BMW 3 Series E21 (1975 – 1982), the first of the successful line, from €7,500

What are collectibles?

These are cars of particular interest, so deserve to be preserved. It doesn’t have to be old, however they are in a fixed number, because the manufacturer decided it, or because their production has stopped. Then, they take advantage of the features that make them more desirable: an engine, a chassis, a design, or a concept. Ultimately, they will likely see their rating increase. An additional argument to collect them in front of everyone!

Why is the BMW 3 Series E21 collectible?

The emblematic model of BMW, the E21 lays the foundations of all 3 Series, which is a smart combination of sportiness, luxury, efficiency and versatility. Especially equipped with the unique 6-in-line M20: a BMW concentrate in a nutshell! Although produced in large numbers, the E21 is now rare in excellent condition, so it should continue to be preserved. A steady increase in value will help decide!

After the miraculous “Neue Klasse” in 1961 saved it from takeover, BMW relied on the 02 in 1966 to increase its production. In fact, the latter was a great success, and to replace it, we took many precautions. Unthinkable to leave the formula! That’s why we improved it, according to the trend of the time towards more comfort. So, we took care of the cabin and made the line more elegant.

Originally presented in 1975 with the 316 and 318, the 3 Series E21 is comprised of two projectors.

It was created under the direction of the Frenchman Paul Bracq, a defector from Mercedes who arrived at the head of BMW design in 1970. In 1972, the Bavarian manufacturer began to divide its range into series, starting with the 5 Series . replacing the 02, he presented a Series 3 E21, in June 1975. Although classic, it seduced by its modern look, while sporting the passenger compartment, in addition to a very nice finish, a central console oriented towards the driver. A hallmark of sophisticated ergonomics, this element spread throughout the BMW range and continues to this day. Technically, the E21 is an independent rear wheel drive, just like its predecessor.

Arriving a few months after the 316 and 318 at the end of 1975, the 320 was distinguished by its four headlights.
Arriving a few months after the 316 and 318 at the end of 1975, the 320 was distinguished by its four headlights.

Under the hood, the 3 Series initially received only 4-cylinder M10s, from 02. A 1.6 l of 90 hp (316) and a 2.0 l with carburettor (320, 109 hp) or with injection ( 320i, 125 hp) . The equipment is in tune with the time, watch, totalizer, glove box, headrests… Not too big, especially since the stabilizer bars are too much! The 320 adds longer headlamps and a tachometer. Obviously, the prices are high: from 28,900 F (currently €21,100 according to INSEE) for the 316 to 36,500 F (currently €26,650 according to INSEE) for the 320i.

Pre-series E21s do not have a ridged strip between the taillights.
Pre-series E21s do not have a ridged strip between the taillights.

Sales started well, and the range was improved with a 318 (1.8 l, 99 hp) in 1976. But in 1977, the offer was strengthened with a model that could be a lot for the E21: the 323i . In fact, it received the mythical 6-in-line BMW, a 2.3 l of 143 hp. Approaching 200 km/h, the 323i offers a very high performance in a relatively compact body, even if it is content with the standard 4-speed, an existing gearbox as an option, in a long or short gear ratio. Even better, you can afford a limited slip differential! This variant will be a great success.

It is better with the ridged headband of the last models, here in 1976.
It is better with the ridged headband of the last models, here in 1976.

At the same time, the 320 also went with a 6-cylinder, a 2.0 l of 122 hp with only a carburetor. In 1979, a convertible version was offered, designed by Baur. In 1980, the fuel-injected 318i (105 hp) replaced the 318 in France, then at the end of 1981, the entry-level 315 (75 hp) dropped the base price. This was the swan song of the 3 Series E21, replaced by the E30 at the end of 1982. 1.36 million units were produced: contract fulfilled!

One of the best qualities of the 3 Series E21: a nice interior, good finish and ergonomic if not well equipped and spacious.
One of the best qualities of the 3 Series E21: a nice interior, good finish and ergonomic if not well equipped and spacious.

How much does it cost?

Long shunned, E21 has seen its ratings rise. For €7,500, you can get a 315 or 316 in good condition. At 8,500 €, you are entitled to a 318, while for the 320 with 4 cylinders, count rather 10,000 €. The 6-cylinder is 13,000 € in good condition. And the 323i? Do not expect anything less than 18,000 €, while for 21,000 €, you will find a nice car with a box 5. But for a copy with a short and self-locking box, it a ticket of 26,000 € below. word. Yes, it hurts…

In 1979, the Series 3 E21 was slightly retouched: enlarged and black exterior mirrors, modified front apron.
In 1979, the Series 3 E21 was slightly retouched: enlarged and black exterior mirrors, modified front apron.

Which version to choose?

Given the price of the 323i, a 6-cylinder 320 is a good compromise, or even a 320i if sticking with the 4-cylinder doesn’t hold you back.

