Affordable Classics: BMW E30

As a college student on a limited budget, my passion for fun classic cars generally translates to attending auto shows or looking at pictures on the Web. Classic motoring, however, is easily accessible — the trick is looking in the right place. A 911 or E-Type Jag is out of the question for many, but a near classic or future classic can be found for peanuts. The E30, BMW’s second generation 3 series, checks the boxes perfectly.

The E30 was huge in the late 1980s, earning legend status for its handling and style, and a reputation as a driver’s car. I am a sucker for the upright boxy style, the clean lines and tasteful chrome, and the iconic front end.  It was one of the last BMWs to feature the classic four circular headlights. The E30 really shines on curvy roads, where it eats up apexes and delivers sonic perfection from the glorious inline 6. Each gear is a masterpiece and running through them is smooth as silk. BMW engineered these cars to perfection, which shows in the overwhelming number of high mileage examples still hammering down country lanes.

For the college student on a budget, a reputation like this usually translates to unaffordable, yet the E30 sells for anywhere from $500 for a beater to $5,000 in mint condition. The most desirable, besides the legendary M3 ($5,000 to $20,000), is the 325is, boasting the 2.5L M20 engine and sport-tuned suspension. The 318 i/is will be easier at the pump while sacrificing much-needed power. Furthermore, with the 25-year import ban coming to a close, the floodgates are likely to open to handsome European examples.

The E30 is epitome of an affordable classic. Although it’s not rare and it won’t get much love at the premiere concours, it will bring a smile to your face — and isn’t that why we fell in love with cars in the first place?

Joseph Dillon is a college student and longtime car aficionado.

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