The year was 2007. Steve Jobs, alive and well, had just announced one of the most influential products ever created in modern history, the iPhone. An Airbus A380 takes to the skies in the its first ever commercial flight, and the final instalment of the Harry Potter saga was finally released onto the World in print. It was a year that seemed so full of hope and dreams, hopes and dreams which sadly didn’t last very long as the biggest financial crisis ever since the great depression hit and brought everything down to a crashing halt.
Closer to home, a 24 year old me was getting excited over matters entirely unrelated to any significant World event. It was the year I bought my first car with my own money (with a little help from the best girlfriend in the World of course). It was a beautiful red E36 Coupe. A beautiful red E36 Coupe which I was stalked for over a year, hoping that one day, her owner would part company with. In 2007, I received a private message on the local BMW forums and it happened. I did the mental math continuously and it was possible, but I was constantly being discouraged by my family from taking the plunge. My girlfriend though, ever the silver lining amongst my dark clouds kept me going positively forward and I soon found myself with the keys to a lovely Hellrot E36 Coupe, and the start of a 8 year automotive journey.
An 8 year journey which ended with a change of ownership and in its place, a lovely 1/18th Alpine White interpretation by Ottomobiles.
Building a sequel to the road going version of the most successful touring car ever made was not an easy job for BMW, and the E36 M3 had some really big shoes to fill. With a skew in direction towards improving road going comfort, reception to BMW’s second generation M3 was lukewarm at best. No longer a homologation special, the E36 M3 just felt a little less special after the legendary E30 M3 that came before it. In the United States, E36 M3s were also the subject of ire as cars delivered state-side were fitted with less powerful engines compared to those shipped within Europe, which many felt was a “real” M-Engine.
Car & Driver Magazine might have crowned it “The Best Handling Car in America”, the E36 M3 sadly remained the unwanted child for many years to come and have only started getting attention in the past year or so. This could be due to the skyrocketing prices for E30 M3s or perhaps, numbers of decent E36 M3s have dwindled down through the years with many being ragged out on the streets or thrashed on the tracks due to their low price points. With those low price points long gone, prices of well kept E36 M3s have already started to appreciate with the special editions commanding real classic M-money.
And there were quite a few special editions, the most prominent ones being the European M3 GT cars and the M3 Lightweight, or M3 LTW, for the North American market. Released in 1995, the LTW was built to homologate the E36 M3’s entry into sports-car racing. These cars were stripped of their radio, air conditioning, leather seats, under-bonnet insulation, boot floor and tool kits. The doors had aluminium skins, under body insulation was reduced and the wheels were forged 17-inch staggered units. Overall, these changes reduced 91 kg over the standard M3.
Changes were not just pertaining to weight either as the speed limiter was removed and the car’s differential ratio was shortened from 3.23 to 3.15 for higher top end speed. Suspension upgrades consisted of shorter springs from the European-specification M3 and before the cars were sold, they were all sent to Prototype Technology Group Racing, or PTG Racing for short, for final preparation. While it might sound like PTG Racing was only involved in doing the final touch-ups before the cars were sold, they were much more involved than that. In truth, the E36 M3 LTW cars exists BECAUSE of PTG Racing as PTG Racing told BMW what they required and BMW came up with the LTW.
PTG’s final prep work for the road going LTWs included the front and rear Motorsport flag decals, and the “trunk kit”. Consisting of a dual-pickup oil pump, again from the European-specification M3, front strut bar, lower cross-brace, spacer blocks to raise the rear wing, and an adjustable front splitter.
Interestingly, each owner was given a 1-page legal document to sign acknowledging that any installation of these “trunk kit” items voided their new car warranties. It’s hard to imagine seeing any M3 LTWs without these items installed so I guess most of these owners didn’t care much for their factory warranties.
Even more interesting was that even though this name was never officially used on any form of marketing or naming nomenclature, factory paperwork documents that came with these E36 LTWs listed them as “M3 US CSL” cars. A name that would only officially appear many years later with the E46 M3 CSL. As the CSL designation means “Coupe Sport Leichtbau” or “Coupe Sport Lightweight”, perhaps, it was just BMW using the letters in a descriptive way.
While the M3 LTW never had the official CSL badging stamped onto its boot, with just 125 cars built, they are now very much sought after and represent the finest of their generation.
Otto’s version of the E36 M3 LTW though is unfortunately, not the finest model from this manufacturer, but it is not without its merits. And there are plenty of merits. I’ve had this model for slightly over 4 years and the Alpine White paint is still smooth and even, there are very slight hints of yellowing but considering BMW Alpine White does have a slight hint of warmth to the colour, this hint of discolouration is minute enough to not be a concern. The sealed model’s faux shutlines are also decently modelled, but I think, could do with more definition as they currently look a little too rounded off along the edges.
Stance is spot on although the model also suffers from the same thing which I feel plague the actual scale cars, they have a shape that from certain angles, just don’t look great in photographs. An issue I found with my own E36 Coupe as well.
Interior detail is decent although with this being a sealed model, is an area few people are going to pay attention to. That roof mounted rear view mirror is wrong though as E36 Coupes have their rear view mirrors glass mounted. Just being pedantic there.
The 17″ forged wheels sit well and are designed spot on. These are the earlier versions of the wheels with BNW Motorsport stamped onto them. Later versions came without these words but sport a tiny M logo sticker.
There are of course a few flaws, the faux shutlines for one, window trim fitment is another with some white paint showing in areas between the “glass” and black window trim. The flag decals could also have been applied better. But overall, I think Otto have done a pretty good job replicating all the little details that set the LTWs apart from the regular M3s and the positives definitely outnumber the negatives.
One thing that I kept thinking of was how much Ottomobile reminded me of what UT models used to be. Sure, they are not at Autoart/Ignition Model levels of detail but Otto do a really good job choosing what cars to build and they price them well enough to make these purchases relatively guilt-free. Coincidentally, UT was the last model manufacturer to produce a 1/18th E36 M3 model as well!