M3 E46 Manual Phoenix

M3 E46 Phoenix

Reg: Y696 PBU

Former Owner; Barry from BMR and prior to that a Master Tech at BMW, now having a pampered life with me.


The search for an early E46 M3…… – Page 1 – Readers’ Cars – PistonHeads UK

Pheonix yellow was used at the launch colour to unveil the car at the 2000 Geneva motorshow as well as being used for the brochures and advertising material at the time so the idea of finding a very early manual coupe in the launch colour was decided on and with some research into the early days of RHD E46 M3 production I found that BMW built a run of 25 RHD pre production models built in batches in March, August, October and November of 2000 before RHD series production started in February 2001 which all have the option code, S991A Control pre series and a few of them S906A Fotofahrzeug (photo car).

The first 13 RHD series production cars built all had option code S902A General special inspection which are cars prepared for press use by BMW and some of these cars can be found in various UK magazines and media of the time.
The appeal of a pre production or press car was very high but with limited numbers made and only a handful of them in Pheonix it was a near impossible task although I did track down the 7th RHD E46 M3 ever built which is Pheonix yellow (which I suspect to be the car used the 2000 British motor show at the Birmingham NEC) and now resides in Southern Ireland.

Below at the NEC Classic 2022,

The next best thing would be to find as early series production car as possible so that meant a February built manual coupe, many of which were used as dealer launch cars to be used for the model introduction in the showrooms throughout the UK.

I put the feelers out and wanted ads all over the place for a pre facelift manual coupe and after viewing what can only be described as a car requiring a full restoration yet the vendor asking good money for it I did consider it as it ticked a few boxes, a Feb 2001 built Y reg Pheonix manual coupe with a few decent options but I came to my senses as I didn’t really want to get involved in a major restoration so walked.

A week later a pall of mine sent me a link to an ad on FB market place that I hadn’t spotted for a Pheonix manual coupe and after doing some checks it was an even older car (by about 10 cars) than the rough one so another Feb 2001 built car!
After getting in contact with the owner a day was arranged to go and view and a deal was done so another mate who came with me drove it back to his before I could collect it the next day.

Built 26th Feb 2001 Spec of the car is as follows,

0210 Dynamic stability control
0249 Multifunction f steering wheel
0302 Alarm system
0313 Fold-in outside mirror
0354 Windscreen, green-tinted upper strip
0403 Glass roof, electrical
0415 Sun-blind, rear
0428 Warning triangle and first aid kit
0431 Interior mirror with automatic-dip
0434 Interior surface aluminium
0441 Smoker package
0459 Seat adjustment, electric, with memory
0470 Isofix-System
0473 Armrest front
0490 Adjustment, seat-backrest width
0495 3-point belt & head restr’nt,rear middle
0502 Headlight cleaning system
0508 Park Distance Control (PDC)
0520 Fog lights
0521 Rain sensor
0522 Xenon Light
0534 Automatic air conditioning
0550 On-board computer
0609 Navigation system Professional
0632 Preparation BMW Handy (Motorola)
0692 Preparation, BMW 6-CD changer I-bus
0710 M Sports steering wheel, multifunction
0760 High gloss shadow line
0775 Headlining anthracite
0785 White direction indicator lights
0812 National version Great Britain
0832 Battery in luggage compartment
0850 Dummy-SALAPA
0853 Language version, English
0863 Dealer List Europe
0877 Omission of non-combined operation

The 196th built RHD E46 M3 coupe, (RHD E46 M3 VIN sequence starts with 00000 not 00001) it was registered by Howarth BMW (now Williams) of Rochdale on the 15th March 2001 as a dealer own use model so one of the cars used at the UK wide launch in March that year.

As fait would have it, Jeff Heywood former chairman of the BMWCC who has been writing the articles on my E39 M5 touring build in Straight six magazine actually remembers seeing this very car in Howarths showroom back then as his father bought a new 330Ci SE at the time of the M3 launch!

So 20 years and 70k miles later he we have it! It’s in pretty good condition overall but has picked up a few minor changes along the way including a change to the optional 19″ forged style 67 wheels, some window tints and different lights all easily reversible. Plans so far are to get it back to looking how it was when it was at Howarths BMW in 2001 so back onto 18″ Style 67’s, original lights etc and make it a nice as I can.

First phase of returning the M3 back to how it was when new was the lighting and losing the M3 *** plate. Some period correct plates will end up on the car when I’ve tracked down some imaging of Howarth BMW

Rear LED facelift lights were aftermarket ones which were of the plug and play type so no coding alterations required to replace them back to the original type lamps. Pre facelift lamps to match the pre facelift boot lid.

Depo indicators and headlight lenses replaced with new OEM clear indicators and new lenses. Wet sanding and polishing plastic headlight lenses is quite often normal practice but doing this will remove the UV coating the lenses which you can see in the photo with the green/purple haze on the new lense.

