With the all the coverage of the 1 series and BMWs use of the iconic 2002tii in marketing it is apparent that regaining the sporting mentality of the brand is once again important.
What may be less apparent to most is where in the storied history of the brand did it begin to lose that mentality in the US. After a lot of head scratching and reading we think we may have discovered that point and the specific car engine combination: the 1984 E30 325e. This is not to say this decision was very cut and dry but there are some real cues to a change in the brands marketing and reasons for decisions in design.
Though European markets had been driving the smooth inline six of the 323i for over six years, this model introduced the US market to an inline six-cylinder engine for the 3 series. It was known as the “eta” engine, and designated a badge with an “e” because it was designed for efficiency. The engine produced 121 hp at 4250 rpms and 170 ft/lbs. of torque at 3250 rpms. This low revving engine had an electronic fuel cutoff at the 5000rpm redline mark. Video
It achieved EPA mpg ratings of 22 city and 36 highway. It was available with a 5 speed manual or a smooth shifting (for the time) 4 speed overdrive ZF automatic transmission. The car was not a fast car, making it to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds and completing the quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds at 81.5 mph for Road & Track (the 318i: 11.6 and 18.3 seconds with a 74.0-mph speed in the quarter). With the low red-line shift points had to be monitored carefully because the engine peaked just before the fuel cut out!
The basis for the engine in this car was to create a more efficient and low reviving engine that would be enjoyed by the upscale buyer that requires a car with less sporting intentions. The options and engine increased the weight of the car by over 300 lbs. when compared to the sporty 318i making the ride and balance a good deal different.
Upgrades in braking were applied in the form of vented rotors upfront and solid discs in the rear as compared with solid in the front and drums in the rear for its four-cylinder sibling. The “e” also had independent suspension with anti-roll bars in the front and rear to help manage the 54/46-weight distribution. Handling was described at the time as competent but not confident. It was more tuned for the interstate than to the twisties.
There were added sound deadening materials, power windows, locks, sunroof and the first rendition of the onboard computer. Newly designed seats with padding and side bolsters hampered wider individuals from fitting comfortably but were a huge step up from the standard seats on other models. A leather wrapped 3-spoke wheel was also an added feature to the 325e. The cost for a base 325e turned in at $20,970 where the price for a 318i was $16,430 so it was a substantial price jump at the time even with the added creature comforts.
Oh and how could we forget; that the next model year, for the first time four-doors were available on the 3 series! With this option BMW hoped to not only attract the upscale buyer but those with or thinking about having some children.
Car reviews at the time even began to question how the car fit into BMWs well-known image as a driver’s machine, specifically the 3 series. BMW was no longer just concerned about a sporting image but one of luxury and meeting the needs of a demographic they were targeting as potential customers.
BMW would later introduce E30 models that were much more sporty, including the renowned //M3 but this particular model shows a change in philosophy. It appears to be where the shift from true sport to luxury and demographics took place. BMW can always offer a drivers’ version of a car but they have failed in recent memory to truly design a drivers ‘ car from the get go, until the 1 and that may also be in part why we will not see an //M. The car is already the drivers’ version.
The Wall Street Journal also recently wrote an article on the “eta ” engine as viewed in the 5 series of the period which you can find here. We hope you enjoyed this read and look forward to your comments!