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BMW E30 Three Series - Guide to Interiors

E30s are not large cars and the owner of a modern three series would be quite shocked about how narrow one is. Personally I love it this way and think the modern cars should be called fives instead of threes but it doesn't alter the fact that the E30 might be a bit tight for the larger driver or one over 6'4" tall. If you're tall the sports seats help as they're height adjustable.

BMW e30 interior

318i interior with four spoke plastic steering wheel.

BMW e30 interior

The view from the passenger side on a similar car.

The interior is made from very high quality plastics and the only problem you're likely to face is slight cracking on the dashboard in hot countries. If this happens the easiest solution is to fill the cracks and try to colour match the repair. The same goes for holes someone drilled in the 80's to screw their mobile phone onto the centre console. Some companies specialise in these repairs.

BMW e30 front seats

Early basic seats from a 323i.

The seats are from another era. No plastic bases with foam cushions here, we're talking metal sprung with quality padding. This makes the seat breathe very well and they're all very comfortable. It would be judged too expensive nowadays in terms of materials and labour.

Front seats fall into the sports and non-sports varieties. On the latter the grade of cloth used on the post-87 facelift cars isn't up to the job and after about 100,000 miles the base will start to snap threads and fall apart. New covers are available from the dealer for around 60 GBP and aren't hard to fit.

BMW e30 front seats

Half leather in a 325i Motorsport convertible.

There were a few styles of sports seats and whilst most are described as Recarro few actually are. The grade of cloth used is excellent and should last forever unless abused. Unlike the leather seats side bolster holes are much rarer and not inevitable.

BMW e30 mtech-2 steering wheel

M-Tech 2 steering wheel.

The grade of leather used on the E30 was good and it lasts well, with the exception of the driver's seat bolster. But it's not going to look great by now and a little knowledge can make a big difference. Clean it with a gentle brush and saddle soap then wipe dry. Next get some Neatsfoot oil from anywhere horsey, this is better and much cheaper than car cleaning products. Paint it on with a round brush and leave it to soak, best done after the leather has been sitting in the sun and is warm. Repaint the dry bits every hour and leave in overnight, buff off next morning and don't forget the steering wheel and gear knob. Use loads of the stuff and repeat every six months. It can make a huge difference. You can recolour scuffed areas but that's a whole other topic (on black leather ever a black felt pen can work).

BMW e30 rear seat

Early rear seat fabric without centre armrest.

Rear seats are all alike the only difference being that some have a rear arm rest (with optional ski hatch behind it) and some don't. The rear seat base comes out just by pulling on the front corners. Rear headrest were an uncommon option.

On tourings the rear seat splits in the middle. Before folding the backrest flat the base must be hinged forwards. You usually need to remove the headrests first. The load bay covers have a nasty habit of going missing, far more so on E30s than later tourings for some reason!

Cabriolet back seats are strictly for two people as the middle is raised several inches.

BMW e30 front seats

Interior from my 318iS. They all had this fabric.

Many E30s had manual windows or even electric front and manual rear. If the electric windows seem slow try squirting silicone spray into the runners, get a can with a straw attachment. Four door cars have a toggle to disable the rear windows.

BMW e30 dashboard

The clear and easy to read dashboard.

The headlight knob will confuse many new owners but is the same on many other 80's BMW and even the Z3. Pull once for sidelights, twice for headlights and turn for dashboard brightness.

BMW e30 centre console

My 318iS M-Tech 1 wheel, stereo replaced by VDO gauges, 6 button OBC.

E30 heater controls are simple yet effective and don't go wrong. Air conditioning was a very rare option in the UK and the system uses a separate blower motor in the centre console.

BMW e30 check control

Onboard Computer and Check Control.

Six cylinder cars have a check control above the rear view mirror to find blown bulbs or low fluid levels. When you turn the ignition the brake light warning will glow red until you press the brake pedal. Most E30s had a really nice analogue clock but a digital one wasn't uncommon on early cars. More common was the full OBC (onboard computer) with it's time, temperature, economy, average speed, speed limit warning, code function (a primitive immobiliser) and range functions. Later cars often had a six button digital clock and temperature display, if yours flashes gibberish email me and I'll tell you how to fix it.

BMW e30 centre console

Centre console with early digital clock and basic radio.

A variety of tape cassettes and radios were fitted as optional extras, mostly made by Blaupunkt (Blue Dot). Cars with rear speakers and a two channel stereo had an external front / rear fader above the radio. An optional insert for the oddments tray next to the handbrake could hold six cassettes.

As with all older BMWs there's a rechargeable torch in the glovebox and a good tool kit in the boot lid. The boot should also contain a first aid kit and a warning triangle. A fire extinguisher that fits the lower front of the driver's seat was a reasonably common option and it's a quality bit of kit.

The boot is surprisingly large. I once put 20 Silicon Graphics workstations in mine and drove to meet a customer, his Fiesta really struggled to fit them in even with the back seats down. On six cylinder cars the battery is generally in the boot but not always. Four cylinder cars have a usefully large oddment tray instead.