Estimate - £8,500 - £10,500
The 1980s have a lot to answer for. Shoulder pads, Filofaxes, synthesisers, Grease 2 – there was a lot going on, and much of it was made of brightly coloured plastic. However, the decade wasn’t without its charms; it brought us Cheers, Appetite for Destruction, and the wonderfully infuriating Rubik’s Cube. And while the TV shows of the era seemed to represent a society eager to eulogise about the easy-going nostalgia of the 1960s – Happy Days, The Wonder Years and so on – the man on the street was firmly on the cutting edge of up-to-the-minute 1980s fantasticality, the sleeves rolled up on his pastel-hued suit, a pair of Wayfarers atop his slicked-back hair, and the keys to a gleaming E30 BMW in his hand.
Oh yes – in the 1980s, the second-generation 3 Series was very much where it was at. From South London to South Central LA, there was one aesthetic that anyone who was anyone aspired to: a hot-to-trot E30, preferably a convertible. That was the real deal. Sure, Magnum P.I. had his Ferrari 308, Miami Vice was all about the Testarossas, and Michael Knight had his sentient Trans Am, but this was the real world. Real people dreamed of Beemers.
Such was the popularity and enduring appeal of the E30 that production ran from 1982 right up until 1994. The hardtop models actually began to be phased out in 1990 as the replacement E36 generation arrived on the market, but it was the convertible E30 that the buying public particularly clamoured for; the example we have up for auction here is a 1993 car – a survivor of the 1980s design that pushed deep into the ’90s despite the model line having officially been replaced. It’s this sort of bullish approach that defines the very core of what an E30 convertible is – an uncompromising and intriguing proposition, as desirable now as it was back then. And when they’re as complete and original as this one, the age-old dream really is thoroughly achievable.
This car has been with its current owner for the last twenty-one years, and there are few endorsements as hearty as that. Indeed, the only reason for selling it now is that he feels it isn’t being used as much as it deserves (the mileage averages out around 4,000 a year), so it’s time to pass on to another enthusiast who’ll enjoy it as much as it should be.
When the car was purchased all those years ago, it was from a very reluctant seller who’d essentially been given an ultimatum by his wife – it was the car or him! In that instance the spouse won out, but the vendor was distinctly teary-eyed as he signed over the paperwork to its current keeper.
The 320i really has enjoyed a wonderfully pampered life since, too – for the first thirteen years of ownership it was kept in a garage; since then it’s been outside the owner’s house on a quiet square in central London. The maintenance has been taken care of by a specialist in Vauxhall, Professional Auto Centre Ltd, whose credentials are strong: having been in business for fifty years, their accolades include a concours d’elegance trophy for a Jensen they restored, and that same level of care has been lavished upon this E30 – a respray around a year ago in the car’s original Mauritius Blue has left it lustrous and joyful to behold. No expense has been spared in the upkeep of this BMW, and there’s a huge and comprehensive history file which bears this out.
The owner’s wife refers to the 320i as ‘the mistress’, such is the central role it plays in their lives. And now that it’s time to move on, they’re prepared – finally, after so many years – to pass the baton to somebody who’ll cherish it just as much as they have.
The documentation that accompanies this car really is amazingly comprehensive. To pick out a few highlights, we can see from the paperwork that a bill from early 2019 totals over £1500, when the car received a new driver’s side lock barrel, brake discs, pads and hoses, a gear gaiter and a wheel centre cap, and a new window moulding. The Continental tyres are evidenced to have been replaced in 2018, while the new battery was fitted a matter of weeks ago.
The latest major invoice, from December 2019, shows the car being fitted with a new fuel pump plus associated relays, and everything else that’s been remedied from wiper arms to mudflaps is all accounted for in the invoices. The clutch was renewed in 2013 when the mileage was at 96,377, so this has plenty of life in it. However you interrogate this data, you find fastidious bookkeeping, and the records go right back to the car’s birth.
The interior is, as with any E30, a thoroughly pleasant place to be, and the condition here is superb throughout. When the owner bought the car twenty-one years ago, he had the original tartan cloth seats replaced by a full grey leather interior; this was carried out by a high-end upholstery specialist (whose bread-and-butter came from trimming Rolls-Royces and suchlike), and the work has weathered beautifully. The seats are still firmly bolstered and, aside from a minor hole in the passenger side of the rear bench, all of the leather is in fine condition with none of the separating stitching that’s so common on these cars.
