In almost every industry progress is paramount, and certainly that's the ethos in the automotive industry.
It's an unwritten rule that every generation of performance car must exceed and improve upon its predecessor in an objective sense. In recent times, fuel and emissions standards have complicated that process, but all of the players have managed performance progress nonetheless. Extraordinarily so, we would argue. We were blown away by the new BMW M4, for example.
But for many automotive enthusiasts there's more to the story than simply performance. And the introduction of more modern and superior cars doesn't necessarily discredit or ruin older models; particularly
It's not entirely unlike art, or music. The recent passing of David Bowie will bring about perhaps millions more album purchases, but his 70's style pop is long gone. And in a digital era that offers high definition graphics and animation that blurs the line between art and reality, the Louvre still attracts audiences to see the quintessentially analog Mona Lisa.
Could the same be true for engines?
Some of the engines in BMW's storied history are artlike, and appreciated by enthusiasts accordingly. If offered again, we suspect that they would be loved and appreciated by new and old audiences alike. And some of those ///M engines -- with some "remastering" -- may not even be entirely incompatible with modern fuel and emissions standards.
The S54 from the E46 generation M3 comes to mind. It was a brilliant, high-revving inline six with 343 horsepower and 269 lb ft. And unlike with the S65 V8 that followed in the E9X generation, E46 M3 fuel economy was reasonable enough -- 17 mpg city, and 22 highway. (We'd suggest that those were conservative ratings too. We regularly saw 24-25 mpg highway in our E39 M5.)
Add in some modern engine technologies like cylinder deactivation, auto start/stop, etc. and it seems a remastered S54 could fit right in with fuel and emissions standards and targets.
Now lodge that remastered S54 in a modern ///M chassis with M Dynamic dampers, various aluminum components, interior luxuries and technology, modern rubber like the Michelin Pilot Super Sport, a choice of 6MT or dual clutch transmission, and that would be a formidable and attractive machine indeed. (No active sound required…)
BMW is clearly targeting the remaining E46 M3 audience with the forthcoming M2. Keen observers may have noted the not-so-subtle subliminal messaging in one of the M2’s promo videos – an E46 is being worked on and repaired in the pits while the M2 wreaks havoc out on track. BMW’s way of saying, “come on… let it go… time to get on with the program.”
But if they found a way to deliver a remastered S54 in a modern chassis as well, we surely wouldn't hold it against them. And safe to say, we’re not alone.
As BMW and all of its peers move to almost exclusively turbocharged engines, one naturally aspirated re-creation would serve as a tantalizingly attractive alternative to the entire industry, and truly set them apart. No, it wouldn’t be groundbreaking in terms of acceleration figures, but this author wouldn’t care. Everyone does extraordinarily fast these days. If that’s what a buyer wants, then he can turn in just about any direction and find it.
Manufacturers are always looking to carve out a niche and find a wider audience. Indications are that there is no shortage of takers of the new turbocharged ///M options, but we bet they could bring in a meaningful number more by delivering what the E46 crowd (and naturally aspirated enthusiasts in general) really want rather than trying to convince them of the error of their preferences.
For those of us who have been around for generations and know ///M’s history and unambiguous preference for naturally aspirated engines, the effort to now dismiss them as old hat and irrelevant strikes as just slightly disingenuous.
Just today we learned that BMW will release 3 new 4-series models. Their vehicle lineup currently looks like this...
Anyway, we’re sure that there are all kinds of practical reasons and business concerns as to why this sort of engine re-release exercise isn’t possible. But if it is, then give it some serious consideration, ///M. Like it or not, an enthusiast audience awaits, and some forms of art won’t be soon forgotten.