Over the years BMW has had the reputation for building some excellent cars with sporting intentions and the designation “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” Before the ‘automaker’ built cars, it manufactured airplanes that were known for their excellent engines. Thus, BMW was well known for its engines before even building cars.
The 2002 BMW preceded the 320i, and it put BMW on the map in the United States. The 320i (E21) was sold in the U.S. from 1977-1979 with a 2.0-liter non-catalyst engine (from 1980-1983 the engine was a 1.8-liter unit). Yes, the car is old but it is oh so good as it offers some ‘modern’ features compared to the earlier 2002.
Of note is that the 3-series is the best-selling car in its class and year after year it is the most important car for BMW sales. The 320i was a car that Hemmings Motor News describes as, “A sedan that wasn’t boring.”
The 320i was only available as a two-door. The exterior has a tall greenhouse that provides excellent outward visibility and it has the legendary Hofmeister Kink C-pillar. At the front, the car has the traditional BMW double kidney in the center and a blacked-out grille. The bumper is fairly well integrated and the car has dual round headlights at each side and fog lights below the bumper. Overall, the look is clean but aggressive. At the rear, the look is clean with good design characteristics including rear horizontal taillights.
On the inside, the 320i has large easy to read black and white gauges. The dash is angled towards the driver and the controls are placed well for easy use. The materials are top-notch and the front bucket seats are highly adjustable, comfortable, and supportive. The back seat room is a bit tight but is usable and comfortable. Power windows and door locks were standard equipment. However, air conditioning, sunroof, and a multi-speaker stereo system were optional. Most all 320is are equipped with these modern necessities.
The engine from 1977-1979 was a 2.0-liter four-cylinder fuel injected unit putting out 110 hp (105 hp in California) and 112 ft. lb. of torque. From 1980-1983 the engine was 1.8-liters and provided 101 hp and 100 ft. lb. of torque. The transmission is a four or five-speed Getrag manual, or a three-speed automatic. The 320i’s 0-60 mph time is in 9.8 seconds and the top speed is 105 mph.
The brakes are 10-inch discs at the front and 9.8-inch drums at the rear. The 60-0 mph stopping distance is 139 feet.
The suspension is MacPherson struts at the front and fully independent trailing-arm at the rear.
So what is the BMW 320i like on the road? Well, back in the day (1976) Car and Driver stated, “To begin with, it’s a splendid little car.” “…the whole thing reeks of understated, wedged-shaped go-fast…the vinyl interior is just about perfect…the rear seats are roomy and comfortable…the absence of features like a radio or air-conditioning or power steering is never noticed. It’s suppressing how inconsequential such things become when you are in a car that works…it’s beautify engineered and not boring.”
So how much does this oldie but goodie BMW 320i cost? The average price is $3,500 but if you shop carefully you can likely get one for under $2,500. Things to be concerned about include corrosion and needed repairs. Thus, if you are interested in buying a 77-83 BMW 320i, the owner should have maintenance receipts and you should take the car to a mechanic who specializes in older BMWs. The car should be put on a lift and test-driven by the specialist.
The 77-83 BMW 320i has style, good build quality, reasonable performance, and good fuel economy (about 23 cities and 30 mpg on the highway). It might be the sporty “Ultimate Driving Machine” for you!