All of the switchgear works as it should, and there are no warning lights on the dash or overhead console. The original period Blaupunkt radio-cassette is fitted and working – you may spot that the owner has rigged a temporary wire arrangement to pull to remove the head unit, but this is an easily remedied thing. The dash-top is entirely free from cracks, which is rare for these cars, and proof of how much of its life it’s spent garaged.
Inside the boot, everything is solid and the carpet is correctly fixed throughout. (It’s a common issue for this to come loose and hang down from the top, but not with this car.) The original toolkit isn’t present, although this could easily be replaced.
Buying a ‘London car’ can be a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to bodywork, as panels can get dinged and bumpers can be scraped… but there’s none of that to worry about with this E30. Having been garaged for so much of its life, and then lived on a very quiet street, the bodywork is all gloriously straight and honest, with no creases or dents and with perfect panel gaps. The recent exterior repaint in the car’s factory-original shade has been completed to a very high standard, and beautifully showcases how fabulous this bodywork is. We couldn’t find a single scuff, ripple or scratch anywhere. The car also still has its original windscreen which, aside from a small stonechip in the lower centre, is still in excellent condition.
The distinctive lattice alloy wheels are all in unmarked and un-kerbed condition and wear Continental tyres – one of which has a bubble in the sidewall, but they all have good tread.
Under-bonnet presentation is excellent, with no rot or corrosion visible anywhere and every factory-original part present and correct. The car has a new battery, and any dirt you can see in the photographs around the strut tops and bulkhead is simply leaf debris from nearby trees and doesn’t hide any corrosion.
The soft-top hood was replaced around four years ago, and is a quality item in excellent condition. The electric tonneau cover operates as it should, and the roof seals tightly with no leaks. The area in which the roof folds down is also free from rust; in fact it looks brand new in there.
Part of the reason that E30s have aged so pleasingly is that they’re so well engineered. And when they’ve been looked after as fastidiously as this one has, there really isn’t anything to worry about – you could treat it like a modern car and commute in it completely care-free if you so wished. The engine fires on the first turn and settles into an even idle, and it pulls cleanly and eagerly through all the gears – all the while making a frankly excellent noise which keeps you clamouring for more. The owner intimates that having tried a 325i in the past, he prefers this engine simply for the fact that you have to work harder to earn its rewards, and it’s easy to see the logic of that – it’s a joyous thing to drive, and of course you don’t have to always drive it hard to enjoy it. The smooth torque of the motor makes this an effortless urban cruiser as well.
The gearbox is in excellent order and selects cleanly; there are no problems with the clutch or noises from the diff either, everything is as it should be. The brakes are effective and haul the car up in a straight line, and the steering is perfectly weighted. In short, the mechanicals of this car are absolutely tip-top – and when you see the history file, you can understand why.
The present owner intended to keep this car forever, and it’s really only the fact that he lives in central London and doesn’t use it as much as it deserves that’s dictating the sale. This situation really speaks for itself – it’s a cherished car looking to become part of a new family.
Buying a soft-top E30 today isn’t just about the wind-in-the-hair thrills. Naturally that element is a key facet of the appeal, particularly with the gloriously radiant summer we’re enjoying in 2020, but the depth of passion within this pristine cabrio goes far deeper than merely tearing the roof back and hunting out some breezy B-roads. No, the thick textural context here goes right to the very core of what the E30-generation 3 Series is. These cars used to be everywhere on Britain’s roads (and, indeed, on any road you care to name across the globe); such was their quality and their allure that they sold like hot cakes in period. But, as is the case with all widely popular cars, they began to inherit a rather throwaway nature as they aged, on the grounds that there were plenty more examples to take their place – the same thing has happened to such cars as the Mk5 Ford Cortina, the Mk2 Vauxhall Cavalier, the Peugeot 405, and countless others: what was once ubiquitous is now scarce. And the market is catching on. Enthusiasts are realising that the E30 is a strictly finite resource, and this is pushing values upward in line with other sought-after classic BMWs. Add in the reality that so many of today’s buyers have indelible memories of youth tied up with the E30 – whether it’s because their mum used to drive them to school in one, their well-to-do neighbour had a tastefully-specced example, or they enjoyed watching the BTCC M3s jousting on television – and it’s obvious why these cars are in such demand today.
The reserve at which this auction is set represents a price-point these cars surely won’t be sitting at for long. But don’t go thinking of this particular 320i purely as an investment – it’s a reliable and honest machine, ready for regular use. It’s a driver’s car, as much now as it ever was. And yes, as the summer sun beats down on us, you’ll want to drop that roof and enjoy it.