By on November 16, 2015

1991 BMW 318is

If there isn’t some sort of church-basement support group for unrepentant car shoppers and buyers, there should be, with stale coffee and plenty of doughnuts. I know there are thousands of us nationwide, eyes bleary from constantly refreshing eBay and Craigslist searches.

Those two are gateway drugs, certainly. The layout of eBay and Craigslist easily allow one to browse their listings like an automotive Silk Road until a car catches one’s eye, whereas places like Cars.com and Autotrader are for the hardcore junkie; the one who knows somewhat specifically what machines they choose to lust over.

I guess I’m the methadone user who is also selling the good stuff on the side: Obviously, I write about these classics a few times a week, pushing the product onto screens everywhere, but I barely have enough spare funds to shop the free section of Craigslist.

There are times, however, when the urge is overwhelming, and I begin looking at objects in the house that could be sold for quick “project-car” cash. What’s the going rate on cats, by the way?

This weekend I stumbled upon some old photographs from the days when I autocrossed my Miata. The photos that caught my eye, however, had me behind the wheel of a very different car: a BMW 3-series. I’d gotten to the venue early, as I was slated to work the waivers at the gate, but my car was not healthy. The clutch decided to crap out en route. After limping to the parking lot, I started begging for a co-drive. A friend let me turn some times in his E30, and I was hooked.

That car was a six-cylinder car, which I recall was a bit nose-heavy. For all but one year in the E30’s lifespan, the four-cylinder option was gutless (save, of course, for the almighty M3), but in 1991, BMW fitted the new M42 twin-cam four, which really livened up the car with power and better balance. Sport seats and suspension made the 140-horsepower 1991 BMW 318is a viable alternative to the 325i

I’d love to get some seat time again.

So I hit up Autotrader. This one isn’t too far away from me, and it looks nearly perfect save some wrinkled vinyl on the driver’s bolster. I love the later car’s smooth plastic bumpers and air dam; so much cleaner looking than the massive early aluminum bumpers. It’s been repainted, but the work looks well done. An asking price of $7,000 isn’t that much unless you are on a writer’s income, so I have no doubt this will find a good home soon.

Now, if you need me, I’ll be setting up the folding chairs and brewing some Maxwell House. All are welcome.

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29 Comments on “Digestible Collectible: 1991 BMW 318is...”


  • avatar
    energetik9

    Maxwell House. Seriously….just say no. Walk away.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    That wrinkled vinyl is also known as duct tape. I didn’t see any mention of the profile gasket, which is the defining characteristic of this car’s engine. 160,000 miles and lowering springs doesn’t sound like a good combination to me. My E30 was a wet noodle after fewer miles on stock springs with shocks from Turner Motorsport.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Any of these with over 100K at this point has had the profile gasket replaced, and the replacement gaskets don’t have the sudden failure issue.

      You must have had one really special e30 for it to feel like a “wet noodle”. My last 318is was on M3 springs and control arms with yellow Bilstiens, and at 160K it felt like a block of granite. One of the cars I most regret selling, but the big issue was that having a sunroof I didn’t fit in it. I had a non-sunroof 318is previously, bought the second one off eBay not realizing how much headroom it robbed. Not a great car for long trips, but pretty amazing on a windy backroad in Maine. or an autocross course.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      Cj

      Depends on the springs. Turner has a street spring kit which frankly doesn’t work at all on an e30 with a battery or any luggage in the trunk. Any of the established cup kits should definitely not feel loose or noodley.

      Maybe the factory springs were shot.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        It was nothing to do with the springs, everything to do with the door openings changing shape, the windshield creaking, and the body flexing while cornering or going over bumps.

        • 0 avatar
          baconator

          That sounds anomalous. I had an ’89 325is with Eibach lowering springs, Bilsteins, and 17″ rims. The structure didn’t suffer from all the increased stiffness, although my kidneys and lower back surely did. Super-fun car for short drives.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            My car was driven hard for most of its existence. I had a job that let me hike in the Blue Ridge Mountains four mornings a week. The roads I took to get there were magnificent and driven at speeds in excess of posted guidelines. I’ve seen the same thing happen to cars that were tracked a lot.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Few things automotive have ever been uglier than those early tacked-on aero chins.

    If White Trash has a theme song it’s the hollow, clattery sound those make when one side falls off and hit the pavement for the 4th owner.

  • avatar
    Big Al From 'Murica

    I had the last incarnation of the E30…a 92 euro-spec 318i wagon (the wagon stayed on this platform an extra year) with a stick. Driving it along the Amalfi coast is one of my fondest automotive memories.

  • avatar
    tylermattikow

    7000 is actually pretty insane for an E30 with 160,000 miles. I see a ton of crazy asking prices that drop to a fraction once the owner actually puts them up for auction. Since your buying a car that really isn’t performing to modern levels anyway. Why not get something actually a bit more special. You could probably find a doable 2002 problem for 7k for instance. A 914 is obtainable as well. The car above is a $2500 car.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      Yea, it’s not even a 6 banger. But nostalgia tax is increasing at an exponential rate.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      The price is ludicrous for that mileage. Came here to point that out as well. They aren’t THAT hard to find in nice shape.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      No, that is very much the going rate for a decent 318is. It’ a one year car, and if you are into autocross it is the one to have if you can’t afford the MINIMUM $25K entry to an e30 M3. It is WAY more fun to drive than a 325i, despite being nominally slower. The M42 revs like it is Italian.

      I’ve had two of them, and for perspective, I sold my last one 5 years ago with this mileage for $7K and I should have asked significantly more, as it sold within 5 minutes of posting it.

  • avatar
    toadroller

    Seven grand for a twenty-five year old four-banger?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      It’s nearly 8-Series money.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        It’s a much better car than an 8-series. And the M42 is the lowest maintenance E30 motor. No timing belt, hydraulic valve adjusters. The profile gasket was an issue when they were new, many failed under warranty dumping all the coolant out. Any of these cars that is not a museum piece has long since had it replaced with the upgrade gasket that doesn’t fail.

        If you want an e30 to have driving fun with, this is the ONE. And the prices reflect it. The car is truly the E30 M3’s baby brother.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    At this point I can’t imagine buying an E30. Crapcan racers and BMW fetishists have driven prices well beyond reasonable levels. An E36 is a vastly better value in every respect.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      The e36 is heavier, not as fun to drive, and more biodegradable, especially interior-wise. They handle better in terms of the numbers generated, but the more tail-happy e30 chassis is a lot more fun.

      There was an e36 318is as well, but it got the 1.9L M44, which lost 99% of the M42’s joie de vivre, not helped by the significant added weight.

      But please, don’t buy an e30 318is, as that will leave more for me. I have been looking for another one for eons. I’m willing to pay real money for the right car.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      I’ve had both, and the E36 is a great driving car that recycles itself. They’re made out of the worst stuff ever put in a car. Rear suspension mounts tear out. Door panels delaminate and fall off. Locks wear out in 60,000 miles. Bulbs fail in the dash and then every brittle POS tab and socket crack apart when replacement is attempted. Power windows on the coupes last about 30K miles on the driver side, 50K on the passenger side. The rocker panel paint washed off of one side of our 325is, but not the other. The car was recalled for something airbag related when new, and the fit and finish were completely haphazard for the entire dashboard from then on. I’ve never seen one that didn’t look the same. The steering wheel sprouts from the dashboard at a dramatically askew angle. Original brakes were short lived. The sealed GM transmission was replaced at 30K miles and 60K miles. We sold the car with 90K to be safe. At that point the car hadn’t been locked in years.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        “Bulbs fail in the dash and then every brittle POS tab and socket crack apart when replacement is attempted.”

        Requiem to an old Audi, as well.

      • 0 avatar
        baconator

        Pretty much all of those things have happened to my E36 M3 (except for the transmission, because it’s a manual), but it’s still the car I’d keep if I had to sell all my other cars. It’s the magic combination of speed, comfort, and grippy-but-predictable handling. I haven’t driven anything that is quite as good at road trips, canyon carving, and daily commuting all in one configuration.

        Owned an E30 and it’s missing power and predictability. Tail-happy cars are fun on the track, but you have to dial back just that little bit when pushing hard on twisty back roads.

    • 0 avatar
      pbr

      You could get a pretty nice Miata or e46 for $7k (or Hyundai, or Accord, etc). But $7k is only the “ask,” if this turns your crank enough to make an offer it could likely be had for a lot less.

      Among their many talents, e30s have HVAC controls that are operable at speed, without looking away from the road. A dial for temp, a dial for fan, separate sliders for vents to windshield, dash and footwells. Recirc button, A/C button. Done.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Love the controls, hate that at this age many if not most of them have failed blower motors. It isn’t an easy fix, and everything you touch while digging out the motor comes apart in your fingers from deterioration.

  • avatar
    mfennell

    Damn. My wife’s 318is is nicer than that and “only” has 128k on it! Recently she had some crazy kids screaming at her driving down the road “we love your E30!!!one!!” and everyone is always asking if it’s for sale.

  • avatar
    dust2glory

    Over the summer I purchased an immaculate 100% oem 103k mile 91 318is slicktop. It cost me 10k and there were two other people in line willing to pay the full asking price of 11.5k. It turned out my wife new the seller from high school and he graciously sold the car to me for a discounted price. The previous owner had recently completely refreshed the full suspension, added an LSD, and refreshed the cooling system. The interior is perfect. The car is so much fun to drive and I have no plans to modify it. 7k is not an outlandish price at all. EAG sold a 91 318is with 40k miles for $23k this year. This car is getting hard to come by in good condition.

  • avatar
    Km156

    As the current owner of this exact car pictured maybe I can shed a little more light on its story. I bought it for 5k on eBay and it came with the factory springs. Those were reinstalled shortly after getting it home, in addition to putting on new pads and rotors, because the racing ones it came with were downright aweful. It also acquired 4 new 15″ alloy wheels that are designed like the factory originals, due to the previous owner not using a torque wrench after installing the lowering springs. (lugs came loose on the ride home and stripped the grooves on one of the original wheels). And it now has 4 matching performance tires. The only mechanical failure in the last year and a half of ownership has been the slave cylinder (probably original) and was an easy fix. Now, this car is an absolute blast to drive. It has precision handling and is unbelievable in the corners. Not looking to sell any time soon!

    Cheers!

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