March 05 2004   Story: Jared Robinson, Pics- Chris Troianello

The Motorsport division of BMW produces some of the best factory-built drivers' cars in the world. Indeed, the M badge is one of honor and prestige, and the machines that bear its colors are rare and highly desirable. The E36 M3 sedan is among the rarest of these M cars, offered in the U.S. for just two model years, 1997 and 1998. Though many were equipped with automatic transmissions, the 5-speed version is every bit an M3, and then some.

At the age of 28, Dan Fitzgerald is making a name for himself in the automotive aftermarket. Not only is he the national sales manager for the premier wheel sales and repair shop in the Northeast, he is also the sales manager for a new company specializing in rebuilding BMW differentials. Someone that busy not only needs a reliable set of wheels, but one with proper street cred. Dan's ride of choice happens to be one of the cleanest and fastest normally aspirated M3 Sedans in North America.

Though the M3 sedan is mechanically identical to the coupe, many M3 purists felt that the 4-door bodywork detracted from the sporty character of the car. Those guys may want to reconsider that notion after seeing this incredible sports sedan, a class of car that once was BMW's exclusively. The Bavarian designers penned a classic with the E36 sedan, so Dan has opted to keep the exterior mostly stock, changing only the grille for a more aggressive-looking example from Hamann. The black grille conspires with the black body moldings to create a striking contrast against the purity of the Alpine White paint.

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Though originally equipped with 17-inch wheels, the car now rolls on a set of 19-inch AC Schnitzer Type III alloys mounted to 225/35-19 Toyo FZ4 performance tires. The car has also been lowered and is now held up by H&R coilovers, lending a more appropriate stance to this capable machine. Adding to its purposefulness without detracting from originality are the upgraded Hella ellipsoid headlights, which have been converted to HID output, and H7 foglamps.

The subtlety of the exterior continues under the hood, where it appears to be nothing more than a stock M3 engine. Don't be fooled by its clean-cut looks though, because Dan's sedan is powered by a one-off, Chuck Stickley-designed, 3.2-liter monster motor. The engine is essentially a detuned Stickley Grand Am-spec racing engine, and puts out a reliable, streetable 310 bhp, without the use of forced induction or nitrous - the latter of which destroyed the car's original powerplant.

The key to the engine's remarkable output is the use of lightweight components. The cylinder head is from a 1995 M3 Lightweight and features undercut, lightweight valves with a 5-angle grind, actuated by Schrick camshafts. Evosport underdrive pulleys and a 10-pound flywheel from Turner Motorsport further reduce rotational mass, contributing to more power and better responsiveness. High-flow fuel injectors feed this heavy breather. Spent gasses are carried away through a mostly-stock M3 exhaust system that makes use of a Borla racing mid-pipe.

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The transmission and drivetrain received as much attention as the engine. Gears are selected and engaged through a UUC Short Shifter. The transmission is supported by a UUC cross-brace - a wise upgrade for hard-driven E36s. The rear differential is Dan's own custom creation, assembled by his own master technician at DiffsOnline. A 3.46 :1 BMW limited-slip was rebuilt and reshimmed to produce up to a 75% lockup, as compared to the factory's 25% lock. This differential really puts the power down for great launches and helps the sedan pull out of tight corners quickly.

Continuing the clean theme inside, the all-business black leather interior is modified only for the benefit of allowing the driver to do his job better. A UUC Big Boy shift knob falls comfortably to hand for confident shifting. Of course, not all of Dan's time behind the wheel is so serious, so when he needs a little entertainment, he turns on the custom sound system. Entertaining driver and passengers alike is a subtle combination of quality audio gear. An Alpine 7871 head unit feeds an ADS amplifier that powers the Boston Pro 5.25-inch components, and a Rockford Fosgate Punch amp powering two JL Audio 12-inch sub-woofers for that extra bass kick.

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Dan has built himself not only a beautiful and powerful M3, but one that can also be counted on to perform its daily duties. Like the mailman, it delivers in the rain, snow or dark of night. Dan drives it no matter what New England has to throw at it, despite the fact the car is approaching the 100,000-mile mark. That he is able to maintain its pristine condition is a tribute to his passion for this car.

Although it is hard to describe an M3 as a sleeper, this car definitely stays under the radar. Its simple exterior belies the muscle underneath. It is a stealth bomber in white. "A Cream Dream Double Dipped Supreme Sedan," as our photographer might say. Indeed.