BMW is one of the most hallowed names in the automotive world and it is also one of the most valuable global brands across all industries. The company has built a reputation for itself as the maker of the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” a tag line that ad execs and marketers love. The origins of BMW’s sporting prowess rests in the “New Class” line of cars from the ’60s and by the time the 2002 line of cars hit showrooms in the ’70s, the brand was a cult-favorite of enthusiasts seeking sporty, well-built cars in a relatively unassuming package. The release of the E30 3-Series in 1982 saw a paradigm shift in BMW’s sense of place in the automotive arena. The secret was out and the Bavarian marque was no longer just a niche maker of enthusiast cars with a cult-following. The “me too” crowd had jumped on the bandwagon and BMW sales, and prices, soared as yuppies caught on to what the fringe car buff was believing in for years.
The E30 BMW 3-Series remained in production into the early-’90s and the blueprint upon which the sporty car was built laid the groundwork for virtually all modern BMWs. With the arrival of the E36 3-Series, the E30 did what most once-popular cars tend to do, it became another used car that could be had for a song. In the early-’00s, the car that was once lusted after by car buffs and yuppies had become a used car that could be had for a few thousand dollars. But, as tends to happen with iconic cars such as this, the values started to rise as the poorly-maintained ones went to the great Autobahn in the sky and as those same car nuts started to see the enduring quality and value of the vehicle. But, what exactly has made the prices of the E30 BMW 3-Series, a vehicle once seen by many as nothing more than a cheap used car for those wanting a roundel on a budget, to rise in value since 2008-ish? There are ten simple reasons why car enthusiasts are flocking to the iconic E30 3-Series in droves.
BMW Inline-6 Cylinder Engine
While later iterations of the 3-Series, like the E36 and E46, retained the in-line 6 engine, the E30’s inline-6 cylinder engine was an artistic expression of mechanical engineering. In 325i form, the E30’s straight-six would sing with the best of them and even a rookie mechanic could pop the hood and understand all of the details that went into manufacturing this straight engine block; there were no plastic covers hiding the engine’s beautiful design. Inline-6 engines are known for being inherently balanced power plants and BMW took that level of balance and precision to the next level during this time.
Naturally Aspirated Engine
It is a hoot to drive an E93 3-Series and experience the power of its twin-turbocharged N55 inline-6, but there is something so pure about the naturally aspirated engine in the E30 3-Series. There is no turbo lag, the power curve is steady, and power delivery is predictable. The noises are all organic and the hum of that engine firing is a gearhead’s fantasy. The connection to the combustion is simply missing from the modern engines, regardless of the advancements that they offer in track numbers.
Although prices of the E30 3-Series have risen since the mid-’00s when they hit rock-bottom, these now-classic 3-Series can still be had for a few grand if you are willing to put a little of your own elbow grease into the deal, and for the down payment on a new BMW lease you can still obtain a very prime example of a classic E30. You don’t have to break the bank to own a motoring icon if you choose a nice E30, allowing you to cruise in style on Sundays or modify it a bit and enjoy some affordable track time.
Ease of Maintenance
The BMW E30 was built in a mostly mechanical world before the robots took over everything. Modern cars, especially complex machines like those made by BMW, often require that you visit the mother ship anytime anything goes wrong. They are not friendly to the DIY mechanic due to their complex diagnostic systems and electrical components. The E30, however, is one of the last pure expressions of mechanical engineering and any competent auto enthusiast can guide themselves around under the bonnet of this classic 3-Series.
Modern German cars are well-built but not necessarily known for their reliability. Old German cars are not only screwed together well, but they were also known to run for hundreds of thousands of miles before any major repairs were needed. These old BMWs were built to run and, if properly maintained, they have legendary long-term durability. Not only can they rack up the miles, but they can do so while retaining that trademark 3-Series handling prowess and rattle-fee solidity.
No Gadget Gimmicks
Modern BMWs obviously deliver a brilliant driving experience with beautifully engineered performance that sets the benchmark for the compact executive car segment. However, old BMWs focused solely on the driving experience, while many post-2000 BMW models tend to shift some emphasis on luxury amenities and isolation from the road. The shift toward luxury motoring does provide a more pleasurable experience for some, but the true enthusiast is not concerned with burled walnut trim and noise dampening materials. The BMW E30 3-Series was not designed to cater to those who measure a car’s merit by those metrics and you will not find iDrive and other gimmicky gadgetry in the cabin of these classic BMWs from the German car company’s true golden age.
The E30 3-Series occupies a sweet spot on the timeline of BMW design language. The E21 3-Series had slightly awkward proportions and was more of an acquired taste visually. The E36 3-Series that came out after the E30 was a good looking car but lacked the presence of the venerable 3-Series. The post-2K Bangle-butt designs should not even be mentioned in the same breath as the classically Teutonic E30 body. The BMW E30 3-Series is boxy with a well-defined three-box design. The diving board bumpers, bold kidney bean grill, Hofmesiter Kink, and round headlamps give the car subtle yet distinctive style without resorting to the somewhat garish flame-surfacing gimmick that defines modern BMW style.
Yuppie Factor…Or Not
During the “Yuppie Revolution” of the ’80s, the BMW 3-Series was one of the must-have status symbols for yuppies wanting to show that they had “made it.” Not much has changed for the 3-Series, but the modern variant of the vehicle panders heavily to that market with an increased emphasis on luxury amenities and a decreasing focus on connection to the road, the thing that built the legend of the car to begin with. A well-maintained E30 3-Series still fits in at the country club, but does not exude the sneering of detractors like a modern 3-Series. The car suits the car enthusiast of every socioeconomic background.
Because Race Car
The BMW E30 generation of the 3-Series was a true driver’s car. This generation of 3-Series is more responsible than any other vehicle for creating BMW’s reputation as the “Ultimate Driving Machine.” These vehicles make excellent track cars due to their sporty handling and smooth power delivery. They are also great for beginner weekend warriors since the predictable handling, well-balanced weight distribution, and relatively low power means that it is hard to get into too much trouble with these vehicles. They are not under-powered at all, but entry-level racers will not find themselves getting in over their head like they would in a more powerful track car like a Corvette. The BMW E30 has all of the right ingredients to make a fun track car on a relatively affordable budget.
The formula for the “Ultimate Driving Machine” is in its purest form with the BMW E30 generation of the 3-Series. The blueprint calls for light weight, sport-tuned handling, nimbleness in corners, balanced weight distribution, silky smooth engine revs, brilliant power curve, no nonsense interior built around solid ergonomics, and a compact footprint. With each successive generation, the 3-Series has strayed more and more from the purity of this ultimate expression of the ultimate sporty executive-class vehicle. There were no gimmicks with this car, just a truly well-built piece of German-made precision engineering.
More from this contributor:
3 Classic Alfa Romeos that Embody the Company’s Italian Spirit
What Happened to the British Auto Industry’s Royal Crown?
How the New Entry-Level CLA Could Impact Mercedes-Benz in America