Editorial: Icon of a decade – The E30 3 Series

3-Series, Featured Posts | March 22nd, 2010 by 18
YouTube Pretty in Pink 6 10 750x474

Remember the 1980s? Who could forget the decade of big hair, extravagant fashion, great music and groundbreaking technical achievements – brick-sized cell phones, monochromatic PC …

1983 1991 E30 BMW BMW Heritage 1 655x483

Remember the 1980s? Who could forget the decade of big hair, extravagant fashion, great music and groundbreaking technical achievements – brick-sized cell phones, monochromatic PC screens, first Mac computers and squarish car design. Tacky and hilarious from today’s perspective, but I always say that I was born a decade too late.

Facing severe losses, BMW abandoned the large luxury saloon market in the 1950s; Mercedes-Benz was too large and too powerful to compete with. Instead, the company has created something truly revolutionary – a range of smaller sedans with traditional BMW luxury and performance characteristics. The so-called “New Class” line up was an instant success around the world and had helped BMW to establish its trademark sports-luxury image, the theme present in its cars up to these days. Growing rapidly during the 60s and 70s, small bavarian sedans were already established as a serious threat to Mercedes-Benz, mostly because Merc was all about comfort and luxury, while BMW has added performance and fun handling to the prestige market, something that was unusual at the time.

And then came the 80s.

The oil crisis was over and the economy grew rapidly, backed up by the new industry branches (digital revolution and the boom in Silicon Valley). The socio-economic welfare was felt in the habits of buyers – the market for everything prestige was flourishing. Suddenly, everything that was considered luxurious before became outdated and unattractive – this demand for new luxury was created by a new class of people called young urban professionals, better known as yuppies.

The second generation BMW 3 Series (codenamed E30) was introduced in 1982.
Every panel on the car was new while the already advanced suspension set-up was heavily modified. The overall shape hasn’t changed much, but the new car was more streamlined and aerodynamic than the previous one. Interior space was still tight, but knowing that Mercedes will soon release its first small saloon, BMW engineers have spent a lot of time configuring the cockpit layout. It was also one of the first cars in the industry to feature a electronic monitoring device and service warning lights.
1983 1991 E30 BMW BMW Heritage 655x481

The design and the materials used are even now considered ahead of its time, specially when you compare it with the interior from the manufacturer who today claims that it makes the best interiors in the industry.

Of course, a BMW is not complete without an outstanding engine and this is were the smallest Bimmer was also setting standards. From the entry-level 316i to the most powerful 325is, all engines were a BMW typical mix of performance and economy. And we cannot forget the iconic M3, which was first presented in the E30 generation, but that particular model reserves a special article, if not a book.

The E30 3 Series was also offered with a all-wheel drive (dubbed 325ix) and with a straight six diesel engine in 324d and 324td version.


As mentioned before, yuppies were the new luxury buyers: young executives, college graduates, “rich kids” with well payed jobs and/or rich parents. Their busy lifestyle and the need to be independent, to live an affluent lifestyle but still go out, have fun – generally to be young but still be a professional has affected their purchasing needs and wants: European designer clothes, Walkmans, expensive restaurants and night clubs, cell phones and of course, european sports cars (or one car in particular).

Shortly after its introduction to the market, the E30 3 Series became an instant hit with the buyers, specially with old BMW drivers who appreciated its trademark performance and new, more luxurious personality. But the 3 Series was also warmly received by the “new luxury” buyers, to that point that the car is still today used as a symbol of the yuppie culture.
And it’s easy to see why: BMWs slightly aggressive image and the 3 Series’ prestige but sporty appeal was the complete opposite to Merc’s more conservative image at the time – the right mix to go with the yuppie attitude of time.

The car was also backed up by starring in numerous popular movies and TV shows of the time: Beverly Hills Cop, Miami Vice, Pretty in Pink, Bird on a Wire, Beverly Hills 90210, Seinfeld, to name a few.

YouTube - Pretty in Pink 6_10

The iconic scene the from the 1986 movie Pretty In Pink “He’s a richie (…) he drives a BMW!”

