From track days to dog parks, the E46 M3 is the premier one-car solution

Written by Aaron McKenzie, Photography by Naveed Yousufzai

Atrina Mehdipour wants you to know that her BMW E46 M3 – like E46 M3s in general – is perfectly reliable and trouble-free in every way. Well, other than the four times it has left her stranded. Oh, and then there’s the fact that the E46 M3’s engine is apt to grenade itself at any minute if the owner hasn’t undertaken a preventative rod bearing fix. But other than that it’s…oh, wait, did she mention that you’ll need to reinforce the subframe, lest that should crack the first time you nod in its direction? Right, well, put that on the list, too. But other than that, these cars are bulletproof. Sorry, what’s that? No, Mehdipour would prefer not to discuss the car’s VANOS variable valve timing system.

Okay, fine: these E46 M3s have…quirks. If you’ll hear Mehdipour out, however, she would like to assure you that these cars’ character is well worth her commitment. In fact, Mehdipour will go you one further: if you can only have one car in your garage, an E46 M3 is a pretty good candidate to fill that spot.

“I look forward to the day where I can understand what all the ‘Two Car Solution’ people experience,” she says, “but I just can’t imagine having any other car. It just absolves all of the headaches of the E46 M3 as a one-car solution.”

For her devotion to her “one-car solution” Mehdipour blames a poster, in this case a poster she spotted as an 11-year-old in California’s Bay Area. It featured the profile of a black car, the BMW Roundel logo, and a caption which read, “Street Legal…Pretty Much.” The car, though she didn’t know it at the time, was an Interlagos Blue E46 M3. All she knew was that she wanted one of those.

“Every once in a while when I have the 90-pound German Shepherd in the back, I think, ‘Why don't I just give up and get a more practical car?” says Mehdipour. “But then I ring out third gear and get the whole powerband and I think, "This is the best car ever."

Atrina M3 Atrina M3

In late-2016, she got one. When she bought her own 2005 Interlagos Blue M3, it had 122,000 miles on it but had received exactly zero of those aforementioned “Big Three” repairs (the rod bearings, the subframe reinforcement, and the VANOS system) that transform these cars from tantalizing-albeit-flawed into a machine that some consider one of the best all-around cars of the last 25 years, combining livability and practicality on the street with impressive performance on the track and, in Mehdipour’s case, just enough space to chauffeur a 90-pound German Shepherd named Lily around town.

Shortly after buying the car, Mehdipour proceeded to drive it hard on nearby circuits such as Thunderhill and Laguna Seca before enrolling in law school in 2017, during which time she commuted 110 miles each day in the M3 through Bay Area gridlock. Other than a dead alternator, the car gave her no grief over the course of its many schleps up and down Highway 101. And eventually, while earning some income through summer jobs, Mehdipour was able to chip away at those Big Three repairs and bring the car to a state resembling reliability. In the process, she also experienced newfound success on the track, gaining upwards of 10 seconds on her lap times through a combination of friends’ coaching and the sheer engineering prowess of the M3.

Mehdipour came by her love of cars and motorsports the good old-fashioned way: through an older brother. It was her brother, Arash, who didn’t mind her tagging along when he and their dad attended American Le Mans and Moto GP events at Laguna Seca, the fabled track in Monterey, California. It was her brother who taught her how to drive a manual transmission - in his BMW E30 M3, no less – when Mehdipour was still in middle school. And it was her brother, a trained mechanic, who eventually taught Mehdipour to wrench on her own cars. “Our exposure to cars started very much from a racing perspective,” says Mehdipour. “It really became a bonding point for my brother and me.”

For Mehdipour, the love of racing and high performance driving is less about adrenaline than it is about inner stillness and honing one’s sense of discretion, about being singularly focused on the present moment and learning to discern the difference between ambition and hubris.

“I can’t indulge all my normal anxieties out on the track,” she says. “I can’t let my mind wander as I drop into the Corkscrew [at Laguna Seca] and start thinking of the 400 pages of reading I have to do that night. I can’t even think about turn nine because otherwise I won’t successfully get through turn six.”

Asked why she has never taken her beloved M3 out for a few laps at Sonoma Raceway, Mehdipour responds: “Coming out of the last turn I would be tracking out into a wall and that’s just too much for me. The gravel traps at Laguna Seca might screw up your car, but they’re not a wall. There’s still a risk, but I have to drive my car for the week, not just for the day. This car has to get me to work on Monday.”

Atrina M3 Atrina M3

Mehdipour’s M3 now has 195,000 miles on it and – since Mehdipour is able to walk to her office most days – enjoys a quieter life, even as it remains Mehdipour’s one and only car.

“Every once in a while when I have the 90-pound German Shepherd in the back, I think, ‘Why don't I just give up and get a more practical car?” says Mehdipour. “But then I ring out third gear and get the whole powerband and I think, "This is the best car ever."

More about Atrina

You can follow Atrina and Lily's adventures on IG (@atrinaaa).

Meet our contributors

As an avid driver and collector, photographer Naveed Yousufzai (@eatwithnaveed) captures California's car culture from a true enthusiast's point of view for various automotive publications.

Aaron McKenzie is a Los Angeles based writer, photographer, and producer with an eye for all things automotive. You can see more from him by checking out his Instagram (@aaronwmckenzie).

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