//M Car




BMW E30 Three Series


This is the car that made BMW the company it is today. It was the car everyone aspired to in the 80's. And whilst everyone wanted a 325i or M3 the 318i was the reality for most. The 2002 and E21 were great cars and set the scene for the E30, the car that stole the show.

red BMW E30 M3

The E30 M3, it gets no better than this. An icon.

The E30 was the successor to the popular E21 three series and started life in 1983. The car was more of an upgraded E21 than an all new car and initially used the same engines. Major changes included improved suspension design, more modern interior and a more rigid body. Whilst the E21 had been a two door car the E30 eventually had four door, touring and convertible bodies. In europe the touring and convertible models lived on until 1993 while the saloons were discontinued in 1991 to be replaced by the larger E36.

This car saw BMW moving to a more expensive market segment than it's predecessor, you could have just afford a 316 but a fully loaded 325i was in a very different price bracket. The E30 must be regarded as a classic car with a cult following to match. For me no other car represents BMWs and what they stand for than the E30, I've owned five. The four headlight grill is even carried on today in all models as a symbol of the marque.

If you've never owned one you need to. Find a 318iS or a 325i and run it for a few years, it'll hold it's value and likely go up if you look after it. A good E30 makes current BMWs seem as much in touch with the road as they are with the moon. This is how I like my cars, it's not an iPhone on wheels.

Over 2.2 million E30s were made during its ten year life.

red BMW E30 318iS

Why have one 318iS when you can have two?


Model Body styles Engine Weight
Power / Weight
(bhp / 1000kg)
Final drive ratio
(manual / auto)
315 2 door M10 1100? 68 3.91? Disc / Drum
316 2/4 door M10 1000 90 3.91? Disc / Drum
316i 2/4 door, touring M40 1080 94 4.27 / 4.45 Disc / Drum
318i 2/4 door,
touring, convertible
M10 to '87

M40 '87 on





4.10 / 4.45
Disc / Drum

Disc / Disc

318iS 2 door M42 1125 125 4.10 Disc/Disc (ABS in USA)
320i 2/4 door,
touring, convertible
M20 1160 110 4.10 / 4.45 Pre 6/87 Disc/Drum

Post 6/87 Disc/Disc ABS*

320iS 2 door S14 1150 164 ? Disc/Disc ABS

323i 2/4 door M20 1160? 120 3.64 Disc / Disc
324td 2/4 door M21 1150? 100 ? Disc / Drum
325i/S/X 2/4 door, touring,
convertible (not iX)
M20 1200 141 3.73 Disc/Disc ABS*
325e/s (US) 2/4 door M20 eta 1240? 101 2.78 Disc/Disc ABS
333i 2 door M30 1265 172 2.93 or 3.07 Disc/Disc ABS*
M3 2 door S14 1260 159 3.25 Disc/Disc ABS*
M3 Evolution 1 2 door S14 1260 170 3.15 Disc/Disc ABS
M3 Evolution 2 2 door S14 1260 175 3.15 Disc/Disc ABS
M3 Evolution 3 2 door, convertible S14 1260 189 3.15 Disc/Disc ABS


US versions of this car were denied the smaller engines and most had the Federal "diving board" bumpers. ABS was optional on the six cylinder cars and 318iS. For example US 318iS's had ABS but it was a rare addition in the UK.
grey BMW E30 325i MTech

Chrome bumper 325i with M-Tech 1 body pack.

Driving an E30

E30s come in all shape and sizes from the humble 316 to the exalted M3 Evo. The common DNA is the handling and a chassis that has all the right ingredients for a great drive. Stock suspension is good, it's moderate rather than stiff and works well around town or on long drives. It tends to understeer progressively but can catch you out in the wet or on ice when the back end breaks away, although not as readily as on the E21. The car can be driven hard and responds predictably.

M-Tech suspension was a factory option that dropped the car a sensible 15mm and increased the spring rates. On some models it came with stiffer anti-roll bars. The only car it was standard on (excluding the M3) was the 318iS. It's stiff but not bone shakingly so. It's a bit tiring on long motorway journeys but just sublime on a twisty country road, the E30's natural habitat. You really don't need anything more than this unless you're doing lots of track days.

My first BMW was an '87 plastic bumper 316 which was propelled by an 1800cc M10 with a dreadful Pierburg carb. The carb had flat spots despite the dealer's attention and it ruined the fun. The car was crying out for a nice Weber or two. I like the M10 a lot though. The car was amazingly quiet at idle, unlike the later M40 318i. The 316 had enough power to cruise at high speed and it seemed a bit beefer than the M40. These days a 316 with the right carbs and a few other mods would be a good fun introduction to E30s.

Early 318i's had an injected M10, later cars the M40. Mine was a touring so a bit heavier and with a 4.27:1 (instead of 4.10:1) differential to compensate. I didn't like the M40 at all. It always seemed to run out of steam and wasn't much fun.

BMW E30 318i

Release model German 318i with single wing mirror.

I've had three 318iS with the glorious 16 valve M42. This comes onto the boil just where the M40 runs out. It was born to rev and the car is just wonderful to drive. It's one of the best BMWs ever made and personally I prefer it to the 325i. I've had one with 200,000+ miles and almost no problems. The car is perfect (or would be with larger brakes).

I've not had a 320i but a friend had an automatic four door. The M20 is a good engine and has loads of low down grunt. The E30 isn't too heavy for it and the car goes well. Don't rule one out as there are mods such a larger throttle body that can liven things up.

The 325i is a real powerhouse, no two ways about it. Equally at home on the autobahn or the back roads this is machine with serious performance. It's a 12 valve engine so the headline figure of around 170bhp is deceiving and the power delivery feels much stronger.

I've never driven an M3 because life isn't fair, BMW didn't make them in right hand drive so they're rare in the UK. It remains my ambition.

The only E30 I wasn't impressed with was the M40 318i, it's just not a performance engine and unlike the M10 it doesn't have the ability to become one. In the UK quite a few 318i tourings and cabriolets have had M42s fitted, this is an easy and inexpensive upgrade that will transform the car. A stock M42 is excellent but the engine was undertuned by BMW to stop it competing with the 320i so there's another 20-30 bhp up for grabs without much expense.


Be sure to visit the E30 Zone