The beautiful M3 Convertible I looked at yesterday was a reminder that I often skimp on drop-tops entirely. On top of that, I’ve been ignoring one of the most popular options in the classic German car market – the E30.
Introduced midway through E30 production, the Convertible you see here was the first factory BMW convertible since the 1950s. It showed in the execution; BMW’s slick top folded neatly away under a hard cover, in stark contrast to Volkswagen’s Cabriolet which looked like it was sporting a neck support pillow in back. Little trunk space was lost in the execution, meaning you had a fully functional 4-seat convertible replete with storage for the weekend. Base price was nearly $29,000 in 1987, but that included leather sport seats, electric windows, anti-lock brakes, cruise control and an on-board computer. For the U.S. market, there was only one engine option, too – the M20 2.5 liter inline-6, meaning no “E” model and plenty of spin on the tach, along with 168 horsepower. This helped make up for some additional weight from the top mechanism and structural strengthening, resulting in around 3,000 lbs of curb weight. But while the E30 was the benchmark as a driver’s car, many more of these were used in a relaxed manner; top-down luxury cruisers to enjoy the sun:
Just as Rob’s first 911 experience was a Targa and he consequently always has a soft spot for them, my formative BMW experience was my father’s first foray into German automobiles. I was a young teenager when he purchased a 1982 633CSi. Coming from a family that had otherwise had only Toyotas, the 633CSi looked, felt and went in exotic ways I could never have imagined. The tactile sensations remain with me; the bark of the exhaust, the smell of the leather, how unbelievably small and uncomfortable that rear seat was.
He later followed up the 633 with a 1985 635CSi. Though outwardly the only change was larger wheels and the front air dam with integrated spoiler, it felt much more modern. I didn’t know it at the time, but of course that’s because it was – underneath, the E24 had moved to the E28 bits and that really did make a difference when you drove the two back to back. But BMW wasn’t done updating the dinosaur from the 70s quite yet.
1988 saw a host of further upgrades to the chassis even as its planned successor 8-series was completed on the drawing
board computer. Inside the car got an airbag steering wheel, while outside saw revisions to the headlights and bumper caps. But the bigger news was under the hood, where the M30B35 replaced the B34. Moving from the 3.2 to 3.4 motor between the 633 and 635 change had netted only 1 more horsepower for the shark, though it did have more torque. However the newly updated 3.4 really did up performance a few ticks. Now with 208 horsepower and 214 lb.ft of torque, the last of the E24s were the best non-M you could buy in terms of luxury, performance and drivability. It’s no surprise, then, that they’re also generally the most valuable outside of the M range, and this 1989 has been offered with no reserve to the delight of many bidders:
To me, part of the insanity regarding the E30 M3 pricing revolves around the other important BMW models that you can get for much less money. Take this M6 for example; the E24 was a landmark design for the company, making BMW even more popular in the refined personal luxury coupe market. If the argument is that the E30 shared race-bred DNA, so did the E24 M6; it was the car that replaced the legendary CSLs on the race track, flying the BMW colors in the European Touring Car Championship and FIA Group 2 (later Group A) competition. The motor was also race bred, having derived directly from the original M car, the M1’s legendary M88 mill. It rolled on race-inspired BBS wheels and, like all M-products back in the day, was manual only. The M6 also added a seriously healthy dose of luxury, with leather trimmed interiors, rear air conditioned compartments and fit and finish second to none. This was no buzzy entry-level, junior-executive ride – this was a car designed to grab headlines and attention. Why, then, hasn’t the market on these super coupes appreciated?
When it comes to rare 1980s BMWs, the M635CSi is not the rarest but it’s one that always makes me dream. There’s a look that the European-spec E24s had that just is somehow much better than the U.S. spec cars to me. They look lighter, more lithe and aggressive. It certainly helps that under the hood lies the original Motorsport GmbH engine too; unencumbered by catalysts, the M88/3 gives you the M1 experience in a much more affordable package. Lighter weight, more power, better looks – what’s not to love with the M635CSi? And this car has the double trifecta too; the above attributes coupled with one-owner history, a unique color and low miles. Put that together with some great photographs and it makes one compelling package:
Are you in the market for some cheap, silly fun? If so, today’s your lucky day. This bronzit 325is, a healthy performer right out of the box, has had turbo slapped on the inline-6 and now pushes out E46 M3 power to the wheels. It’s certainly no garage queen, but that’s clearly not what this bronzit brawler was built for. A little worn paint is no problem when you’re spooling up a fat turbo and drifting on an abandoned racetrack. Any turbo/project car should be approached very carefully, but the seller’s price makes it a little easier to take a gamble. There aren’t many E30s out there for $4k these days, and those that are are probably ready for some hooning. In that case, it might as well have a big turbo!