It’s a fact that great things can come from great rivalries. Just look at Apple vs. IBM, Nike vs. Reebok, Coke vs. Pepsi, and at the turn of the century in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), we had Porsche vs. BMW. Both manufactures had fierce competition amongst their racing teams, and ultimately Porsche had the upper hand with the power and performance of the 911, and a win record to back it up. Not willing to accept being second best on the racing circuit, BMW had a plan. BMW was going to take advantage of the ALMS rule book, allowing them to race a vehicle that had a minimum production of 10 cars sold over 2 continents within 12 months of the race car’s debut.


This rivalry led to the production of what many automotive enthusiasts consider the unicorn of roadworthy automobiles, the legendary BMW M3 GTR. Since the ALMS rule required race machines to be based off of production-based vehicles, the street version of the E46 M3 GTR featured numerous race-inspired performance parts. The most notable change for the E46 platform was replacing the S54 straight-six powerplant for the much more powerful and lightweight P60 V8 engine.


The P60 V8 was an engine that was constructed and designed by BMW Motorsport specifically for placement in the M3 GTR and was also the first V8 for a BMW. The slightly detuned street version of the P60 featured an aluminum block with a “flat plane” crankshaft design that provided better exhaust scavenging for increased exhaust flow at higher RPMs. The engine also featured a dry-sump lubrication system that increased lubrication of critical engine components under high cornering loads. This engine was smaller and lighter, by 30 pounds, when compared to the inline-six and produced 380 horsepower @ 7,000 RPMs and 390 ft. lbs. of torque @ 4,500 RPMs. How “slightly” detuned was this motor? The race version was said to produce 444 horsepower @ 8500 RPM.


In a time before sequential gearboxes and paddle shifters were the race standard, BMW harnessed the power of the P60 engine and put it to the ground through a twin-disc clutch in a 6-speed manual gearbox with straight cut gears, and a variable locking M differential.


Just as important as a power engine package, the E46 M3 GTR chassis hosted a wide array of high-performance upgrades. When placed side by side, it’s obvious that the M3 GTR lower suspension package was taken from its racing roots, in addition to a stiffened chassis package. This package included additional bracing between the firewall and strut towers as well as the rear shock towers. To compliment the chassis package, both the front and rear facias were re-designed and extended, along with a redesigned rear wing, to provide optimal downforce of the M3 GTR.


When it comes to race cars, one thing that matters is weight. We already explained how the new engine shaved off 30 lbs of weight, but BMW knew there was more to shed. By utilizing a carbon fiber reinforced plastic, engineers increased the weight savings by constructing the roof, rear spoiler, hood vents and facias from this material, just as they did on the race models.


While designed off of race-vehicle specifications, it’s still a BMW and that means it still had to retain the elegance of a BMW on the interior. This included the addition of lightweight, leather wrapped Recaro front bucket seats. Yes, we only said front bucket seats because the rear seats were removed in favor of weight savings (remember this is a “race car”). Special M3 GTR badging finished off the special touch of this unique race inspired road car.


Just how rare is the BMW M3 GTR? Some would compare its rarity to the infamous Ferrari 250 GTO, and we’d have to agree. If BMW complied 100% to the ALMS rulebook there should have been 10, but the actual number at this time is unknown by the public. It’s been said that a total of 6 were produced before the program was killed off. While it debuted in the paddock of the 2001 Petit Le Mans, it was loaded up and sent back to Munich after only an hour of display. Three supposedly were deemed development vehicles that were later scrapped, and the other three are guarded in the BMW Group Classic Collection.


If you’re wondering how BMW fared in the ALMS series with the M3 GTR, it was a huge success. The two teams that entered M3 GTR’s, three races into an eight race ALMS season, essentially were competing against each other. Combined they won the six final races of the series, five from pole positions while setting new track records, and secured the ALMS Championship for BMW. This dominance led to protests from Porsche, who claimed that the E46 M3 GTR was more prototype than production car, and the eventual change in the 2002 ALMS rule book requiring a minimum of 100 production cars and 1,000 engines.

Where can you see this magical unicorn of the automobile world? Our best guess is on the small screen in your living room if you enjoy playing video games like Need for Speed, as it’s considered to be one of the best cars ever to race in. Other than that, your guess is as good as ours.

So, what are your thoughts on the BMW E46 M3 GTR? Is this on your list of dream cars to drive or is it an over hyped coupe? Have you ever had the chance to see one? Let us know in the comments!