Good options, like here (alloy wheels, sunroof, front apron), the 3 Series E21 earns the price.
Good options, like here (alloy wheels, sunroof, front apron), the 3 Series E21 earns the price.

Collector’s versions

Any Series 3 E21 in perfect condition is a collector’s item. But, of course, the most sought after is the original 323i 5 short/limited gearbox, a rare configuration.

The 6-in-line in the 323i is very strong if you take care of the cooling.
The 6-in-line in the 323i is very strong if you take care of the cooling.

What to monitor?

Like all BMWs of those years, the 3 Series E21 suffered a lot from corrosion. It attacks subtly, mainly attacking what you can’t see: thorough examination of the foundations required before buying!

Then, important, in the 6-cylinder, with a cooling circuit in good condition. Otherwise, the engine will overheat and the long cylinder head will turn. With the key, a large invoice… On the 320/6, the four-barrel Solex carburettor is a purge to be adjusted. The 4-cylinder has no history, so it’s very strong, like the boxes, but beware, all these blocks have a timing belt: don’t forget to change it!

In the passenger compartment, the plastic of the dashboard cover is broken, and the velvet of the seats is torn, many elements that cannot be easily changed.

For some, the E21 is too old, and BMW offers few spare parts. A good point!

The engine dominates the driving experience in the BMW 323i, here is a car from 1981, but the chassis is fun too... if you know how to drive.
The engine dominates the driving experience in the BMW 323i, here is a car from 1981, but the chassis is fun too… if you know how to drive.

DRIVE

In the 323i, as with all E21s, we were impressed by two things: the low back space and the comfortable front seats. Yes, the seat is firm but it is well maintained. Also, despite some settings to work with, the driving position is perfect! As for the dashboard, it continues to please the eyes: a model of its kind.

But that’s nothing compared to the sound of the 6-in-line. It’s soft, melodious, ethereal… This sound alone justifies the purchase of the car. Only, the approval of the 323i also passes – and above all – through its extraordinary flexibility and its pleasant punch for an old car.

This dashboard ... A pure joy, even more than 40 years after its appearance.  Here in a 1981 323i.
This dashboard … A pure joy, even more than 40 years after its appearance. Here in a 1981 323i.

Basically, it offers the performance of a very edgy sports compact of the Ritmo Abarth type, but with unmatched refinement. Because the BMW remains silent, and its box is surprisingly smooth. The steering wheel, a little pointed down, is not as nice, but remains accurate. The habit? It is healthy and balanced but the grip remains average.

As a result, the motor’s skills are quickly lacking, even in limited slip, and the BMW quickly reaches its limits. Well, it’s very playable if you have good pilot skills, and this is also the advantage of this version. Be careful, in the wet, you have to be very careful. In quiet driving, everything is in order, although the suspension seems firm and the braking weak, like the cars of this epic era. The 323i also has the big advantage of low fuel consumption: 8.0 l/100 km when driving normally.

The alternative youngtimer

BMW 3 Series E36 (1990 – 2000)

Appearing in 1990, the BMW 3 Series E36 surprised with its line ... and its finish in severe decline!
Appearing in 1990, the BMW 3 Series E36 surprised with its line … and its finish in severe decline!

It breaks the mold with its bodywork where the grille tilts in the direction of the wind and houses the round lights under the glass roof. And it adopts a Z-shaped multi-link rear axle that will be of the BMW school. The Series 3 E36 was therefore very surprising when it was released at the end of 1990, attracted by its great driving pleasure, especially in the 325i, whose 6-in-line 2.5 l 24 valves developed 192 hp. But it also disappoints with its near-junk finish.

Offered as a coupe in 1992, as a convertible from 1993, as a Compact in 1994 and as a station wagon in 1995, it was restyled for 1996. There, the finish improved significantly, and the M3, which appeared in 1992 (3.0 l). . produced! From €2,500.

The BMW 3 Series E21 was partially discovered thanks to bodybuilder Baur.
The BMW 3 Series E21 was partially discovered thanks to bodybuilder Baur.

BMW 323i E21 (1981), technical specifications

  • Engine: 6-cylinder in line, 2315 cc
  • Power supply: Bosch K-Jetronic injection
  • Suspension: McPherson struts, coil spring, anti-roll bar (AV); trailing arms, coil spring, anti-roll bar (AR)
  • Transmission: 4 or 5 manual or 3 automatic gearbox, propulsion
  • Power: 143 hp at 5,800 rpm
  • Torque: 190 Nm at 4,500 rpm
  • Weight: 1135 kg
  • Top speed: 190 km/h (factory data)
  • 0 to 100 km/h: 9.5 s (factory data

To find the announcements of the BMW 3 Series E21, go to the La Centrale website.

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