The power behind a single letter…

What’s in a name is also true of a collection of letters…. A short group of initials can evoke powerful responses – or leave the reader cold. Think of the KGB, USA or perhaps the EU.

P1070488They can also create great images in the mind of car enthusiasts. Over the years the most powerful have been GT, suggesting a car of high performance and sporting ability. Standing for Gran Turismo, (or Grand Tourer), this is a class of vehicle, an actual car name (the Ford GT) or a suffix to a particular model (the Mustang GT). Sadly, too many of these devalued the GT currency.  Do you remember, or prefer to forget, the GT versions of the Austin 1300, Morris Marina or Hillman Hunter?

P1070528Occasionally a further letter gets added. The best of all was the letter ‘O’, creating the fabled Ferrari GTO.  And in the late 20th century the letter was ‘i’. Standing for injection, many a GT suddenly became a GTi, all following in the wake of the wonderful Golf GTi. Some of them were almost as good, but many were little more than feeble attempts to add a little lustre to a very ordinary family car. To company car drivers, they probably the ‘i’ on the bootlid stood for important.

In recent times, D for dirty diesel has given birth to a few GTD models from a range of car makers. How the language of abbreviations become mere sad echoes. A Mini Cooper Clubman D is a name full of mixed messages.

It’s rare that just one letter says it all on it’s own. But there’s a single letter that a single maker has made all their own – and that letter is M. And the manufacturer is, of course, BMW.

P1070486I don’t think anyone else has tried to appropriate it. Given the standard that the maker has achieved with their M cars, I don’t think they dare.

Where did the M come from? Munich would seem like an obvious choice. But no, the M stood for Motorsport and a division initially created to brand BMW’s racing program, which was very successful in the 1960s and 1970s. The M has real pedigree.

Off the track, the BMW M division began to supplement the BMW range with M-badged cars and continues to do so.  These have generally been really special cars featuring modified engines, transmissions, suspensions, aerodynamics. All M models are tested and tuned at BMW’s private facility at the Nurburgring racing circuit in Germany. They are the real thing – not just a marketing trick involving signage, spoilers and stickers.

P1070491Probably the most popular and critically acclaimed M model is the M3. And at last I’ve had the chance to drive one. The first M3s appeared in 1986. This particular model from the Classic Car Club is the last of the six cylinder line, the M3 E46 from 2000 . After this one, they have become almost too powerful.

While a small 2 door, it boasts a 6 cylinder 3.2 litre M-tuned engine. Without the impure aid of a turbo, this engine produces a magnificent 343BHP.  M really should stand for Monster…

P1070485The M3 is what some would call a Q car – very quick but very discreet. Apart from gigantic wheels and blood red leather seats it looked like a typical BMW 3-series.  Taking pictures of this car would not prove to be the highlight. The drama is all behind the wheel.

Unlike all the other classics I’ve borrowed, this one is really a modern car – at just 11 years old. Most of today’s electronics are there to see and starting it was a simple job – with no fiddling with chokes and praying it wouldn’t flood. That sense of bulletproof reliability pervades the whole machine and proves accurate.

P1070489Visibility and comfort are high and it is not intimidating – until you start the engine. The straight six feels very powerful indeed and rumbles with a real bass note in its voice. Matching the steering and brakes, the whole car just has a sense of urgency that begs it to be driven…. fast.

The gearbox is a little obstructive but precise. Such is the torque of this engine that changing gear is an occasional event rather than a constant chore.

The run up to Colchester is a pleasure and the car is practical for the supermarket trip – with a large boot. Mum barely noticed it as one of the club’s classics. If you need a device for getting noticed, look elsewhere.

P1070522Despite the very low profile tyres and sports suspension, the M3 has a comfortable ride.  I began to start day dreaming about whetherI could justify one  as my normal car.

What other ‘M’s do we think about? Well, there is only one M more important than an M3 – and that M is the head of MI6.  Bond’s boss also looks conventional enough – but is tough and powerful – just like the BMW M3.

I’d take the M3 along if I was fighting a villain intent on world domination. Having tried Bond’s Aston Martin on a previous occasion,  I know which car I’d be able to rely on…


Published by: David White

I do training for a living - but also like talking about cars, clocks, photography, communication and travel. I started off in Sales & Marketing management, but these days I focus on Management Learning & Development - working with both Higher Education and Business. I live in London with my wife Luisa, who is a real teacher.

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