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

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


What can be collected?

These are very attractive cars, so they deserve to be kept. It is not necessary to be old, however they exist in a defined number, either because the manufacturer has decided so, or because their production has been stopped. Then, they take advantage of the features that make them particularly desirable: engine, chassis, design, or concept. Eventually, you are likely to see their ratings increase. Bonus point to collect them before everyone else!

Why is the BMW 3 Series E21 collectible?

BMW’s flagship model, the E21 laid the foundations for all 3 Series, which are the perfect combination of sport, luxury, efficiency and versatility. Beautifully equipped 6-in-line M20: BMW focus in a nutshell! Although produced in large quantities, the E21 is now rare in very good condition, so it must continue to be preserved. Its continuous increase in value helps determine!

After its miraculous “Neue Klasse” of 1961 that saved it from takeover, BMW was able to count on the 02 of 1966 to increase its production. Indeed, this last one was a great success, and instead, we took a lot of precautions. It is impossible to abandon the formula! So we improved it, according to the trend of the time which was towards more comfort. Therefore, we took care of the cabin and made a more elegant line.

Originally presented in 1975 in the 316 and 318, the Series 3 E21 was satisfied with two superchargers.

This was created under the leadership 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 line into series, starting with the Series 5. Therefore, to replace the 02, it presented Series 3 E21, in June 1975. Although classic, it is seduced by its modern look, while sports in the passenger compartment, with a very good finish, the central console oriented towards the driver. A sign of careful ergonomics, this feature was to spread throughout the BMW range and continues to this day. Technically, the E21 is an independent rear-wheel drive, like its predecessor.

Arriving a few months after the 316 and 318 in late 1975, the 320 is distinguished by its four headlights.
Arriving a few months after the 316 and 318 in late 1975, the 320 is distinguished by its four headlights.

Under the hood, Series 3 initially receives only 4-cylinder M10, from 02. A 1.6 l of 90 hp (316) and 2.0 l either with carburettor (320, 109 hp) or with injection (320i, 125 hp) . The kit is compatible with timings, clock, general manager, glove box, headrests… Not a big deal then, especially since starters are also extra! The 320 adds high beam headlights and a tachometer. Obviously, the prices are high: from 28,900 F (current €21,100 according to INSEE) for the 316 to 36,500 F (current €26,650 according to INSEE) for the 320i.

The earlier series of E21s did without the rear strip between the rear lights.
The earlier series of E21s did without the rear strip between the rear lights.

Sales started very well, and the range was strengthened by the 318 (1.8 l, 99 hp) in 1976. But in 1977, the range was strengthened by a model that would do much for the E21: the 323i. Indeed, it receives BMW’s legendary 6-in-line, 2.3 l of 143 hp. Approaching 200 km/h, the 323i offers very high performance in a relatively compact body, even with the content of a standard 4-speed, gearbox available as an option, with long or short gear ratios. Best of all, you can afford a small skid difference! This variant will be a great success.

It goes well with the headband of the last models, here in 1976.
It goes well with the headband of the last models, here in 1976.

At the same time, the 320 also goes for a 6-cylinder, 2.0 l of 122 hp only with a carburettor. In 1979, a replacement version was released, styled by Baur. In 1980, the fuel-injected 318i (105 hp) replaced the 318 in France, then in late 1981, the entry-level 315 (75 hp) undercut the base price. This is the swan song of the 3 Series E21, replaced by the E30 in late 1982. 1.36 million units were produced: the deal was done!

One of the main features of the 3 Series E21: an elegant interior, well-finished and ergonomic if not equipped and spacious.
One of the main features of the 3 Series E21: an elegant interior, well-finished and ergonomic if not equipped and spacious.

How much does it cost?

Long shunned, E21 has seen its ratings soar. For €7,500, you get a 315 or 316 in good condition. For 8,500 €, you have the right to a 318, whereas for a 320 with 4 cylinders, count instead of 10,000 €. The 6-cylinder is in exchange for 13,000 € in good condition. And the 323i? Do not expect anything less than 18,000 €, where for 21,000 €, you can get a good car with a box 5. But for a copy with a short and self-locking box, it will be a ticket of 26,000 € under the word. . Yes, it hurts…

In 1979, the 3 Series E21 was slightly modified: extended glass and black exterior, modified front apron.
In 1979, the 3 Series E21 was slightly modified: extended glass and black exterior, modified front apron.

