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The BMW E21 3 Series

 

history
The E21 was the flashy successor to the 2002 series, boasting a neat 80kW (109bhp) in only it's third release, the 320. Initially, it was a whole lot of compact beamer bang in the spicy 1975 flavours of the 316, 318 & 320. All the first models equipped modest but mean M10 four cylinder engines.

The entry-level 316 sported 66kW (90bhp) and the 318 harnessed 72kW (98bhp) with top speeds of 160km/h and 170km/h, respectively. With the closure of 1975, came the fuel injected 320i with 91kW (125bhp) and a further increased max of 180km/h. 1977 replaced both the 320 & 320i with the new M20 six cylinder engine equipped 320. Also new for BMW in 1977 was the 323i, with a beefy 106kW (145bhp) capacity, it was also a recipient of the M20. 1977 was no lazy year, with Baur releasing modified convertible threes to suit the sporty buyer.

1979 brought minor appearance alterations for the three, including chrome mirrors and newer dashboards. M20 threes received digital clocks in their rpm gauges. In 1980, the line-up was changed still, BMW's new 77kW fuel-injected 318i rendering obsolete the 318. The 316 was upped to 66kW (90bhp) to represent BMW's entry-level offering, while the 315 lowered the performance bar, selling into the niche lower-end market with a minimal 55kW.

By the end of 1982, the new E30 3 series was brought upon the market, truly achieving market penetration though, by early 1983. The E21 was phased out gradually through 1983, with the 315 available until 1984.

E21 Specifications

Model: Engine: Power: Top speed: Production Span :
 
315 BMW M10 4 cyl. 55kW 155 km/h (96mph) 1981-84
316 BMW M10 4 cyl. 66kW 160 km/h (99mph) 1975-83
318 BMW M10 4 cyl. 72kW 170 km/h (106mph) 1975-80
318i BMW M10 4 cyl. 77kW 171 km/h (106mph) 1980-83
320 BMW M10 4 cyl. 80kW 175 km/h (109mph) 1975-77
320i BMW M10 4 cyl. 92kW 180 km/h (112mph) 1975-77
320 BMW M20 6 cyl. 90kW 181 km/h (112mph) 1977-83
323i BMW M20 6 cyl. 105kW 200 km/h (124mph) 1977-83

 

 

Clearly power is attributed proportional to model grade, with the 315 at the lower end of the scale and the 323i with 105kW topping the E21 pack. While the 315 was a good basic car in it's heyday, its minimalist approach to power and take off will leave the modern driver unsatisfied. People looking to have fun in an E21 should consider the 320i and 323i first, or anything at the higher end with a respectable offering in kW.

The modest 315 takes away the medal for highest fuel efficiency in this category. The test measured fuel consumption over 100km (highway driving) cruising between 100-120km/h. The 315 drank 8.2 litres for every 100km, while the 320 was the least efficient requiring a whopping 9.6 litres/100km.

Maintenance

The E21 is getting to be an old creature, so careful maintenance is the key for a long and enjoyable driving life for your classic 3 series. First off, we have compiled a list of "givens" to help you keep your E21 in shape:

  1. Inspect inner wheel arches and front wings, looking carefully of the wider bottom exterior of the car for rust. The best protection is to keep these areas clean and avoid driving through large puddles where mud and slit can be sprayed through your E21's internals.
  2. Give your older E21 a break and occasionally mix in a specific maintenance solution with your tank, keeping the petrol and engine system clean, giving it the endurance to keep serving you well. Remember, always run this vehicle on leaded petrol. An unleaded tank won't inspire absolute adversity, but it won't be good for it either.
  3. Try to replace camshaft belts every 50,000 km to ensure mechanical reliability.
  4. Investigate bushings of front and rear sway bars, when offset they can effect an impediment to aerodynamic efficiency, causing vibrations.
  5. Front end knocking sounds can be caused by a damaged upper strut bearing.

CLUTCH ISSUES

When changing the clutch, centre it carefully to prevent it from "juddering". "Judding" is an indication of overheating clutch plates.

BMWE21.NET had this advice for ensuring the longevity of your clutch system:

More tips on how to prevent clutch judder:

NEVER ...

NEVER pull away from a standstill in second gear

NEVER hold the car on a hill with the clutch

NEVER let your foot rest on the clutch pedal when the car is moving, even the slightest touch can cause the clutch to slip

ALWAYS ...

