BMW is not normally a brand associated with cheap motoring, now days their cars are expensive and incredibly complicated. However what if I was to tell you that they may actually be one of the last beacons of light left for cheap and reliable fun on a tight budget. What I am talking about is the a 318i BMW of the e30 generation.
I purchased my completely standard 1989 318i for $1900, for that I got a well looked after car that was log booked and had working; air-conditioning, heater and power steering. Those features alone for $1900 is great value but consider further the type of car I was buying, it had a manual transmission and rear wheel drive, something that the car enthusiast inside us is always on the lookout for, it's the divine blueprint but surprisingly difficult to find these days.
Being a small car, space is always going be an issue however the Germans did well with the 318i. The car fits five passengers although getting everyone in can be time consuming with the two door variant. Once everyone is inside it is fairly comfortable for all on short journeys, even with the front seats all the way back the rear seats still have adequate leg room although I would definitely consider another vehicle if you plan on transporting a car full of NBA players. The boot is quite deep and continues forward of the strut towers right to the rear seats however being a sedan is does lack allot of height and is ultimately smaller than most modern hatchbacks.
The legendary M3 e30 uses the same suspension geometry as the 318i, so it's not difficult to imagine that it loves the corners. The balance between all four corners makes the car very neutral to drive, things rarely get untoward because the car gives plenty of warning. If things do get a bit out of hand It's very manageable, nothing happens quickly and a level of control still exists even past the points of grip. The level of grip offered is surprising, the tires on mine are cheap 205/45/16 tires and the only suspension modification is lower springs however I have no issue keeping up with cars through corners that have significantly more money and modifications sunk into them.
The single overhead cam M40 engine that came in mine is seriously slow, developing only 85kw's at the flywheel from factory. I was once beaten to the speed limit by a friend in her Astra, the worst part was she didn't enough know I was attempting to race.
Performance wise the other issue is the standard steering rack which is 4.2 turns lock to lock. This makes it turn similar to driving an school bus however this was fixed by adapting an e36 steering rack which is 3.2 turns. This required modification to work however it transformed the car and was well worth the time and effort required.
Being nearly thirty years old rust can always be an issue, generally the 318i is well protected in this regard except for in the battery tray which with my 318i is in need of rust repair.
Contrary to popular belief parts have been very cheap, I purchased all new front suspension arms, bushes and ball joints from ebay.de (German Ebay) for under $300 Australian Dollars including postage., even the BMW dealers can be reasonably priced depending on the parts. Regarding maintenance, in the three years of ownership, replacing a couple of hoses and servicing has been all that's necessary of the drive train. As for the chassis the above mentioned front suspension arms were replaced due to being worn, otherwise it's required very little attention.
A point often overlooked is it how much of a great platform the 318i can be. In my case I have put on wheels, lowered it and put an e36 steering rack however there are multiple engine combinations including an 2.5L inline six from a 5 series that drops straight in. The chassis could be competitive doing circuit racing, rally, drifting, hill climb it could be a fun weekend car or like mine a comfortable daily driver.
Overall the 318i has been a fantastic daily driver that has allowed me to enjoy being a motoring enthusiast on the road while still diverting most of my time and funds towards my track car. I would recommend a 318i e30 to anyone who is passionate about cars but is on a tighter budget.