IN A RECENT editorial, Guido complained about the cost of being in his job.

Everyone keeps suggesting another car to buy. Well, mate, this time I blame you. Reading an earlier editorial about how you got talked into buying a BMW, I felt that old longingfor- another-BMW feeling coming on. Yes, I thought about a 540i, too. And a 750i Individual a mate was selling.

But in the end it had to be an E36 M3, surely one of the most undervalued potential future great classics around.

In 1994 two great European sports cars competed for my desires. The other was the last air-cooled Porsche 911, the charismatic 993. Yes, the Porsche was quicker but not by all that much. The M3 cost $124,650, the 993 $179,900.

Maybe a couple of years ago, I idly imagined owning one of those Porsches. The price was $60K-ish. Now, I note, youíll pay from $120K for a manual coupe.

The point of this comparison is to show that the E36 at less than $20K for quite a lovely example is a fabulous bargain.

Enter ĎDaytona Violettí.

I donít always name my cars but this is such a great handle and I especially like the German double Ďtí at the end. The previous owner was a young BMW mechanic who had owned it for several years and did all the servicing on it at his dealership. He kept scrupulous records. Not all that long ago he rebuilt the VANOS. It is the absolute truth that my car drives like brand new. It cost me a great deal less than $20K.

The E36 has, naturally, been completely outclassed on performance by subsequent quasi-supercars. But I judge it in its own perfect context of time, right at the edge of the WRX era. And, no, it doesnít come close to my much loved and much modified MY00 model, although I have no doubt that an unrestricted stretch of autobahn, were I to discover one within half a dayís drive, would see the Bee- Emm maxing out at 250km/h (at the redline in fifth, like any proper car!), a speed beyond the aspirations of the WRX.

Before the mechanic bought it, it was owned by another enthusiast and before that the original owner lost it to a repossession agent (Iím imagining how that spoilt his day!). So Iím owner number four. It was sold new in Sydney, then moved to Melbourne and then to Brisbane. Now it will have a quieter life in the Sunshine Coast hinterland while still seeing 7000 rpm in a lower gear on occasion.

One thing I love about this car is how it dovetails with my Maserati and C180 Mercedes, both of which have automatic transmissions. The Giallo Sprint (Sprint Yellow, oh-so-bright, with contrasting mid-blue leather and Alcantara) Quattroporte and the understatedly white (with black leather) C180 contrast with the violet M3.

Does it have any flaws? Yes.

The air-conditioning doesnít blow cold. There are tiny rust

bubbles where the windscreen meets the roof. The driverís seat looks its 21 years but has no splits. I suppose I could even complain that boot space is a little restricted by the huge sound system: you should hear how great Cold Chisel sounds though.

It seems that Ė typically Ė M3 owners have just one car, which also explains why most have covered close to average kays for their age. I hope I will never be forced to scale back so far, but I could manage with Daytona Violett. The rear seat backs are split-fold.

The interior is spacious with that lovely BMW driverorientedness subtly indicated by the way the centre console is angled towards the pilote. In rural and small town driving average consumption is about 10 litres per 100km.

When the WRX was fettled for Targa Tasmania, it lost that seam of mid-range torque and would no longer climb the steep hills in our vicinity in fifth, or even fourth (but didnít it love a big rev!). By contrast, the M3ís 3.0-litre 210kW straight six delivers 320Nm of meaty torque Ė the 993 has 200kW and 310Nm but weighs a bit less Ė so you can rev it past 7k or just lope. Itís a gorgeous engine and a sweet five-slot gearbox. I wouldnít have bought an E36 with that dreadful SMG arrangement.

Itís amazing how many SMG cars have been converted to manual. My car left the factory pretty much the way it is now and I have never before driven a car with more than 250,000km on the odometer that feels so tight and loved.

Doubtless the 1996 Evo model with 236kW and an extra gear ratio would be even better but, hey, Iím happy. Now itís time to begin thinking about the next car perhaps to complete my collection. Iím thinking Audi S4 auto, preferably in red.