The Cornerstone To BMW’s Success: The E30 3-Series

By: Christopher P. Davis | IMG by David Guimarães

BMW’s E30 generation 3-Series line entered production in 1981. The last E30 rolled off the assembly line in 1994. The longevity of the model is a true testament to what BMW does best – Produce Racing Inspired Luxury Automobiles with classic styling.

While in recent times, some would argue that BMW has deviated from this model; in the 1980’s they built the model.

The E30 Chassis supported four models (5 if you include the Baur Convertible), a sedan, coupe, estate/ station wagon, and a convertible. From 1988-1991 in the US the first “M3” was available.

When I look at the E30 range now, it a appears rather dated.

However, when you compare it to BMW’s current models, you can see a definitive pedigree in those circular headlamps and that kidney grille.


For the most part, the styling of the 3-Series range has remained evolutionary. I personally appreciate the fact that if you look at a 2008 BMW 3 and a 1988 BMW 3, you can tell that they are both BMW’s – a feat that many marques have not been able to achieve.

Ask Lincoln.

BMW sold close to 2.4 Million E30 Series cars in 13 years; roughly the same number of cars that Munich sold in the two succeeding incarnations – combined.

Building upon the successes, and almost cult-like fervor around models like the 2002tii and the 2000CS, the introduction of the M3 was the start of the “M” brand within BMW.

The full M series has without a doubt led to BMW’s even greater successes as it entered the 90’s and the 21st century.


The original BMW E30 M3 had achieved great notoriety before it even hit the showroom floors.

The racing version of the M3 had many successes in DTM, Rally, and Australian Touring Car races among others. The E30 M3 is considered by many to be the premier rally car of all time, racking up more wins than any other car.

In North America BMW only engineered 195 Horses under the hood, In Europe however, 215 were released (This due to all those pesky US rules and regs). BMW equipped the M3 with a stiffer frame and more aerodynamic and larger fenders.

BMW borrowed front brake calipers and wheel bearings from the 5 -Series of the time. The M engineers increased the Caster Angle of the M3 to allow for superior handling characteristics.


At present, BMW makes an almost identical lineup in its 3 Series (With the addition of an M Coupe and Convertible). The E30 is part of that success more than say Benz’s 190E is part of the current C-Class’ appeal.

With high build quality and the loyalty the cars instilled in their owners, the E30 allowed BMW to gain the ardently devoted and loyal customer base that more than endures, it thrives.

July 24, 2008

About the Author: Gunnar Heinrich is publisher of Automobiles De Luxe online and is executive producer of the Automobiles De Luxe Television series on PBS member station CPTV.

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Filed Under: BMW


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  1. Even now after 27 years or so I still think the E30 can hold its head high in the styling department. When I think 3-Series BMW my little brain will usually revert to a mental image of the E30 first.

    In my younger days I had the pleasure of driving an E30 in six-cylinder guise and it was a ripper – only issue for me was a lack of room under the dash for my feet.

    One of those cars that could fire a passion for autos in the young and impressionable. Great car.

  2. After all these years, my eyes are still drawn to the E30 and feel that the subsequent 3 series cars, while more modern and therefore better, suffer in comparison.

    The wart on the nose of the E30 were the early editions with the suffix ‘e’ in the model number. I don’t know if the e stood for economy, but it could have meant under powered, when compared to the E30s that were sold in Europe. VW finally embarrassed BMW into sending the ‘i’ suffixed models when it introduced the GTI/GLI with more HP than the base E30 e

    A lovely car that still looks modern, and to my eye is prettier than the current 3 and 1 Series. Given that we are moving to smaller, lighter more economical transportation, a manufacturer could due worse than spend some time studying the E30.

  3. “…the introduction of the M3 was the start of the “M” brand within BMW…”

    Um, no. Before the E30 M3, there was the E12 M535i, the M5, E24 M6, and (of course), the M1.

  4. Charles – You are quite right that the E30 M3 was not the first M vehicle. However, the theme of the article was “cornerstones” to BMW’s success. The 3-Series was a car that many people could afford, and the original M3 allowed many more motorists entrance into the M Brand. M5’s and M6’s of the time were much more expensive cars. Without the M3 the M Brand of BMW would not be were it is today.

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