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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.