Warning!This post is in our archives. Links in this post have been updated to point to similar cars available to bid on eBay.
When enthusiasts think of custom coachwork and Germany, one name usually springs to mind: Karmann. Most identifiable for their combination with Ghia’s designs for Volkswagen, Karmann produced not only their eponymous creation Karmann-Ghia in both Type 14 and Type 34 configuration, but also the Beetle convertible. Volkswagen’s association didn’t end there, though, as the first Rabbit Cabriolets, both versions of the original Scirocco and the later Corrado were all built by the firm. So, too, were some of the first Porsche 356, 911 and 912 models, along with the 914. BMW, too, turned to the firm for ‘Big Coupe’ production, from the 2000CS to the E24 6-series. But when it came time to take the top off of their small cars, BMW looked elsewhere.
From Osnabrück BMW headed into the heart of the enemy’s home to Stuttgart, where Karosserie Baur was located. Baur was the company that BMW turned to when plans with Lamborghini to produce the supercar M1 fell through. Baur would later be the home that the infamous Group B Sport Quattro and Porsche 959 were produced in. In short, Baur was responsible for some of the most significant designs in German motoring and has plenty of expertise in factory-quality experience. It should come as no surprise, then, that they were the company that BMW selected to produce the first 3-series convertibles.
Taking the roof off the car seems simple enough; just grab a saw and go, ‘How hard could it be?’ Well, not so fast, as structural rigidity rears its ugly head. Beyond that, in the 1970s government nannies were indicating that the idea of a topless car was going to be outlawed, leading many manufacturers – including all of the major U.S. brands – to abandon the idea. Baur’s solution to the problem was to create a roll hoop ‘Targa’ model, which as we know from Porsche models offered multiple roof positions while simultaneously solving the issue of structural rigidity and occupant safety. But Baur wasn’t able to utilize the ‘Targa’ nameplate, as Porsche owned the copywrite of the title. Baur instead called the new partially topless 3-series the Top Cabriolet, shortened to TC. BMW offered these as a full-factory option and maintained the warranty, as these cars were expensive in period – a 323i like this one hit the market at the equivalent of $18,000 in 1980 (about $53,500 today) and selecting the Baur TC1 option added some $6,000 (about $17,000 today) to the price.
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1979 BMW 323i Baur TC1 on eBay
Model: 323i Baur TC1
Engine: 2.3 liter inline-6
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 100,006 mi
Price: $14,500 Buy It Now
1979 BMW 323i
Exceedingly Rare First-Year TC1!
Major Service in 2014
BMW Serial #: 6508285
Baur Serial #: 000340-01
Evolve Motors is pleased to present this 1979 BMW 323i Baur TC1!
Assembled by BMW in August of 1978, this 323i was destined for the European market, as were all 323is. Here in the United States, we were limited to only the four-cylinder variants of the E21, the first of BMW’s famed 3-series. The US-spec cars were a joy to drive, but were saddled by a lack of power. They handled well, but didn’t feel quite lively enough when you got on the throttle. The European market received the 323i in addition to the four-cylinder variants, which was equipped with a 2.3L 6-cylinder, which turned the E21 from a fun commuter to a properly sporty car. Karosserie Baur, a Stuttgart-based coachbuilder, saw an opportunity in the BMW E21. Baur would take brand new E21s and convert them to Targas; however, the term Targa was already in use by Porsche, so Baur referred to the cars as TC, or “Top Cabrio”. This particular TC1 was actually produced during Baur’s first year of E21 modification, it’s one of only 1659 Baur TC1 323is ever built! This is one of very, very few TC1 323is in the United States. Baur’s TC1 was so well received that they continued on to make the TC2, TC3, and TC4.
On day one of ownership, I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely sold on the Baur top. The proportions of a Euro-bumpered E21 coupe are so dead-on that I had a tough time coming to terms with the Targa-style top. However, after a week or so of being around the car, it really starts to look oh-so right. With the top down and the grey boot on, the car is seriously handsome. The Euro bumpers and Zender ducktail really give the car a sharp look.
Right around the year 2000 this car was brought to Ultimate BMW in New York, where they stripped the car down, repaired a couple dings and signs of rust, and repainted the car in an OEM grey that was slightly darker than the original Polaris. The car presents very well, as one would expect from a restored car. Paint looks great everywhere except for the passenger side of the hood, where it looks like some dust may have found its way into the paint. It’s by no means glaring, but there is some texture to that side of the hood at the right angle under the right lighting. Aside from that, all panels are blemish-free and shine brilliantly. The Baur top was just serviced, during which time the plastic rear window was replaced. Top folds as it should and the grey leather boot is in great shape. Chrome side mirrors do show some oxidation, and chrome Euro bumpers are showing a bit of aging. Wheels are in excellent shape, as are the tires, which have 9/32” tread depth remaining at all four corners.
As you’ll note from the photos, all dash text is in German. While not too shabby, the interior isn’t quite as well-presented as the exterior. Blaupunkt Lexington works, as does heat. AC blows, though not cold. Seats are fairly tired, driver’s seat is fraying a bit. The dash has a couple light cracks and looks to have seen some sun. Carpet is in good shape throughout, with no tears or stains. Door panels are in great shape and are free of any scuffing. Trim at the bottom of the front windows is a bit wavy. Overall, this car looks like it’s been enjoyed with the top down and the sun out, which is just what we’d want to do with it too.
In 2014, after six years of sitting stationary in a garage in New York, this car had a thorough mechanical sorting, to the tune of over $10,000. Receipt from The Little Garage in Huntington New York in-hand. Work performed includes a rebuild of the fuel distributor, as well as replacement of the water pump, hoses, timing belt, timing belt tensioner, fuel pump, fuel tank sending unit, fuel filter, air slide valve, warm up regulator, spark plugs, battery, ignition lock, trunk lock, and steering lock. Both fuel tanks were removed and cleaned with acid, as well as the inside re-coated. This car fires right up and runs extremely well (it’d better after that service!). It’s quick, nimble, and an absolute blast to drive. There is very, very little rust on the car. Take a look at the inside of the truck, extremely nice. Underneath, floor boards and rockers are in great shape. Rust is limited to a bit around the VIN tag under the hood, and some light surface rust on various components underneath. No through rot of any sort and no areas of real concern. This car is ready to be driven and enjoyed by its next owner.
Please feel free to reach out to Jake at 773-267-2684 with any further questions.
Today, you can get one of these unique and classic BMWs for a fraction of their original price, as the market in general continues to ignore the E21. The Bracq design is no less pretty than the others he penned in European specification, and the not-for-U.S.-consumption 323i adds the signature twin-exhaust to the exterior highlights. BBS Mahle wheels accent the exterior well and the Polaris Silver Metallic presents well. This car has benefitted from major services disclosed by the seller, as well, including an overhaul of the Baur top and an expensive rebuild of the mechanical end. The K-Jetronic M20 is good for 141 horsepower, and even though the TC1 gives up some weight to the hardtop, that is still the best part of 50% more than the U.S. spec 320is. While there are some aspects that need a bit of attention, overall this example offers a great classic look, unique heritage and good performance. Baur models are rare in the U.S. to begin with; only about 4,500 of the TC1 in total were produced, and the 323i represents only about one quarter of those. Many outlets have been calling for the E21 to take off in value over the next few years as E30 mania shows little sign of slowing. At the price many later 325is come to market, you’ll have a package which really stands out and apart from the crowd!