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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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  • Lot 319

    BMW E30

    £75,000 - £90,000 est. £75,000 - £90,000 est.
    Auction Date: 29 Sep 2018
    • Mileage: 248000 mi
    • Engine size: 2500
    Auction Date: 29 Sep 2018
    £75,000 - £90,000 est. £75,000 - £90,000 est.
    Auction Date: 29 Sep 2018
    Silverstone Auctions
    +44 (0) 1926 691 141 View contact number
  • BMW E30


    Peter Brock BMW E30 M3 Mobil tribute Fitted with the 6 Cylinder BMW S54 (e46 M3 engine). Huge amount of work and modification to engine and drive train. The ultimate Track Day or Improved Production Racer. Genuine e30 M3 Chassis (WBSAK050001893457) with S54 engine and 6 speed manual gearbox (s54 is 3.2 l from e46 M3) Motec engine management. Limited Slip Differential CAMS spec Roll Cage installed Ground control Coil over suspension with Eibach springs. Brake booster removed, Dual Master cylinder with remote balance bar installed using AP Brakes master cylinders Complete new wiring loom for chassis ATL Fuel Cell Heavy Duty Race clutch and flywheel Motec Dash with data logging. Custom Able to compete in improved production racing or hill climb Please contact us for extensive list of mechanical work carried out on vehicle.

    • Year: 1988
    • Mileage: 500 mi
    For sale
  • BMW E30 M3 Ravaglia


    BMW E30 M3 Ravaglia Rare E30 M3 Ravaglia edition (EVO II celebration model) When it comes to classic cars, there is rare, and there is super rare. The Roberto Ravaglia edition E30 M3 is the rarest of all E30 M3s, with a production run of just 25, made exclusively for the UK market (BMW designate the 480 Cecotto editions and 25 Ravaglia editions together hence the plaque reading 74/505). Of those 25, only 16 were produced in what is arguably the signature colour for the model - Misano red. Between them, Johnny Cecotto and Roberto Ravaglia made the E30 M3 the most successful touring car of all time, winning pretty well every race they entered and assuring the M3 unassailable legendary status. BMW produced two limited run models in homage to their heroes, the M3 Cecotto and M3 Ravaglia. Distinguishable by their limited paint colours (either Misano red, or Nogaro silver) distinctive wheels, body colour painted rocker cover and plenum and, of course, special edition plaque, the Ravaglia is the only E30 M3 produced exclusively for the UK. It is difficult to know how many of the original 25 still exist, and more importantly, how many have the sort of history and provenance that modern pri

    • Year: 1989
    • Mileage: 53500 mi
    For sale
  • BMW E30 325i Cabriolet

    £14,995 £14,995

    The 2.5 straight six engine starts first turn of the key and idles up to temperature just as it should. The engine bay retains a clean appearance with no signs of damage, poor repair, or corrosion to any of the inner panels. Power is transferred to the rear wheels via a silken 4-speed automatic transmission. The E30 was most recently serviced at 58k miles in 2016, which also included a timing belt change.

    • Year: 1993
    • Mileage: 63296 mi
    For sale
    £14,995 £14,995
  • BMW E30 M3

    £64,995 £64,995

    The engine bay is in remarkable rust-free condition, the engine itself in fine fettle having been religiously maintained solely at BMW from new. On close inspection the chassis rails are entirely free from any corrosion with all other areas and components presenting extremely well indeed. The four-pot 2.3 idles up to temperature without fuss and the five-speed dogleg is still a joy to operate.

    • Year: 1990
    • Mileage: 95679 mi
    For sale
    £64,995 £64,995
  • BMW E30 328i

    £14,995 £14,995

    Under the bonnet you'll find the 2.8-litre M52 straight-six from an E36 328i Sport. With this car the owner's objective was to create an original looking 3-Series but with the speed and reliability of a more modern example, suitable for everyday use. The engine was completely rebuilt in 2014 over a four-month period and now boasts an enlarged throttle body, lighter flywheel, and ECU re-map. A recent rolling road session showed a healthy 215hp on tap. To ensure the engine remains cool a large aluminium radiator was also fitted with an automatic 16-inch fan. The car was most recently serviced in March this year at 108,875 miles.

    • Year: 1991
    • Mileage: 109475 mi
    For sale
    £14,995 £14,995