E21 Three Series


The E21 was the 1975 successor to the 2002 and as such had a tough sporting image to live up to. Problem was that the E21 was bigger, heavier and all models until the euro 323i produced less power than the 2002tii's 130bhp. The car was not well received especially in the US, perhaps if they had the lighter and more powerful euro models they wouldn't have complained so much. US E21's had hideous and heavy federal bumpers.

Still the E21 was a good car in it's own right. It was quieter and easier to live with than the 2002 and boasted far better heating and ventilation. E21s always had a reputation for being a bit tail happy with trailing throttle oversteer, owners just thought that gave the car character.


The E21 was only available in two door form from the factory although Baur made a T-bar convertible later on. Some US companies also made full convertibles, these are very rare.

The first BMW I ever rode in was a mate's 1977 320, great car. Alas it was killed in action by a Ford Fiesta driver. The Bimmer suffered surprisingly minor frontal damage from a 20mph impact but the insurance company wrote it off due to its age. You should have seen the state of the Fiesta it hit.....

In 1981 production peaked at 220,000 units per annum, the E21 was very popular in europe and paved the way for the hugely successful E30.

<BMW E21 320 racing turbo

Group 5 racing 320 turbo.

<BMW E21 US 320

US spec E21 had larger bumpers

<BMW E21 Alpina C1

Alpina's C1, the Ultimate E21.

<BMW E21 323i

Twin tail pipe 323i with non-standard BBS alloys.


Europe saw a large number of engine choices from 1.6 litre four cylinder to the new M20 six cylinder units in 2.0 or 2.3 form. Many euro models had carbs but Jetronic-K injection was to be found on the more expensive examples, in those days the "i" at the end of the name mattered!

US cars started as two litre injection 320i's but were reduced to a 1.8 (still called a 320i though!) in 1979 to meet pollution legislation. US emissions regulations hit this model fairly hard. The 320i in the US had a power to weight ratio around 20% lower than its euro equivalent.

Model Body styles Engine Produced
Power / Weight
(bhp / 1000kg)
Final drive ratio Brakes
315 2 door M10 80-83 1020? 73 4.10 Disc / Drum
316 (later a 1.8) 2 door M10 75-83 1036 87 4.10 Disc / Drum
318 2 door M10 75-80 1040 94 3.91 Disc / Drum
318i 2 door M10 79-83 1040 97 3.64 Disc / Drum
320/4 2 door M10 75-79 1036 105 3.91 Disc / Drum
320i/4 2 door M10 75-78 1090 116 3.64 Disc / Drum
320/6 2 door M20 77-82 1090 112 3.64 Disc / Drum
323i 2 door M20 77-82 1190 120 3.45 Disc / Disc


See the engine details page for power figures. US power figures for this car were much lower than euro and the cars were heavier too. In addition most models were never available in the US and those that were exported often had horrid anti-pollution systems.

Known Problems

For the 316, 318 and early 320 see M10 engine problems.

For the post-79 320 and 323i see M20 engine problems.

Hand brakes can seize on if left for a long time.

Overheating, especially in traffic, may be a sign of a broken cooling fan clutch.

Watch for rust around the inner rear wheel arches and inside the front wings (fenders). You must inspect the rear shock towers from boot / trunk.

A wobbly front end or vibration when braking hard could be worn lower control arm bushings.