BMW E30 is a compact executive car which was produced by BMW from 1982 to 1993. All variants used a rear-wheel-drive layout with the exception of the all-wheel-drive 325iX. The BMW M3 was first introduced on the BMW E30 platform. The BMW E30 was released in 1982 and was replaced by the BMW E36 in 1992. BMW continued to produce the cabriolet (convertible) BMW E30 well into 1992 and the Touring until June 1993.
The cars were powered by a range of inline 4-cylinder and inline 6-cylinder engines. The E30 BMW M3 was fitted with a high-revving 4-cylinder petrol engine (BMW S14) which produced 175 kW (238 PS; 235 hp) in its final European-only iteration.
BMW E30 Body styles
The BMW E30 3-series was penned by Claus Luthe in 1978, the designer of the NSU Ro 80. It was produced as four- and two-door saloons, two-door convertible (the M3 cabriolet was only offered for the European market), cabriolet by Baur, and a five-door estate (marketed as the “Touring”).
The BMW M3 utilised a widened and heavily redesigned variation of the two-door body style. The M3 shares few body parts with other BMW E30 models; however, many M3 parts can be used on the other body styles and are interchangeable offering the consumer an OEM upgrade.
BMW E30 Production history
Initial release (1982)
Externally, the appearance is very similar to the E21 predecessor, however there are various detail changes in styling to the BMW E30. Major changes over the E21 include interior features and revised suspension (to reduce the oversteer which the E21 was criticised for).
The primary distinctive feature of the BMW E30 models produced for the North American market in 1984–1987 are the elongated front/rear aluminum bumpers. These bumpers are commonly known as “diving boards.”
Minor update (1985)
This update included changes to exterior and interior trim. The 323i model was replaced with the 325i at this time. This was also when the diesel-engined 324d was introduced.
Major update (1987)
At Frankfurt in September 1987, BMW introduced a major update to the BMW E30 (often called “Series 2”). The changes to the lineup were the addition of the touring (station wagon) variant and removal of the 325e model. The M10 4-cylinder engine was replaced by the M40.
External styling changes included a new front bumper, redesigned rear lights, rear apron, headlight reflectors, and licence plate frame, while the window frames lost their chrome trim. Rust protection was improved with the update. Various mechanical changes were made, including updating of the engine range. In 1988, the anodized aluminum bumpers for the North American market were shortened by revising the cover/fillers and shortening the shocks. In 1989 (again, for North America) the aluminum bumpers were replaced with shorter plastic bumpers in body-colour. In the rest of the world the 1987 facelift changes remained largely unchanged until the end of production.
BMW E30 Engines
Following on from the E21, at the launch of the BMW E30 range in 1982 it was fitted with the M10 straight-four and the M20 straight-six engines. Over the production run, the M10 was replaced with the M40 and M42, the M20 received various upgrades and the BMW S14 engine was introduced in the M3. A six-cylinder diesel was also introduced later, originally only in naturally aspirated form.
At the launch of the BMW E30 range in 1982, the 316 used a 1766 cc M10 fed by a carburetor and producing 66 kW (90 PS; 89 hp), this engine allowed BMW to offer a cheap, entry-level car in the range. The 318i had the same M10 engine, but with Jetronic fuel injection, pushing power to 77 kW (105 PS; 103 hp) while also improving fuel economy.
The 1987 “Series 2” update introduced a new four-cylinder SOHC engine, the 1796 cc (M40B18) with 85 kW (116 PS; 114 hp). This engine incorporated Motronic fuel injection . The 316 was replaced by the 316i, which used a 1596 cc M40B16, producing 75 kW (102 PS; 101 hp). This was not quite as torquey as the 66 kW (90 PS; 89 hp) 1766 cc M10 it replaced – nevertheless, it offered superior performance overall. In South Africa and perhaps some other markets, the old M10-powered 316 continued until 1991, gaining the new bumpers when the range was updated. The 316i model (and previous 316 model) was not sold in Australia, where the base model continued to be the 318i.
The 318iS coupe was released in 1989, soon followed by the 318i sedan and 318iC convertible. These models introduced a new engine, the chain-driven DOHC M42 1.8 L 16-valve engine w. This is the most modern engine available in the BMW E30 range, incorporating the updated Bosch Motronic 1.3, hydraulic valve adjusters and four individual coil packs which resulted in a very high hp per liter as well as reasonable fuel economy (33mpg) and CO2 emissions (190 g/km). The excellent weight distribution of the 318iS & 318ic has led to frequent comparisons with the famous BMW E30 M3. Nicknames include “mini M3” or “poor man’s M3.”
The M3 is powered by the BMW S14 engine, a high-revving motorsport engine.
At the launch of the BMW E30 range, the 320i (2.0 L M20 with 92 kW (125 PS; 123 hp)) and 323i (2.3 L M20 with 105 kW (143 PS; 141 hp)) were available, both using Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection. These models were not sold in North America, presumably for emissions reasons. In 1985, the 323i was replaced with a 2.5 L version of the M20, which produced 126 kW (169 hp) and used Bosch Motronic fuel injection. This engine was available in the 325i variants (including the all-wheel drive 325iX).
An economy version called the 325e (the e signifying efficiency) was released as a lower revving, more fuel efficient engine. To maximise low-rev torque, the engine was the largest available in the chassis (aside from the rare South African version which was available with the 3.2 L M30). The 2.7 L had a longer stroke than the 2.5 L, with a more restrictive head, four cam bearings instead of seven (less internal friction), and single valve springs where the 2.5l had doubled up springs. This resulted in 90.22 kW (123 PS; 121 hp) at 4250 rpm and, more importantly, 240 N·m (180 lb·ft) at 3250 rpm (peak torque for a 325i is 215 N·m (159 lb·ft) at 4000 rpm).
The 1987 “Series 2” update boosted the 320i to 95 kW (129 PS; 127 hp) and the 325i to 126 kW (171 PS; 169 hp) and improved fuel economy.
In 1985, BMW introduced the 324d, which used a 2443 cc diesel inline-six that produced 86 PS (63 kW). In 1987 a turbocharged version called the 324td with 116 PS (85 kW) arrived. This model also had an all-new electronically controlled injection pump (DDE) developed by Bosch, which provided higher power and smoother running.
The standard gearbox for the 316 and some 318i models is the Getrag 220 4-speed, these models had the option of the 5-speed Getrag 240. The Getrag 220 does not have synchromesh on reverse.
The 5-speed 318i models use the Getrag 240 gearbox. This gearbox is also used on the 320i, however with a different bell housing to suit the M20 engine.
The 323i and 325i use the stronger Getrag 260 5-speed. It is suggested that the 323i may have had a sports manual as an option.
Some European market facelift M20 cars (320i and 325i) were also available with a ZF manual transmission, however this was not a listed option, or specific to any particular market or factory, and is thus very rare to find.
The M3 was fitted with a Getrag 265 five-speed manual gearbox. This featured a dogleg shift pattern for European models and a standard H-pattern for North American models.
Both automatic transmissions were manufactured by ZF – they were the 3-speed 3 HP 22, which was available on the M10 316 and 318i models until year 1985, and the 4-speed 4 HP 22, which was available on all models later. 320i and 325i have the option of the sport automatic, that was an electronic box rather than the usual fully mechanical box. This is much less common to find in USA than Euro market cars, though it is still fairly uncommon in Euro market cars too.
BMW E30 models and production volumes
- 1982-1987 316e – 1.6 L M10B16 I4, 90 PS (66 kW; 89 hp)
- 1982–1987 318i – 1.8 L M10B18 I4, 105 PS (77 kW; 104 hp)
- 1982–1988 325e – 2.7 L M20B27 I6, 122 PS (90 kW; 120 hp)
- 1988–1992 316i – 1.6 L M40B16 I4, 99 PS (73 kW; 98 hp)
- 1988–1992 318i – 1.8 L M40B18 I4, 113 PS (83 kW; 111 hp)
- 1989–1992 318is – 1.8 L M42B18 I4, 140 PS (103 kW; 138 hp)
- 1982–1985 320i – 2.0 L M20B20 I6, 125 PS (92 kW; 123 hp)
- 1986–1990 320i – 2.0 L M20B20 I6, 129 PS (95 kW; 127 hp)
- 1982–1986 323i – 2.3 L M20B23 I6, 150 PS (110 kW; 148 hp)
- 1984–1990 325i – 2.5 L M20B25 I6, 170 PS (125 kW; 168 hp)
- 1986–1992 320is – 2.0 L S14B20 I4, 192 PS (141 kW; 189 hp)
- 1986–1990 M3 – 2.3 L S14B23 I4, 200 PS (147 kW; 197 hp)
- 1988–1990 M3 Evolution – 2.3 L S14B23 I4, 220 PS (162 kW; 217 hp)
- 1989–1990 M3 Evolution Sport – 2.5 L S14B25 I4, 238 PS (175 kW; 235 hp)
- 1985–1990 324d – 2.4 L M21D24 I6, 90 PS (66 kW; 89 hp)
- 1987–1990 324td – 2.4 L M21D24 I6, 115 PS (85 kW; 113 hp)
Global BMW E30 production totals by year
The first BMW E30s were produced in December 1981 (323i models only), but the numbers are not known. The total production from 1982 to 1993 was 2,339,520 units.
Special models of BMW E30
In addition to the famous M3 there were other special models of the BMW E30. For Portugal and Italy only, due to considerably higher VAT and vehicle tax for cars with engines exceeding 2000 cc, a special model was created: the 320is. This model was produced both in 2- and 4-door versions and was equipped with a 2.0 L (1990cc) version of the S14 engine from the M3, with stroke reduced to 72.6 mm (sometimes described incorrectly as being “sleeved” or of reduced bore), and power output of 192 hp (DIN). The 320is shared the same dogleg Getrag 265 gearbox of the non-US M3 while it had a limited slip differential with the same 25% lock up rate but with a closer ratio. All the 320is were left hand drive and without catalytic converter; ABS and power steering were also fitted as standard equipment. The saloon version appeared in the dealers’ showrooms on September 1987 while the 2-door version arrived on March 1988. The 4-door was equipped with 14″ alloy wheels and foglights only, while the 2-door model was further equipped with the complete M-Technic II Aero package (identical to the one fitted to the UK-spec 325i Sport and available as an accessory on all other BMW E30 3 Series models), which consisted of a deeper front airdam, additional lower side body panels, an extended valance under the rear bumper and a two-piece rear spoiler. In addition, the two-door BMW E30 320is sported body-colour side mirror housings, shadowline (dechromed) window trim and 14-inch cross-spoke alloy wheels. The springs, shocks and anti-roll bars of all two-doors (as well as four-doors produced from September 1989) are of the more aggressive “Sportfahrwerk” specification. The interior of the 320is was identical to that of other 3 Series models with the sole exception of its unique instrument cluster that utilized the same M3 dashboard with integrated oil temperature gauge at the bottom of the rev counter instead of the econometer present on all other BMW E30s. The car was sold for three years only and produced in 3748 examples (1206 saloon cars, 2542 2-door cars) and for this reason is now becoming a collectors’ item.
BMW South Africa’s Motorsport division created the 333i in 1986 by fitting the 3210 cc M30 “big six” (“M30B32” of the 733i E23/ 533i E12/ 533i E28/ 633CSi E24) engine to a 2-door BMW E30. The resulting 333i was a major success in saloon car racing in that country and is now a collectors’ item. These cars, built with help from Alpina in Buchloe, Bavaria, Germany, featured some interesting compromises like forcing the buyer to choose between air conditioning (vital in South Africa) or power steering (because of lack of space due to the large M30 engine). They were only built in small numbers in 1986. BMW South Africa provided the following specifications for the 333i: Powerplant – M30B32 6 Cylinder 3210 cc 145 kW (197 PS; 194 hp) at 5500 rpm. 285 N·m (210 lb·ft) torque at 4300 rpm. The cars were fitted with a 5-speed manual gearbox and limited slip differential. Braking was enhanced by 296 mm (11.7 in) Alpina dual ventilated grooved front disc brakes. ABS was optional. The cars were fitted with 16x7J Alpina wheels and Pirelli P7 (195/50/VR16) tires. BMW provided performance figures were impressive, with a top speed of 228 km/h (142 mph). 0–100 km/h in 7.4 seconds, and a standing kilometer in 27.7 seconds at sea level. Actual South African Car Magazine road test figures were a top speed of 231 km/h, 0–100 km/h in 7.23 seconds and a standing kilometre in 28.08 seconds. The test was carried out with a driver, passenger and a full tank of fuel. Only 204 of these cars were produced.
Later when it became clear that South Africa would not be getting the M3, the 325iS was created. Initially this was merely a 325i 2-door fitted with a bodykit and a close-ratio gearbox (improving acceleration at the expense of top speed and economy), but more changes were made to keep the car competitive in South African saloon car racing. Nevertheless, these cars were always sold to the public. This resulted in the 325iS of late 1990. By now several body panels were made of aluminum and the M20 engine grew to 2.7 L and now produced 145 kW (194 hp) and a 0-62 mph in a mere 6.9 seconds as claimed by BMW South Africa. Due to increased competition in the production car race series it was competing in, another version was released in late 1991 called the 325iS Evo. The main revisions were a front aerofoil to smooth underbody airflow, shorter stiffer springs, thicker rear anti-roll bar and changes to the throttle body, exhaust manifold and inlet valves. It produced 155 kW (211 PS; 208 hp) and BMW South Africa claimed a top speed of 235 km/h (146 mph) with a 0–100 km/h in 6.9 seconds. It did win the 1993 Group N race series under Robbie Smith and set various track records in the process.
The cabriolet version continued to be built to the end of April 1993 and the touring version continued to be built to the end of June 1994.
John Player Special – JPS – Bathurst Edition. Built to celebrate Bathurst (Australia) wins by BMW in 1980’s – there were 8 special edition BMW E30 John Player Special cars brought into Australia. Signified by the Schartz Black body, gold pin stripe and gold coloured weave wheels. Other than sharing the 323i motor and gearbox, the cars also came with: – Recaro sports seats, JPS badging, a limited slip diff, m sports suspension, sunroof and unique body kit.
BMW E30 Alpina
- Alpina C1/C2/B3
The Alpina C1 was based on the 323i and was among their most popular models, providing superior performance over the unmodified car. The C1 made 125 kW / 170 hp and 225 Nm of torque. 0–100 km/h was achieved in 7.8s. Top speed was 213 km/h. Only 35 C1 cars were built, making it one of the rarest Alpina cars. As BMW released the 325i, Alpina responded with the C2 2.5 and later the 2.7 models, providing between 190-210 horsepower. The brakes and suspension were also upgraded.
The C1 2.5 and early C2 / 2.6* models used the M20B23 (2,3L) engine, but bore and stroke were increased to achieve a capacity of 2552 cm3. Alpina reworked the head which was ported and polished, installed harder valve springs and a hotter cam. The intake manifold was also reworked, and Alpina used a larger throttle body. Max power was 136 kW / 185 bhp, with 246 Nm of torque. Alpina claimed 0–100 km/h acceleration in 7.1 seconds. Top speed was 220 km/h. Only 74 cars were built.
Later C2 2.5 models (C2 /3 2.5) were based on the 325i. Alpina used the M20B25 engine with very few modifications compared to earlier models. Again the cylinder head was decked to increase compression ratio, and it was ported and polished. The ECU was also remapped. Max power is 140 Kw / 190 bhp, with 235 Nm of torque. 0–100 km/h was achieved in 7.2 seconds. Top speed is 220 km/h. Only 50 cars were built.
The C2 /1 2.7 used the 325e eta model engine block, crank and rods, but with custom flat head pistons provided by MAHLE. Originally Alpina modified the “200” casting number cylinder head specific to the 325e with bigger intake valves, larger air intake ports, and redesigned the valve chamber for better flow. A more aggressive camshaft was used, with higher lift and duration, and harder valve springs were installed. Compression ratio was increased to 10.2:1. The C2/1 2.7 made 210 bhp with 267 Nm of torque and was the fastest BMW E30 available at the time (227 km/h top speed). 108 cars were built.
Later C2 /2 2.7 (and early 1987 B3 2.7) used the M20B25 block with ETA (325e) crank and rods. The intake manifold was also redesigned for better flow. The head was decked to improve compression ratio ( 10.1:1 for models with the 731 head, 9.6:1 for later “885” head models with catalytic converter ) and matched with custom pistons – flat MAHLE pistons for engines equipped with the 731 head, and domed KS pistons for engines equipped with the 885 head. Larger throttle bodies were installed (the C2/2 version uses the same throttle body as the M20B25 325i). A total of 309 cars were built between 1986 and 1987. The C2/2 2.7 makes 204 bhp and 266 Nm of torque. Top speed is 224 km/h and 0-100 kp/h is achieved in 7.5 seconds.
The B3 2.7 is similar to late C2/2 2.7 cars. It uses the M20B25 block with M20B27 crank and custom rods. The 885 head is exclusively used for the B3 model. The head is decked ~ 1mm to improve CR to 9.6:1 and matched with custom domed KS or MAHLE pistons. Intake and cylinder head are ported and polished. Custom ECU mapping is used. Engine management is Bosch Motronic 1.3. The B3 2.7 is equipped with a catalytic converter to conform to emission standard of the time. performance numbers are similar to the later C2/2 2.7 cars. 254 cars were built from 1987 to 1992.
- Alpina B6 2.8
The B6 2.8 is based on the 323i, but uses the same B6/2 engine used in the B6 E21. The car makes 210 bhp and 270 Nm of torque. Top speed is 230 km/h. 0-100 is achieved in 7.2 seconds. 259 cars were made from 1983 to 1986.
- Alpina B6 3.5
The Alpina B6 3.5 is based on the 325i chassis, but uses the M30 “big six” 3430 cm3 engine, upgraded to 261 bhp (192 Kw) and a whopping 346 Nm of torque. 0–100 km/h is achieved in 6.4 seconds. The engine uses custom MAHLE pistons and rods. The cylinder head was ported and polished, and a hotter cam was used. Top speed is 250 km/h. Suspension and brakes were upgraded. Bigger ventilated disks and progressive springs were installed at the front. Only 210 cars were made from 1986 to 1990.
- Alpina B6 3.5 S
The Alpina B6 3.5 S uses the M3 chassis. The 3.5s like the 3.5 uses the B10/2 M30 “big six” which makes 261 bhp and 346 Nm of torque. Displacement is 3430 cm3. 0–100 km/h is achieved in 6.4 seconds. Top speed is 250 km/h. The gearbox used is the famous Getrag 260/6 sport known as the “Dogleg Gearbox” with reversed 1st and 2nd gears. Only 62 cars were made from 1987 to 1990.
One of the features that added to the roominess of the BMW E30 was the suspension. The front MacPherson struts and rear semi-trailing arm suspension were a compact arrangement that left a lot of cabin and boot space for the car’s overall size. The semi-trailing arms have been criticized for the dynamic toe & camber changes inherent to the suspension geometry, causing bump steer in hard cornering situations (such as racing and autocross). This has contributed to the BMW E30 as having a reputation for “tail happy” handling, where rear grip is reduced in certain situations, leading to oversteer.
The M3 model has unique suspension compared to the rest of the BMW E30 range, including 5 lug wheel bolts.
A widened version of the BMW E30 front suspension and the drivetrain from the BMW E30 325i were used in the BMW Z1 roadster. The BMW Z3 (E36/4) and BMW Compact (E36/5) rear suspensions are also very similar to the BMW E30, but utilizing five-lug hubs. The BMW M Coupe (E36/8) uses a widened version of the same rear semi-trailing arm suspension.
Top Gear appearance
The episode aired 13 February 2011 contained a challenge for a 4-seat convertible costing under £2000. All 3 presenters purchased BMW E30 325i convertibles. Modifications to the cars included Clarkson’s car (the only fitted with an automatic gearbox) having a large paving slab in the boot to improve handling, and Hammond’s car (which handled the worst) having aftermarket wheels and lowered suspension. May’s car was un-modified, and subsequently won the challenge by a significant margin.