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The Glass House

My first new 3 Series

BMW 3 Series E21

Bayerische Motoren Werke has an extremely interesting history with both ups and downs. There are countless examples of fantastic cars with the iconic blue and white logo on the bonnet, and BMW is also known for their excellent engines. Regardless of whether BMW engines were in a plane, a car or a motorcycle, they have often been in a class of their own. Although the war is probably a time BMW would rather forget, as they, like so many other German factories, were involved in the production of material for the German war machine. It was, for example, BMW that supplied the powerful engine which was the driving force in one of the war's fastest fighters, the Focke-Wulf Fw 190.

The period after WW2 was a problematic time for many German manufacturers, thus also for BMW. It was limited what German factories could be allowed to do. It took until 1952 before BMW started producing cars again. The first model was the BMW 501/502 (nicknamed the Baroque Angel), which was a large luxury car. However, the big market in Germany after the war was small cars, and BMW had to go through a period as a manufacturer of microcars such as the BMW Isetta and the slightly larger BMW 700. BMW was left with a slightly inharmonious model composition.

In the 60s, BMW came up with the idea of building a series of compact mid-range cars, which were the forerunners of the 5 series, the BMW 1600, 1800 and 2000. These were cars with 4 doors and good comfort. The CS variant of these was a beautiful 2-door Coupe version with the same technique.

The 02 series, the beginning of something big

Then followed the 02 series, which was built according to the same concept with a reduced 2-door body. These models were to become the precursor to the 3 series. In the light and sporty 02 series there was the fine M10 engine, an engine where it was possible to purchase ample engine power. It turned out that all the fine technology packed into a classically beautiful 2-door sedan body was to many people's taste. The model also came in a Touring version, which resembled a small Coupe, although it was rather a smart little Hatchback. The BMW 02 series was a hit from the start. Models like the 2002 Ti and Tii were something for the tough boys. They were quality cars with particularly exciting driving characteristics. The 02 series was a German counterpart to Alfa Romeo's 105 series. The model was hugely successful in standard car racing all over Europe.

The acquisition of Glas

This happened after and perhaps as a result of BMW taking over the small, relatively unknown German car factory called Glas. Glas was one of the German car factories which died during the intensified competition in the 60s, which also took the lives of NSU and Bogward. Glas had just launched some very nice compact cars with extremely modern engine technology, which consisted, among other things, of using a toothed belt to drive the overhead camshaft.

Fun to drive

BMW's new middle class was modern with front suspension with Mc-Persson suspension and independent rear suspension. With large swingarms, the car gave comfortable and yet sporty driving characteristics at the same time. This was the start of something that would come to define BMW as a supplier of fun-to-drive cars with rear-wheel drive. However, the relatively light cars had a less fortunate side. They were on the verge of being dangerous for the inexperienced driver on slippery roads. The rear suspension with the characteristic rather severe camber changes on the rear wheels during acceleration and deceleration made the car insidious on smooth roads. Anyone who has driven these cars will probably remember more than one accidental skid on slippery roads. Those who have driven as a back seat passenger will probably also remember how the back seat disappeared during a hard acceleration. The long spring travel allowed an unusual lowering of the rear under sudden acceleration.

A star is born

The 3-series (e21) which came in 1975 set new standards for what driving pleasure could be had in a relatively small rear-wheel drive car, at a price that was still worth paying, and I am sure that 3 - series has a very special place in the hearts of many car enthusiasts. It was stylish and well-proportioned, and ever since then BMW has had an ace up its sleeve with this model. The model could be motorized according to budget from 316 to 323i. The 315 version was introduced in 1981 as an entry-level model to steal customers from Opel and Ford. A total of just over 1.35 million of this popular car model were produced.

The introduction of the fine 6-cylinder range of engines with the characteristically silky-smooth engine stroke made many car enthusiasts (myself included) weak in the knees. Never before had you seen such a well-appointed driver's seat, where the instrumentation was slightly angled towards the lucky person behind the wheel.

