What are collectibles?
These are cars of particular interest, therefore, worthy of conservation. Not necessarily old, however, they exist in definite quantities, either because the manufacturer has decided so, or because their production has stopped. Then they take advantage of features that make them especially desirable: an engine, a chassis, a design, or a concept. Eventually, they will likely see their rating rise. One more argument to collect them before anyone else!
Why is the BMW 3 Series E21 collectible?
BMW’s flagship model, the E21, laid the foundation for the entire 3 Series – that is, a clever combination of sportiness, luxury, efficiency and versatility. Specially equipped with the fabulous M20 straight-6: a concentrate of BMW in a nutshell! Although produced in large numbers, E21 is now rare in very good condition, so it must continue to be preserved. Its continuous increase in value helps to decide!
After its miraculous “Neue Klasse” of 1961 that saved it from a takeover bid, BMW was able to count on the 1966 02 to increase its production. In fact, the latter was a great success, and in order to replace it, we took a lot of precautions. Abandoning the formula is unthinkable! So we improved it, according to the trend of the time which was towards more comfort. So, we took care of the cabin and made the line more elegant.
This was drafted under the direction of Frenchman Paul Bracq, a Mercedes dropout who came to the forefront of BMW design in 1970. In 1972, the Bavarian manufacturer began dividing its range into series, starting with the 5 Series. replacing the 02, it presented a Series 3 E21, in June 1975. Although classic, it seduced by its modern appearance, while in the passenger compartment, in addition to a very nice finish, a center console oriented towards the driver. A sign of meticulous ergonomics, this element would spread throughout the BMW range and continue to this day. Technically, the E21 is an independent rear-wheel drive vehicle, like its predecessor.
Under the hood, the 3 Series initially only gets ’02 M10 4-cylinder. A 90hp 1.6l (316) and a 2.0l either carbureted (320, 109hp) or fuel injected (320i, 125hp) . The equipment is in keeping with the times, clock, totalizer, glove box, headrest… It’s not huge then, especially since the stabilizer bars are also extra! The 320 adds high beam headlights and a tachometer. Prices are obviously high: from F28,900 (€21,100 current according to INSEE) for the 316 to F36,500 (€26,650 current according to INSEE) for the 320i.
Sales started very well, and the range was enriched with a 318 (1.8 l, 99 hp) in 1976. But in 1977, the offer was reinforced with a model that would do a lot for the E21: the 323i. Indeed, it is received by the legendary 6 in line from BMW, a 2.3 liter 143 hp. Approaching 200 km/h, the 323i offers very high performance in a relatively compact body, even if you are content with 4-speed standard, an existing gearbox as an option, in long or short gear ratio. Even better, you can afford a limited slip differential! This variant will be a great success.
At the same time, the 320 also goes to 6 cylinders, a 2.0 liter 122 hp only with a carburettor. In 1979 a convertible version with Baur bodywork was offered. In 1980 the fuel-injected 318i (105 hp) replaced the 318 in France, then in late 1981 an entry-level 315 (75 hp) lowered the base price. This is the swan song of the Series 3 E21, replaced by the E30 at the end of 1982. 1.36 million units were produced: contract fulfilled!
How much is it ?
Long shunned, the E21 has seen its rating rise. For €7,500 you get a 315 or 316 in good condition. At €8,500, you’re entitled to a 318, while for a 4-cylinder 320, it’s more like €10,000. The 6 cylinders are more like €13,000 in good condition. And the 323i? Don’t expect anything below €18,000, while at €21,000 you can find a nice box 5 equipped car. But for a short box, self-locking example, it will be a €26,000 note on the bottom. word. Yes, it itches…
Which version to choose?
Given the price of the 323i, a 320 6-cyl is a good compromise, or even a 320i if staying on 4-cyl doesn’t put you off.
Any Series 3 E21 in perfect condition is a collector’s item. But of course the most sought after will be the original short/limited gearbox from the 323i 5, an extremely rare setup.
What to monitor?
Like all BMWs of those years, the E21 3 Series suffered badly from corrosion. You attack cunningly, attacking what you can’t see first – a meticulous foundation inspection is required before purchase!
Then it is important, on 6 cylinders, to have a cooling circuit in good condition. Otherwise, the engine will overheat and the long cylinder head will twist. With the key, a big bill… On the 320/6, the four-cylinder Solex carburetor is a bleeder to adjust. The 4 cylinders are without history, therefore very robust, just like the gearboxes, but beware, all these blocks have a timing belt: don’t forget to change it!
In the cabin, the plastic of the dashboard cover splits and the velvet of the seats tears, so many elements that are not easy to repair.
For the rest, the E21 ages quite classically and BMW offers quite a few spare parts. A good point!
At the wheel
On board the 323i, as in all E21s, two things surprise us: the reduced rear space and the friendliness of the front seats. Yes, the seat is firm but it holds up well. Also, despite the few settings available, the riding position is perfect! As for the dashboard, it continues to delight the eye: a model of its kind.
But that’s nothing compared to the sound of 6 in a row. It is soft, melodious, ethereal… This sound alone justifies the purchase of the car. Only, the homologation of the 323i also happens -and above all- for its incredible flexibility and its quite pleasant punch for such an old car.
Basically, it offers the performance of a very avant-garde sports compact of the Abarth Ritmo type, but with incomparable refinement. Because the BMW remains silent, and its box a marvel of smoothness. The steering, a little too reduced, is not as pleasant, but it is still quite precise. Behaviour ? It’s healthy and balanced, but the grip is still average.
As a result, motor skills are quickly lost, even with limited slip, and the BMW quickly reaches its limits. Advantage, it makes it a lot of fun if you have good piloting skills, and this is also the advantage of this version. Be careful, in the wet you have to be very careful. In a calm drive, everything is in order, even if the suspension seems firm and the braking weak, as in the cars of this epic era. The 323i also has the great advantage of low fuel consumption: 8.0 l/100 km if driven normally.
The young alternative
BMW 3 Series E36 (1990 – 2000)
It breaks molds with its bodywork where the grille tilts in the direction of the wind and places its round lights under the glass roof. And it adopts a Z-shaped multi-link rear axle that will become a school at BMW. The 3 Series E36 was therefore very surprising when it was launched at the end of 1990, seduced by its immense driving pleasure, especially in the 325i, whose 2.5-litre 24-valve inline-6 develops 192 hp. But it also disappoints with its near-junk finish.
Offered as a coupe in 1992, as a convertible from 1993, as a Compact in 1994 and as a station wagon in 1995, it was restyled for 1996. There, the finish progressed markedly, and the M3, which appeared in 1992 (3.0 l, 286 hp), passed to 3.2 l for 321 hp while gaining a box of 6. The Series 3 E36 is gradually replaced by the E46 from the end of 1997, the last Compact came out in 2000. More than 3 million copies have been produced! From €2,500.
BMW 323i E21 (1981), technical specifications
- Engine: 6 cylinders in line, 2315 cc
- Power supply: Bosch K-Jetronic injection
- Suspension: McPherson struts, coil springs, stabilizer bar (AV); trailing arms, coil springs, stabilizer bar (AR)
- Transmission: 4 or 5 manual or 3 automatic gearboxes, propulsion
- Power: 143 hp at 5,800 rpm
- Torque: 190Nm at 4,500rpm
- Weight: 1135kg
- Maximum speed: 190 km/h (manufacturer’s data)
- 0 to 100 km/h: 9.5 s (manufacturer data
To find BMW 3 Series E21 ads, go to the La Centrale website.
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