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BMW E30 Three Series - Model Range


E30s came in a wide range of specifications. My first was an '87 plastic bumper 316 M10 which made about 90bhp. It had manual windows, non-body colour bumpers and mirrors, a plastic steering wheel and gear knob, no fog lights and a two speaker stereo (even that was optional). It had 14" bottle top alloys but I added those at the dealer as it originally had steel wheels. It had a sunroof, most did, but that was still an expensive extra.

Compare that to a 325i cabriolet with almost double the power, full electrics, aircon (super rare in the UK) and leather. Such a car would be almost double the price and a 316 was far from cheap.

But the one thing they all had was rock solid quality, they were made from first class materials and well put together. When I was looking at my first car the salesman took me to a traded in Ford Granada, a decent German built car. He asked me to push the door skin and sure enough it flexed easily. I did the same on the 316 which being a two door had much longer doors, these was no flexing. It was made from thicker steel. Even today my 26 year old 318iS has no nasty rattles from the dashboard or anywhere else.

BMW e30 m3 red

Not all E30 M3s were red, but it does suit them.

The Facelift

There was a minor facelift around the time the 323i was replaced by the 325i in late 1985. This comprised of a new front lip, revised seats and upholstery, wider tyres and slightly revised instruments. Early service indicator (SI) had two red lights, later style had one.

In mid 1987 the E30 was facelifted and many changes were made. In addition to the engine changes mentioned below the tail lights were of a new design and had a black plastic numberplate surround between them. New seat fabrics became available and the front valance was modified. The fog lamps whilst still basically rectangular now had a rounded outer bottom corner to soften their profile.

Early cars are referred to as chrome bumper and later models plastic bumpers, the side rubbing strips changed to match. There were other minor changes but nothing major in terms of body, mechanics or electrics. Facelifted cars have the so called "bullseye" headlights.

The //M-Tech body packs changed at the facelift being termed 1 and 2. The bumpers were different in each version and whilst the early model had side skirts the later cars had more extensive side trims which also replaced the rubbing strips. There were M-Tech 1 and 2 steering wheels but confusingly the M-Tech 2 was only fitted to a handful of later cars, even my 1991 318iS has an M-Tech 1.

BMW offered final run out edition models but other than the convertible these had no special names. They had more standard equipment in showrooms although all of it was still technically optional. New colours were added and a keen eye can spot a final year car based just on it's hue.

Dog-leg gearboxes were available on early cars but I've never heard of one on a plastic bumper model. Power assisted steering was standard on plastic bumper cars (except possibly the 316?) but optional even on six cylinder early cars.

The basics of the car changed very little over the production run. It was always a well made car and they last really well.

red BMW e30 316i Lux

Chrome bumper 316 with early tail lights and distinctive exhaust.


The 316 had an 1800cc M10 engine with a Pierburg carburettor producing 90bhp. An electronic choke was fitted. It was produced from the beginning until late 1988, mine was a plastic bumper 1987 model. All 316's were two or four door cars.

Rear drum brakes were fitted and as such ABS wasn't an option.

A 316 is quicker than you'd imagine and more refined than the M40 based cars. Fitting an Weber carburettor will transform the car and give better economy into the bargain. Fitting twin Webers is even better but at that point you may as well put in a 2.0 M10 from a 2002.

BMW e30 316i touring

316i touring with later lights and cross spoke alloys.


316i's had an M40 1600c engine with Motronic injection and were produced from late 1987 in all body styles except the cabriolet. Like the 316 they had rear drum brakes.

The car had 102 bhp, 12 more than the 316 it replaced despite being 200cc smaller. It was also more economical. Frankly these cars always felt underpowered. Today a good used one with a rust free body is an excellent candidate for an M42 transplant, a fairly simple task.

BMW e30 318i

1984 318i two door with bottle top alloys.


Chrome bumper 318i's use an M10 with Jetronic-L injection, plastic bumper cars have a Motronic M40. Early cars make 105bhp and their more advanced successors an extra 10.

But the M40 had a timing belt and wasn't as good an engine as the M10 in several ways. It tended to become noisy and sound like a sewing machine even at low mileages. From my own experience I believe this may have been due to the valve guides. The M10 was more durable.

Like the 316 and 316i the 318i had rear drum brakes. Plastic bumper 318i's were available in all body styles but the M10 318i only came as a two or for door. American 318i convertibles were available from late 1990 with the M42 16 valve engine, never the M40

red BMW e30 333i

Boris Becker publicity photos for the 318iS.


