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E30 3 Series History, Specifications, Performance

The E30 3 series was a vast improvement over the E21 (sold in the US from 1977-1983)BMW 3 series. Formally unveiled in 1982 for Europe, the E30 line went through many changes during the 1984-1991 years of production for US and Canada. (European market production of the E36 3 series began in 1990.) Today, BMW car enthusiasts mostly cherish the E30 line for its incredible durability, performance and reliability for the dollar, and for it's great build quality that does not get in the way of a more raw and connected driving experience compared to E36, E46, and E90 models.

In Road & Track magazine's first test of a M10 powereds 318i hit newstands in June 1983. The 318i did not quicken the heart of performance seekers looking for a US market car to replace or join their aging 2002's (Remember, the quick 323i E21 was a grey market car never officially sold in the US). This weas the first published test of an E30" 3 Series. And it was not cheap. The window sticker on R&T's 84 318i was a steepd $18,210 - more than double the price of a 1977 320i. One other aside is that the E30 3 series (the 1984 318i) represented the first time a 3 series was available in the United States with 4 doors.

The look of the new Baby Bimmer was nothing revolutionary, and even less adventurous to the casual observer than the E21. However '1980s' these 3 series look today, they had considerable aerodynamic advantages vs the outgoing E21. The 1982 Audi 100 has ushered in an 80's focus on reducing coefficient of drag in the pursuit of cleaner styling, better stability, and better fuel economy. The E30's grille sported a less radical angle, and the headlights mounted nearly flush. The E21 and E30 have similar wheelbases, the E30's wheelbase an insignificant 0.3 inches longer from the E21 at 100.9 to 101.2 inches. The car's overall length was slightly reduced. However, the new 3 series felt considerably more 'solid' and well assembled. BMW engineers focused on build quality and dependability to fight off the upcoming Mercedes Benz 190

The first US spec E30's sported a warmed over 1.8-liter fuel injected four cylinder, the M10 engine with 101 hp. It was quickly determined that us Yanks demanded a six this time, and the Fuel-economy biased M20 121 horsepower 2.7-liter inline six-cylinder 'Baby Six' engine from larger E28 528e sedan was plopped into the new 3 series to create tyhe 325e or 325 eta. An incredibly low 4500 rpm redline and economy-minded gearing accompanied this car, which ran smoothly and torquey, but was no sports car engine (though the 325es is a really neat and fairly rare car!). the "eta" 2.7, like all BMW sixes, was smooth and elegantly torquey in the company's smallest car, but hardly sporting in character. Almost sadly in hindsight, its 121 horsepower were the most available to U.S. buyers of small BMW's since the 1974 2002tii. 325e performance was pretty good for the 1980's, actually, and not all that far off the mark of the Porsche 944 (ouch!),with 0 to 60 mph in 8.4 to 8.9 seconds (depending on who was testing) and a 16.2 to 16.6 second quarter mile time, with trap speed in the low 80 mph range, a 2-3 second improvement in each category over the four cylinder 318i.

1985 brought the first four door sedan models plus a revised four-speed automatic transmission option available with either the four or the six. 1986 saw the 318i dropped, and ABS Antilock brakes become standard equipment on all North American market 3 series. 1986 was the first year for the 325es as well, which was basically a european market 325is car saddled with the low revving ETA engine. One of these in nice shape today would make a great commuter car/daily driver, especially with a chip and fresh suspension...see my older article on hot-rodding the 325e cars for information on how to make the 325e quite fast!

The 1987 model year was milestone, for it heralded the introduction of the 325i and 325is models, as well as the 325iC Convertible, the first pure convertible offered in the 3 Series. The impact of the new M20 'i' cars cannot be stressed enough! Car and Driver wrote that "The new 325is is the first genuinely sporting BMW to reach our shores since the 2002tii went out of production in 1975," in their first test of the 325is. The 325i and 325is shared the new-for-us 2.5 liter engine, which though part of the same M20 family as the eta engine and having the same 84mm bore, had a 75mm stroke (down 6mm from the eta) to drop displacement from 2,693 to 2,494 cubic centimeters. The result, with better head, cam, and exhaust, was 168 horsepower and 164 pound-feet of peak torque. Car and Driver's 325is blasted to 60 mph in just 7.4 seconds and completing the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 88 mph. So gratifying and ingratiating was the new 325i engine that most reviewers felt the car was worth its soaring price tag. In the case of Car and Driver's 325is, that tag read $27,475 — which the magazine pointed out is, taking inflation into account, double the price of the old 2002tii. I would take a clean 87-91 325i or 325is over just about any Volkswagen, Corrado VR6 or Golf R32 nonwithstanding.

BMW's Motorsport division had gotten its start in the early '70s creating high-performance street cars, as well as race cars. By 1987, the reputation of the M (Motorsports) division for building brilliant sporting machinery was well established. The M1 supercar, M535i and M5, plus M635csi and M6 models had reinvigorated the BMW performance legend in larger models, and the 1986 European M3 was their first application of M voodoo to the 3 series.

The original M3 made it over to the United States 1988. Originally built to take on Mercedes' Cosworth-tweaked 190E 2.3-16 in FIA Group A racing, the M3 employed a 2.3-liter four-cylinder capped with a twin-cam four-valve head that was essentially one of the big six four-valve heads less two cylinders. Dropped into a modified 3 Series two-door body shell (the flared fenders, more steeply raked rear window and higher trunk lid meant only the hood was left untouched from more plebian 3s), the Bosch fuel-injected "M Power" four was rated at 192 horsepower at a wailing 6,750 rpm when it finally got to North America. "This is not a car for yuppies," wrote Car and Driver on their first exposure to the U.S.-spec M3. "This is a car for us. In case you haven't noticed, BMW's U.S. lineup has blossomed to include a dazzling array of leather-lined hot rods that beg to be flogged through the twisties and hammered on the superslabs." Stirring the five-speed manual transmission, Car and Driver blasted that 2,857-pound M3 to 60 mph in just 6.9 seconds, blitzed the quarter-mile in just 15.2 seconds with a 92-mph trap speed and screamed to a 141-mph top speed. With an as-tested price of $34,810, the M3 was at that time (and still in many minds) the ultimate BMW 3 Series.

BMW would build an all-wheel-drive 325ix model in 1988 as well, and the Motorsport fanatics would conjure up "Evolution" models of the M3 for those who found the wonderful original only a good starting point. But with the introduction of the M3, the possibilities of the E30 3 Series were thoroughly and gloriously exhausted as it faded out of production through 1991.

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