The key cars behind BMW’s success

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When we talk of great BMW cars, the choice of performance and style benchmarks is wide. With nearly 100 years building some of the finest and fastest cars in the world, the Bavarian Motor Works are responsible for many a fanatic’s favourite. Here are three favourites from their recent history.

BMW E30 M3

The first of the big-impact M cars was from the E30 M3. We take fast saloons for granted nowadays, but the M3 of the mid-80s was the car that put the M Division on the performance map, and made everybody want one.

Small, light, nimble, and just so good-looking, the BMW M3 was built to go racing, and this thoroughbred design, engineering and manufacture shone through to the fore in everything it did.

It wasn’t particularly powerful – especially by today’s standards – but with the final run of cars getting around 250bhp to play with, and wrapped up in a fine-handling rear-wheel drive chassis, this M3 made mincemeat of corner apexes, and indeed, much of the competition on the racetrack. Good condition examples today fetch pretty big money as there weren’t that many made, but if you can find a good one and the budget allows, they are still one of the most fun to drive cars ever made.

BMW E39 M5

Of course we’re sticking with the BMW M cars; the best of the BMW best, and this E39 M5 – made from 1998–2003 – really earned the title of ‘super-saloon’. Big, bold and brash, and full of power and presence, the E39 M5 was an autobahn stormer of serious intentions.

It’s a big car, based on the large and comfortable 5 Series saloon, and while the M5 variant kept all of the 5 Series comfort and refinement, it also bought huge power to the segment, starting a power struggle with the other German manufacturers for super-fast cars. The 5-litre V8 petrol engine under that long bonnet was a real powerhouse.

With some 394bhp on tap, the E39 M5 was a real flier, but it was limited to 155mph by electronics, as cars were just getting too fast at the time. A special, extra strong 6-speed manual gearbox was used to handle all of the power, sending it to the rear wheels with a 7,000rpm redline and plenty of torque. An E39 M5 can spin its rear wheels until the tyres go pop!

Like all M cars, this M5 had plenty of attention and engineering thrown at its suspension, chassis and brakes to make sure it handled in the way that M cars should, as at just under 2,000kg, it wasn’t exactly a lightweight car. Fortunately it had the V8 muscle to back up its heft.

BMW E63 M6

A more recent submission to the M cars hall of fame from the sleek and curvy M6, launched in 2005. But, just because it’s a new one doesn’t mean it’s not a good one, with all of the very latest BMW fast-tech on board. Big, bold, so fast and so mean to look at.

Under that lovely long bonnet is one of the BMW M Division’s most powerful and impressive engines; a full-blooded 500bhp, 5-litre V10 petrol motor that never fails to impress with its sheer potency.

Even at around 2,000kg in weight, with 500bhp ready to rumble, the BMW M6 could hit 62mph in just over 4 seconds, and blast on to a limited top speed of 155mph. Take the limiter off and with its slippery aero, this M car could likely touch 200mph. On the autobahn, of course. See one at Listers.