine out in front of you.
“Once you’re on the road, there’s a real flow to all BMW M cars that is particularly satisfying. And that’s true of all BMW M models. I’ve never driven a BMW M3 E46, but I know that if I got into Roland’s car and he got into mine, there would be that similarity. There’s the rear-wheel drive BMW DNA in the way you can feel the car pushing you round the corner from the rear, and the front-end biting in. But, with BMW M cars everything is dialled up to 11. That little bit extra.”
Roland is still in the early stages of enjoying his recently purchased BMW M3 E46. “From the moment you turn the key, it’s just such a special experience,” he says. “For a relatively comfortable four-seater with a boot, it handles beautifully – it just feels so planted on the road and connected.
“It’s also got that mechanical connection. The gearbox is really brutal, but it’s also really positive – and that’s part of the appeal of a classic. Then there’s that engine note: the intake noise and the sound of the engine absolutely screaming at 8,000rpm. You don’t get that kind of noise in a car any more. It just brings a smile to your face every time you drive it.”
For both Roland and Matt, the sound, power delivery and ultimate performance of a BMW M engine is as crucial a part of the cars’ DNA as the style and the handling. “Engines are such a key part of my passion for BMW M cars,” says Matt. “I’ve been lucky enough to own some of the great BMW M engines: the V10 in the BMW M5 E60 Touring; the 3.5-litre in the BMW M5 E28. For me, there’s a real character to the way they build their power, and how the noise keeps building.
“It goes back to knowing where you are with the machine. The way that the power just keeps growing in third gear – it’s all you need. And you don’t need to think where you are, because you can hear it. With the V10 in the BMW M5 Touring, I’d just go seeking tunnels, because there was no other family estate car in which you could replicate the sound of an F1 car going through the Monaco tunnel.”
Roland agrees. “It’s all about that straight-six engine for me,” he says. “The S54 engine in my BMW M3 E46 is regarded as one of the best engines ever made. It won engine of the year for four years in a row. With the carbon airbox in, it just absolutely sings.”
The ultimate fan experience at Goodwood
At Goodwood, the sheer wealth of BMW M cars on display – celebrating BMW M’s road-going and race icons of the past, and the latest hot-off-the-production-line models – is too much to list. Matt and Roland naturally gravitate towards the freshly revealed BMW M3 Competition Touring, but the BMW M5 CS (which recently picked up a five-star Autocar review) and the new plug-in hybrid BMW Concept XM SUV catch the eye of the throng of BMW M fans visiting BMW’s trackside stand.
The Goodwood Festival of Speed also gives BMW M a chance to highlight its all-electric future – whether it’s the new BMW iX M60, or the new BMW M760e – which sit alongside the new BMW i7 and the BMW iX1 in Goodwood’s Stable Yard. Both Matt and Roland – as hardened BMW M purists – admit to having concerns about what will be missed when BMW M eventually goes all-electric, but they also see some of the potential opportunities.
Roland is quick to admire the design of the BMW i4 M50 that formed the holy trinity of our convoy down to Goodwood, as well as its stunning acceleration. “I really like it,” he says. “It’s modern, it’s sleek. It follows the ergonomics of what an electric performance car needs to be. Obviously, you don’t get the noise, that mechanical brutality. But it’s clean, it’s fast, it’s smooth. It’s just different. It’s the future.”
As a self-confessed straight-six ‘BMW M nut’, Matt admits that he’s going to miss the iconic engine note of a BMW M car when things go electric. But, as he points out, there are plenty of other ways that BMW M can find to engage hardened fans. “With the BMW i4 M50, I was surprised just how much it felt like a real BMW,” he says. “If I’d closed my eyes, I could easily have been in something like a 5 Series – very comfy, incredibly quick, and it handled really well for its size and weight.
“What used to differentiate cars was their engines, but there are lots of other key sensations that define a BMW M car. The front-end bite on a BMW M car is fantastic, as is the steering. The way an electric BMW M car steers, the way it flows down a road, the contact points, even making the accelerator feel interesting. Those are all things that, if BMW M can capture them, they’ll keep the spirit of the brand.”
The ultimate BMW M passenger ride
Finally, the cherry on the icing on top of BMW M’s 50th anniversary birthday cake. Our two Autocar-reading BMW M fans get to experience a ride in two of BMW M’s latest and greatest models – joining the likes of the 1983 Brabham BMW BT52 Formula 1 car and the 1999 BMW V12 LMR Le Mans car on a high-speed run up Goodwood’s iconic 1.16-mile hillclimb course.
First, Roland takes to the hill in the passenger seat of the new BMW M4 CSL, with development driver Jorg Weidinger at the wheel. “That was absolutely amazing,” he says. “Truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I’ve never been in a modern BMW M with a pro driver on-track, and I couldn’t believe just how unbelievably fast it was. I mean, my BMW M3 E46 is quick. But the M4 CSL shows you just how much things have moved on and progressed in the last 20 years – from something relatively fast in my car, to something absurdly fast.
“I love Goodwood anyway. But, the fact that I got to drive my car here, the fact it was sponsored by BMW for BMW M’s 50th anniversary, and I got the chance see all of the BMW M cars there – from the iconic BMW M3 E30 to the M3 CSL E46 which is the super-limited edition of my car and the new BMW M3 Competition Touring. Then to experience the BMW M4 CSL with one of BMW’s development drivers at the wheel – it was literally everything coming together. The perfect moment.”
Close behind, Matt got the ultimate first-hand experience of the new BMW M3 Competition Touring, with development driver Frank Weishar at the wheel. “I’ve done a lot of track days, so I’m used to barrelling along a race track at speed,” he say. “But it wasn’t until I got to Goodwood and realised how many people are there that it hit me how special this is as an experience. They’re all desperate to just a good view of the cars on the hillclimb, and I’m going up it!
“Equally, I hadn’t realised that it’s not just the hillclimb. You’re in the paddock and driving down the hill in one of the most amazing multi-million-pound convoys of BMW M cars imaginable. Dream cars in front of you; legendary cars behind you – including the Le Mans-winning car, a McLaren F1 longtail, the BMW M3 DTM touring car and the BMW Z4 GT3 race car. To be able to sit next to one of BMW M’s development drivers; to have that kind of access to someone who is willing to ask my millions of questions – that’s as special as it gets for a BMW M owner.
“As a BMW Z3 M Coupe owner, I was really proud to be able to drive my car to Goodwood and have it as part of the story. It’s a car that is often overlooked, but there’s a lot about the Z3 M Coupé that is BMW all over. And, as someone who has put a lot of thought and passion into BMW M cars over the years, to be right at the heart of BMW M’s 50th anniversary celebrations – well, that was pretty special.”