Which version to choose?

Considering the price of the 323i, the 6-cylinder 320 is a good compromise, or even the 320i if staying in the 4-cylinder didn’t put you off.

Well optioned, like here (alloy wheels, sunroof, front apron), the E21 3 Series gets value.
Well optioned, like here (alloy wheels, sunroof, front apron), the E21 3 Series gets value.

Collectors editions

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

The 323i's 6-in-line is solid as long as it keeps things cool.
The 323i’s 6-in-line is solid as long as it keeps things cool.

What to track?

Like all BMWs of those years, the 3 Series E21 suffered a lot from rust. It attacks cleverly, attacking first what you can’t see: a thorough inspection of the basics required before you buy!

Then, it is important, on the 6 cylinders, to have a cooling circuit in good condition. Otherwise, the engine will overheat and the long cylinder head will rotate. For the key, big invoices… On the 320/6, the four-barrel Solex carburetor is an adjustable purgatory. The 4 cylinders have no history, so they are very strong, like a box, but beware, all these blocks are with the timing belt: don’t forget to change it!

In the passenger compartment, the plastic of the dashboard cover splits, and the velvet of the seats is torn, many features that are not easy to renew.

For others, the E21 eras primarily, and BMW offers a few spare parts. Good move!

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

Driving a car

On board the 323i, as in all E21s, we are surprised by two things: the low back space and the pleasantness of the front seats. Yes, the seat is firm but holds up well. In addition, despite the limited settings available, 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 a 6-in-line. It is smooth, pleasant, unique… This sound alone justifies the purchase of the car. Only, the approval of the 323i also passes – and above all – for its incredible flexibility and its quite pleasant punch for an old car.

This console ... Pure pleasure, even more than 40 years after its appearance.  Here in the 1981 323i.
This console … Pure pleasure, even more than 40 years after its appearance. Here in the 1981 323i.

Basically, it offers the performance of a Ritmo Abarth-type sports compact, but in unprecedented refinement. Because the BMW sits quietly, and its box is surprisingly gentle. The steering, very slightly directed, is not pleasant, but it remains accurate. Behavior? It is healthy and balanced but the grip remains moderate.

As a result, the knowledge of cars is not there quickly, even with a small input, and BMW quickly reaches its limits. Advantage, it makes it very playable if you have good piloting skills, and this is also an advantage of this version. Be careful, in the rain, you have to be very careful. In quiet driving, everything is in order, even if the suspension seems firm and the brakes weak, as in the cars of this epic era. The 323i also has the advantage of low fuel consumption: 8.0 l/100 km in normal driving.

An alternative for young people

BMW 3 Series E36 (1990 – 2000)

Appeared in 1990, the BMW 3 Series E36 was surprised by its line ... and its finish with a decrease in speed!
Appeared in 1990, the BMW 3 Series E36 was surprised by its line … and its finish with a decrease in speed!

It breaks the mold with its bodywork where the grille bends towards the wind and places its round lights under the glass roof. And it adopts a Z-shaped rear axle that will be school in BMW. Therefore, the 3 Series E36 was very surprising when it was released at the end of 1990, influenced by its great driving pleasure, especially in the 325i, which 6-in-line valves 2.5 l 24 develops 192 hp. But it’s also disappointing and completely finished with garbage.

Released as a coupe in 1992, as a convertible from 1993, as a Compact in 1994 and as a station wagon in 1995, it was replaced in 1996. There, the finish continued well, with the M3, which appeared in 1992 (3.0 liters). , 286 hp) , goes to 3.2 l for 321 hp while getting a box 6. The 3 series E36 is gradually replaced by the E46 from the end of 1997, the last Compact that came out in 2000. More than 3 million copies have been produced. produced! From €2,500.

The BMW 3 Series E21 was discovered in part thanks to the body builder Baur.
The BMW 3 Series E21 was discovered in part thanks to the body builder Baur.

BMW 323i E21 (1981), technical specifications

  • Engine: 6-cylinder in line, 2315 cc
  • Power supply: Bosch K-Jetronic injection
  • Suspension: McPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar (AV); trailing arms, coil springs, 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
  • Maximum speed: 190 km/h (manufacturer’s data)
  • 0 to 100 km/h: 9.5 s (manufacturer’s data

To find ads for the BMW 3 series E21, go to the website of Power plant.