A BMW for every budget: M Roadster Roundup

The E36/7 M Roadster remains an interesting microcosm of not only BMW, but more specifically BMW M, products. Similar to the SLK and Boxster, the Roadster offers you a unique experience and expression of your favorite brand. But because “true enthusiasts” don’t value you them as much, these models often come to market below the value of similar models. While the E36 M3 Coupe is enjoying an uptick in value and the E36/8 M Coupe has been more highly prized, it’s possible to get a lower mileage and great condition Roadster for less money still though the experience is quite similar.

Today I’ve stitched together three interesting examples – one for every budget. From a very inexpensive example through an unusual low-mileage collector, which one grabs your eye?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1999 BMW M Roadster on eBay

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2001 BMW 325xi Touring

Although my recent experience with a BMW wagon wasn’t the most endearing of my automotive life, I have to admit I still keep an ear to the street every time an interesting one comes up. If nothing else, the promise of what BMW offered in their wagons was compelling – at least, until very recently. That’s because in addition to the 5-doors from the 3- and 5-series appearing on these shores in the E34, E39 and E46 generation, so too came all-wheel drive. “BUT, AUDI!” the internet insists. And right they’d be. Except that as the 2000s drew to a close, so too did the performance versions of Audi’s Avants – and with it went the manual option. So if you wanted to row-your-own, you had to turn to BMW to get what we see here – an all-weather faithful 5-door companion. While the “M” versions of the wagons didn’t come this way, what we did get was what you see here – the option to have the classic inline-6 mated to a manual transmission with near perfect weight distribution. Equip the package with the Sport option, and you got some nice alloy wheels and fantastic seats too. Even 17 years later and with a not insignificant amount of miles accrued, this is a package which stirs the soul:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 BMW 325xi Touring on Santa Barbara Craigslist

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Pre-Production: 2001 BMW M3

I mentioned yesterday I’d look at a M3, and here it is. There were some 26,202 E46 M3 Coupes to choose from when considering the model. So, often sellers and buyers are looking for something special to help differentiate their M3. Usually that manifests itself in color, miles or mods, but today’s example is quite unusual. Official production started rolling in early in 2001, but today’s M3 is claimed produced in June of 2000, making it a pre-production example of the legendary coupe. There seems to be good documentation to back up the claims that are made, along with a very unusual-to-see set of options. So is this the one to get?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 BMW M3 on eBay

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Tuner Tuesday: 2004 Alpina B3S Cabrio

The prospect sounded promising, but I was left feeling lackluster at best about the 750 mile 2001 BMW 330Ci I wrote up a few weeks ago. Sure, it was nice and that interior certainly was to die for; so, too, was the basically as-new condition. But the 5-speed automatic transmission, coupled with the outrageous $32,000 asking price, had me thinking there were better options out there. So if I was in the $30K range for an E46, what are my options?

Well, obviously there are plenty of M3s to check out any day of the week, and I’ll be looking at one soon enough. But when our reader John sent through this seriously impressive Alpina, I couldn’t help but take a look. The B3 isn’t a model we often look at; in fact, I’ve only reviewed on prior, and it was a E36 chassis. The E46 took an unusual route for Alpinas; rather than a blank-slate motor, the Buchloe company selected the S52B32 from the U.S. spec E36 M3 for their basis. It was bored and stroked to 3.3 liters, netting 280 horsepower. In 2002, the “S” version of the B3 was released, with a bit more bore and a revised engine management and exhaust system. This brought the power to 305, 0-60 plummeted to 5 seconds and with a 6-speed manual you could come close to hanging with the M3. Why buy one, then? Well, the looks were a bit more discrete overall, and you could buy not only a sedan and Touring version, but an all-wheel drive one as well. Today, though, we have a lovely Cabrio with the 6-speed manual to check out:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2004 Alpina B3S Cabrio on Autoscout24

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Caveat Emptor: “1988 BMW M3”

Update 9/13/18: After being listed as sold for $27,300 in February and then again for $35,900 on April 5, I wasn’t hugely surprised to see it back up for sale. This time bidding has started at $25,000 and the Buy It Now is listed at $50,000. Will it actually trade hands?

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck in today’s collector world, you might still be looking at a turkey. So valuable have some cars gotten that it’s worthwhile for enterprising individuals to undermine the market with a less-than-honest example. The problem is that it seems all too easy for those sellers to misrepresent the vehicle, so it then becomes incumbent upon the buyer to investigate the background. Beyond that, though, sometimes I think buyers are so eager to get a “deal” that they’re often willing to overlook what’s highbeaming them right in the eyes.

Case in point; today’s E30.

Obviously, the M3 is a hot and desirable car. That’s nothing new and we’ve talked about it plenty of times. But there are quite a few less-than-desirable examples out there. It’s also possible to create a replica of the M3, because of the relative plethora of replacement parts or wrecked examples. Granted, this comes up in the 911 and muscle car market a lot more, but it’s happening for BMWs, too.

So while the photographs of this “1988 M3” look great at first glance, what’s wrong with what you’re looking at?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: “1988 BMW M3” on eBay

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2013 BMW 135i M-Sport

Update 11/11/18: Price drop from the original $26,997 asking price by $2,020 to $24,977 today.

I casually mentioned in passing recently that we traded our E61 530xi Sports Wagon for an E82 135i Sport. While production overlapped between the two chassis, they are really polar opposites when it comes to BMWs. The 5-Series was obvious all about comfort and isolation, as well as carrying a huge load of anything you could throw at it through any weather. The 1-Series sought to return BMW to its more affordable small car roots by shrinking the swollen 3-Series down substantially.

