When one sees a used car advertisement that essentially says, “30 year old European car, modified by previous owner” it usually leads to the reader immediately closing whichever type of media is being browsed and retreating to a safe distance. I however have always been one that buys with the heart and not the head, which explains how I not only responded to the ad, but also how that old European relic now sits proudly in my garage.
The vehicle in question is a 1985 BMW 323i, and the modifications in question include an engine given the once over by none other than Ludwig Finauer – engine builder for the rampant JPS M3s that raced so successfully in Australian touring car racing in their heyday.
A common misconception people have about my little beemer is that it is a four cylinder 318i, although a quick prod of the accelerator quickly disperses the notion that this is the mundane four pot E30 variant. The M20 six cylinder is lovingly nicknamed ‘the typewriter’ given the signature tick of the injectors, and the sound does tend to disguise how smoothly it pulls through each gear, all the way to it’s 6,500rpm redline.
The other main modification made to my E30 is not such a positive one. The previous owner in their infinite wisdom replaced the original suspension with a set from Bilstein. Now as we all know, Bilstein suspension is a quality brand, but you need to select the type appropriate to the car. The springs have all the give of an African warlord, and combining this with the SA Government’s relaxed attitude to road building means that you are continually bracing yourself for impact when you see a dip in the road coming up – and bracing for impact is not something one usually equates with a pleasant experience.
But what about the E30 as a package then? I have driven others without the perky engine and ruined ride and found them to be brilliant. Power windows, four wheel discs, independent rear suspension, power mirrors, ABS, power steering, electric antenna… all on a car from 1985! Holdens and Fords of the period were closer to Fred Flintstone’s car by comparison. Add to that a delightfully light and well balanced chassis, and a smooth yet powerful exhaust note and you have a car which any keen driver will enjoy.
It seems other people are starting to realise this though, as a clean six cylinder E30 will now set you back at least $7k. To the rational buyer this will be way too high when you can buy something much newer and much more practical for less money. But if you are like me and buy with your heart, the E30 may just steal it.