Automatic Avoidance: 1983 BMW E21 320i – Sold?

by | Dec 2021 | Classifinds, Malaise Monday

January 2, 2022 Update – We just confirmed the listing for this “Classifind” expired, so with no replacement found we’re assuming this ride “Sold?” While this one got away, please reach out either by email or call us directly if you’d like to be informed when we come across something similar.

One bright spot coming out of the Malaise Era (1972 to 1984) in America for enthusiasts was the discovery of the German Sports Sedan. Providing decent room for four, Sports Sedans’ excellent steering feel, great handling, and very good fuel economy made these cars great alternatives to the bloated personal luxury coupes for those who could afford them.  While it’s no secret BMW’s 2002 was the first model to introduce the concept to Americans, it was the E21 BMW 3-Series that set the Sports Sedan benchmark and put BMW on the map in America.  Launched in 1975, we came across this final year 1983 BMW 320i originally listed in December 2021 on Craigslist in Park Ridge, Illinois (Chicago). Reported to be a California with no rust, the only thing that will likely hold this car back is its less desirable ZF automatic transmission. The fact this 1983 BMW 320i has 127K original miles works out to roughly 3,500 miles annually.

Currently offered at $7,950, comparing that price against the Hagerty Insurance Online Valuation Tool confirms the private seller has their Bimmer priced between this guide’s #4 “Fair” (Daily Driver) estimate of $4,000 and its #3 “Good” appraisal of $11,200.  Interestingly, the  Collector Car Market Review Online Tool provides a slightly different assessment as the seller’s ask falls between this guide’s #2 “Very Good” estimate of $6,600 and its #1 “Excellent” appraisal of $10,100. Unfortunately, please keep in mind each guide recommends deducting 10-15% percent for the automatic.

The BMW E21 was the first generation of the BMW 3 Series compact executive cars, which were produced from June 1975 to 1983 and replaced the German company’s 02 Series. The series was exclusively built in a two-door sedan body style in the United States.  The E21 was sold in the United States from model years 1977 to 1983, first as the four-cylinder 320i, and from 1980 as the 1.8 liter 320is. Six-cylinder models were not sold in America, because the E21 versions of the M20 engine did not meet U.S. emissions regulations at the time.  The 320i model sold in the United States came equipped with a thermal reactor as a pollution control device. U.S. models came with standard factory air conditioning.

Compared to three series cars sold in Europe, BMW equipped US-bound 320i’s with the following:

  • Larger front and rear “diving board” bumper bars, which increased the car’s overall length by six inches.
  • Sealed beam headlights, larger indicator lights, and side reflectors
  • A speedometer in miles-per-hour
  • Fuel gauge markings changed from liters to “full, ½, reserve”
  • A detuned version of BMW’s inline four-cylinder M10 engine, initially using a thermal reactor to control exhaust emissions.
  • In 1980, BMW downsized the engine from two to 1.8 Liters while replacing the Thermal Reactors with a catalytic converter.

We came across this point-of-view (“POV”) video of what it’s like driving an E21 vintage BMW 320i:

While our preference would be for this car to have the more desirable manual transmission, not everyone feels that way, especially those who contend with a lot of traffic. We wish the seller provided pictures of the engine compartment and the trunk. Additionally, we would investigate what the aftermarket dash cover is hiding.

Here’s the seller’s description:

“1983 BMW 320I

Show or go: what would you do with this 1983 BMW 320i?  Comment below and let us know!


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