Three of the Best – E30 M3 versus E30 333i and E30 325iS

Test Drives | October 19th, 2015 by 14
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So finally the day has come where we can measure up these legendary box-shaped beauties. This has to be one of the BMW showdowns of the century and who would have thought it would happen under African skies.

In my left corner we have the two contenders, the E30 333i and the E30 325iS Evolution – the 333i painted in Aero silver and weighing in at 1256kg. It develops 145kW (194hp) at 5500rpm and maximum torque of 285Nm (210lb ft) at 4300rpm. The 325iS painted in Ice white and weighs in from new at 1147kg, developed 155kW (208hp) at 5920rpm, and maximum torque of 265Nm (195lb ft) at 4040rpm.

In my right corner the reigning world champion the E30 M3 painted in Lachssilber weighing in from new at 1200kg, developed 140kW (200hp) at 6750rpm and maximum torque of 238Nm (177lb ft) at 4750rpm.

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Today is going to be a brawler; we are out in the west of the Province of Gauteng approximately 40 kilometres outside of Johannesburg at the Delportan Hill in Krugersdorp which has been a popular Hillclimb venue since the ‘60s. We are in Cradle country not too far off from here are the Sterkfontein Caves – a World Heritage Site where “Mrs Ples”, a 2.1-million-year-old skull, and “Little Foot”, an almost complete skeleton, 3-million years old were found. And according to some the birth place of humanity, hence the name Cradle of Humankind, but enough of that let’s get back to the job at hand.

To appreciate the significance of the E30 3 Series in South Africa we need to take a step back and understand the relevance of this model in South African car culture.

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The E30 with its three-box outline can trace its DNA back directly to the 2002 which was an integral part of the Neue Klasse, which followed the Bauhaus design philosophy that would last for 40 years within BMW; with a distinguished sculpted shoulder-line, airy glass-house cabin, slender roof-lines and minimalistic cockpit. This was carried over to the E21 3 Series and is firmly rooted into the E30 3 Series. Sadly though the 2002 was never manufactured in South Africa and imported in rather small numbers, worst still is the fact that the E21 was never officially imported. South Africans were therefore starved of a compact sporting BMW saloon until 1982 when the Rosslyn plant starting producing the E30 3 Series, which has resulted in an absolute cult following of the E30 this far south of the equator.

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E30 333i

This immaculate example of the 333i with just 90,000km on the clock, in Aero silver happens to be the nicest of the four colours in which they were offered, these included Diamond black, Henna red and Ice white. This is number 103 of the 204 that were sold in South Africa between 1985 and 1987, a total of 210 were produced which included prototypes and test mules. It cost R41,300 (£16,312) when new in 1985.

This car is no stranger to BMW Car pages and was featured in the January 2013 edition – complied by the then editor Sebastian de Latour who was fortunate enough to pilot this rarity with me in tow. This car is in fact part of a prodigious BMW collection that was also featured in BMW Car in the August 2013 edition.

Vic Doolan and Bernd Pischetsrieder (of BMW South Africa at the time) are credited for the innovation of the 333i. The original intent was to compete in Group One racing, but this was never to be when Group One racing was summarily cancelled at the end of the 1985 season – remember the M1 suffered a similar fate.

The concept was pretty straightforward, find one of the biggest engines in the BMW arsenal and cram it into the smallest lightest body. The engine came from the E23 733i, which was partially chosen for its free-revving characteristics – 3.2-litre in-line 6 cylinder, 12 valve, producing a maximum power output of 145kW (194hp) at 5500rpm and maximum torque of 285Nm (210lb ft) at 4300rpm. The development of the 333i was a collaboration between BMW SA, BMW Motorsport and Alpina. Just like with the E23 745i (which was also unique to South Africa, see BMW Car May 2013 edition) an extensive development and testing programme was embarked upon to ensure that the optimum cooling, gearing and noise levels were achieved.

