By on March 16, 2020

1977 BMW 320i in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsWhile I may be guilty of not photographing all — or even most — of the interesting BMWs I find in the car graveyards on my appointed rounds, I’m making an effort to get the complete set of discarded 20th-century 3 Series cars. In fact, once I remember to shoot the next junked E46 I find (which will be easy, as these cars have become plentiful in the yards I frequent), we’ll have the complete junkyard history of the 3 Series from 1977 through 2006.

The first-ever 3 Series, the E21, has become something of a junkyard rarity in recent years, but I found this ’77 in Central California back in December.

1977 BMW 320i in California junkyard, decklid badge - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAs the successor to the much-beloved 02 Series BMWs, the 320i got a bit bigger and plusher, enabling BMW USA to start snarfing up sales that the spartan, cramped 2002 might have missed. I recall my childhood dentist, orthodontist, and optometrist all bought 320is soon after they became available.

1977 BMW 320i in California junkyard,engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsEuropeans had a much larger selection of engine choices in the E21, ranging from a tiny 1.5-liter four all the way up to a 2.3-liter straight-six, but all the American-market versions had either 2.0-liter (1977-1979) or 1.8-liter (1980-1983) M10s. This car has the 109-horse 2.0, which was plenty of power for a small car in Malaise Era America.

1977 BMW 320i in California junkyard, rust - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsFor some reason, one of this car’s owners — presumably the final one — swapped an icky, rusty, orange hood onto a much-less-icky black car. Maybe this BMW was a parts car for another, nicer 320i, and the bad hood got switched to the donor car to keep the rain off the engine.

1977 BMW 320i in California junkyard, VDO clock - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI would have pulled the cool-looking rectangular VDO clock for my collection, but I have a good one already.

1977 BMW 320i in California junkyard, rear drum brake - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe real gone cats all had four-wheel disc brakes by 1977, but not this car. The Volvo 242 carried a couple hundred additional pounds over the 320i in 1977 (and 13 fewer horses), but had discs all around.

1977 BMW 320i in California junkyard, bumper sticker - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHere’s a genuine 1990s Socially Hazardous sticker, straight out of the Orange County home of The Vandals, slapped on the quarter window next to the Hofmeister Kink.

Want to check out 2,000+ more Junkyard Finds? You’ll find links every one of them at The Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

24 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1977 BMW 320i...”

  • avatar

    When I was in college these were the go to cars for all the preppy trust fund kids who were aspiring to be the next Wall Street raiders. They were pretty good if I remember correctly, but it was the birth of an image that BMW has until this day

    • 0 avatar

      Oh yes this – BMW and Saab were considered the car of choice for the “right” people.

      And even I bought into the BMW mystique. I thought they were truly special cars built to a higher standard than a domestic car. Actually owning one – a 2004 BMW 325i – disabused me of that notion. Still it was a very nice handling car.

      • 0 avatar

        Me too, I eventually gave in and got a 2002 E39 540i. Without a doubt the finest sedan I’ve ever had, but I was middle aged and was using my own money, but still struggled with an “image” that didn’t suit me

    • 0 avatar

      I knew a guy that owned one of these, in the ubiquitous maroon color. He worked for the Small Business Administration, and had been out of college about eight years (Univ. of Houston). His other car was a ’67 base Cougar (yellow with brown interior, 289 2-barrel with automatic and a/c), which was his HS graduation present.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      These started to become popular in my suburban NYC town by folks who were: Moving up the income ladder. Had a bad experience with Detroit iron. Made the trajectory from VW to the Audi 100 and had reliability issues or thought the Volvo was too nerdy. There were some people who caught the BMW bug in the 70’s who purchased the 2002.
      I had a neighbor with a very nice 320i in orange with BBS wheels, Recaros and the front air dam. The only issue with it was winter driving, excessive fishtailing which he mitigated with a thick steel plate in the trunk placed just above the spare tire well.

  • avatar

    Back in 1990 when I was in school I drove a 1988 or 89 Mazda MX6 (the two door version of the 626). It had a 1.8 liter engine, 5 speed manual, power windows… it was VERY nice car. I only got it because my father had bought it new and put 100.000 miles in in in two years commuting 150 miles a day and nobody would buy it from him.

