For Sale, M3 Engine, Never Used.
In the latest installment of Buy This Neat Thing (so the BMW suckers on staff don’t have to), we offer this eBay listing. On the digital auction block: the beating heart of BMW’s greatest road car, the 2.3-liter S14 inline-four that powered the first M3. Why should you spend nearly $6000 (at the time of writing) on a blown engine with half a million miles on it? We’re so glad you asked.
Exhibit A: The engine note. If there’s a better-sounding inline-four on this planet, we haven’t heard it. (We’ll allow the Cosworth BDA in contention for the crown, but that argument tends to get drowned out by the S14’s surpassing intake growl). That should be reason enough to rebuild this lump and pop it into a waiting E30 M3 shell, or 320is tribute, or even a 2002.
Exhibit B: The history! The S14’s design was helmed by BMW legend Paul Rosche, with help from his understudy, Jost Capito, the current CEO of Williams F1. At its most basic level, the S14 is simply two thirds of the six-cylinder masterpiece that powered BMW’s first M car, the mid-engine M1. So far as bragging rights go, it’s hard to beat “I have (most of) a supercar engine in my compact Bavarian sedan.” Then there’s the engine’s racing pedigree. According to BMW, the S14 powered the winningest road-based race car in the history of going fast on four wheels.
Exhibit C: They’re great! People like former R&T editor Jason Camissa will tell you the S14 feels coarse, taciturn, and overworked. He’s right. The S14 indulges in all those careworn cliches about race cars for the road. The 2.3-liter lump powers one of the great homologation specials of all time and doesn’t even pretend like it wants to show up at your front door with a bundle of flowers for mom. This engine makes all of its power at the top of the rev range, which in daily driving is barely acceptable; but in spirited driving—and I mean truly edge-of-sanity stuff—reaches the divine. If you’re looking for smooth power delivery and glassy torque, look elsewhere. If you want peaky, grunty, “ring-my-neck-daddy” power, the S14 is your huckleberry.
Of course, there is the price issue here. This particular S14, with 50 percent of its cylinders borked, will no doubt sell for five figures. I bought an entire E30 M3 track car in 2013 for less, and it totally doesn’t haunt me every waking minute. Yep, I’m fine. I SAID I’M FINE.
However, should you take this buying advice seriously, rather than as an excuse to indulge my love for the ur-M3, be warned: Rebuilding an S14 is incredibly costly in 2022. If you ship it off to a professional, figure on the thick end of $20,000. If you have the will and ability to do the job yourself (may the gods bless you), tracking down parts for this rare engine may prove more difficult than writing the checks to your favorite parts supplier.
Despite the difficulty and cost, whoever does purchase and revive this particular S14 is in for a treat. These are robust, durable engines if maintained correctly (my E30 suffered dozens of track days at the ripe old age of 25 years, with something like 235,000 miles on the clock). Plus there’s a direct connection to a vein of BMW’s richest history, and the satisfaction of preserving something deeply special. And the sound. Don’t forget the sound.
Please Buy This Neat Thing (so the BMW suckers on staff don’t have to).
Kyle Kinard The only member of staff to flip a grain truck on its roof, Kyle Kinard is R&T’s senior editor and resident malcontent.