By on August 15, 2016

1986 BMW 325 in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

I have been doing this series at TTAC since way back in 2010. Before that, I shot junkyard cars for Jalopnik, starting with this ’60 Corvair in 2007, and these days I also do Junkyard Gems on Autoblog and Junkyard Treasures for Autoweek. In my files, I have photographs of 1,157 junkyard vehicles. Yes, I am King of Junkyard Automotive Writing! And yet, in all that time, I have never written about a discarded BMW E30 … until now.

Yes, E30 fans, that day has arrived!

1986 BMW 325 in California junkyard, with E36 - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

In fact, the most beloved version of the BMW 3 Series, before it became bloated and more about the luxury than the fun, is a common sight in the self-service yards I frequent. Your typical San Francisco or Los Angeles U-Wrench-It yard usually has a large selection of 3 Series cars, mostly E30s and E36s but E46s are starting to show up in quantity now. You’ll find E30s and E36s packed in so close that you can’t swing a dead BMW ECM without hitting one.

1986 BMW 325 in California junkyard, shifter - © 2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

So, on my last visit to the San Francisco Bay Area, I resolved that I would walk into a big East Bay yard and photograph the very first E30 I saw. That car turned out to be a 325e sedan with automatic transmission, eta high-torque engine, and nearly 200,000 miles on the clock. Sure, it’s not the most interesting version of the E30 you could find — this junkyard had several additional E30s, all with manual transmissions — but I vowed to shoot the first one I ran across and that’s what I did.

1986 BMW 325 in California junkyard, engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The E30 is an iconic car, deserving of more attention than I’ve given it over the years. The problem is I’ve worked for the 24 Hours of LeMons since 2008, and we are sick of E30s. There are more E30s than any other type of vehicle in the series, and while they aren’t the dominant cars of the series (according to exhaustive statistical analysis), we feel that every E30 (or Integra, or Mustang, or Miata) could have been a Datsun F-10 or Buick Reatta or Peugeot 504.

1986 BMW 325 in California junkyard, tachometer - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The 325e had a longer-stroke engine that redlined at a leisurely 4,500 rpm, so most BMW fanatics spit on the ground at the very mention of the eta engine. However, we have learned in LeMons that torque can be your friend on the race track (if you know how to drive), and the 325e often beats those high-zoot 325iSs on a road course.

1986 BMW 325 in California junkyard, front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

I know a guy here in Colorado who decided he wanted to make an E30 track-day car, so he found a rough 325iS with title problems for $150. Then he kept his eyes open for more E30 deals and ended up with a half-dozen more, mostly runners and none priced over $400 (that is the actual price he paid, not the optimistic prices that most sellers state as a negotiating tactic). If you want an E30 of your own and you don’t mind doing some work, non-perfect ones are out there in the real world, and they’re cheap.

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46 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1986 BMW E30 325e...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    I remain on the lookout for a clean 318i E30 with the M42. Yep, not the sportiest, but for a nice weekend driver or Friday morning (sunny day) commuter, I can think of nothing finer. Low bar, perhaps…but some of the most fun driving I’ve ever had was with my 1985 E30 318i with (moderate) suspension upgrades. You can have a lot of fun trying to drive a relatively slow car fast.

    The eta took a little getting used to, but I’ve driven a fair number of them and found them pleasantly relaxing out on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      “ut for a nice weekend driver or Friday morning (sunny day) commuter, I can think of nothing finer.”

      Sounds like you need the also-mentioned Reatta.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      “You can have a lot of fun trying to drive a relatively slow car fast.”

      Yup.

      That’s how I felt about my 300D.

      I got to floor it *every time* I left a stop and was in anything like a hurry, and leave it there until I got up to speed.

      (Took a corner real good with a rebuilt suspension, though.)

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        Yeah, that’s how I felt about my ’76 Vega GT (five-speed!). You also always try to work your way through traffic, so you’re first at the light. Driving a slow car fast is entertaining.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    The first image in the second row of thumbnails looked like it showed a fried circuit board. Nope, that little green square wasn’t a circuit board, but a CD by “Big Gerry: Large Furry Man with a Wee Cap.” That’s funny right there, I don’t care who ya are.

    The eta engine is pretty much indestructible, so I wonder what killed this E30?

  • avatar
    JimZ

    yeesh, there are diesels which have a redline that high.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Big Jerry is waiting for you to get on the floor and unwrap him.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    -So the “e” was an economical version for poor people?

    -What was the likely 0-60 time on this with automatic?

    -Exactly how long did BMW use that same gauge layout (if indeed they’ve stopped using it yet)?

