Forty-five minutes behind the wheel of a 2013 BMW M3 Lime Rock Park Edition was all it took – now I need one in my life. On a road trip from South Carolina to Amelia Island in a handful of modern and classic BMW products, including that awesome Fire Orange M3, I found a new obsession for the E92 and a better appreciation for old-school Bavarian sports cars in general.
Our journey started in Spartanburg, South Carolina, BMW's manufacturing home in the US since 1994, and the former residence of two of the brand's best M products, the Z3 and Z4. These days, that facility churns out some of BMW's sales champs, crossovers ranging from the X3 to the X7. And soon, that same plant will produce the high-horsepower, hybridized XM crossover, which we should see in production form sometime before the end of the year – further adding to the M brand's lineage.
And BMW Group has plans to keep investing in Spartanburg – on top of the massive spending the company has already done. A new press shop opens in 2024, adding 200 new jobs. A new $200-million training center opens in 2022, which includes a new amphitheater and outdoor meeting space. And there's a new logistics center opening this year that will allow BMW to ship even more cars globally from South Carolina.
Down the street from BMW’s manufacturing site sits the BMW Car Club of America (BMW CCA) Foundation Museum, home to some of the finest classic Bimmers anywhere in the States and our starting point for the drive to Amelia Island (pictured above). A new exhibit – The Power of M: Celebrating 50 Years – opens its doors in just a few weeks and runs until early in 2023, highlighting some of the brand's best. But I was more eager to get behind the wheel of what BMW had parked outside of the museum.
Waiting for me and a group of other journalists was a cavalcade of M products ranging from a 1988 E28 M5 to modern marvels like the 627-horsepower M5 CS. The Lime Rock M3, of course, was part of that selection – but since I had to play nice with my colleagues, I jumped into a 2022 M4 Convertible first. That’s a cool convertible for the Georgia heat, but not quite the classic I signed on to drive.
Parked on the curb the following morning was the perfect Fire Orange M3 Lime Rock Park Edition I longed for, and in my hand, like magic, was the key. For all the cars that BMW arranged for us to take on this trip to Amelia, this one was my favorite. And that list included an untouched Z3 M Coupe and an E46 M3 that I did eventually spend some road time in (also fantastic).
As a certified millennial, my nostalgia for BMW sports cars peaked in the early to mid-2010s. The Lime Rock Park M3, the controversial Chris Bangle M6, and the 1 Series M Coupe were some of my favorite Bimmers coming out of high school.
So jumping behind the wheel of this Lime Rock Park M3 was an absolute dream, even though it was jarring to see firsthand what BMW interiors looked like just ten years ago. Black Alcantara, black leather seats, a combo of soft- and hard-touch black plastics – black everywhere. Beyond the drab decor, though, this M3's simplicity was refreshing – especially once on the road.
With no massive touchscreen or intrusive safety equipment to distract me, my only focus was pedaling the Lime Rock Park M3 down the coast. The drive from Savannah is one of the most unexciting stretches of road anywhere in the US, so there weren't many opportunities to truly get a full feel for the car. But the long highways did at least afford me the chance to open up the naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V8.
The Lime Rock M3's 414 horsepower and 295 pound-feet doesn't sound like a lot these days. And honestly, when a modern M4 Competition delivers 503 and 479 lb-ft from a smaller inline-six engine, it really isn't. But the way that naturally aspirated V8 applied its power – progressively, fluidly, and beautifully – made it more charming than most turbocharged sixes I've driven.
The aptly named “Power” button in the center console allowed me to uncork all 414 of those ponies, and although this wasn’t a fast car by today’s standards, it delivered just enough oomph to put butterflies in the pit of my stomach on longer stretches of road. The sweet spot was right around 5,000 RPM when that V8 had a full head of steam.
The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission was on offer here, and it shifted quickly enough through its gearing, but I can only imagine how much more satisfying the six-speed manual might have been. And besides, not taking this M3 on the track or to an exceptionally twisty road made it hard to gauge exactly how good this DCT may or may not operate when at the limit.
But even more shocking than the performance was just how comfortable the M3 was. This coupe was genuinely nicer to drive over long highway bouts than a modern M4, with the suspension soaking up imperfections better than its modern sibling.
My time behind the wheel of the Lime Rock Park M3 was brief but beautiful, and before I knew it I was already handing the keys back over to BMW and hopping into one of the brand’s newer M products. But even the M5 CS, basically a rocket ship on wheels, lacked the luster that the Lime Rock M3 delivered. And that’s the problem with many modern BMW M cars – overly technical, too heavy, and dare I say, too fast for daily enjoyment.
The combination of a buttery smooth V8, a well-balanced chassis, and a livable suspension made the Lime Rock Park M3 an ultimate daily driver in my mind. It's fine for puttering around town but great at high speeds, and I can only imagine, well capable on the track. It's a stark contrast to what modern M cars feel like these days.
Now the issue of finding one to buy. Realistically, this car is far out of the realm of attainability for me and most average Joes. This M3 started at around $71,000 new and now well-kept examples are going for close to $100,000. That huge price tag makes sense given all of the upgrades and considering BMW only ever built 200 examples.
But the Lime Rock M3 represented all that was great about BMW M back then – lightweight, simple, and just powerful enough. And as the sendoff for the E92, before the… newer generation arrived, it makes this car feel that much more special. In reality, I'll probably never be able to own one (frown emoji), but my short time with the M3 Lime Rock Park Edition will be a drive I never forget.
2013 BMW M3 Lime Rock Park Edition