Featured: An '80s Icon: The BMW E30

An ’80s Icon: The BMW E30

By Jonathon Glazebrook
February 7, 2013
29 comments

For many, the generation of BMW 3-series built from 1982 until 1994—identified by enthusiasts with the car’s chassis code, E30—represent the ultimate “Ultimate Driving Machine.” Crisp handling coupled with driver-oriented ergonomics and timeless looks make even the economy-minded “eta” model a joy to drive. There’s something about the car that is appealing to a broad range of people, even today, something that makes it a modern classic.  

Like any good racehorse, pedigree is everything, so it’s important to understand where the E30 got its start. In 1962 BMW launched the Neue Klasse, a line of compact sedans and coupes, starting with the BMW 1500. Powered by the celebrated M10 4-cylindar engine, the 1500 became popular with both amateur racers and people seeking a 4-door sports car, something that wasn’t widely available at the time. The car was so popular, in fact, the manufacturing facilities couldn’t keep up with demand. That popularity led to the development of the 1800, the 1600, the 2000, and ultimately the venerable 2002. It was also during this time that Hofmeister kink became a thing (thank you Wilhelm).

As the 2002 neared the end of its production, BMW was faced with the tough task of putting together a successful follow up act to a highly popular car as well as creating a new compact car that moved upscale in line with their new 5-series. The resulting 3-series (chassis code E21, 1975–1983) did just that and introduced the world to BMW’s newest sports sedan. The E21 helped attract a new segment of buyers to BMW and was wildly successful; despite the commercial success, the press reviews were somewhat mixed. By the time the E30 was introduced in 1982, the E21 had established a loyal fan base, but updates to the suspension and interior helped make the new 3-series a vast improvement over its predecessor.

Offered in coupe, sedan, cabriolet, and touring (or wagon in ex-US markets) body styles and a choice of either 4-cylinder and 6-cylinder engines and even AWD, the E30 remained largely unchanged until it was replaced by the E36 in 1994. During its 12-year production cycle in the US, the car was promoted much as previous BMWs in the segment had been—as the answer for people who wanted a sports car and passenger sedan in one. Though advertised with racing pedigree in mind, and raced extensively in Europe, the car continued its upscale evolution and increasingly became seen as a status symbol and the car for urban yuppies…heck, Blane McDonough drove one in Pretty in Pink.

With nearly 2.5 million units produced worldwide, the E30 has endured with a healthy aftermarket and a passionate fan base. But, what has helped it remain so popular among enthusiasts in the nearly 20 years since production was discontinued? To find out, I met with Sina Pourcyrous, Farzad Ghassemian, Robert Lindsey, and Anthony Lugo, members of the online E30 community, r3vlimited. We met at the Alameda Naval Air Base in Alameda, CA, and I asked them what makes the E30 special for them.

Sina’s 1991 318i was his aunt’s car and has been in the family since new, imported directly from Germany. “I remember going for rides in the car when I was younger and I always knew that wanted it. When I was old enough, I bought the car from [my aunt] as my first car. Not only is it a great car, it’s a part of my family. Even when I get in the car today, the smell of the leather takes me back to when I was a kid.”

Farzad has owned VWs and Hondas, among other makes, but it wasn’t until he got his first BMW that he truly fell in love with a car. “With the E30, everything is right at your fingertips. I have a 1987 325i that I drive and 1991 318i with an M3 (S50) engine swap—that one I’m saving for my son. We’re a BMW family; my wife even has a 2008 335i, but she’d rather drive my E30.”

A serial BMW owner, the 1987 325e is Robert’s fifth. “The driving experience—the interaction between you and the car—is like nothing I’ve ever driven. The style of the feedback you get is like no other car. Miata, STi, RSX…I can’t replicate the feeling I get with the BMW in any other car.”

Anthony didn’t know much about E30’s before he bought his 1989 325is two years ago. “I saw one on the highway and had to know what it was—I loved the overall look, especially the headlights. After a little Google searching, I figured out what it was and bought the first $900 piece of [crap] I could find. That turned out to be a mistake, but I managed to resell it at only a $50 loss. Three months of checking Craigslist daily to find the “right” E30 and I found this one. The thing is, I wasn’t really even into cars before my E30.”

The cars they drove represented a range of performance and modifications, but each of the BMW’s turned heads as we drove around the base snapping pictures. It was surprising to see that a group of 25-year-old cars could elicit a response from casual on-lookers, especially given the relative ubiquity of E30’s in the Bay Area. Then again, the cameras, the chase car, and the sound of the exhausts might have drawn a little attention…or maybe it was just the excitement that an E30 can create deep inside you. Once you drive one, you’ll understand.

If you’re tempted, check out the E30s for sale here on eBay.

Tell us your E30 story below in the comments, and click to the next page for more E30 photos.