    Interesting juxtaposition, parked between two Swedes. One much less reliable than the Beemer, and one more so.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I don’t think there’s ever been anything to support the 240 being more reliable than the E30. They’re pretty comparable, with some superiority of materials in the BMW making up for the Volvo’s simplicity. Both cars needed plenty of specialist support in college towns when they were common.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I would say that Volvo 240s are slightly more durable than e30 BMWs, but I think this is more demographics than any actual superiority of the cars. Volvo drivers tend to drive gently, BMW drivers do NOT. The BMW is more complex with more things to go wrong, and the Volvo DEFINITELY has a FAR superior automatic transmission when so equipped, and a timing belt that doesn’t grenade the engine when it breaks. I would say the big three for killing aged e30s is rust, timing belt neglect, and auto transmission failure. Late Volvo 240s just die from abject neglect and accidents, with really mistreated late ones dying of rust.

        The M42 (4cyl 16 valve engine) equipped e30 is probably the most reliable and durable of them all in the US, assuming it made it past the infant mortality of the profile gasket. Most of those failed under warranty or shortly out. No timing belt, and hydraulic valve adjustment. I had two ’91 318is’s and if I could find another good one that didn’t cost completely stupid money, I would have another in a heartbeat. Just about as much fun as an E30 M3 for 1/4 the cost.

        The annoying thing about the ETA motors is that BMW forgot to actually TELL them that they have that silly low redline. So just like every other BMW six, they want to rev, rev, rev, and the limiter brings the party to a halt just as the going is getting good. But in an e30, they are not particularly slow. They have a lot of torque so they work well with the 4spd automatic, and in those days 120hp was still pretty good.

        In a much heavier 5-series with a 3spd automatic they were slugs though. My stepfather and Mom put 200K+ on an ’83 528e. Then sold it to a friend of mine who put another 50K on it, and I still see it around town since he sold the thing.

    • 0 avatar
      jhughes

      The “e” was for models with the “eta” engine, a 2.7 (not 2.5) liter motor tuned for economy rather than power. The 325, with no letter, also used this engine, but had fewer options. There was even a 325es sport model, believe it or not.

      0-60, my guess would be 7.5 billion years.

      My E21 320i had that same gauge layout. I believe it goes back to the E12 5 series – maybe the E9? Either way, we’re talking mid-70s.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        Lol, thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        I think the 0-60 for the eta automatic was about 10.5 seconds. The 5-speed was 9 seconds but improved to closer to 8 in 1988, when the eta-engined 325 received the 2.5 liter’s big valve head and intake manifold.

        The 325 replaced the M10 powered 318i. It combined the 318i’s content level with the 325e’s engine and brakes. The M42 powered 318i and 318is replaced the 325 in the lineup towards the end of the E30, although I think there was one year(1989) when you could get a 325i with less equipment than any 325 ever had after eta engine production ended but before the twin cam four was ready for the US.

      • 0 avatar
        dukeisduke

        I used to work with a guy that owned an E30 325es convertible. Stereotypically, it was an automatic, red with tan interior and top, and bottle cap alloys.

    • 0 avatar
      kmoney

      Those gauges went on forever. They lived on in the X5 until around 2006 I think (thats around the last example i can remember seeing the in anyway). I love that dash layout. We had an ’89 325i and I always loved the simplicity and readability of those gauges and the center stack tilted toward the driver.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The gauges in my ’16 M235i look basically the same, though no coolant temp gauge, and the economy gauge is an LCD. :-)

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Unfortunately in my neck of the woods a $400 BMW = Rust. Lots and lots of rust.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      You need a buddy with a pickup truck and a car trailer.
      Gas is cheap, seize the moment.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Same here. For their day, these cars were quite rust resistant, but their day was a long, long, long time ago. But I see far more ’80s BMWs still running around than ’80s Japanese cars (there aren’t any of those).

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Google street view says you are full of it.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          He lives in a unique part of the country where everyone is wealthy and drives European cars, and Japanese cars are discarded with a frequency akin to paper plates.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            I wash the waxed surface and reuse paper plates if they’ve just been a splash-lid for something in the microwave or if I just nuked a couple of weenies on one.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            That’s dedication right there. I like those Chinette sturdy cardboard plates. Don’t need my mac and cheese falling onto the grass in undignified fashion.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            Ask him for his zip code, plug it into street view, and you’ll see more Japanese cars of all ages than you will in most of the Midwest.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “That’s dedication right there.”

            Thanks, but it’s just the only thing I could ever think to say on a BMW thread.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            What color of plastic cups do you find matches best with your dining room?

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            Red SOLO cups just ooze sophistication.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            “Red SOLO cups just ooze sophistication.”

            God, I love those!

