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Editorial: Are you going to miss the “Big Six” engines?

Engines, Featured Posts | April 15th, 2011 by 39
M30

In the outset of this article – I know that this is a moot point but I will ask it anyway: Will you miss the …

In the outset of this article – I know that this is a moot point but I will ask it anyway: Will you miss the big, naturally aspirated inline-six cylinder engines of BMW as we see the resurgence of the Turbo Era in road cars? It’s a moot point because, in my opinion, it looks like the forthcoming product line from BMW in the North American market will have no options for buyers to pick up a naturally aspirated inline six cylinder engine. It appears that literally every engine in BMW of North America’s line-up could be be powered via a forced induction engine and that’s a sad possible future  to think about.

Why? The “big six” engines have had an incredibly important role in the history of the brand since the revitalizing of the car maker in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s under the direction of new CEO Eberhard von Kuehnheim. The first car to feature the big six was ironically nicknamed the “New Six Coupe”, part of the “Neue Klasse,” the E9 2800CS debuted in 1968 featuring a single overhead cam inline six cylinder engine producing roughly 170 Bavarian stallions under the freshly redone nose.

Editorial: Are you going to miss the Big Six engines?

Part of "der Neue Klasse": the BMW E9 Coupe - powered by the M30

It would be the start of something spectacular. A trend that would carry on for another 43+ years: the placement of a naturally aspirated straight-six engine developed by and for BMW – the M30 was the first Big Six and started it all. The M30 would live on in the first full-sized BMW Coupe with the E9 and the first full-sized, modern BMW Sedan – the E3 – later to become the Bavaria in America and 3.0Si. The architecture of the engine, designed around a longer version of the venerable M10 4 cylinder engine found in the 2002, would go on to power the first 7 Series, the first 5 Series and the first 6 Series. A modified version of the M30(in M20 belt-driven guise) would also power the eventual bread-and-butter model of BMW: the first 3 Series.

Moving into the 1980′s, the E21 3 Series was replaced by the iconic E30 3 Series which would again be powered by a massaged inline-six cylinder engine. the most powerful motor was the 2,500cc in the standard 3 Series line-up. Even in the mid-to-late 1980′s at the height of turbocharging fever in production cars, BMW maintained mostly naturally aspirated engines, particularly big sixes, with the exceptions being turbo diesels and the turbocharged six cylinder 745i. By the 1990′s, there were no forced induction engines under the hood of any American market Bavarian hotrods. By this point, even Mercedes-Benz was beginning to head away from using the silky smooth straight sixes – BMW continued on undeterred. At least until 2006 when the N54B30 was introduced and by then, the writing was on the wall.

Editorial: Are you going to miss the Big Six engines?

M30 Engine Cutaway

Power figures amongst the Germans continued to inch up with every new generation all while government emissions regulations followed suit. The  silky, sonorous, naturally aspirated BMW sixes’ days were numbered. the N52 now looks to be the final iteration of the ubiquitous BMW 3.0 liter naturally aspirated inline-six – likely dying out through the change of the E90 to the F30 or the LCI of the F10 5 Series. In it’s place, an N55 and the all new N20 4 cylinder turbo – which sounds wonderful according to our own Hugo Becker.

I’m sad to see the legendary big sixes of BMW possibly evaporate from their line-up – its honestly my favorite feature of my E46. But then again, the E46 is a car from a very different time for BMW. In the last decade, the Munich car maker has found themselves in a very interesting dichotomy – trying to harness the energy and marketability of their history and package it with the modern thinking and huge technical leaps forward in automotive technology. The Bavarian Motor Works of today isn’t the same company as it was 10 years ago much less 40 years ago. BMW enthusiasts, myself especially, have a difficult time resolving ourselves to the notion that BMW can’t accomplish the obviously simple task continuing to build the E30 M3 or E46 M3 CSL while complying with modern emissions regulations and output expectations.

Editorial: Are you going to miss the Big Six engines?

The mighty BMW M88 inline-six from the M1

However, I acknowledge this and I will openly welcome the future of BMW engines – turbos, plumbing, and all. I will miss the wonderful, high revving, non-induction sixes as they go the way of the 8 Series and disappear into the annals of BMW lore. The natural inline-six has been the corner stone of BMW for decades – can the turbo supplement and bolster the big sixes and garner the same respect? The award winning N54 and N55 turbo sixes are strong indicators – but only time will tell. Regardless, I will miss the distinct metallic symphony that is the Bavarian straight-six as it begins it howl at 3,500 RPM’s. This commercial sold me on that the first time I saw it:

All of you enthusiasts better get used to it too – unless you plan on not buying a new BMW for the foreseeable future – and that includes M cars!

