Real or Replica: 1988 BMW 320is v. 1991 BMW 318is S14

We’ve been witness to an interesting trend over the past few years in the E30 lineup, as manic pricing increases have rivaled the Porsche 911’s market stardom in a smaller audience. For the most part, outrageous bids have been limited in the general enthusiast world to the M3; but within the E30 sphere of influence, outstanding examples of each particular model have reached astonishing levels of pricing. Just the other day, a Hodge-podge of parts assembled on a 325i hit $19,000 on a no reserve auction. Granted, it was a good-looking example, but it shows the massive swing in values of the highly desirable platform.

Today I have an interesting comparison to consider. Like the $19,000 example linked above, one of the models I have here is admittedly not original. However, it’s the swap that is very interesting, as the builder managed to source and stuff a M3’s S14 power plant into a 318i, bringing with it the brake and wheel upgrades. Of course, BMW also did this themselves in the Portugal and Italian-market 320is – coincidentally, one of which is also on eBay at the same time. What does the market look like on these two shining examples of 4-cylinder fun?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 BMW 320is on eBay

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Labor of Love: 1991 BMW 318iS

You don’t have to cast a very wide net to find a modified E30 BMW. Though they’ve been out of production for the U.S. market for some 25 years, they’re still a massively popular choice for enthusiasts – so much so, that they’re a bit ubiquitous and border on cliché.

As a result, we’ve seen our share of modified E30s on these pages with varying results. But today’s example really is something special. It’s not the first time I’ve heard an E30 be referred to as the cleanest, best built car in the country. I clicked the link with my normal base-level of E30 skepticism.

It’ll be way, way overpriced for what it is. Lipstick on a pig. I’d prefer a stock one” rolled through my head.

You see, if I told you the value on a 318iS was such that it justified a full disassembly and restoration, you’d likely laugh. There could not possibly be a return on that investment, right? And on top of that, a resto-mod in a non-original color in a market which has highly prized only completely original, low mileage and stock examples to date?

Naysayers, bear witness.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW 318iS on eBay

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1991 BMW 318is

For all the desirable //M cars over history, there’s one classic BMW that has always stood out in my mind that hailed from the end of the E30 production run. The 318is. This was a curious model, pairing the popular but aging 3 series with the new DOHC M42 inline-4. Sold for one year only in the US market, this car offered the style of its bigger brother, the 325is, at a reduced cost of entry by way of a the smaller engine and the omission of a few features. While I have fond memories of my 1988 325is, I would almost prefer a car like this mint, low mileage 318is for sale in Chicago from Evolve Motors. Somehow, this coupe speaks to the simple pleasures of motoring. This has been a BMW theme over the years that, in my opinion, has been clouded in recent years but somewhat fussy styling and an overkill of technology and the added weight that comes with it.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW 318is on eBay

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1991 BMW 318is S52

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The 318is usually receives praise for being the entertaining baby of the E30 family, underpowered but a handling master. This Wee30 has received the popular S52 swap from an E36 M3 automatic, thankfully mated here to 5-speed from a 328i. The modifications don’t stop there as the seller went OEM+++ with items like E36 M3 front control arms, E30 M3 rear suspension and brakes, and a tight Z3 steering rack. The list continues with great non-OEM upgrades like Ground Control coilovers and a custom intake on the cold side with new headers and a straight pipe on the hot. The slicktop body is straight despite a rear-end collision in its history, and the whole thing received a decently-done fresh coat of Brilliantrot two years ago.

With a reserve auction and Buy It Now of $10,500, this extremely well-done E30 will likely go for less than $10k.

Click for details: 1991 BMW 318is on eBay

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1991 BMW 318is S52

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I’ve been daydreaming about the lightweight tossable treat known as the 318is a lot recently, fueled by a couple of nice examples that didn’t end up selling on eBay. While those were higher-mileage, driver-quality baby E30s that retained their M42 four-cylinder, this beautiful Brilliantrot example has the swap most E30 owners dream about with an E36 M3’s silky S52 3.2-liter inline-6 shoehorned into the earlier chassis. This one’s running gear has been tweaked all around to supplement the extra 110bhp with coilovers, 3.25 LSD, brakes from both the E36 and E30 M3s, etc. We don’t get any pictures of the inside, but it sounds nice with aggressive Recaros and other racy touches. Small OEM+ touches spice up the rare slicktop exterior, most notably some almost-too-big but always sexy 17″ Style 5s. The main flag is previous collision damage, but all panels were professionally replaced with OEM parts. All in all, it sounds like a well-sorted little rocket.

Click for details: 1991 BMW 318is on craigslist Boston

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1991 BMW 318is

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There’s a clean red 318is I see around the island I live on fairly regularly and these Sports Sedan Lite models have always intrigued me. While my E28 is an engine-first beast, the E30 318is has always held the same allure that my later-Golf-engined Rabbit Pickup had – a light, direct driving experience with an enthusiastic but modest engine that rewarded momentum driving. Without the inline-6, the 318is becomes all about the chassis. And when said chassis is one of the most legendary ever built, that’s a good thing.