            Talk about something surviving a jilliondy duty/wash cycles!

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I like the clear ones, then you can remember what kinda pop you’re drinking before you even pick up your cup!

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Yabbut the red ones are good if you too have discovered that baking soda is God’s Own Antacid. The dried soda on the outside is an instant identifier of the one dedicated cup.

            BTW, I love you and your People for saying “pop”!

            I grew up with that but have long lived where it’s “soda”. I still occasionally revert and get funny looks.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            No, I live in a part of the country where an annual safety inspection is pretty effective at removing old rusty cars from the road. And old Japanese economy cars rust like nobody’s business. Japanese luxury cars simply never sold here in the first place. There were no Lexus, Infiniti, or Acura dealerships until relatively recently. And they are still just small operations.

            Zip code is 04092 – you will see some Japanese cars, but you won’t see many from before 2000 or so, and the overwhelming majority are newer than 10 years. Everything old is European or American. Actually, cruising up and down Main St., there were about as many VWs that day as Japanese cars (not CUVs) combined. Plenty of trucks, CUVs and SUVs, of course. Not many more expensive European cars in Westbrook, it’s a pretty working class area.

  • avatar

    I owned an ’86 325e myself. (5spd) It’s the car that caused me to fall in love with BMW’s. I’d still be driving it if a teenager in a Camry hadn’t pulled a U-turn in front of me destroying it. And while I do enjoy driving my ’08 328xis 6spd Wagon, there are some days I miss the light and toss-able nature of driving that car, which I haven’t been able to find in any new vehicle.

  • avatar
    tomLU86

    I owned a ’91 318i (used) for 2 years. I thought it was good (but not great) car.

    Mine had the 16 valve 1.8 liter 4, 132 hp. Smoothest 4 cylinder I’ve ever had, revved nicely. Great steering. Great brakes.

    I took it up to 107mph on some rural NC road. Thank you Bay-Em-Vay!

    The bad…the seat was a back breaker for trips over an hour. The 4-door did not have the MUCH more supportive sport seats. I felt the car was thirsty. It snowed once….I’m grateful to be alive. And as for vaunted German quality, I’m glad I had the good sense to have it checked out 1 month before the warranty expired. Joe Mechanic found 2 leaks. The BMW dealer in Raleigh was very polite–no loaner, but he did replace the head gasket and rear end pinion seal at no charge. At the time (1995), I remember thinking, “if I had a Cavalier or Escort, I’d be livid. But a head gasket on a BMW with 49k miles….wow!”

    I wish I could buy one today. It was so much more fun, and still practical, than today’s cars.

  • avatar
    j3studio

    Your usual good work, Murilee. I often think that these relatively “unloved” cars are more interesting than the ones that people saved.

    My short take on the 325e:

    https://eightiescars.com/2016/08/15/1984-bmw-325e-coupe/

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    “A large furry man with a wee cape.”

    Some things cannot be unseen.

  • avatar
    cognoscenti

    I’ve owned most of the 3-Series chassis over the years, but the E30 remains my favorite. My last and final E30 was a swap car: a 1991 318i 4-door with an aluminum M52/S52 cams from a Z-car and a 2006 E46 M3 6MT. Lots of pics and details on that car at tinyurl.com/E30-Swap-on-BFC – videos at the end of the thread.

  • avatar
    pbr

    Wife and I let an ’86 325e go this year. We owned it 19 years, it had 264k miles total. Still drove like a champ, still a riot to hoon around in the wet. But the paint was shot, leather coming unstitched, interior plastics crumbling to dust. We found ourselves unwilling to to pay current prices for window motors (the used supply has long since dried up round here) and something in the (original) clutch throwout mechanism gave up and wouldn’t declutch any more. Lots of bad noises from inside the bellhousing when you stepped on the clutch pedal. The A/C hadn’t worked in years. The guy who bought it opined that he thought he’d fix it and flip it to a new owner/driver. We both had a big lump in the throat watching it leave on a trailer, memories of all kinds came flooding back.

    Farewell, old friend, and we thank you.

  • avatar
    AtomB

    BMW Junk Yard Question—all the E46s i look at has the drivers floor carpet cut up and some sensor pulled out from the drivers side floor as soon as they hit the lot. What is it?

  • avatar
    tedward

    Huh. I’ve got a ’91is in the garage on ramps right now. Life is getting expensive so it looks like I’ll miss a summer with this car. No matter how clean, a car this old has a parts list every spring.

    Every time I think about selling it I realize that im not going to find another 80s time capsule that is this enjoyable to drive. That’s the e30 appeal.

  • avatar
    namesakeone

    Why isn’t this one listed along with the other Junkyard Finds on the side of the opening page?


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