(M88 engine picture via)

  • M3ownercali

    Awesome article Andrew. The answer is : YES!

    Grew up with BMW inline six and learned how to drive them the proper way. I hope BMW will keep us the enthusiasts in the back of their mind and keep it alive in some models.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=51500531 Andrew Murphy

      I grew up with the inline 6′s too. sad day when they finally disappear from the line-up!

  • Breogan21

    They’ll come back….good things don’t disappear…always come back even better!

  • BajeBimmer

    As the owner of an E46 330i and an E36 325Ci I will enjoy the straight six for as long as I can

  • StarTech

    i also grew up with the BMW inline six, and i’m still driving it! (BMW E34 520i Executive)
    love that engine!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000477069969 Hugo Becker

    Great article Andrew!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hubert-Jadczak/100000325894622 Hubert Jadczak

    Pure masterpiece… I will miss R6 engines by BMW… ;(((

  • http://profiles.google.com/mtechnik3 Miroslav Nikolich

    Great read – thanks Andrew. Your passion for the brand really shows in this piece. I owned 2 E90s with the N52 engine, and now a 135i with the N55 turbo powerplant. The low end pull is very addicting with the turbo – on the other hand, the N52 was so smooth and revved so high. I’ll miss the big NA sixes. Engineering masterpiece!

    • Point2mach

       The name is Bavarian MOTOR Works.  BMW continues to move away from their base.  The Heart and Soul of BMW is tied in with the big six. I have driven the big six since 1984 in 10 different BMW models, mostly 5er and 3ers.  I have also had 2 V8s and the 6 bi-turbo during that time.  I currently have 2 big sixes in the garage and not by accident. Serious consideration will now be given to other makes. BMW just keeps moving farther from us old traditionalists.   When the manual is removed from the lineup, the foundation will be completely lost. Sic transit gloria mundi!

      • Philipwlovell

        I LOVE the inline six and seriously doubt I will ever buy any BMW that doesn’t have one. I’m confident they will for many, many more years, even in the 3er. However, Bavarian MOTOR Werks sells cars worldwide and most of them do not have gasoline powered inline sixes. But, you’re in luck. Most of them do have manual transmissions. So, BMW will continue to offer manual transmissions, even in the U.S. They continue to work tirelessly to develop power plants that will satisfy their customers wants and needs.

  • Lekkousa

    Inline 6 and RWD, such a lovely combination!

    Guess I’ll just have to enjoy my E46, 170K mileage and E91 68K mileage a lot longer!

    Not interested in turbocharged cars except for the diesel. Don’t care much for the slushbox though.

  • Jter

    Am I going to miss them? No, I have two in my garage.

    • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

      Have one also, the X3 3.0.

  • http://www.bmwblog.com Horatiu B.

    I am kinda looking forward to drive the new 4-cylinder N20. Everyone is raving about that engine.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=51500531 Andrew Murphy

      Yeah, with its power and torque figures and relative weight, it should theoretically be just as good as the N52.

  • Mose121

    I’ve missed them since 1992 when the last big six, the S38 B38 3.8 L (3,795 cc 232 cu in) went out of production. Please do not refer to anything under a 3.5L as a “Big Six”. The modern day 3.0L six’s hardly qualify as big sixes.

  • ASR

    I own a pre-direct injection, N52-engined E90 330i with a fantastic specification and in fantastic condition. It’s not unfathomable that it might actually become a future classic…

  • Gerhard Goedhart

    as Kuhn stated in1955
    OLD PARADIGMS WILL EVENTUALLY GET INOPERABLE AS THEIR MASTERS AND AVOCATS DIE
    Wake up guys a new era is coming and enjoy the pleasure of the next generation zev vehicules,I have driven BMW straigt six engines for fourty years and cant wait to buy my first BMW i series EV .
    Solar panels on my rooftop and a skystrem windturbine in my garden will provide the never ending power source for this ultimate way of transportation
    I am glad BMW is acting in a resposable way to save our planet ,straight six engines are for people who still live in the past ,change your paradigme and live in the future my friends!!!

