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The BMW 3 Series

3 Series Enthusiast's Companion: Not Quite The Authoratative Tome

Each generation of BMW's much-loved 3 Series has contained so many different variations that the discussion of a single generation could fill hundreds of pages. Multiply that by four, and you have an idea of the territory that Jeremy Walton is trying to cover in BMW 3 Series Enthusiast's Companion. In almost 400 pages, Walton attempts to give a history of each 3 Series model, from the first 320i tot he latest M3. And though he succeeds in giving the reader a good sense of how the cars progressed, with some key insights from various experts, the book suffers from poor organization and some major factual oversights.

In essence, Walton tells a chronological story that starts with the E21 and ends with the E46. Along the way, he explores the development of each model, with qoutes from the key engineers and journalists who had intimate experiences wiht the cars in their day. The mail elements of each car are discussed in detail, from the engineering of the powertrain, to the body design, to the variations in specification between European and U.S.-spec versions (the latter are emphasized in this American-published work).

The only problem is that Walton often feels the need to make observations about other topics that distract from the focus of each chapter. To cite just one example, why did Walton feel compelled to discuss the well-known M42 head gasket failure while expounding upon the reliability of the E21's M10 four-cylinder units in Chapter Three? Couldn't this have waited until Chapter Eight, where he specifically discusses the E30 318is, the first BMW to use the M42 engine?

Luckily, these off-topic quips tend to happen less in the chapters devoted to the racing exploits of the 3 Series, which is something Walton, author of Unbeatable BMW, obviously knows a lot about. From the wild turbocharged E21s, to the Group A E30s, to the many competition variants of the E36, the many attempts to make the 3 Series the first to cross the finish line are well documented.

But most readers will buy this book because of the information it contains about eh multitude of raod-going 3 Series that have left several BMW factories since 1975. Most of the facts and figures are correct, but it's disappointing to find that not all of the information can be trusted. For example, on page 249 Walton claims that model year 1996 brought an optional Luxury Package to the M3 (it actually appeared one year earlier) and that, starting in 1997, U.S.-spec M3s had floating-hub brake rotors (in truth, BMW NA has forever denied us these brakes, citing potential reliability issues). In isolation, neither oversight is especially glaring but, combined with a multitude of others, they cost the book some credibility. Thus, despite much to recommend it, Walton's BMW 3 Series Enthusiast's Companion falls short of being the ultimate resource it potentially could have been.

-Alexander Palevsky