    Anyway… that car turned exactly zero heads… but one day a friend of my father gave him a BMW 315 as part payment for some business deal. He had no use for the car and was parked for months until he decided to sell it. I fixed it up (rusted clutch and general tune up) and drove it to school for a week to iron out the kinks and then sold it.

    That car made me semi-famous. It was a base model. 1.5 liter engine, carburated, manual windows, no A/C, 4 speed gearbox… but half of the girls at my school knew ‘that guy that drives the BMW’…


  • avatar

    In the early 80’s, my neighbor had one of these. At the time I was working for a dealership that sold Fiats. One morning her BMw wouldn’t start, and I was going to replace the battery for her. Opening the hood, I could have sworn I was looking at another Fiat, the mechanicals looked identical to the Fiat 131s we sold.

  • avatar
    pale ghost

    Only 127k? Or did the odometer break 20 years ago.

  • avatar

    That U.S. front bumper – I suppose we got used to it though.

    I had a girl in high school tell me that she only dated guys who drove European sedans. (At my high school, this would have restricted her dating choices fairly dramatically.)

    • 0 avatar

      So, you got a 4-door Golf/Rabbit and got lucky?

    • 0 avatar

      I think criticism of the US-spec bumper is confirmation bias. Team Bracq and Team Luthe clearly had one eye on the North American market when designing the E21, E23, E24, E28, and E30. These aren’t ’60s designs with ’70s bumpers as an afterthought. To my eye, the Euro versions actually look a trifle under-bumpered; the US cars, a little over-bumpered. But on the whole, the designs are good compromises that look nice in either spec.

      • 0 avatar

        yeah, no, that front bumper looks like it juts out a foot and a half (exaggerating, but not much.) that’s definitely a 5mph bumper slapped on a Euro design.

        • 0 avatar

          Agree to disagree, though I’ll concede that the E21 is less successful in this way than the subsequent designs were. (E21 production began in ’75. FMVSS 215 went into effect September 1, 1972. Obviously there are varying degrees of lead time involved both in vehicle production and in legislation.)

          And to clarify: What I’m really focusing on isn’t how far the bumper protrudes but that there’s a sense of mass toward the top of the grille which provides some visual balance with the bumper. That era of BMW designer was too talented for that to have been an accident.

  • avatar

    When I was a kid in Switzerland in the early ’80s, the 323i version of this car, which had two more cylinders and dual exhaust, was the boy-racer’s ride of choice. So many of them, all with cheesy mods, most being driven in a$shole style.

  • avatar

    The grille on the E21 was more impressive than the one on the late-1960s 2002, but the latter fit better on a Dodge Omni. With a few more BMW bits to replace the Dodge ones, you could fool some of the teenage girls in high school – the dumbest ones.

  • avatar

    I had a buddy in school who had one of these. He’d stay out late a lot, so I ended up driving the car pool. My car sucked, so the deal we worked out was use his car but I drove-he slept. Fair swap, I enjoyed driving the 320i. It was definitely different from everything else out there at the time. I only later learned that he got this car after having wrecked TWO Corvettes. (daddy was quite successful) and it was an effort to slow him down. I was pleased to drive and he tolerated my OG Escort…..

    Later, when I got my SAAB 900 Turbo, it would easily stomp these on the highway….

  • avatar

    109 horses? Jeez. Those early emissions control systems were a nightmare.

  • avatar

    I had a 77 I bought right out of college. I had rebuilt a 914 with my dad and the second day I drove it a lady pulled out in front of me and I t-boned her and total thePorsche. Bought the 320i and auto tossed it for years until I sold it 10 years later. Loved the car, could actually work on it myself. That was back in the day when Bimmer drivers flashed their headlights at each other; before they became Yuppiemobiles. Just bought an 85 CSi, the car I always wanted when it came out but couldn’t afford then.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • Lou_BC: Yup. The Freedumb Occupation dimwitts are finding out in court that their hodgepodge of Twitter and Facebook...
  • Lou_BC: Most people who are fully vaccinated experience mild symptoms. I’ve known a few people with moderate...
  • Lou_BC: @jkross22 – an idiot with a pulpit isn’t an expert. It looks like all you are doing is sourcing...
  • dal20402: The CVT with a V6 is a fine CUV powertrain. I will die on this hill. In non-sport applications, the...
  • ToolGuy: So a lot of it is due to the “participation rate” – i.e., how many Seniors take the...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber