Unable to resist the lure of ever-increasing cylinder counts, BMW stuck a V8 in its current M3. The act marked the beginning of the end for their greatest straight six ever: the S54B32.
Yes, V8’s are wonderful, but truly excellent straight sixes are rarer. Perhaps it’s the unwieldy length, perhaps the lack of prestige, but the straight six is on its way out.
What makes the S54B32 so wonderful is not the mountain of engineering awards. Not the incredible g’s its poor valves must resist at maximum revs. Not the horsepower-to-displacement ratio of a 1960’s Formula One car.
What makes the S54B32 so wonderful is the noise. It’s the only engine this side of supercar lunacy that has such a—for lack of a better word—voluminous sound. You’ll know it when you’re around one when the air around you suddenly fills with this high-grade metallic substance, this gray-blue vapor of noise that fills an S54B32’s surroundings with such fearful urgency.
What makes this even sadder is that BMW was fully aware of what they had on their hands. Can you imagine any other car company making an ad like this?
Showing nothing but the noise of an engine as it races down the rev range.
The S54B32 showed up in the very last M Coupés—a.k.a. Clown Shoes—starred in the E46 M3 and played its swan song in the Z4M. You can still buy it new in a Wiesmann, that skeumorph excuse for a British roadster, but you wouldn’t want to be seen in one, would you?
If you have one, go for a drive. And don’t be miserly with the throttle.