An all-new design, it carried over the tough M10 engine from the old ’02 cars but was a much more modern offering than its ‘Sixties predecessor. In 1977 the 3-Series acquired a six-cylinder powerplant, which made it unique in its class, with the 143bhp 323i being a formidable weapon.
The E21 became the second generation ‘E30’ car in 1982; effectively an extensive revision of the original with the styling softened for the ’Eighties and its appeal broadened with the addition of a four-door model, the Touring estate and the full convertible. The E30 was the model that really put BMW on the map in the UK market and their ’Eighties flavour means they enjoy a massive cult following today. The range-topper may have been the 171bhp 325i but in reality the majority of 3-Series sold in those pre-diesel days were the mainstream models, like the 316 and 318i, and it’s an example of the latter we have here.
A genuine little-old-lady survivor, the car was bought new from the BMW dealer in Moreton-In-Marsh and was still being driven by her until recently – she’s well into her 80s and wasn’t bothered by the lack of power steering. As a result it’s avoided the hard life so many E30s experienced when they fell into the realms of anonymous old cars and the BMW looks just as you’d expect it to for its exceptionally low 54,000 miles. Lloyds Cars proprietor Julian had the rear ‘arches painted to bring them up to the standard of the rest of the bodywork and at the time of our visit the car was awaiting a new front nearside bumper plastic corner, but it’s otherwise impressively original. There’s even a full history with the car; the early days from BMW main dealers and more recently from the local garage, which isn’t something you find with many E30s.
ON THE ROAD
I’ve owned a string of BMWs from this era and they have a character that is somehow lacking from the more anonymous current models – although it’s fair to say that BMW had the business of ergonomics sorted even back then: Jump blindfolded into this one from a brand-new 3-Series and you’d still know instinctively where to find the headlight switch and gearlever.
What you won’t find in the new model is the blue velour trim, door cards and carpeting that is pure ’Eighties BMW – and all the better for it. As you’d expect from the mileage, the seats have lasted unusually well – it’s common to find the velour hanging in threads on well-worn E30s – and the plastic grain is still pristine on the gearknob.
The 1.8-litre injected M10 engine is very much on the button and at 54,000 miles is barely run-in, such is the reputation for longevity these engines enjoy if well maintained. Positioning the car for photos reveals the lack of power steering but, to be fair, once you’re above parking speeds it’s not an issue and the car otherwise drives really very well. It’s clearly been looked after well and feels nicely taut without the slop in the steering and front suspension you find on well-worn E30s, while the rear is similarly quiet. The 1766cc four-cylinder with its Bosch LE-Jetronic injection pulls smoothly and, with 107lb/ft of torque on offer, pushes the 1000kg BMW along well. The gear linkage can get sloppy with age and mileage as the knuckle under the lever wears but this one is refreshingly positive as you row through the gears. It may be no 325i, but the M10 is a willing unit and offers the bonus of 35mpg when driven gently. The 318i’s first owner had the wisdom to specify the optional five-speed box, which makes it a decent motorway cruiser, as well as the neat BMW accessory boot spoiler. Oh, and as a final touch, the trademark BMW toolkit is still present and correct under the bootlid.
The E30 3-Series has gained a massive cult following over the last few years among ’Eighties BMW fans, which means good original examples are getting increasingly rare – especially since the bodywork can get surprisingly tatty on neglected examples. This one is ready to be pressed into service and offers a good blend of practicality and retro appeal, while the massive network of BMW aftermarket specialists means you can easily add things, like 325i alloy wheels and front foglights to fill those plastic blanking panels.
BMW 3-SERIES BMW 318i TECH SPEC
TOP SPEED: 114mph
0-60mph: 10.3 secs
GEARBOX: 5-sp man