It was somewhat unique with a 6-cylinder engine in a car of that size. You could tell from a long distance if it was a 3-series with the big engine, because all 4-cylinder (M10 engine) models had "only" two headlights. Then there were 4 headlights, then it was with the right engine. This with the double headlights became an elegant style element that characterized BMW for many years to come. The rare 323i model also got 2 exhaust pipes and also had Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection. It is today a highly sought-after collector's item, which was unfortunately unattainable for many at the time, as it was an expensive car. BMW has always paid well for equipment and engine power. The biggest drawback of the E21 series was the handling (or lack thereof). On smooth roads it was on the verge of being dangerous, and passability in snow and slush miserable. The heavy 6-cylinder engine did not help this. The light rear axle simply made the car hopeless on winter-slick roads. The soft wheel suspensions also led to a tendency for uneasiness in the steering wheel when braking. But regardless of this, it was a really nice car. Unfortunately, it was difficult to keep the rust at bay, so most have rusted away.

The angular 3 series

The E30 series, which came in 1983, was a step forward in many ways, but really just an update of the concept. BMW at that time was conservative, and they did not open doors, either in terms of equipment or engine. For example, the car lacked power steering as standard, and the space in the back seat was limited. 4-door and estate versions were, on the other hand, a much-needed option. All models except the 316 had petrol injection. Fortunately, 5 gears also became standard. But the model was not epoch-making in the same way that the e21 model had been.

The model, on the other hand, underwent a far greater development than its predecessor during its lifetime. The facelift that the model received in 1988 brought a more modern 4-cylinder engine. It also became possible to buy 4-wheel drive if you could afford it. This model was therefore created for the 6-cylinder engine. In fact, the car was a bit tame with the small 4-cylinder engines.

The M10 engine was not the right engine for this car, and furthermore, that engine was becoming old-fashioned compared to the Japanese sewing machines, which, for example, Toyota could supply in the Carina II at a somewhat lower price.

The E30 model, however, was a solidly built car with many small fine details, such as a service indicator, which was something completely new. The 6-cylinder models also had a small consumption meter, so you could keep track of how many liters of petrol per 100 km one consumed. There was also, for the first time, the option of a diesel engine in a 3 series.

E30 was stiffened in both suspension and suspension compared to E21. So much so, in fact, that the car could feel a little bumpy on bad roads. The driving characteristics were clearly better as a result. But it was still a problem that the car could change abruptly from slight understeer to brutal oversteer at short notice. It was still as exciting (read bad) on winter roads as its predecessor. The powerful engine braking effect when you let off the gas and the engine control that stopped the fuel supply could quickly become a bit too exciting for the inexperienced driver. ABS and ESP to rein in the loose rear end were still a bit off in the future.

The powerful 325i was a really fast car and fun to drive for those who could afford it. The top model was the wild M3 version, which marked the start of an era of motorsport-tuned M models. It was a magnificent car, which with its extended fenders signaled "here I come" in a masculine yet stylish way. Funnily enough, BMW chose to make a specially tuned 4-cylinder engine for this version. The sound of that engine could literally make anyone's hair stand on end with petrol in their blood, and it wreaked havoc on racetracks all over Europe for a number of years.

The model was in production for 10 years, and over 2 million copies were produced, making it one of the longest-lived BMW models ever. It was also a robust car, and it is still possible to find original examples that have avoided gas-happy young drivers behind the wheel. The model is a future classic.

The best 3 Series

As always when it comes to car series with such a long history as the 3 Series, you cannot avoid the question of which one was the best. My favorite is the e46. BMW models from the 90s were some of the best cars ever manufactured. When BMW got the driving characteristics under control and ABS/ESP finally became standard, there was almost nothing but positive things to say about these glorious cars from Bavaria.


BMW Isetta was built under license

Although BMW built this little gem under license, they used a rebuilt 1-cylinder engine from their motorcycle program and thus signaled that it was a quality product.

The little car actually saved BMW from bankruptcy in the mid-50s.

With room for 2 adults and 1 child, it was an alternative to a motorcycle and in many countries it had to be driven even if the owner only had a motorcycle license. The small luggage carrier for it was popular. With 1 cylinder and a 9-12 HP engine, it was a bit of a harrowing experience. But after all, we were sitting in dry weather.

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