Used Car Face Off: E30 Showdown

Illustration for article titled Used Car Face Off: E30 Showdown

Welcome to Used Car Face Off, where we find two similar or similarly priced used cars and ask you which one you would buy. Choose wisely!

Buyers of used BMW 3-series usually fall into two categories: enthusiasts and yuppies who want to look like they have more cash than they really do. The E30 is no exception. Made between 1983 and 1992, this vintage of 3 isn't exactly a rare sight on the roads here, but finding a good one is starting to become a real quest. I see more nice 2002s than ‘80s 325i coupes.

Part of the rarity might come down to just who exactly is driving an E30 today. Every time I see one with a community college parking sticker in the window, I wonder if it's being lovingly maintained by a future BMW mechanic, or being thrashed by a clueless future basic cable reality show host who can't parallel park. These aren't stereotypes, just things I see from time to time. If I had the garage and the funds, I'd start stocking up on restorable E30s.


Now I find myself scouring used car listings searching for ones with some life left in them. I'm ignoring early 318s and the 325e with the low-revving engine, instead trying to find some later cars with more power and cleaner looks. Finding one that doesn't look like it's been hooned by a kid I probably went to high school with, or eaten to death by a Northeast winter, is adding time to the search. But I've managed to pull a couple out that could be viable daily drivers and be more interesting than pulling up in a brand new 3-series.

Illustration for article titled Used Car Face Off: E30 Showdown

The first is a 1989 325iX. Keen students of the BMW nomenclature should know it's powered by the M20B25, a 2.5-liter straight-six with 168 horsepower. But the X marks the spot where this coupe gets more interesting: It has BMW's early all-wheel-drive system, offered from 1989 through 1991. This particular iX has 134,000 miles and, unfortunately, an automatic transmission. The owner says there are 4 spots of surface rust, and the BBS alloys should really be on this car. But for a 23-year-old BMW, it looks pretty good and usable for every day transport. For $4,750, it's also worth a trip to New Jersey.

Illustration for article titled Used Car Face Off: E30 Showdown

Nearly five grand is getting up there for a 20-plus year-old car, though. And for around the same price or less, you could have this 1993 325i Convertible. Known as the Kelly Taylor BMW among the "Beverly Hills 90210" fans in my life, this is the last of the E30 line. It has the period BBS wheels, a plastic rear window that isn't yellowed or cracked (Woohoo!) the all-important five-speed manual/straight-six combination. OK, it's a Massachusetts car which means it could be rusty, it could do with some TLC inside and out and the Check Engine light is on – not great. But hey, if you like getting your hands a little greasy this could be a BMW convertible for very cheap.

If it were my $5,000-ish, I'd take the iX because it's a coupe and I think rarer than the convertible. I'd probably kick myself everyday for getting something with an automatic, but I can rest easy knowing I've saved an E30 from the destructive hands of a hooning teenager.


But what would you do? And are E30s worth stockpiling yet?

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Patrick Frawley

Not only does the iX have an autobox, but word has it that replacement parts for the AWD system are close to unavailable.

Yes, the douchebag factor goes up significantly with the convertible, but given the choice laid out that one's the clear winner. But a standard rwd hardtop (two- or four-door) with manual and either the 2.5 or the 4-valve 1.8 would be supreme.