Why on earth would you want to buy a 27 year old German car? I’m glad you asked.
We live in a wonderful world of automatic cruise control and 7 speed dual clutch gearboxes. Wonderfully boring, that is. With a 126kW, 2.5 litre M20 Straight six engine driving through a 5 speed Getrag manual gearbox, the E30 325i is a hoot to drive and almost as fast as a new base model Corolla! In reality the situation is not that dire, but 0-100 km/hr in 8 seconds and a standing ¼ mile time of 15.7 seconds is not going to win any sports car awards in 2015. You won’t care about the numbers when you get behind the wheel though, with a low seating position and nimble handling encouraging spirited cornering and begging to be pushed harder. The steering is a low point in stock form, delivering mediocre feel through the tiller and subjecting the driver to an awful 4 turns lock to lock. All is not lost though, as quicker racks from the later E36/E46 3 series and Z3 roadster are easily retrofitted into the older E30 chassis.
In 1988 the ruler was the tool of choice for the designer elite, with which they chiseled the E30 3 series in all its Teutonic goodness. Style is subjective but there are only two types of people in this world, those who adore the E30 and those who are wrong.
Seemingly inspired by a post-box, the E30 3 series is an angular and practical small car. Despite having as many folding seats as Leonardo Di Caprio has Oscars, this little wonder wagen can fit 4.5 moderately sized human beings in chicken coop rivalling comfort. I have even had a surfboard within its 2 door confines, and once took home a full size engine crane without so much as removing the passenger seat.
A good E30 325i can be had for around $7000, with lesser models such as the 318i going for a good deal less. Whilst that is expensive for a 25 year old car they are at the bottom of their depreciation curve and will likely be worth as much if not more in the future if well maintained. Ah maintenance, the Achilles heel of complex German engineering you say? Well in this instance that is not the case. The E30 325i is one of the most robust and reliable cars ever to come out of the factory in Munich.
By modern standards it is remarkably simple, with electric windows, mirrors, and an on-board computer being the most complicated options on the car. The M20 straight six engine is very robust, requiring only basic maintenance and regular 95 000km (60k miles) timing belt changes to keep ticking along nicely. That is more than a passing reference too, as the M20’s mechanically adjustable valve-train rockers commonly emit a faint ticking noise whilst the engine is running, not ideal but a fairly harmless quirk.
Fuel consumption is perfectly acceptable for a vehicle of this vintage with the E30 returning an average of 10L/100km. This is good for a 600km range from the 62L fuel tank.
Parts can be harder to source locally than the average car, but online parts availability and pricing for the E30 is excellent with countless suppliers just a mouse click away. This is particularly beneficial for those who like to swing their own spanners and can afford to wait for shipping, but I admit it could be troublesome or expensive for the layman servicing his daily driver at the local mechanic.
The E30 M3 is the most successful touring car ever produced and whilst the 325i shares as much with the M3 as Stephen Hawking shares with Jennifer, the connection is obvious. The e30 M3 is a shining symbol of motorsport success and the 325i is the substitute product for the man (or woman) on the street. For the budding enthusiasts among us, the E30 has some of the most comprehensive aftermarket support available, in addition to reams of information from a very large enthusiast following. With such support it is possible to upgrade the vehicle to almost any point, from a lightly fettled street car through to a 500 horsepower S85 V10 engine swapped example. Yes, that’s been done.
So you want a drivers car on a budget? Can’t choose between classic style, rewarding driving and reliability? Get yourself an E30 325i and have it all, mostly…