Tags BMW/ E30/ German
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29 Comments on "An ’80s Icon: The BMW E30"

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Leon Prinsloo
Leon Prinsloo
11 months 19 days ago
My mum had a white 2 door 325iS with black Recaro leather seats, e;ectric sunroof, full house. Second last to come off the production line. Was an amzing car, the only thing is she oppted to have the “325” body kit, with the small black lip wing on the boot lid and the small black lip under the front bumper. We had the 325iS badge not installed because too many monkeys in souped up Golf 2.0 16V GTi’s would alsways try and race. It had the E36 5 speed auto box, which was tough as nails. Even at 12years (at… Read more »
Andreas Monsieur
Andreas Monsieur
1 year 6 days ago

I recently bought a 1984 BMW 320i Baur. It’s number 3076 of the 10,865 ever produced by Baur in Stuttgart!

Emily Lopez
Emily Lopez
1 year 4 months ago

Nice model of BMW as technology changing day by day we are hoping more and more inventions that will give us perfect and luxury drive always. Currently the market depends on alternative energy vehicles that also BMW has mastered in it have a look on the [url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ck00JQnMuKE”]BMW i3 the Electric Vehicle [/url]

Daniel Amrhein
Daniel Amrhein
1 year 7 months ago

My first car, 1991 BMW 318ic. It is absolutely my favorite car to drive!

ahmed benyusuf
ahmed benyusuf
1 year 8 months ago

I want to sell my 19992 bmw e30 325ic text 816 9145215

Guillaume Ethier
Guillaume Ethier
1 year 9 months ago

I bought my 1985 325e last year. It’s a dream come true. It’s good all around and does a great job in the snow.

Spencer
Spencer
2 years 1 day ago
My love story with my E3O started back in August of this year, I was planning on attending a local college a mere 35 miles away from home. I needed a car, and I have a bit of an obsession with cars. My requirements, fast, fun, reliable, must be stick, cheap to modify, and good looking. Oh and one more thing I only had about $5,000 to play with, I searched through fourms and YouTube to find the right car, the perfect car. I first drove an E28 BMW 528E and it was nice but it was lacking in the… Read more »
Leo
Leo
2 years 6 months ago
I picked up my first E30 (and first BMW) two years ago, after looking for a fun, practical and good looking retro classic, that car (1987 prefacelift ‘Chromie’ 325i) turned out to be a mistake, and I sold it on (without losing any money) after I began looking to improve it and restore it to OEM condition, unfortunately it had rust issues that would never have been possible to make perfect. It was and still is squarely the best car I have ever driven, I miss it every day, but being somewhat of a perfectionist, it had to go. Since… Read more »
Ciaran
Ciaran
2 years 7 months ago
I was a truck guy in high school with a 90′ (always liked 80’s/90’s vehicles more than any) F250 turbo diesel 5 speed. Had to get something economical after graduating and couldn’t rationalize getting anything else. I bought a 93′ Convertible 325i 5 speed with posi in black with a metallic gold stripe in San Francisco for $2,850 with 121,000 original. Supposed to be the vehicle that got me around with a little fun while I restored the truck…as since the tables have turned a,nd I’m now almost finished restoring my E30 the way I want it, but mostly all… Read more »
Richard
Richard
2 years 7 months ago

I just want to ask if what type of red is that? I mean what is the color code of it..coz I’m sure its not the original paint from Bmw, right?

Harmick Taroian
Harmick Taroian
1 year 2 days ago

That is Calypso red. Original color on E30.

sudarta
sudarta
3 years 5 months ago

Great handling..amazing car!!

Mick Ord
Mick Ord
3 years 8 months ago

M3 E30 at its absolute best !!!

Holm Oelker
Holm Oelker
3 years 8 months ago
What a milestone, the iconic E30 represents perfect symbiosis between pure driving fun and reliability, built into terrific simple form… Had seven of those (2doors only, including one stripped Schnitzer-headed 204HP-version) within previous fourteen years, loved them all. The last one, an early 325e (1983) will stay forever with me after been storaged last three years. Nothing else (with clothes on) provided so much fun to me … on a daily base and affordable. Decided to have fun again on the weekends, restauration started and 3,5l inline six is waiting… Will definitevely increase number of E30 in my live. Also… Read more »
Neal Hershenson
Neal Hershenson
3 years 9 months ago

This was a great 1987 325iCa until 12/22/2012. I’m heartbroken – not even I can fix it, she’s so twisted. Totaled out.

Joshua Brown
Joshua Brown
3 years 9 months ago

I bought my 1988 325i cabrio last spring and cannot believe how much fun I have in it. Cruising up and down Woodward on the weekends with friends (it’s kinda a big thing in the Detroit area). Even my friends who have 400+hp cars cannot believe how fun it is to drive. I literally will hunt down long twisty winding roads out in the boonies and just drive with the biggest smile on my face!!