This 318 has covered 171k miles but looks like a car with half that. The silver exterior and black interior both look outstanding – someone has taken serious care of the paint and leather. The chrome/gold ESM wheels that come with the car are hideous to me, but it comes with the original wheels so the costume jewelry could be sold to get some classier rollers. Some 16” Style 5s would do the trick just perfectly. That’s really my only complaint, though, as the higher mileage has been mitigated with outstanding maintenance and care.

Click for details: 1991 BMW 318is on eBay

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1991 BMW 318is

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Who doesn’t love a clean E30 on a Friday evening? This 318is is well-traveled but “mechanically perfect” thanks to a thorough owner (now seller). It doesn’t look like a low-mile car but it looks good, with the classic red and Shadowline combo complemented by purposeful (if dorifty) bronze rims. The interior clearly shows this car is almost to the double-century, but recovered seats would make it nearly perfect. The 318is lacks the silky inline-6 but gets the most modern powerplant in the E30 family, the eager 130hp M42 inline-4 and even nimbler handling than the 325is. Clean ones are indeed hard to come by, and this one is well done.

Click for details: 1991 BMW 318is on eBay

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Feature Listing: 1991 BMW 318is S50 swap

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What constitutes an ///M car? That’s a pretty confusing question these days as an M760Li is announced, ready to pile on to with decidedly non-Motorsport badge bunnies like the X4 M40i to rake up premium profits. If those cars can be ///Mified, then this E30 would certainly qualify as an M318is. Or M330is rather, as it now sports the early E36 M3s’ S50B30. The only mileage listed is 140k, perhaps the engine and chassis covered similar distances before they were joined. Said original chassis, body, and interior look pretty decent, with some paint issues and a little wear on the seats. Those will be forgiven as the E30 relishes in its newfound 240hp glory in the hills. It would probably make a great cruiser too, if not for the low gearing that makes it do 4k RPM at 70mph. Overall it’s a pretty tidy E30 package as they experience never before seen levels of demand.

Click for details: 1991 BMW 318is S50 on Bellingham Craigslist

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1991 BMW 318is

Inexpensive, but not cheap. That’s how BMW marketed the 318is when it debuted in 1991 and I think that sentiment has stood the test of time, just look at the new 2-Series. Of course the E30 market has become anything but inexpensive thanks to the internet inflated bubble we’re all sitting on but there are still models that you can acquire for a reasonable price. While most sellers will be looking to squeeze every penny out of their car, in the end reality sets in and you see a-lot of E30 auctions end with a price that’s not so outrageous as one might assume. I would hope that this particular car will end up going for under well $8k, helping set the bar for what a very clean, very high mileage 318is will go for. It’s hard enough to swallow the 200,000 mile pill with any vehicle purchase, let alone one that comes with a $5k plus price tag but you see people do it all the time these days. Are E30s really such great little cars that they warrant all the fuss? Honestly I can’t say as I’ve only driven one and it was a heavily modified M3 that I would drain my hypothetical families’ savings to own. I don’t think that’s a very good barometer of what these cars should be worth but I think it is indicative of the market. People are really emotional when it comes to these cars and that’s no surprise as they were many folks first taste of German automotive culture. The E30 3 Series was the car that all the cash flush yuppies of the 80s went out and got for themselves and then handed down to their silver spoon sucking offspring when they stepped up to a 5 or 7 series. Of course I’m over simplifying this, lots of perfectly nice people bought these cars as well but it’s more fun to paint the picture of them being the weekend toy for Teddy Rothshound III and his wife Vivian.

Anyhow, the 318is has gotten a bad rap for years as being the “starter Bimmer” by those with their heads firmly planted up their posterior region. This is a car enjoyed by people in the know since day one and now (thanks to the power of the internet) is fawned over by a whole new generation of BMW fans, myself included. I know it’s underpowered and requires a whole lot of revving to really be enjoyed, I’m ok with that and you should be too. It’s been said before and I’ll say it again, more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. I mean really, unless you’re a track rat, how often do you get to enjoy all the horses stuffed under your hood? These cars feel quick where it counts, in the corners and I’ll take that over onramp racing supremacy any day.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW 318is on eBay

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1991 BMW 318is

I have a bit of a lukewarm relationship with the BMW E30 as of late. As a former owner, I have an attachment to the breed, but there’s a bit of a scene around the car these days, leading to some chopped up examples or drift machines that tend to put me off. With exception of the Touring models we were never offered, one of my favorite E30s was the 1991 318is. This mashup between old and new pretty much hit the sweet spot for me. New engine plus classic body was the perfect combination. This example for sale in Kansas could be one of the lowest mileage examples left.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW 318is on eBay

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