A common area of E46’s showing their age is the bonnet locking pin and safety latch which suffer from corrosion. After 20 years the ones on the car were not looking great so a new set fitted along with a clean up of the surrounding area.

Inspection 2 time for the M3.

BMW sell all the parts required (not including fluids or valve shims) to carry out the Inspection 2 as a “Value line” service kit, something they offer for various models but interestingly the kit for the E46 includes a fuel filter. “Why so interesting” I hear you say? Well the service guidelines set out by BMW for the inspection 2 service do NOT include replacement of the fuel filter so essentially they are a “lifetime” component in the eyes of BMW so why have decided to include one as part of the kit?

In well over 10 years these value line kits have been available I have not found an answer for this but what I have found is that during my time in the dealer network some techs never changed the filer as it was not on the service sheets despite there being one in the kit and that many E46 M3’s I have serviced were still on their original fuel filter.

Cam cover removed in preparation for checking and adjusting the valve clearances revealed relatively clean engine internals. I have seen cleaner on lower mileage engines and have seen some so bad with gunked up burnt oil that the rockers wont slide along the rocker shafts to remove the valve shims without using a degree of force.
Checking and adjusting the valve clearances is part of every inspection 1 and 2 service on the M3 and as it is a large part of the time for these services, it was something that was often not done by bonus hungry dealer techs and weirdly, some independents charged extra for!

A BMW shim set we have in stock plus a tub full of part worn ones mean I could get any that were out of tolerance back into spec, inlet being 0.18-0.23mm and exhaust 0.28-0.33mm with the engine temp below 40 degrees C.
8 out of the 24 were either out of tolerance or on the limit so were brought into spec.

As part of the inspection 2 service I had a good look round the car in more detail than when I checked it over during the viewing when purchasing. The seller of the car happened to be a BMW dealer tech and had dome some work to the car during his ownership but hardly put any miles in the 2 years he owned it. He had fitted new brake pads and discs all round as well as a pair of rear coil springs which are common on E36’s and E46’s for fracturing plus I spotted that someone at some point had replaced the rear silencer flanges which again are a common E46 M3 item for corroding and cracking.

Another repair the previous owner had done was a section of the metal brake pipes that run from the front of the car to the rear callipers replaced with copper which was needed for the MOT prior to sale.

The correct method is to replace the full pipe and this can be bought from BMW in the correct length, flared with the correct unions so all you need to do is use the old pipe as a pattern to bend the new one to the correct shape and this involves removing several parts from under the car to allow removal and fitting which can be quite time consuming so its often the case that people use copper to do an easier repair.
But copper despite having its uses is a bit of a pet hate of mine so all the lines will be replaced with the correct lines when I do some work to the underside of the car.

The rear silencer was sitting a bit low on the right hand side which was due to a split rubber mount so a new one was fitted.

During the initial road test of the car when I bought it I could hear the tell tale sound of worn rear shock absorber top mounts and when inspected my suspicions were confirmed that the were worn and had started to pull through. A repair kit sold by BMW for E46 convertibles is a known OEM upgrade for E30, E36 and E46 rear mounts so a pair of these were fitted.

And that rounds up the initial round of maintenance.

Trawling various classifieds on the web I managed to track down the correct switch panel with just the blind button over the standard DSC, TPMS and SPORT buttons so that could be returned back to how it was originally.

Being a pre 9/01 built car with option S609A Navigation system Professional, it originally had the earlier narrow screen monitor. These have often been replaced with the later wide screen units as its a plug and play upgrade and despite the later monitor being better, you guessed it….. back to how it was originally!

This also included tracking down the correct Motorola V50 and eject box which make up part of option S632A Preparation BMW Handy (Motorola). Luckily all of the original wiring for everything was there and the navigation disc drive and CD changer were still fitted so it was a case of removing all the aftermarket stuff and its associated wiring then refitting all the original equipment.

A bunch of new trims to eradicate all the scratched parts were also fitted at the same time.

Finished off with a new illuminated gear knob, all back to a fully functioning sat nav, CD changer and a V50 that powers up but asking for a sim card. The plan is to fit a pay as you go sim and when driving switch my iphone to call divert to the V50’s number so i can take a call when driving. I did the same thing with an E38 750iL i used to own and it worked a treat.

With the rear coil springs having been recently replaced by the previous owner due to the usual snapping and as per a previous post myself replacing the rear shock absorber top mounts, while I had the rear shocks off and having done over 1000 miles in the car since I bought the car it was apparent that the rear shocks were past their best.

I had considered upgrading the suspension from the standard stuff as its usually one of the changes I make to cars I own and the temptation to order a set of Öhlins Road and track coil overs was strong but the desire to stick to the 2001 ethos overcame this so the above all genuine BMW parts were ordered (other than the rear springs and rear top mounts that were taken off and laid out for the pic)

Having since driven the car with its new suspension its obvious how tired the rear shocks were as well as the fronts but less so. The OE manufacturer for the majority of BMW’s shock absorbers are Sachs and from experience they are finished by anywhere between 60-100k miles depending on the type of use and roads the car sees.

