Featured: An '80s Icon: The BMW E30

An ’80s Icon: The BMW E30

By Jonathon Glazebrook
February 7, 2013
39 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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Charles Merlen
Charles Merlen
3 years ago

I’ve got a BAUR come from my Grand Pa’. In 2004, my cousin get it from the family and after 10 years, he decided to sell it. He asking to the family if anybody want to buy it, and that’s me ! I bought it without testing it, i’ve passed lot of time at the rear when i’m a child and now i can drive it daily ! It’s a Euro 323i from 84′ ( I’m from 1986), and i love this car due to the feeling to drive it.

Kike Fernández Gómez
Kike Fernández Gómez
3 years ago

This story is not about my E30 325 Convertible…it is about my Girlfriend’s.
She got it as a gift from a previous boyfriend (to whom I will always be in debt) and I get to use it quite a bit.
It has an aftermarket double exhaust than makes the car roar like a beast…and it accelerates like that besides being an automatic gear shifter…I secretly fantasize with the idea of fitting a Z3 gearbox or a period correct one…. but we will leave it as that.
Right now, is being upholstered as the original leather was far beyond saving.
We have 4 cars in total and the E30 is definitely the most fun to drive and the fastest horse in the barn.

delkwof@yahoo.com
delkwof@yahoo.com
4 years ago

I bought my first E30 318 in 1992.It was fun to drive because i had replaced the 4 pot with a 320 i engine.I did a lot of swaps from 2.0 to 2.3 engines.The 2.3 engine with a k jetronic fuel system was fast but my favorite was he 2.7 bottom end with 2.3 head,that thing scoots like crazy but the 2.5 was equally good.I was rear ended at traffic light by a truck in 2003 ,so that car was sold as
scrap but its still running with a new owner who fixed it.I bought a 1987 320i which my uncle owned but was mostly parked.I have used it since 2003 and done swap from the m20 2.5i to the current m50 2.5i motor.I have the 3.46 final drive ratio with a overdrive Getrag 260 box.I can hit 120 km/h in second speed and doing rough calculations 0-60 mph is just a little over 6 seconds,my son says its actually 5 secs which a friend has also confirmed.I use koni filter intake and i have dual tail pipes with 2 Remus mufflers at the rear, the sound turns heads and attracts lots of comments .

Currently undergoing refurbishment. I am replacing the current side skirts and rear aprons style.There is a guy who can mold these things with aluminium plates since you dont get these body kits here in Ghana.I am respraying the body color from silver to dark grey or bronze color.I wont ever sell this car because its now a classic and the value keeps appreciating. I intend replacing the sound system and getting reversing camera on it.

6cyl
6cyl
4 years ago

I bought a modern hot hatch, 4 month later I needed to buy a 1983’s E30 320I to enjoy driving. Now I’m going to sell my 5 new hot chatch and I don’t know what to buy to combine with with E30. Make you sure it will be hard to find a modern car that makes me feel pleasure as 320I do. I can nly think in z3 coupe let’s see what happens.

Good post, I love to read you

Robert T. Nash
Robert T. Nash
4 years ago

My 1984 318i bought new at Village BMW in late 1983…I kept it 22 years then sold it on eBay to a guy in Ohio…RTN/XXX/OOO

scottb138
scottb138
4 years ago

I bought my 325i 8 months after I married my dream girl in 1989. So I had my dream girl and my e30, both of which i really could not afford, and enjoyed it for 12 years. And, during this time we began raising our family and outgrew it. So it sat in my garage for another 13 years with a bad fuel pump, worn out brakes, bad wheel bearings and struts, fouled plugs, etc… Several times I attempted to sell it to make room, and believe it or not, my dream girl tells me, “No, you will regret selling our first car.” Then as my middle son began his foray into this love affair we have with cars, he tells me, “Dad, I want to get the e30 running.” My dream girl was so right! My son and I got to spend a great deal of time together while he was going to college getting it back on the road. After two years of slowly resurrecting this fixture in our family, the bond I have experienced with my son is worth every penny spent. What is really special is my dream girl loves to go for spins on the weekend, and we get to re-live our romance 27 years later .
It isn’t perfect; the steering rack leaks, the odometer needs new gears, and it has 27 years of patina. But the BMW e30 is the car you can drive hard into a corner and truly feel the road. Its a keeper for us; a family heirloom…

