Junkyard Find: 1986 BMW E30 325e

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
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!
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.
Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Tedward Tedward on Aug 16, 2016

    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.

  • Namesakeone Namesakeone on Aug 19, 2016

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

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.
  • Susan O’Neil There is a good reason to keep the Chevrolet Malibu and other 4 door family sedans! You can transport your parents and other somewhat handicapped people comfortably and safety! If someone can stand and pivot you can put them in your car. An armrest in the back seat is appreciated and a handle above the door! Oh…and leather seats so your passenger can slide across the seat! 😊Plus, you can place a full sized wheelchair or walker in the trunk! The car sits a little lower…so it’s doable! I currently have a Ford Fusion and we have a Honda Accord. Our previous cars were Mercury Sables-excellent for transporting handicapped people and equipment! As the population ages-sedans are a very practical choice! POV from a retired handicapped advocate and daughter! 😊
  • Freddie Remember those ads that say "Call your doctor if you still have...after four hours"?You don't need to call your doctor, just get behind the wheel of a CUV. In fact, just look at one.I'm a car guy with finite resources; I can't afford a practical car during the week plus a fun car on the weekend. My solution is my Honda Civic Si 4 door sedan. Maybe yours is a Dodge Charger (a lot of new Chargers are still on dealer lots).
  • Daniel J Interesting in that we have several weeks where the temperature stays below 45 but all weather tires can't be found in a shop anywhere. I guess all seasons are "good enough".
  • Steve Biro For all the talk about sedans vs CUVs and SUVs, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any modern vehicle. And I know it’s only going to get worse.