Having an E46 M3 track car is wonderful. The balanced chassis, relatively benign breakaway characteristics, smooth and responsive powerplant make it a gem and an accessible one – both in terms of price and talent required to drive. The only downside, is the power, or lack of it.
In the States, the S54 engine made a passable 333 horsepower, and the European-only CSL – the quickest road-going E46 around – made only 360. Neither figure is exactly eye-opening. While the chassis is still considered top-notch, Setra Motorsport determined the powerplant needed a little more to excel through the long straights that line the notorious Nurburgring. With 600 horsepower and remarkable response, there’s really no section of the track where the BMW is left wanting for more engine.
Setra Motorsport opted for an ESS/Vortech V-3 Si supercharger to add the necessary boost to get this car off the corner a little quicker, but it seems that power is more than enough to blow away some pretty fearsome competition. That low-end torque aids passing during the very congested touristfahren days, where dedicated racecars like this share the circuit with a number of curious travelers in rented Clios slightly unprepared for the horde of track toys blaring past them.
This car, dubbed the M3-R, uses a Horsepower Freaks Stage II clutch and a GT-R flywheel to aid that unreal engine response. Shifts are crisp, though somewhat slow by modern standards, as the car still relies on the factory six-speed, albeit with shorter throws. Surprisingly, the transmission holds up to the increased levels of power, but it’s really not too shocking considering BMW’s general build quality.
The ESS-Tuning/Vortech Superchargers V2-550 supercharger kit runs off the OEM fuel pump, but uses bigger injectors, and a generously-proportioned intercooler. A Setrab oil cooler keeps the operating temperatures lower, and fuel starvation was addressed with a specialized kit from Bimmerworld.
While it might not sound like a compliment, the footwork helps make the car look less powerful than it is. Michelin SX slicks, a set of Moton race coilovers, and reasonably large Apex ARC-8 wheels measuring 10-inches wide at the rear, all help administer that monumental force to the road, and the driver never truly looks like they’re breaking a sweat. A trick OS Giken differential aids the immense traction this car possesses not only helps it accelerate but gives it a massive edge in overtaking mid-corner.
Of course, if the car was a tank it simply wouldn’t be capable of the heroics on display here. The Setra M3-R tips the scales at 2,990 pounds with a Flossmann carbon roof, M3 CSL trunk and diffuser, a stripped interior, a lightweight Sparco bucket, Gruppe-M’s titanium exhaust system, and plastic rear windows. That weight reduction aids agility, as does a steering system from PeeBee Motorsport, which includes upgraded tie rods, control arms, and spindle spacers.
The spindle spacers straighten the control arms and tie rods after the car’s been lowered. This allows for greater steering response and with an increased distance from the shock tower to the control arm-mounting points, results in less camber change.
The Setra Motorsport M3-R is a testimony to those who find more pleasure in hot-rodding a road car than buying an outright racing machine. With tractable power, a benign chassis balance, some-but-not-much aero, and a mild diet, there’s plenty of performance on-tap for the avid tuner-come-racing driver. Plus, it shows just how pathetic a well-driven M3 can make the owner of a modern Porsche 911 Turbo feel.