In short, if you were in your late 20s or mid 30s and you were earning a lot of money, you couldn’t be seen without an Armani suit or a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, Sony Walkman, squash racquet and a BMW 3 Series or if you were more lucky, a Ferarri Testarossa parked outside the trendiest night club in town or your downtown apartment – and without any “Baby on board” signs – how can you support kids while you’re still young?

In 1988, the 3 Series sedan has already marked its one millionth example, just to be enhanced with the convertible version that has made the car even more popular. The production of the two most popular models, 2-door coupe and 4-door sedan has stopped with the release of 1991 E36 3 Series, but the convertible and touring were kept in production until 1993 and 1994 respectively.

The E36 line was an enormous success, easily beating the Mercedes 190E and some new rivals, like Audi 80 or entirely new brands, such as Lexus and Infiniti.
While the new 3 Series was a giant leap forward, featuring back then revolutionary Z-axle multi-link suspension and numerous engine and interior improvements, the car’s edgy character and pushy image were replaced with a more sophisticated and secure one.
Three generations after the E30, the 3 Series had to lose some of its fizz and excitement for comfort, safety and refinement, but it’s still the most focused, balanced and driver-oriented car in its class and the standard upon its competitors are measured.

Always a symbol of young and aspiring, the 3 Series is now in its middle age, waiting for its next generation, due in 2012. The prototypes are still wrapped in psychedelic cover, but the lower bonnet, even shorter overhang and slimmer profile show a departure from “bigger is better” philosophy. And if my memory is good, the M Division boss said that we should expect “E30 level of madness” in the new M3.

So while I still wish I could have lived in the 80s, suddenly the future doesn’t seem so bad at all.

18 responses to “Editorial: Icon of a decade – The E30 3 Series”

  1. Chantan says:

    Yeah, the E30 always had this iconic image in my mind. Even now, almost 20 years after the end of it’s production, the E30 somehow seem to age very well. It’s performance and design have a timeless quality about it. Compared to the Mercedes 190, that design now seem outdated and old. They say the mark of true excellence is when your brand or product transcend different periods, and I think the E30 has managed to do that.

  2. Andrew says:

    The 1 series coupe, to me, is the spiritual successor to the E30. Similar dimensions and proportions and, although it is certainly no lightweight, it is lighter and more nimble than the current 3 series.

  3. plaxico says:

    well Stjepan ….E30 was NEVER an icon in the 80s and not even in ex juguslavia were ur coming from…….So get your facts together before using word like ”icon”.In the 80s citroen was better than bmw .So much for icon.Nuff said.

    • Plaxico, I respect your point of view but you have misunderstood the article – the E30 was a symbol of an entire subculture that has emerged in the 80s, while generally speaking, the car is noteworthy for its impact on the popular culture and creating BMWs image, not to mention the whole “compact executive” class.

      I don’t agree on your saying that the Citroen was an icon of the 80s – even diehard Citroen enthusiasts think that the last real Citroen was the CX, made in 1975, before Peugeot took over the company.

      As I said before, I respect everyone’s point of view and I can accept constructive criticism. And yes, I do come from ex-Yugoslavia but I’ve been in BMWs literally since the day I was born.

      Oh, and one more thing – are you aware that IP addresses are stored with comments? It seems to me that Požega is indeed in Ex-Yugoslavia.

      • plaxico says:

        Pointless getting into argument about this fanzine article……..
        Glad u have A in geografy.

        • lennardt says:

          if you don’t even give him a chance to change your mind, you should keep your opinion for yourself.
          i really love e30-design, if you put the right rims (for example hartge 270) on.

