Engine Of The Day: BMW M20

Illustration for article titled Engine Of The Day: BMW M20

In this series, we'd like to honor the engines that were made in vast quantities and/or remained in front-line service for decades (in addition to low-production Ass-Kickin' Engines), and the BMW "Little Six" definitely qualifies.


BMW's M30 "Big Six" went into plenty of 5-, 6-, and 7-series BMWs (not to mention the E9), starting in 1968, and did a great job of setting the standard for serious inline-six performance. However, the M20- which debuted in the E12 in 1977- made no apologies for its smaller displacement (though the biggest M20 displaced 2.7 liters versus the smallest M30's 2.5) and enabled legions of dentists, realtors, and small-time cocaine dealers to experience genuine Bavarian-style horsepower at the helms of their E21s, E28s, and E30s. From what we've seen at the 24 Hours Of LeMons, even a 300,000-mile M20 can take days of horrific abuse before giving up (in stark contrast to, say, the more fragile Honda B and D engines). Sadly, Cash For Clunkers no doubt sent many thousands of M20s to BMW Engine Heaven.



I just cannot stop laughing at the picture they chose to commemorate this engine. It is a picture of me at the Buttonwillow LeMons race starting to tear apart our 220k mile 1987 325, after its over-heating resulted in a warped and cracked head in the wake of only 45 minutes on the track.

Maybe our motor was an anomaly, or the previous owner really thrashed it, but the context of the picture really makes me chuckle given the story.