How Canada Got the Euro-Spec E36 M3 America Didn't

Thanks to one product planner and lots of string pulling, a handful of Canadian enthusiasts got a very special BMW.

BMW

BMW never sold the 286-hp E36 M3 in the US, but a handful of examples made it to Canada. Hagerty tells the story of how just quietly ended up in Canada before BMW corporate shut the whole thing down. It's a story of backchannels, loopholes, and one impetuous product planner.

The whole thing starts with a trip made to the US by Karl-Heinz Kalbfell, the head of BMW Motorsport. Kalbfell was there to help convince BMW's US operations to sell the E36 M3, but unfortunately, it wasn't to be. The first-generation M3, the E30, was a sales flop in the US. We now love it for its motorsports pedigree, but at the time, customers just didn't want a noisy four-cylinder M3 that cost more than a 325is. Understandably, US dealers weren't going to want another M3 after the troubles with the first one.

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The fact that the M3 wouldn't be homologated for the US market put a huge damper on the car's Canadian prospects, but Tom Plucinsky, then BMW Canada's product planning manager, was nonsed. At the time, the Canadian government would allow the importation of Norwegian-spec cars in low volumes. Plucisnky figured BMW Canada could sell around 50 M3s per year, so he put in an initial order for 45.

Hagerty details to get those 45 cars in the country, but somehow it pulled it off for the 1994 model year. Each car carried a near-$60,000 CAD base price, which translates roughly to $73,000 of today's American dollars.

BMW
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When BMW US found out about this scheme, it wasn't happy. Concurrently, BMW North America was also developing a cheaper M3 for the US market that did away with the European car's 3.0-liter S50 B30 straight-six (pictured above) in favor of a tuned 328i engine, among other things. All of that combined with the departure of Kalbfell killed Canada's special M3 after just one model year.

The contains additional details and pictures from Plucinsky, so give it a read. Plucinsky thinks the Canadian M3 is a future classic, and it's hard to disagree with him. It's a heck of a lot cooler than the US-market E36 M3 Lightweight and rarer too. If you've got one, hang on to it.

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