What BMW unintentionally did was to create an E46 successor. The E82s are similarly sized, similarly equipped and were similarly priced to the E46. And in its most basic, most sporty form, the early 135i Sport is on paper a close match for the performance of the third generation M3. Okay, there’s no doubt that the 135i isn’t a M3 when you get behind the wheel. But is it a special car? Yes. And does it move? The N54/55 are rated at 300 horsepower – about 10% shy of the S54. But they’ve got 300 lb.ft of torque, almost about 15% more than the M3 had. And because they’re a turbo motor and they were able to tune that torque curve in, it’s about as flat as the Makgadikgadi Pan. That means roll-on performance, and the 135i rewards you any time you want. The strange thing is, it really doesn’t drive like it is a turbo motor. There’s no lag, no flat spots, no real woosh. It just feels like a very strong high-compression inline-6. And though it won’t corner like a E46 M3, it’s not far off in acceleration or driving feel.

The dash changed and some of the operations are different, but the seats and small greenhouse will instantly remind you of the earlier chassis. Ours is about as basic as they came – 6-speed manual, manual seats, no iDrive, but with a sunroof. But probably the ultimate spec is the late N55-equipped M-Sport and ‘is’ models. They’re quite hard to find even though they’re fairly new. Why is that?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2013 BMW 135i M-Sport on eBay

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1995 BMW M3

Update 9/13/18: This M3 sold for $19,201

While it was the E30 M3 that I lusted over as a young teen, I came of driving age with the introduction of the second generation E36. I still remember sitting in one just like today’s; a 1995 Avus Blue with gray manual Vaders. At nearly $40,000, it was about as far away from me as the moon landing, but it was my dream car. I didn’t really care that the engine wasn’t the special individual throttle body motor Europe got, or that the headlights weren’t as nice. I cared that it was in the U.S., it was a great color, and because they were being sold that meant that I might be able to get one some day.

Fast forward to today, and if I’m completely honest Avus Blue isn’t my favorite color from the early M3 lineup anymore. Given the option, I’d take either a Dakar Yellow or Daytona Violet example. But all three are fairly rare to see among the first 10,000-odd 3.0 M3s brought in before the light revision to the 3.2, when the color pallet changed. Few appear in the low-mileage, completely original condition of this particular Avus Blue and for me it’s a reminder of everything I loved the first time I saw it:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1995 BMW M3 on eBay

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Double Take: 1982 BMW 320i

Perhaps 2019 will be the year of the E21? Along with the early 7-series E23, these relatively unloved BMWs remain solid values in the classic car world. Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. The E21 didn’t have the spunk of its E10 predecessor, nor the looks, power or handling of its E30 replacement. Even without those bookmarks, if you’re looking at late 70s to early 80s BMWs, the star power still is firmly planted in the E24 while the E12 and early E28s are more classic and practical. That leaves the E21 in a strange limbo of value, making it hard to justify restoration or keep miles off a clean chassis.

So herein lies this comparison; both Henna Red 1982 BMW 320is, I found a pretty clean light restoration candidate and a reasonably clean high mileage “S” package. Traditionally, the Sport package has always been the star in this Washington Generals lineup, so will that hold true today?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1982 BMW 320i on eBay

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1977 BMW 630CSi with 17,000 Miles

Update 8/30/18: A year after I originally wrote this car up at $20,000, it is back on a no reserve auction format and should sell this time if someone clicks the opening bid point at $7,500.

A decade on from the takeover of Hans Glas GmbH, BMW put the Dingolfing production line and engineers to work on their new big coupe. This allowed them to build the design in-house, instead of subcontracting construction of the 2-door as they had with the E9 to Karmann. The E24 was released in 1976, and compared to the Glas V8 they had borrowed for their premium product in the late 1960s it was thoroughly modern. Paul Bracq penned the lines as he did for all BMWs of the period, and but while there was a strong family resemblance between the 3- ,5- ,6- and 7-series cars, the E24 was where the long, low lines and sweeping greenhouse worked the best.

While initially the car was introduced to the world with many of the items from the E9 carried over, the U.S. got a special one-off for its introduction year. The 630CSi was brought in 1977 with a D-Jetronic fuel injected version of the M30B30 which itself had also seen duty in the E9. With slightly lower compression and emissions equipment fitted, it produced 176 horsepower and was shared with the contemporary 530i until 1978. But in late 1977, BMW yanked the 630 from the U.S., replacing it with the more powerful 633CSi.

While BMW’s sales between 1970 and 1977 had doubled (14,574 total vehicles to 28,766), the number of early 6s that made the journey was still relatively small. Couple that with thermal reactor failure that was a demise of many of the early U.S.-bound 3.0s, and of course the big nemesis of the 70s BMW – rust – and finding a lovely example of the early E24 here in the U.S. is quite difficult:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1977 BMW 630CSi on eBay

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Tuner Tuesday: 1983 BMW 528i

As ’80s-All-Things-M-Mania’ has continued, getting into a clean E28 M5 is increasingly difficult – and expensive. Decently clean original M5s now start around $30,000 and can head up from there, with really exceptional examples selling for $50,000 or more. Didn’t this used to be the “cheap” M? Those days have passed and don’t show signs of returning soon.

What’s an enthusiast to do? Well, you could build your own. It’s not cheap or easy, but hey – if you’re in it to win it, why not see if you can source all the parts yourself? Or (and this is a much better option…) you buy one that has already been converted to M-specs. To maximize your investment, look for one with a rare set of parts attached, and preferably in European guise. Luckily, today we don’t have to look too far:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1983 BMW 528i on eBay

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