Samuel Salzinger
Samuel Salzinger
3 years 9 months ago

Picked up this 325ix about 5 years ago. I had always enjoyed the styling of the E30s growing up, but never got one with the winter weather figuring they were all RWD. When I rode in an IX with an acquaintance in a snow storm, I was sold on the car. There’s no greater feeling than cruising in the little tank in a foot of unplowed snow, especially passing trucks that have gotten stuck).

Joey Batista
Joey Batista
3 years 9 months ago
My love for the E30 began back in 96 when I received my 86 325. I didn’t have this one long before upgrading to an 87 325is. I had this car until I decided to go to college in 2001. I had to sell it to buy my first laptop :(. I wish I still had it but would eventually pay off. I’d had my current 89 E30 M3 since 2004 and will NEVER part with it. You can Check it out here: http://Joeysm3.com From the moment I saw my first E30 M3, I had to have one! Great site… Read more »
Mpumelelo Nkomo
Mpumelelo Nkomo
3 years 9 months ago

Still on my bucket list as a collectors item, would even settle for the South African 333i

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman
3 years 9 months ago

i had an 88 318is, a 90 325i motorsport and m3
all stock, none of the silly stance/stretched tyre look that prevails today :p
the 318 had nice handling but was underpowered, the 325 was faster but more wayward and not as good handling
best was the m3, steering was well weighted and feelsome although gearing was too low.
overall lightyears ahead of the standard 3’s

Tom Merrick
Tom Merrick
3 years 9 months ago

I love how all the drivers you talked to try to put into words that which CAN’T be put into words. There’s something about the proportions, the styling, and of course, the driving experience that can’t be matched with this car. I got my first E30 this past summer…a 91 325i cabriolet. I cannot convey the joy I feel when going for a summer cruise in this with my wife.

Mark Gold
Mark Gold
3 years 9 months ago
Great write-up! I drove a ’91 318ic for close to ten years (I was part of the old baye30.net), and it was my daily driver as well as my hobby. Free weekends were spent tinkering, either with maintenance or upgrades or out for a drive in the canyons or on the autocross course. I didn’t overly modify it, just tasteful changes that made it more practical. I regret selling it and hope to find another lagünengrün metallic cabrio in the near future. The E36 325i sedan I replaced it with hasn’t been nearly as reliable nor as fun to drive.
Grant Viktor Marshall
Grant Viktor Marshall
3 years 9 months ago

There’s a typo on the second page, the M3 engine is an S14, not S16.

David Bentz
David Bentz
3 years 9 months ago
Well done article. Of all my cars, my 72 2002 and 89 e30 ix are by far my favorites. The ix was the first BMW I ever drove (it’s been in my wife’s family for years) and I fell instantly in love (over 15 year relationship…and counting…) To this day we fight over who gets to drive the ix in the snow and who gets stuck driving the x5. The car is perfection in driving. With predictability like no other, you truly have the ultimate driving machine. How many cars of this vintage can still a rally race against brand… Read more »
Joseph DArco
Joseph DArco
3 years 9 months ago

Always been obsessed with the E30 M3. Here is a great one for sale on EBAY if anyone has 30,000 laying around: http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1991-BMW-M3-Base-Coupe-2-Door-2-3L-/230924372498?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item35c42a4a12#ht_15795wt_1282

Chaunceton Bird
Chaunceton Bird
3 years 9 months ago

Solid article. I drive a 1989 325i, and it’s definitely one of the greatest vehicles ever made. The balance of technology and repair-ability is perfect. And they aren’t too difficult to get track worthy. I’ve only had mine a couple months, but the addiction and infatuation has already sent its roots deep.

Rayon Rhule
Rayon Rhule
3 years 9 months ago
Great Article. I’ve been daily driving my E30 (1990 325i) now for the past three years and love every minute of it. The driving experience is like no other, its my 15th car and I think it’s my best. She gets redlined on a daily basis and with over 280,000 miles on the clock she shows no sign of letting up. I can honestly say I’ve learnt to drive with this car, the ability to induce and hold a slide at will is an amazing feeling all made possible with the light weight balanced chassis. Heel and toe, proper breaking… Read more »
Jan Glazebrook
Jan Glazebrook
3 years 9 months ago

Great job, Jonathon! I know why you love that car – you have always talked about it with pride!:D

Nafta
Nafta
3 years 9 months ago

At 17 (Early 2000’s), I learned to drive on my fathers E30 325is. It was that E30 that began my love affair with not only E30’s, but older European cars in general. Sadly the car ended up in a ditch and written off.

Twice I have come close to buying one,but I had to say no as circumstances at the time wouldn’t allow for it.

Hopefully, one day when the stars are aligned, I will find an E30 M3 parked in my driveway.

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