The 1989 318iS with it's M42 16 valve engine was a two door sports model. Some have said it was the UK's consolation for not getting a right hand drive M3 and it's sometimes referred to quite rightly as a poor man's M3. It produced 136bhp from it's high revving twin cam engine. The car was under tuned by BMW as it made more power than the 320i and still more would have been frowned upon. Even mild tuning can liberate another 20bhp with much more being possible. The M42 was more advanced than the M40, it incorporated one coil per cylinder technically in a first for BMW. It was far superior in every way and in my opinion one of BMW's finest engines ever, sadly the later E36 was too heavy for it.

The iS had a lip spoiler with deeper side sections and a small boot spolier, both in body colour. The first year had undercoated sills with matching black lower rear valence. Later examples had subtle side skirts and body colour rear valance.

These were still cars with little standard equipment. Many had steel wheels and no fog lamps. But all had excellent sports seats in a new check cloth, electric windows, M-Tech 1 steering wheel and a manual sunroof (optionally electric). They had rear discs and in the USA ABS was standard, sadly a rare option elsewhere. A black headlining and sun visors were standard, a trend continued in sports trim BMWs to this day. All cars were manuals and a limited slip differential was optional.

M-Tech suspension was 15mm lower than standard with higher springs rates. Thicker anti-roll bars from the 325i were standard. The system works superbly. These cars have vented front discs and solid rear discs.

Only alpine white, brilliant red, black and dark blue cars were offered.

BMW e30 320i

Chrome bumper 320i with opening rear windows.


The 320i used the M20 12 valve two litre engine. Chrome bumper cars are Jetronic-L and produce 125bhp, plastic bumper cars use Motronic injection and gain 4bhp as a result.

Even on the 320i there were few options, I've seen early examples with no power steering or any other frills. The car came with rear disc brakes if ABS was fitted otherwise it had drums. The front discs are vented.

The 320i was available in all body styles and was very popular in the UK and europe but it was never sold in the USA. This model is perhaps the best example of the range of specifications on offer. Really basic cars with no sunroof, steel wheels and manual windows contrasted with fully loaded cars boasting leather sports seats, rear head rests, 15" cross spoke alloys and colour coding.


The 320iS was produced for Greece, Italy and Portugal where the tax on cars above two litres put the M3 even more out of reach! It had a 2.0 S14 engine but used an unmodified two door body with regular C pillar and no flared arches. It is described in more detail on the M Cars page.

BMW e30 323i

Early 323i saloon with steel wheels.


This was the early performance option for E30 drivers. The M20 12 valve engine from the E21 323i initially sported mechanical Jetronic-K fuel injection. Around 1984 it moved to Jetronic-L electronic injection. In addition to improved economy power grew from around 139 to 150bhp.

323i's had all round disc brakes, optional ABS and were often fitted to high standards as they were the top of the range in their day. Quite a few had dog-leg gearboxes.

As these were all chrome bumper cars they were limited to two and four door models. They were never sold in the USA.

red BMW e30 325i sport

325i Sport in lachs silver, M-Tech 2 body kit.


Possibly the most famous and desired E30 the 325i had advanced Motronic injection and was available in all body styles. It was also the only one to have the option of the electro-hydraulic automatic gearbox with it's Sports / Economy / Manual selector knob.

Like the 320i it had all round disc brakes and also came in a wide variety of trims from amazingly basic to amazingly expensive. Possibly the most expensive was the Motorsport edition of the cabriolet. ABS was standard in the UK.

The 325i was introduced in 1985 as a replacement for the 323i, it produced 167bhp and it's advanced fuel injection made it more economical than the older car. In today's world the M3's are tucked away in garages growing in value, the 325i is the performance E30 people are still driving whilst wearing silly grins.

BMW E30 325iX

E30 325iX with higher stance and wheel arch extensions.


BMW's first four wheel drive car was the 325iX and it's drivetrain is described in detail on this page. Despite being sold in the UK all iX's were left hand drive although right drive conversions are possible and a few have been performed.

The car sold well in America, often in premium trim levels. It was available as a two door, four door and touring.

The iX had different suspension geometry to a 325i and this can clearly be seen in photos of it's engine bay where the strut tops are very different. Ride height was higher than normal and plastic wheel arch extensions were fitted.

The car performed well and is often rallied even now. BMW never marketed the technology to the extent that Audi did with Quattro although the system was probably created in response to it. In the days when I used an E30 as a winter car in the Highlands I'd have loved one of these although I'm told they have a healthy appetite for petrol.

BMW e30 325e

Hungarian 325e with fog lamps and headlamp wash wipe.