ALWAYS slip the clutch as little as possible when pulling away

ALWAYS select neutral and bring up the clutch pedal if you're stationary for more than a few seconds

ALWAYS use the brakes to slow down the car, not downward gear changes

Acknowledged intellectual property debt to BMWE21.NET (http://www.bmwe21.net)

BMW Maintenance Recommendations

Primary Tier Inspection (at 12 month intervals, or every 15,000km):

Spark plugs should be replaced

Oil and Oil filter replacement

Replace air intake filter

Note coolant level and check for leaks in the system

Check brake fluid regluarly (bi-annually)

Check all belts for fan, air conditioning, radiator and power steering

Check battery acid levels and consider replacement if old

Adjust valve clearances

Secondary Tier Inspection (at 24 months intervals, or every 30,000km):

Change all transmission, differiential and gearbox fluids

Inspect ignition, rotor and distributor cap

Coolant replacement

Replace oil filters in automatic transmission units

Safety checklist inspection on clutch, brakes, tyres, bushings

Specific Profiles

 
E21 Sample Vehicle - 323i
   
Model: BMW 323i
Year: 1982
Type: E21
Engine: M20 6cyl. In-line
Capacity: 2.3L / 2316cc
Photo: 2002, Australia
 

 

 

 

 

 

 
E21 Sample Vehicle - 320i
   
Model: BMW 320i
Year: 1977
Type: E21
Engine: M10 4cyl. In-line
Capacity: 2.0L / 1990cc
Photo: 2002, Australia

 

E21  (323i Sample) Standard Specifications:
Make BMW 
Family
Model Variant 23i 
Car Series
Year 1982 
Doors and Body Style 2D CABRIOLET 
Engine Size 2.3 litres (2316 cc) 
Fuel System ELECTRONIC F/INJ 
Cylinders
Driven Wheels RWD 
Std Transmission 5M 
Optional Transmission
Standard Features
Optional Features
Dealer Options
No Cost Options
Bore and Stroke 80x76.8 mm 
Power 105 KW 
Torque 190 Nm 
Weight to Power Ratio 10.71 : 1 kg/kW 
Front Brakes DV 
Rear Brakes DR 
Wheel Dimension 5.5Jx13 
Turning Circle 10.3 m 
Compression Ratio 9.2 
Final Ratio 3.45 
Tank Capacity 55 litres 
Exterior Length 4360 mm 
Exterior Width 1610 mm 
Exterior Height 1380 mm 
Front Track 1388 mm 
Rear Track 1401 mm 
Wheel Base 2563 mm 
Front Suspension
Rear Suspension
Kerb Weight 1125 kg 
Ground Clearance 0 mm 
Seating Capacity
Highway Fuel Consumption 7.5 
City Fuel Consumption 13 
Towing Capacity 1200 kg 
Release Date 1/3/1982 
Discontinued Date 1/4/1983 
New Price (standard) $31880 AUD
Average Kms
Model Run (Mar) Wrap-around indicators 
VIN Location -
Country of Origin -
E21  (320i Sample) Standard Specifications:
Make BMW 
Family
Model Variant 20i 
Car Series
Year 1977 
Doors and Body Style 2D SEDAN 
Engine Size 2 litres (1990 cc) 
Fuel System FUEL INJECTED 
Cylinders
Driven Wheels RWD 
Std Transmission 4M 
Optional Transmission
Standard Features
Optional Features
Dealer Options
No Cost Options
Bore and Stroke 89x80 mm 
Power 92 KW 
Torque 175 Nm 
Weight to Power Ratio 11.41 : 1 kg/kW 
Front Brakes DV 
Rear Brakes DR 
Wheel Dimension 5.5Jx13 
Turning Circle 10.3 m 
Compression Ratio 9.3 
Final Ratio 3.64 
Tank Capacity 58 litres 
Exterior Length 4355 mm 
Exterior Width 1610 mm 
Exterior Height 1380 mm 
Front Track 1364 mm 
Rear Track 1377 mm 
Wheel Base 2563 mm 
Front Suspension
Rear Suspension
Kerb Weight 1050 kg 
Ground Clearance 0 mm 
Seating Capacity
Highway Fuel Consumption
City Fuel Consumption
Towing Capacity 1200 kg 
Release Date 1/3/1976 
Discontinued Date 1988
New Price (standard) -
Average Kms
Model Run Cloth trim                      
VIN Location -
Country of Origin -

The Verdict
The E21 is the classic three and represents a distinctive era in BMW motoring. From the 2002 was born a modernised beamer whose design and philosophy as a reliable and long-lasting road vehicle still stands out today. While not especially fast or powerful, they serve their purpose and certaintly fit the bill when it comes to looks. Strategically, the three series formed BMW's assault into the entry-level market where performance and luxury came second to price, the E21 BMW effectively penetrated the domestic European market and made substantial gains in large foreign marketplaces. But politics aside, the E21 remains a highly fuel efficient, stylish and pretigious model whose German endurance is testified to by the sheer multitude still driving the roads today. While now an older motor vehicle, good examples still remain a value-added buy, especially in the case of the 323i and the 320, better to steer clear of earlier models (unless in impecable condition) and demand a full service history. Would suit as a first car or as an enthuaist's prided collection piece.

 

 


A good reference for full technical specifications on the E21 3 series is BMWE21.NET who have a multitude of aptly included resources!
If you have something to add to this report, or a query or complaint, feel free to Contact bmwfirst!
   


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Last Updated:
Saturday, May 19, 2007 18:41 WST


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