  • Gerhard Goedhart

    as Kuhn stated in1955
    OLD PARADIGMS WILL EVENTUALLY GET INOPERABLE AS THEIR MASTERS AND AVOCATS DIE
    Wake up guys a new era is coming and enjoy the pleasure of the next generation zev vehicules,I have driven BMW straigt six engines for fourty years and cant wait to buy my first BMW i series EV .
    Solar panels on my rooftop and a skystrem windturbine in my garden will provide the never ending power source for this ultimate way of transportation
    I am glad BMW is acting in a resposable way to save our planet ,straight six engines are for people who still live in the past ,change your paradigme and live in the future my friends!!!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_EAHWGNECN7P2BYVO44PBZBKIMQ VP

    i6 + 3 pedals = HEAVEN!

  • Lekkousa

    The reasons I bought BMW cars was, NA inline six and RWD.

    I never considered other makes with turbo 4′s and V6′s , guess I’ll just have to keep my current  cars an E46 and a E91, a lot longer. It’s no longer a “slam dunk” that I will buy BMW going forward.  I knew something was up when started that “JOY” ad campaign!

  • Adam, Germany

    Superb article, thankyou. I’ve been a stick of BMW rock for more than a decade and the impending death of the N/A straight six is simple heresy IMO. The lease on my 130i is up at the end of 2012 and I genuinely don’t see what I would replace it with.

    So I’m not going to. BMW will continue to have my money but only small amounts to keep a couple of their ‘oldtimers’ alive…

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  • G-Man

    The E3 M30 motor debut was in Aug 68 in the E3 2500, a 2.5L M30. The E3 2.8L didn’t debut until Jan 69. I own E3 2800 that was built in Dec 69 that came with no AC, power windows or even power steering. Just a 4 speed ZF gearbox and dual carbs, it brings a big smile to my face every time I drive it.

  • Jan

    I am sure there are engineering rationales. But I am a big fan of straight sixes. Let’s see I have owned seven of them from BMW. I avoid all forced induction engines. My reasons are simple: reliability, balance and durability.
    While BMW’s historically offered both great sportiness and rock solid reliability, I am afraid the later has declined with increased use of technology while Porsche has maintained performance advantages, Audi has reduced the performance gap, and Mercedes with AMG has added sportiness to solid durability (though all suffer from electronics problems). 

    I guess I will just keep my first love, a 1974 3.0 CS Coupe, with more miles on the odometer than I can fathom and enough big six goodies to deliver 265 HP which is enough for me on the streets.  But my new car purchases will be Porsche or Mercedes…

    How sad that BMW, the love of my youth, has left me and moved on.

  • joeinjarrettsville

    I like the BMW 6 and love theV8 .  I wanted a Z3 and waited until it had a 6 , even though the dealer tried to give me a 4cyl Z for a deep discount. I have never heard a 4cyl sound that was ok, there is just somthing deep inside a 4cyl that Sucks.

  • Driver

    not just the big six, but maybe even more the small six… the 2 litre straight six made up for the lack of grunt by offering the sweetest vibration-free ear-friendly smooth and comfortable feedback to the lucky owner. Why not sink all these 4-cylindre non-charismatic non-BMW engines out to seas and give ut small straight 6-s with one or two turbochargers instead? BMW is losing it`s sole when they let the 6-s go…

  • ill_miss_my_6

    I’ve exclusively had variants of BMW’s inline 6 over the last twenty years, and by God am I going to miss the six. I might even miss BMW themselves.. they’re headed in a direction I really don’t like. Might be time to go pick a newer, truer car company. Tesla maybe.

  • V8

    That turbo is mainly marketing catch.

  • V8

    That turbo is mainly marketing catch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/EmirosBenAissa Emir Ben Aissa

    i m in love with bmw s straight six , my e34 525tds 95 full luxury pack is for me very enough , i ont go for straight 4 , after 2200 rpm i getc all the move-over i want

  • Jay

    It’s sad that BMW spent time on a rattle-lawnmower sounding 4 cylinder engine. The only thing they did well was set the car up so the engine shuts off when you stop. It’s embarrassing, it’s over rated and I’m sure will not last as long as the NA 6 cylinder. Fourth and last BMW I’ll lease, too bad I was thinking of buying it this time.

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