Remember when you could buy a BMW E36 M3 for like $5k? Yeah… those were the days. Now, good luck finding one in any sort of condition that doesn’t make your eyes bleed for less than $15k. If you were one of those lucky few who snagged an E36 M3 at rock bottom used prices, good on you, but you’ve probably already tackled several of these upgrades. However, if you have done your due diligence and found an example worth your while for a steal, you might be looking to use some of those savings to improve your new to you M car. That’s where we can help. This is our guide to upgrading your E36 M3’s visual appearance the right way.
The biggest difference to your M3’s visuals you can make is to lower the ride height. It’s become popular to throw everything on air suspension these days, but that gets pricey. If you’re looking to make the biggest change for performance and looks without breaking your entire mod budget, we suggest coilovers. Nothing fancy, unless you absolutely need high-performance coilovers, but you should definitely do your research. Our coilover guide on a budget can help with that.
With the ride height dropped, your E36 M3 will take on a much more aggressive look. That improvement is negated if you forget the wheels. Lowered M3s on DS2 wheels isn’t what we’d call ‘aggressive.’ The sunken fitment just looks tacky, especially if you still have some thicc boi tires on those wheels. You have two options here.
First, for the OEM+ look, you can certainly keep the DS2s or Style 5s, but make sure they fit properly. Use a stud kit and some spacers, like our flush kit, to bring those wheels out farther for a beefier stance and wider track. This is the most cost-effective way to improve the look of your M3.
If you want to go a step farther, then your best bet is a set of aftermarket wheels. APEX Arc8 wheels are incredibly popular for the E36 M3, as APEX Wheels are intended primarily for BMW fitment. We also have another guide that you will find useful. Our Wheel Upgrades On A Budget article will help narrow down some choices for you. Some of the most popular E36 M3 wheels are APEX Arc8, O.Z. Breyton, AC Schnitzer Type 1, BBS RS, and Work VSKF wheels.
Ok, this isn’t necessarily a visual upgrade, but it is an auditory one and certainly has a visual element since one of the few eye-catching pieces of the rear section is the muffler. With a cat-back exhaust, you are increasing your enjoyment factor as well as a marginal improvement to aesthetics. A cool car with a silent exhaust is much less cool. There are several options to choose between in this area, it’s just going to come down to your preferences. Scorpion is incredibly popular, as is DINAN.
The US-Spec E36s all came with nasty plastic headlight housings. These notoriously crack and yellow with age. A popular solution is DEPO glass headlights or OEM Euro-spec glass headlight assemblies. The DEPO options are much less expensive, but the OEM versions offer impeccable quality and improve the overall execution of your build. For those looking to go full aftermarket, Angel Eye kits are incredibly popular and update the look of your E36 M3 without looking out of place for the era.
The US-Spec E36 corner markers are another point of contention with owners. The US version came with amber corner markers that are both distractingly ugly and regularly fall out of their housings. Update your M3 with a set of clear corner indicators from DEPO or another reputable aftermarket supplier. We offer several choice vendors here at ECS so you don’t have to deal with the extremely clashing amber look unless you enjoy it.
The E36 M3 front bumper is the most aggressive option for the chassis. With some simple and tasteful improvements, it can be even more striking. We suggest going for a ‘time attack’ look, which has become popular in stylistic choices for even daily driven cars. A Big Duck Club carbon fiber front lip paired with MKAH Motorsports’ front splitter and HÄRD Motorsports canards will make the front of your E36 M3 look more track-inspired and ready to tackle a winding road course or cast a menacing presence in any parking lot.
The M3 ‘Twisty’ side skirts are one of the visual elements that sets the M3 apart from its mundane cousins. With some Maxton Design side splitter extensions, you can fill in the gap between your wider front and rear wheels for a beefier and more complete look to the E36 M3.
Other than a more stylish muffler, the rear bumper only needs one major improvement. Adding an MKAH Motorsports rear diffuser, like the Full Race Rear Diffuser, will give your M3 a competitive and visual upgrade that helps transform your look into a race-inspired and aggressive style. This diffuser helps functionally reduce drag but also offers a much-needed element to the rear of your M3 to help sell the prolific heritage to any observers.
For the final piece to tie the exterior upgrades together, a rear spoiler is absolutely necessary for the E36 M3. While the bare trunk look was popular in the early and mid-2000s, it has since become commonplace to find either a ducktail rear lip spoiler or full wings on E36 M3s. We think the best ‘happy medium’ between a subtle rear lip spoiler and a bolted-on swan-neck wing is the LTW spoiler. Presently, we don’t offer one, but we are working on it. Unfortunately, OEM LTW rear spoilers have become both incredibly rare and insanely expensive. However, several reputable aftermarket manufacturers have developed quality replica options. There are quite a few to choose between. You should pick one that offers both the multi-piece design and includes risers as well as options that are not notorious for ‘sagging’ in the middle of the wing. Mashaw and Abraham/Lester are the two preferred manufacturers and offer their examples for a fraction of the cost OEM versions command if you can find one.
With touches to all corners of the E36, from suspension and wheels to exterior visual upgrades, your M3 can be transformed into a respectable, clean, and aggressive example that will certainly draw positive attention and supply endless enjoyment for you as you continue to improve it. Nothing says ‘enthusiast’ more than a well-executed build that accounts for all the strengths and weaknesses of your M3’s visual appearance. We are here to help. Check out all the other incredible visual upgrades we offer along with the maintenance and performance parts selections to give your M3 the full makeover it sorely deserves.