          “the M Division boss said that we should expect “E30 level of madness” in the new M3.”
          -> i hope so, although E46 and E92 M3-Coupes were beautiful cars, too!, because E30 M3 wasn’t just powerful, but a lightweight in that class with great response to the driver (i don’t know the exact word, so don’t bother me about that:-)

      • branimir says:

        everyone has it´s right for their opinion…. i dissagree about your opinion because no one can deny that e30 has marked entirely one era…just ask people who are not bmw fans and they´ll say you only good comments…
        second of all there is no yugoslavia no more, and even citroen was not icon in that time because people (most of them in yugoslavia) just couldn´t afford themself anything better then yugo, zastava 750, tas golf mk.1, lada riva and simillar…unless you were part of the regime…citroen was not revolutinary at that time in generally….
        of course there are many cars in1980s wich were revolutinary for their time such as audi quattro, fiat x1/9, lamborghini countach, bmw m1, ferrari 308,….

        and correct me if i´´m wrong, the author is from croatia (wich existed even in yugoslavia…)…. i had to replied your comment because i´m also a journalist, from croatia and great fan of bmw (but it does not make me subjective)….

        • plaxico says:

          People shouldnt write FANZINE articles and sell it to us like its edge cut journalism.
          Never said citroen was icon in the 80s ……. Barely born born back than so i could be wrong mate….Bmw blossom in the 90s, back than merc got sloth ,idle ,lazy, sluggish, truant, whatever you wanna call it but now merc is back on top again. Icon. Oh and i spend half of the year in Hvar and other half in O.C. U.S.…..so i love croatia although im czech.pozdrav prika,castim tebe i stjepana bevandom na hvaru )
          p.s. lets call it a day and say yugo was an icon ) )

          • lennardt says:

            :-D I had vacation last year on hvar and the road sucuraj to Jelsa kicks ass with e30 and m-package ;-)

          • plaxico says:

            people love Hvar i see.Nice :-D
            if you ever visit hvar again drive ”pitve -zavala” road…..Mulholland Drive dont hold a candle to pitve -zavala road

          • branimir says:

            yeah, but this is bmw blog, you can´t judge people for favorizing car they like…
            i don´t like mercedes because for me they don´t have carisma, mb-s just don´t have the thing that makes your hearth beat faster, they are built to be luxury and bmw is made to provide plesure in driving, although i have to addmit thet new c-class has great basic design, but the basck side is awful.

            moze bevanda nema problema….al split mi je ljepsi od hvara…. =)

          • branimir says:

            i almost forgot….prika u pravu si yugo je bio ikona…itekakva….

  4. BMW X6 says:

    “The design and the materials used are even now considered ahead of its time, specially when you compare it with the interior from the manufacturer who today claims that it makes the best interiors in the industry.” Hahaha. This was really funny. But, BMW should rather work on the interior nowadays instead of following the path “we were better in the past”

  5. bix says:

    i just adore this car!!! i have bought one just for myself long time ago and i´ll never sell it eventhough i have new 5 and e46, e30 has special place in my hearth….

  6. Raybimmer says:

    I have E30 325i 4 door manual and E36 325i also 4 door manual and E30 is my favourite . Why do people always use M3 for performance comparisons ? E30 will be remembered for starting small executive type vehicle status . Icon , yes which is good this sets a standard for others to follow and all car buyers get better cars through manufacturers following this standard .Merc c-class and Audi A4 etc are two examples , may be better in certain areas !!

  7. RTS says:

    E30 to me is the icon and symbol of BMW. This was one of the most succesful models in automotive industry. It was a car which balanced performance and beauty which was and still is relatively accessible to the masses.

    For 7 years now I have dedicated my free time to the love and care of the e30.

    What most people dont know is that there were other companies that offered the E30. Some of the more famous were Alpina, Hartge, Schnitzer which you can find on my blog http://www.rtsauto.com/?p=243 .

  8. Henry says:

    I really Don’t care Icon or not millions weresold or only One , I have 2 E30 convertibles one Mtechnik II and one regular and I love to wash work drive and enjoy them in sunny california.
    I also have an E36 M3 but like somone said in here the E30s have a special place in my love of BMWs.
    The new BMWs are more Japanese looking than the Japanese cars themselves.
    I wish BMW would bring back the old pressmolds for E30 and made me one 2010 Brand new E30.

  9. […] 2008, Gerry Nasution from Jakarta bought a BMW 316i, second generation (E30). He modified the standard production car and tried to make a racing car […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *