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BMW E30 3 Series and M3: Buying guide and review (1982-1993)

BMW E30 3 Series and M3: Buying guide and review (1982-1993) Classic and Performance Car
BMW E30 M3 BMW E30 M3 BMW E30 M3 badge BMW E30 M3 spoiler BMW E30 M3 interior BMW E30 M3 engine BMW E30 M3 dials BMW E30 M3 special edition
The BMW E30 3 Series represented a big step forward for BMW, in terms of offering a beautifully engineered package at a more affordable price than ever before. The compact saloon offered much improved rear-wheel drive handling, more powerful engines and more technology. 
 
All of these things also add up to a car with great classic potential, and go part of the way towards explaining why the E30 is such a popular choice today. Built in various forms from 1982 right up to 1993, the E30 has become a true BMW icon, especially in Group A homologation M3 form.
 
Which one to buy? 
 
There’s huge choice when it comes to the BMW E30, with a wide selection of engines and bodystyles. Most common models are the two and four-door saloons, followed by slightly scarcer cabriolet and touring models. Choosing the right car really comes down to what you want to get out of owning it. 
 
You will have no problem finding a saloon, but you must use extreme caution. For years, the E30 was one of the cheapest and most popular rear-wheel drive ‘learner’ cars. Many of the bigger engined models will have been driven hard, taken on track, and occasionally crashed. 
 
A lot of these E30s will have been modified over the years too, with suspension, braking and engine modifications all reasonably cheap and easy to perform. Finding a six-cylinder example that hasn’t been messed about with to some extent can be surprisingly difficult. Original four-cylinder 316 and 318i models are more common, and although they make good usable classics, the performance is unlikely to thrill. 
 
There were two major versions of the E30 Convertible, the early Baur-built cars, and then BMW’s own convertible, which came on stream in 1986. The early cars were built by German coachbuilder Baur, and feature a central roll-over hoop, framed side windows and a slightly impractical removable roof. 
 
The full convertible 3-Series was an altogether more desirable proposition, with a fully retractable roof, and some more substantial body reinforcement. Although demand for the Baur was understandably reduced, the company continued to offer conversions throughout the E30’s life. 
 
Although it didn’t appear until 1987, the Touring actually stayed in production right through to 1994, making it the youngest E30 you can buy. Although originally offered as a 325i, the smaller-engined 318i followed. Find a nice four-wheel drive 325ix for the ultimate go anywhere load-lugger. 
 
Built to comply with Group A homologation, BMW’s M Sport department went to town on the E30, producing one of the finest performance cars of the 1980s: the very first M3. Although performance BMWs had generally used straight six engines, BMW used the four-cylinder S14 engine to keep weight down. 
 
Buyers generally pay huge premiums for low mileage and exceptional examples – from the most basic 316 to the highly desirable special edition M3 special editions. It is therefore very important to carry out checks and ensure you aren’t paying over the odds for something with a dubious history. 
 
Performance and specs
 
BMW M3 E30
Engine 2568cc, straight-six 
Power 197bhp @ 6750rpm
Torque 177lb ft @ 4750rpm
Top speed 146mph
0-62mph 6.5sec
Fuel consumption 24.4mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
 
Dimensions and weight
 
Wheelbase 2562mm
Length 4346mm
Width 1680mm
Height 1370mm
Kerb weight 1165kg
 
Common problems
 
• The biggest and most expensive problems you will encounter with any E30, an M3 engine rebuild aside, will invariably be caused by rust. Early cars suffer the worst, but even later models that featured some galvanised panels will now be susceptible. Carefully inspect the sills, along the inner edge, checking carefully for signs of corrosion. Factory underseal can hide huge problems, so don’t be afraid to have a good poke around. 
 
• Damp carpets could spell trouble, as it will usually mean that the car has got rotten floors. It’s possible that the car has simply got a leak (not uncommon on the convertibles), but if this is the case, it doesn’t take long for the damp to do its damage, eating the car’s floors from the inside out. The resulting condensation will also cause electrical issues. 
 
• Other rust hot-spots include the rear panel behind the rear lights, the base of the windscreen surround, bumper mounting brackets and the usual places like wheel arches and wings. 
 
• It’s an old trick, but the use of a magnet can help to identify the use of filler in the problem areas. Front and rear valance panels are also notorious for rusting, with a nasty water and dirt trap near the towing eye. Pull out the boot carpet if you can, and check under the spare wheel for any signs of moisture or corrosion. 
 
• Although the M3 is pretty much a different beast all together, the biggest concern with an E30 M3 is also rust. The sills will go in the same way, but are hidden under covers, while all the same problem areas can be complicated by the M3’s unique bodywork, with barely nothing interchangeable. 
 
• Underneath, look out for cracks in the front subframe around the engine mounts, rusty rear floors and box sections as well as the battery box. 
 
• Unless the car is extremely low-mileage, it’s likely that it will have had some paintwork in the past. Check that all panel gaps line-up, and that the car is all a uniform colour. E30 interiors generally wear well, although seat bolsters can look untidy and seat belts and buckles can become worn out with age and rough use. Leather is more desirable, and much easier to repair when it becomes worn. 
 
• Check that all of the electric windows (if fitted) work, as there are often issues with the switches. If none are working try pressing the thermal cut-out switch. If the switch pops out again, there is likely a problem with the wiring. It’s important to check that the key operates all of the locks, as these can seize up due to lack of use. 
 
• Service history is important, as with any car, but the main things you need to ascertain are that the cam belt has been changed recently on the models with belt-driven engines. When you open up the bonnet, check the overall condition of the hoses, paying special attention to the main air intake hose, which is notorious for splitting and causing running issues. 
 
• Check the condition of the oil – it should be clean – and also check for oil leaks around the engine bay. Open up the coolant expansion tank and remove the oil cap, checking for signs of mayonnaise. This could either indicate a failing cylinder head gasket, or possibly a cracked cylinder head – allowing the oil and coolant to mix. 
 
• Fire the car up from cold, and check for any signs of smoke from the exhaust, as well as unusual sounds from the engine. Once up to temperature, it’s worth checking for signs of blue oil smoke – indicating worn valve stem seals, or bore wear.  
 
• The M3’s wonderful S14 engine is strong, and generally gives very little trouble, but there are some things to look out for. Oil leaks, for example, are not uncommon and are to be expected of a car that doesn’t get much use. 
 
• Timing chains should be replaced at around 100,000 miles. A noisy chain is a warning sign, and you’ll be looking at around £2000 for the job to be done. That’s more preferable than the potential £6000 bill if the chain snaps! 
 
• Valve clearances need to be set by bucket and shim, and overheating can cause headgasket problems, so check that the fan cuts in correctly. 
 
The M3’s five-speed Getrag dog-leg gearbox becomes notchy and noisy with use, but is easily rebuilt, and if the differential is whining new bearings and oil seals are generally all that is needed.
 
• There are no major problems with steering or suspension, but like all cars bushes, joints and other parts will wear out, so a car with fresh suspension can be a very good thing. 
 
• Check the front strut top bearing, which often wears. The rubber perishes, causing a noise over bumps. Rear damper bushes should be carefully inspected, as these can cause rubbing and potential corrosion issues if left unchecked. 
 
• BMW E30 parts availability is generally pretty good. Most mechanical bits are well catered for, although broken or missing trim could be difficult to replace.
 
Model history
 
December 1981: The very first two-door BMW E30s begin to roll off the production line.
1982: Four-door E30 models come on stream roughly one year after the two-door model was launched. Baur convertible offered as an option. 
1985: E30 given a minor facelift with minor interior and exterior changes.
1986: BMW M3 introduced.
1987: A more serious update sees the introduction of the Touring and Cabriolet models, and the removal of the the chrome trim from the bumpers and doors. Evo 1 M3 introduced
1988: Evo 2 M3 introduced. 
1989: Johnny Cecotto edition M3 introduced, followed by the final Sport Evolution. 
1993: E30 replaced by the E36, with the Touring models remaining in production a further year. 
 
Owners clubs, forums and websites
 
• www.e30owners.com
• www.e30zone.net
• www.bmwcarclubgb.uk
• www.e30club.com
• bmwenthusiasts.co.uk
 
Summary and prices
 
As a cult classic, E30 values have soared in recent years, and values continue to strengthen for the best cabrio and Touring models. £1500 is the entry point for E30 ownership, but that is likely to buy you a rough car in need of some serious TLC. The more desirable versions in good condition fetch closer to £5000, while there are some seriously nice cars commanding between £7500-£10,000. 
 
The 325i Sport models are in a league of their own, offering mini M3 thrills, with rough cars starting at £5000, through to concours examples at £22,000. Tourings are rare, and also quite desirable, so prices have always been quite strong. Today pay between £3000-£5000 for a good car, with low mileage examples fetching around £8000. 
 
Cabriolets are considerably more valuable than regular E30s too, with prices starting at about £3500. Great examples cost £8000-£12,000, but the cleanest cars now fetch upwards of £20,000. 
 
Then there are the M3s. £13,000 is the start point for a project car, with £22,000 getting you something that drives. £30,000 will get you a good condition car, while you will need to spend £50,000 for a perfect car. Evo models and special editions regularly sell for more than £100,000. 
BMW E30 M3 BMW E30 M3 BMW E30 M3 badge BMW E30 M3 spoiler BMW E30 M3 interior BMW E30 M3 engine BMW E30 M3 dials BMW E30 M3 special edition
Last updated: 3rd Aug 2016
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BMW E30 cars for sale

8 Search results
BMW E30
4995 65195 GBP
  • Lot 258

    BMW E30

    £7,000 - £9,000 est. £7,000 - £9,000 est.
    Auction Date: 10 Jun 2017
    RESERVE PRICE
    • Mileage: 68230 mi
    • Engine size: 2.5
    Auction Date: 10 Jun 2017
    Classic Car Auctions
    +44 (0) 1926 640 888 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • BMW E30

    POA POA

    Looking To Acquire Cars For Stock. We Would Like To Talk To You If You Are Considering Selling Your E30 M3. Will Pay Excellent Monies For Excellent Examples. Evo Evo 2 Evo Sport 3 The Process Is An Easy One, Offering Zero Hassle To Clients And Collection Available. Speak To Mark Teale On 07415 629036. Many Thanks For Taking The Time To Read Through This Request And We Will Look Forward In Hearing From You Very Soon.

    • Year: 1990
    For sale
  • BMW E30

    POA POA

    Looking To Acquire Cars For Stock. We Would Like To Talk To You If You Are Considering Selling Your E30 M3. Will Pay Excellent Monies For Excellent Examples. Evo Evo 2 Evo Sport 3 The Process Is An Easy One, Offering Zero Hassle To Clients And Collection Available. Speak To Mark Teale On 07415 629036. Many Thanks For Taking The Time To Read Through This Request And We Will Look Forward In Hearing From You Very Soon.

    • Year: 1990
    Buy
  • BMW E30

    £65,195 £65,195

    FOR SALE A stunning homologation BMW E30 M3 Motorsport with just 28,634 miles. MODEL HISTORY The E30 M3 debuted at the 1985 Frankfurt motor show. Produced at the Milbertshofe factory in Munich with the drivetrain assembled by special teams and the chassis thoroughly reworked by BMW Motorsport in every significant area. The only reason for this iconic vehicles birth was to allow BMW to compete in Group A racing where a minimum of 5000 road going examples had to be built. These vehicles are therefore incredibly similar to the successful competition versions and just 5300 North American AK03 models were produced in total. (Source BMW M Registry). EQUIPMENT Limited-slip differential, MacPherson strut front axle with anti-dive and reinforced anti-roll bar, sports tuned suspension, dual ellipsoid headlamps, front air dam, rear air dam, plastic boot lid with rear wing, flared wheel arches, heated side mirrors, heated door locks, heated screen washer nozzles, M3 insignia in grille, black satin chrome finish, M Technic leather sports steering wheel, leather gear knob and gaiter, central locking, power front windows, electric sliding roof, opening rear quarter windows, map lights in the rear view mirror, glove box torch, BMW sports seats, contoured rear seats, toolbox in boot lid, oil temperature gauge, M Technic instrument cluster, service interval indicator, outside temperature display, check/control info centre, OBC II, cruise control, air conditioning. EXTERIOR This fantastic example is finished in Zinnobar Red, (Code 138), and retains an amazing gloss finish. Attractive from any angle the 12 unique body panels designed to reduce drag are virtually free from damage and reflect the cossetted low mileage ownership. The Sheet Moulding Composite lightweight bootlid is perfect and the plastic extra wide side-sills show slight markings and fade due to the first paint credentials. The flared wheel arches, large low-slung air dams and extra-wide side sills all help accentuate the dynamic looks. The glass to the Bosch ellispoid headlights have lost a little clarity. All the correct M3 insignia remains intact and the bumper-mounted side marker lights are still fitted. A true icon in a rare unmolested condition. INTERIOR Finished in Natur Bison leather, (Code 0295), the M3 sport seats offer superb body support at all times and are near factory perfect thanks to the low miles covered. Arched around the driver, the accurate clear instruments, switches and levers are in just the right place and the unique instrument cluster with red needles, an M logo and an oil temperature gauge under the tachometer remind the driver how special this car is. The anthracite headlining and door cards are spotless and carpeting has been protected by genuine BMW carpet mats from new. The chassis tag remains in place on the undamaged dash and the electric windows and sunroof operate smoothly. The BMW glove box torch is present but amazingly so are the genuine chassis stickers often lost on the first wash. The boot is immaculate and a full BMW tool kit is present. Near new perfection. ENGINE & TRANSMISSION In the heart of this M3 is the compact and high-revving four-cylinder 16-valve S14 engine displacing 2.3 litres and developing 195 BHP at 6750 rpm. Lifting up the bonnet will reveal show winning detail and cleanliness desired by exhibitionists with all originality retained throughout such as the yellow coloured factory wax and chassis stickers to both front wings. The original Getrag 265 five-speed manual gearbox is precise and a delight to use. WHEELS, TYRES & BRAKES The original 15 inch Cross Spoke light alloy wheels are included with the car shod in 205/55 R15 tyres. Fitted are genuine BMW BBS 17 inch Cross Spoke light alloy wheels with Michelin Pilot 215/40 ZR17 front and 245/35 ZR17 rear tyres. A twin-circuit brake system with ABS and swing-caliper discs, ventilated at the front bring the car to an assured confidence inspiring holt. HISTORY FILE This iconic AK03 model was produced on the 17th October 1988 for the North American Market and was quickly snapped up by a Japanese collector frustrated that all 395 examples destined for this market sold out. Remaining in his cossetted ownership until January 2014 a substantial bundle of service documentation exists despite the low miles covered. Australian classic car dealer, Martin Bukkos of Mansle Pty Ltd sourced the vehicle who subsequently sold it to our UK collector, Mr Gary Sears. Mr Sears wanted the best, lowest mileage BMW E30 M3 available and his worldwide efforts and expense fortunately resulted in this wonderful car coming to the UK in August 2014 whereby all duties were paid and the car UK registered. Now made available for a fortunate second UK owner due to Mr Sears expanding his rare classic Ford collection which is his true passion. All handbooks and M3 supplements remain and the history file is neatly contained in a smart presentation case. MOT May 2018, HPI Clear. To see a video of this car please copy the link below: https://youtu.be/QDQleuW6lUw To see a full set of photographs of this car please copy the link below: https://flic.kr/s/aHskUJbAS3 'Like us' or 'Follow us' for exciting new cars coming soon at KGF Classic Cars: https://www.facebook.com/KGFClassiccars https://twitter.com/KGFClassicCars

    • Year: 1988
    • Mileage: 28634 mi
    • Engine size: 2.3
    For sale
  • BMW E30 M3

    POA POA

    BMW E30 M3 Viewing is highly recommended - although strictly by appointment only. Detailed write up to follow, but in the meantime, to find out any further information or to arrange to come and view the car, please contact a member of the sales team on 01825 740456 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it Factory Equipment: Additional Equipment: Fuel Type: Petrol

    • Year: 1987
    • Mileage: 64550 mi
    For sale
  • BMW E30 320i

    £4,995 £4,995

    Under the bonnet is an orderly engine bay remaining in fine fettle. Powered by the peppy 2-litre BMW engine and mated to a 4-speed automatic gearbox, this E30 makes for a great little cruiser. The gearbox operates smoothly and pulls through the gears with ease. A fresh oil service has just been carried out along with a cambelt, water pump, and coolant change.

    • Year: 1988
    • Mileage: 50901 mi
    For sale
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