It’s autumn 1993 and I’m standing at the window of a town centre toy shop, nose pressed against the frigid glass while I gaze at the biggest, most elaborate and most outrageous Scalextric set I’ve ever seen. I want it for Christmas; I want it like I’ve never wanted anything before in my life. I know my bedroom isn’t big enough for it, but the need for this miracle of playtime burns so hot that I’ve already convinced myself my parents will let me set it up in the living room.
My wide eyes look up imploringly at my mum. I need her to know how much this set already means to me since seeing it all of 10 seconds ago. “Mum?!” I start, pleadingly. She looks down at me, disapproving glance – or more like forbidding glare – stabbing straight through my Christmas dreams and making it clear that Santa won’t be dropping that particular item down the chimney this year. Or ever.
For the last 35 years – coincidentally the same age as this jaded slot car racer – sections of the car world have been asking BMW to make an M3 Touring. For very nearly 35 of those, BMW has been saying no, leaving Alpina to plug the gap. The M3 was a coupe only, they said; a body style intrinsic to its identity. At first it was exclusively a three-door car so that kind of made sense; a three-door with an estate boot would have been awesome, but BMW had no interest in trying to market a shooting brake design language that was, at the time, fairly unpopular. Buyers wanted a coupe.
Maybe BMW got used to saying no and stopped really considering the idea. Perhaps, like my mum, they just got annoyed with the constant badgering and fortified ‘no’ into a default answer without giving any fresh thought to the question. There was surely no shortage of sales case for an M3 Touring, judging by how many M3s of E36 and E46 vintages BMW sold, so looking back on those years it seems like a strange non-move, but for whatever reason BMW had made its bed and was going to lie in it.
As a result we missed out on wagon variants of the feisty M-built E36 and its supremely talented E46 successor (although there was a prototype estate version of the latter). With both now lying in highly affordable territory as used buys, we could already have been knee-deep in viable second-hand M3 estates, but alas. Worse still, we also missed out on a big-booted brother to the spectacular E90 M3. With one of history’s greatest road-going V8s at the front, four doors for the first time and a larger platform than before, it couldn’t have offered a better chance to build a legendary fast wagon. Still BMW did the mum-glare.
Even the F80 was overlooked, despite having a lazier turbocharged straight-six engine (good for load-lugging) and even more space. By the time the F80 M3 ceased production in 2018 we’d stopped asking and filed long-term memories under Disappointments, cross-referenced with Cars and Dreams.
But wow, how quickly all the old excitement came back when we learned an M3 wagon wasn’t just likely, but confirmed. A compact(ish) estate with M Division driving dynamics and lashings of Munich muscle should, by rights, be an awesome thing. Alright, so it won’t have the tiptoe balance of the much lighter E46 or the Oscar-winning soundtrack of the E90, but it’s an M-car. It’s not going to be rubbish.
However, excitement never feels as giddy in adulthood as it did back in those days of staring at improbably large Scalextric sets. You grow up and you take a more considered view, or at least you should if you’re adulting properly. It’s hard to get quite as breathless as if BMW had fired a production E46 M3 wagon at us in the early 2000s, in the era that gave us the Fast and Furious franchise and when we all fancied ourselves as either Vin Diesel or Paul Walker, but we can still look at the project objectively and put on our happy faces.
For one thing, the new B58 six-pots are full of promise and lessons learned. The version that powers the hot M3 wagon should be a peach of an engine if BMW can only get the organic noise right. Secondly, even though the 3er will have that face, a bulkier rear end can only work in its favour to balance out the enormo-kidneys and sweeten the proportions.
Thirdly, I think the M3 recipe as we know it in 2020/2021 is a perfect fit for the wagon lifestyle. It’s a bruiser; its mighty punch and beer-swilling temper hiding beneath a luxurious tech feast of a cabin. An embiggened M3 will probably end up feeling like a junior GT. It’ll be comfortable and calm smashing big motorway miles and then lively and lithe when you finally get to the coastal/mountain roads near your destination.
We’ve long since passed the point where M could give us a lightweight B-road wagon warrior. I accept things have changed and the M3 is bigger now; heavier, more complex and all-round mightier. Even so, with every new spy shot I find myself looking back through that toy shop window and feeling that forgotten spark, which just says: want.