325 / 325e / 325es

This model was never sold in the UK but was a big seller in the US. It uses the M20 2.7 "eta" engine which was designed for economy and torque rather than high end power. It makes around the same power as the 320i but with a lot more torque. It's best suited to the automatic gearbox and redlines at 4500rpm. I've never driven one of these but I had an E28 525e and liked it. The car was superb around town and a great motorway cruiser but it's not so well suited to spirited driving.

BMW stopped making eta cylinder heads when the E28 525e was replaced by the E34 in late 1987 but the US didn't get the E34 until a year later. To fill the gap a 325es "super eta" with a 325i cylinder head was produced for a year.

Early etas used Jetronic-L but this later switched to Motronic. The difference is easy to spot as Jetronic-L cars have a distributor with a driveshaft at the side of the engine whilst Motronic cars drive it directly from the end of the camshaft.

324d / 324td

Another model not sold in the UK but popular in europe and the USA. The diesel used the M21 engine with or without a turbocharger. Compared to other diesels of the time this unit was class leading in terms of power delivery and smoothness.

BMW e30 333i

UK import 333i, this had a turbo and made over 500bhp.


BMW South Africa made something a bit special, an E30 with a 633CSi M30 engine. This amazing E30 made 197bhp and 210lb/ft of torque, quite something in a small car. But with the M30 it was always the way in which the power was delivered, there's just so much on tap all through the rev range. This must have been a fearsome beast to drive. 204 examples were made from 1985 to 1987.

The car used parts from the Alpina B6 and due to space constraints could have power steering or aircon but not both. They all had dog-leg gearboxes and a 2.93:1 limited slip differential. 16" Alpina wheels hid larger 296mm front discs with optional ABS. Many cars were used in racing.

Quite a few private 335i's have been made in the UK using the Motronic M30 3430cc engine and there are a few ways to doing it. The South Africans apparently used the older 3.3 as it was more free revving. Pictures I've seen show the engine having Motronic injection instead of the Jetronic-L used on the 633, this must have been engineered specially.

BMW e30 m3

Iconic UK E30 M3.


The glorious 2.3 and 2.5 litre S14 powered M3 is described in detail on the M Cars page along with the rare 320iS.


red BMW e30 316i Lux

A friend's 1991 316i Lux from Aberdeen.

"Lux" and SE Models

Special Equipment SE models were sold by BMW UK with a package of optional extras as a reduced overall price. SE cars generally had a sunroof, leather steering wheel and gear knob, 14" bottle top alloy wheels, fog lights, electric front windows, mats, metallic paint and a centre rear armrest.

The Lux cars were a run out model in the final production. They had similar trim to the SE's but with rear head rests, rear electric windows, body colour mirrors and boot spoiler, shadowline trim, 14" cross spoke alloys, six button digital clock and outside temperature sensor. The Lux cars were available in a unique range of colours.

BMW e30 american

American E30, a modified 325es with a 3.0 M54.

American Cars

The US had a more limited range of E30s due to market conditions and regulations. The M10 based 318i was sold in the 1984 and 1985 model years. The 318iS M42 16 valve was sold from 1990 as was an M42 convertible, the 318i soft top was an M40 in europe.

The initial US six cylinder cars were the 325e, sometimes just badged 325. In 1988 the super-eta 325e replaced it. The "normal" 325i was sold from 1986 onwards in saloon and cabriolet form. America had the M3 but it wasn't the same as the euro versions, more details on the M Cars page.

The US never got the touring. American cars had larger Federal bumpers and sealed beam headlights which weren't as effective as the euro version. Power was down a bit as the cars had catalytic converters. On the plus side the cars had more standard equipment than most european editions.

red BMW e30 325is south african

South African 325iS with five bolt hubs.

South African Cars

BMW South Africa had quite a bit of independence and produced many special models for their local market. As there was no right hand drive M3 they produced the 333i (see above) and later on a special 325iS. The South African 325iS had five bolt hubs allowing the fitment of bigger brakes, likely the same 293mm Alpina set from the 333i.

The car used the "eta" 2.7 block with a modified 325i head and Alpina parts to deliver a conservative 194bhp. These had dog-leg gearboxes and a limited slip differential.

Amazingly they had aluminium door skins and bonnets in a bid to reduce weight. Production started in late 1990. In 1991 an Evo version with suspension upgrades, revised front spoiler and a smooth undertray became available. The Evo had an improved cylinder head and power rose to 211bhp.

South African cars are highly desirable as they're usually rust free. But buyers should be aware that they have less rust proofing than cars destined for wetter climates.