Arturs
Arturs
4 years ago

Bought mine 3 years ago for 500 euros as a first car. Was rusty, but ran great. Passed the inspection with 120 euros in parts and labour and off i went. Base model crusty 316i with manual steering, and it has ruined all other cars for me, toyota auris especially with their electric power assist steering shocked me after the analog e30. The car was nevar meant to last long, but the floor was in shockingly good shape, previous body repairs werent badly made and obviously i was very attached to it, so i started throwing money at it, because cmon, first car, rwd and the clean 80s looks. And finally this August it will be done- resprayed in factory original alpenwiss2, restored upgraded brakes from 6cyl models, polyutherane suspension bits, new body panels to replace rusty fenders and sills (no patch panels) and a rebuilt upgraded M42 16v 1.8 with an lsd. That car was what helped me emotionally to get through tough times, motivated me to work harder and smarter, taught me how to wrench. I love that car.

SteveLittlefield
SteveLittlefield
5 years ago

Just one year ago, I purchased my 1987 325is. I bought the car from a dealer in Miami thru eBay, which is always risky. But there are no rust free E30s to be found where I live. The car was advertised as a perfect “turn key” car, but when it arrived, it was a mess. It leaked oil from the main rear seal, needed struts, exhaust and an endless list of problems. But as I inspected the car, I realized that the car still was a perfect restoration car. It had no rust and every bolt came apart with ease. Most of the car was original paint and some receipts in the trunk confirmed that it had been a one owner car with just 73K miles. It was tired and worn, but not abused.

Over last summer I put about 150 hours of work in the car and about $7K in parts. Most of the work was on the chassis, interior and gremlins in the electrical system . The car got new struts/shocks, sway bars, shift kit, brake hoses and replacement of every rubber part that I encountered. I have a lot more into this car than it’s worth, but I’ve attended to so many of the small details that are necessary for a good restoration.

This year, the timing belt, main rear seal and some electrical problems remain to be addressed. Last year, I had the transmission 80% out, but couldn’t reach some bell housing bolts. That job will be the big challenge.

This car doesn’t handle as well as the 1983 320is that I owned for 18 years, but it has silky smooth acceleration and is a JOY to drive. I plan to keep it for a long time.

Jerry
Jerry
5 years ago

Hi, my name is Jerry from Poland.
In August 2016 I bought this beautiful e30 318i, the engine is in really good shape (60 000 miles on the clock), but the car needs some body work. Also I don’t like a silver colour, so I’m gonna change probably for brillanrot (red). I know, I have been advised by many do not change a paint, keep it original, but I am not going to sell this car, it will be my toy for hot summer days 😉

Leon Prinsloo
Leon Prinsloo
6 years 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 the time) I was able to get her up past 220KM/h. What a beast. I truly miss that car.

Andreas Monsieur
Andreas Monsieur
6 years 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
6 years 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
7 years ago

