Most of us car enthusiasts know very well what is meant when someone mentions “M3-fenders” – as a reader indeed did recently, thinking of a Mitsubishi Starion. But the Japanese car is older than the BMW M3. So where do M3-fenders actually originate?
I know that many readers have mixed feelings (or no feelings!) towards newer cars, and that not that many share my enthusiasm for the Mitsubishi Starion. But even if you don’t like the Starion you have probably lusted after its wide fenders – although they may very well have been stuck onto BMW’s iconic M3 instead!
Frankly I think the design of the Mitsubishi is more successful. This has probably something to do with the Starion being designed as a sports car from the outset. The BMW on the other hand was born as a mid-sized family car, much more upright and focused on usable space. Sure, with a little M-fine-tuning it showed unbelievable talent as a driving machine, and I have tremendous respect for the M3. But designwise I still prefer the Starion. Perverse but honest.
But we were talking fenders, weren’t we. Sure we were. And it turns out that the Starion was not the first with M3-fenders either. The wonderful Mitsubishi came in 1982, but in the first years was only available with a narrow body with conventional fender edges. In 1985 the wide version came out (in some models), and that body is in some circles retrospectively known as “Fatty” and the narrow one as “Flatty”. The exact chronology and whether the M3 or Starion featured this fender design first I can not quite sort out, but it actually does not matter either – there was another significant car before them.
As early as 1982 the M3-fenders were a significant characteristic for – wait for it… shock: An Opel! Not a sporty top model as in the case of BMW and Mitsubishi, but tacked on to the German producer of family bread and butter cars’ most lowly and basic model, the Corsa. Yes, the little Corsas all had the wide M3-fenders, even those with a struggling 1-liter engine. I seem to remember it looked rather good back then. See for yourself below.
However many of us remember another barnstormer from the same era, often hailed for its four wheel drive and guttural bark from a five cylinder turbo engine: The Audi quattro. Yep, that iconic rally weapon featured M3-fenders as well, and this was even as early as 1980.
But was the quattro the first car with this characteristic fender design, then? Well, apparantly not: As I picked up my Volvo in Holland I stopped by The Gallery in Brummen and there I saw the below car for sale:
To my eyes that is a proper M3-fender. Probably someone will dispute that the fenders of this Intermeccanica are exactly the same principle as an M3 and please be my guest. Personally I think the minor differences are largely attributable to an M3 (and a Corsa and a quattro for that matter) simply being more upright and straight designs due to their eigthies roots and being of saloon descendency. Also the Intermeccanica is ten years older: Even though it was incredibly modern for its time the seventies still saw curves in circulation (so to speak).
But take a closer look at the three versions of the Indra-profile below to gain a full understanding of the matter:
It was Franco Scaglione who back in 1971 drew the lines for the Intermeccanica and they were in fact largely based on his previous Italia from 1966. As the Italia was also a fine GT car Scaglione retained the same basic shape but sharpened his pen a bit – including adding the characteristic M3-fenders. Underneath the flowing lines lies Opel Diplomat mechanicals, not quite as exotic as the looks.
But then again, this was about the fenders and let’s get back to those. Some say that Scaglione’s fenders on the Indra in principle are similar to the fenders on the Mercedes 300 SL, but I think that is stretching it a bit: On the famous gullwing the fenders are more like adorned by eyelashes but those are in fact not an intregral part of the panel. The eyelashes may very well be more beautiful than Scagliones M3-fenders, but that’s quite another story.
To further contribute to the discussion: Below you’ll find a small gallery of vehicles with intriguing fender extensions, some even bordering on the M3-principle. To the best of my knowledge, however, it was the 1971 Indra that pioneered the principle. Please let me know if anyone were earlier.