BMW’s M GmbH division recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. For just as long, enthusiasts and armchair auto execs have argued over what an M car is or isn’t. By now we’ve seen four-, six-, eight-, 10- and 12-cylinder engines, both naturally aspirated and turbocharged, clad in the classic tri-color cover, shoehorned between expertly tuned suspension struts and crowned with aluminum hoods. The line-up includes two-doors, sedans, grocery-getters, and street-legal race cars.

Although the trajectory through the last four decades has more turns than the Nürburgring, nothing about an M happens by accident. If you want to build one, you have to improve on an already exceedingly roadworthy ride. To own one, maybe you scour ads for years, perhaps you get on a waitlist, and you probably pay over sticker. For 40 years, they’ve been worth the trouble. Here are our picks for the greatest BMW M cars so far.

Written by Jacqueline Bates