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

ahmed benyusuf
ahmed benyusuf
7 years ago

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

Guillaume Ethier
Guillaume Ethier
7 years 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
7 years 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 fast and fun department, I then looked for other older BMW’s I found a few BMW 635CSI’s which I loved and nearly bought, but they too didn’t make me feel as special when I drove that 1989 BMW 325IS. I met this guy on craigslist drove 50 miles and saw the car, it was in good condition with only minor rust issues on the rocker panels, but underneath the car was solid. I got the car off of someone who was a BMW mechanic for many years and was teaching at a local tech school, he even already put on a brand new custom Scriopion Exhuast system. This car sounds like nothing else, wherever I go people turn their heads in expectation of me traveling at some extreme speed while I am only doing a mere 20MPH. The car was maintained consistently and worked on by the previous owner, who only drove it to work every once in a while and cleaned it often. The interior was impecable, and the engine was better than perfect. I drove the car for the first time and I couldn’t stop smiling, this car brings joy to everyone who rides in it. I’ve put only 3,000 miles on it, mostly on back roads searching for that perfect driving road, and it has over 241,000 currently. It drives better than most other new cars, in my own opinion, and loves to smoke Ricers and Honda Civics whenever need be. Suspension is currently being completely redone, new everything, it is losing the stock ride height and will be lowered slightly but not slammed. I am planning on using it as a daily driver throughout the rest of this year and will probably buy a few more just so that I can keep my original love in good condition. Next up is a new stereo system, and repairing the rust on the rocker panels as well as fixing up the hood which is aged.

Leo
Leo
8 years 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 then I’ve spent around a year looking for the perfect example to replace it, and I write this now full of excitement that I will collect my minty clean, low mileage, and factory standard 1988 325i next week, deposit laid down, counting down the days until I collect.

I write this as someone who only ever had a passive interest in cars, but I can honestly say that since the first time I drove that first E30, it actually changed the way I think about cars, having previously owned VW Golf’s, Renault’s, Volvo’s, this car made me realise what driving joy is all about. The driving experience is sumptuous, the balance, power, feel, and alertness the car has is a mixture that simply connected me with driving like I’d never experienced, all this from a car that will get you to and from work or day to day business cheaply, safely, and in refined style. Add to that the new enjoyment gained from appreciating the build and mechanical quality, (I now fully understand where the German reputation for quality comes from.)

This car has made my friends call me a ‘car guy.’

Ciaran
Ciaran
8 years 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 stock for the sake of it having mostly all original parts (even 14″bbs’ers) because they’re becoming hard to find. Even here in the bay…..

HANDS DOWN THE BEST VEHICLE YOU COULD BUY FOR THE MONEY. The bang for your buck is out of this world, the build quality is unrivaled, the fully mechanical ride is astonishing and never ceases to make me tip into the triple digits…even in turns. One of the most predictable vehicles I’ve ever driven, given enough time to get used to the handling characteristics and in what fashion to drive it. You have to be able to control this one because if you push it past its point there’s no fancy electronics to save you. This is truly a drivers car and given you can find one that hasn’t been totally molested you’ll have a vehicle that will have you wondering why you’d ever purchase something newer. I am a valet at a high end wine country resort with a past in auto mechanics, and drive some of the most extravagant vehicles money can buy, but every day I leave there in my E30 without a thought in my mind of the things I wish it had inside, just pure joy in the sport of driving.

Richard
Richard
8 years 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
6 years ago
Reply to  Richard

That is Calypso red. Original color on E30.

sudarta
sudarta
8 years ago

Great handling..amazing car!!

Mick Ord
Mick Ord
9 years ago

M3 E30 at its absolute best !!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58ShlIgm2Bw

Holm Oelker
Holm Oelker
9 years 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 if I ever get a chance to get one good Pantera…

Neal Hershenson
Neal Hershenson
9 years 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
9 years 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
9 years 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
9 years 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 guys, keep it up!

Mpumelelo Nkomo
Mpumelelo Nkomo
9 years ago

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

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman
9 years 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
9 years 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
9 years 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
9 years ago

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

David Bentz
David Bentz
9 years 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 new cars, companies with large budgets, and crews and still win? Hands down one of the best made BMW’s of all time that are still in within reach of us mere mortals.

Joseph DArco
Joseph DArco
9 years 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
9 years 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
9 years 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 technique, steering inputs, seating position and throttle timing and control are all a few things I’ve mastered all as a result of driving an E30.

Jan Glazebrook
Jan Glazebrook
9 years ago

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

Philip Moravcik
Philip Moravcik
9 years 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.