Having said that when the OE suspension on the E46 M3 is fresh its actually pretty good for an OEM set up and having read various period road tests from when the M3 was launched I tend to agree,

An extract from Feb 2001 Autocar’s review of the E46 M3 written by the then relatively unknown Chris Harris…..

“Despite its massive performance the M3’s on-road behaviour strikes an almost perfect balance between supple tourer and hard-edged racer for the road.
The chassis and suspension play strong supporting roles to that astounding engine. The suspension informs you of each rut and ripple, every change in camber and road surface. But theres a subtlety to this flow of information. Think of the visceral nature of the original M3 combined with the refinement of the current 3 series and you get the picture.

This balance means the M3 can be pushed very quickly and confidently down virtually any road. Motorway expansion joints and abrupt ridges are both felt and heard within the cabin but progress is never as jarring or brittle as you would anticipate considering the size of the wheel and tyres. The M3’s chassis was extensively tested on the Nürburgring circuit in Germany, and it shows. Its race inspired handling is evident the first time the M3 takes a bend.

The lowered ride height, stiffer suspension and widened front and rear tracks allow it to spear flatly through corners. There’s little roll even in the most aggressively taken corners, and body control at all speeds is exceptional.
The combination of the chassis’ beautifully neutral balance and the generous foot print translates into a phenomenal level of grip. The steering, while still not in the same feel-all category as the Porsche 911, still supplies your hands with a constant flow of details. It feels heavier than the 330Ci due to reworked valving while kick back is also well damped when the front wheels encounter mid -corner ruts.
The M3 is remarkably accurate on turn-in, with the quicker rack that M division engineers insisted on fitting allowing you to slice through curves with greater precision. But it’s the super smart variable differential that really allows the chassis to exploit the engine. It provides astounding levels of traction – up to a point. While the front end’s natural inclination is to run wide eventually, that understeer can be dialled out with a quick prod of the throttle. If you flick off the Dynamic stability control, getting the tail out becomes a doddle.”

Wanting to continue with the original specification “as delivered” ethos a change from the forged 19×8 and 19×9.5 Style 67 wheels back to the 18×8 and 18×9 style 67 wheels was always on the cards, that and in mine and many other peoples opinion the E46 drives a lot better on the smaller wheels.
The looks as always are a subjective thing with some liking one or the other but I actually like the look of both when they are in perfect condition.
A usual default choice for people are a set of CSL or CSL style wheels and I did fit a set of genuine ones to my first E46 M3 back in 2012 but not this time round.

When I was searching for a suitable M3 this time round I alway knew it was going to end up on 18’s so decided to buy a new set from BMW regardless but upon ordering there was only one 18×9 rear wheel left in the UK and none in Germany but plenty of fronts! When doing a dealer stock search I found out that a dealer in Scotland had four rears in stock so I phoned them up but they said they were reserved for a customer and would not sell so off to Ebay I went…..

I managed to find a new old stock 18×9 rear wheel on ebay in Italy so hit the buy it now and ordered up a pair of front 18×8 from BMW. By the time the rear wheel arrived from Italy it had cost me nearly double the cost of what the last rear one I bought from BMW did after I factored in shipping, import duty and the higher asking price on ebay so as you can imagine when it turned up looking like it did I was not best pleased. Upon closer inspection it became obvious the 18’s have been manufactured by different companies over the years (BBS the newer version, not sure who the earlier is) with a difference in finish and colour.

This would not do.

After placing a wanted ad on M3cutters forum, a member on there responded that he knew of a German supplier that had some new rears in stock as he also needed one but they would not ship to the UK! This wasn’t too much or a problem for me as I have family in Bavaria so after speaking to them to check it was ok to have some wheels shipped to them and they send them to me, the person kindly told me who the seller was and in return I ordered a wheel for each of us and a couple of weeks later they arrived in the UK and ended up costing a LOT more than the one I ordered from BMW but as the new ones ordered through BMW UK were relatively cheap at approx £150+ per wheel, the expensive single wheel added on still made of a reasonably priced set of wheels.

The blower fan and there for the air con decided to pack up, not ideal with the weather we’ve been having!

A new final stage resistor aka “hedgehog” saw that back into action.

Then Barry decided to sell the car to myself (via word of mouth) and since it´s been magazine featured (Classic Car Magazine April 2024)

It was on centre stage at the NEC Classic 2022.

Below with it´s new Friend a period modified 2002 Tii;

My future plans;

Can´t beat a petrol station photo;

Below, one of the regular local BMW meets keeping good company;



New Front wings (purchased) with new winglets

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