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Alpina played a crucial role in the development of the 333i providing the specially developed inlet and exhaust manifolds and plenum chamber, heavy duty copper cored radiator and various other cast alloy bits. The Bosch L-Jetronic fuel management system was revised accordingly; all of which resulted in a substantially altered torque curve – boosting it substantially in the lower rev range. Alpina also provided the 296mm vented, grooved discs upfront, the suspension was fitted with Bilstein gas dampers with slightly stiffer springs – rolling on 16-inch 20 spoke Alpina alloys. The 333i was fitted with a dog-leg close-ratio Getrag ‘box and 25 percent ZF limited slip-diff.

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On the inside the most distinguishing Alpina component is the digital display pod mounted on the right central vent for reading; engine and rear diff oil temperatures, engine oil pressure and manifold vacuum. The instrument cluster is also provided by Alpina with a speedo reading of 270km/h, with red needles normally reserved for M cars. The interior is rounded off with Sport leather seats, leather covered Sport steering and gear lever marked with the M tricolour stripe.

The exterior is rather attractive in that ‘80s kind of way, with integrated aero appendages which include deep front spoiler, side skirts, with a sweeping lip at the rear, finishing it off with a black boot spoiler.

Owners had a choice between air-con and power-steering but could not have both as there wasn’t sufficient room under the bonnet. Telling them apart is easy: on air-conditioned cars the fog-lamps are absent, creating apertures that feed air to the condenser unit.

Just as South Africans were getting used to the idea of having fast compact Bavarian saloons around we were dealt a blow – the E30 M3 would not be coming our way as it was produced in left-hand drive only. That did not mean that the local motorsport scene would cease to exist. On the contrary and if BMW SA wanted to remain competitive it would have to develop its own track specials. So let’s try to get behind the myth that is the 325iS in order to decipher the legend.

E30 325iS

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The year 1985 saw the introduction of one of the most fiercely contested race series in South Africa, Group N for production cars. To remain competitive BMW introduced in 1986 the 325iS (Sport) or more commonly known as the Shadowline among racing enthusiasts. To increase power from the standard 325i the compression ratio was upped to 9,8:1, thus increasing power output from 120kW (161hp) to 126kW (169hp). In this initial version the M Technik aero kit was definitely absent and not even an option – however, more importantly Tony Viana won the champion that year and the following two years in his 325iS. In 1989 BMW offered the 325iS at a price of R60,080 (£13,735) with the option of the M Technik aero kit at R4095 (£936) – which included the front and rear spoiler, rear apron and side-skirts. The more significant changes to the car came in 1990 as BMW was struggling to keep up with the Opel (Vauxhall) Kadett which had also gone through various iteration in Group N racing from Boss, to BigBoss to SuperBoss – being its most lethal incarnation, in essence a Kadett 200 GSi 16V uniquely designed for South African racing, pushing out 125kW (168hp). These cars were devastating track weapons especially with Mike Briggs behind the wheel and has a cult following second only to that of the E30.

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The 1990 325iS sold at a price of R92,720 (£18,870) and came standard with the M Technik aero kit which is the first significant difference. The more fundamental changes happened underneath the skin with an uprated 2.7-litre engine with cylinder head, care of Alpina, increasing power output by 19kW (25hp) to 145kW (194hp) at 5800rpm reaching a maximum torque figure of 265Nm (195lb ft) at 4000 rpm. With serious intentions of reducing weight the bonnet, fenders and doors were made from aluminium. In order to better transfer the increased power to the road the E30 M3 suspension was put into use, including the 15-inch cross spokes BBS alloys running on 206/60 15-inch VR Goodyear rubber. In this iteration locals refer to it as the EVO 1 although that was never the official name that BMW assigned to it, officially it was still known as the 325iS but the legend had just grown another tenfold. Unfortunately this was not enough to fend off the attack by the Opel Kadett.

The final incarnation of the 325iS was introduced in 1991 with the E36 knocking at the factory door, but BMW had no choice if it were to take on its main competitor the Opel SuperBoss. It sold for R105,100 (£20,815) in 1991 and its official designation was BMW 325iS Evolution more commonly known as the EVO 2 among motoring enthusiasts. Outwardly the car remained exactly the same except for a flexible black lip extending from the deep front spoiler; underneath the car an aerodynamic cover was installed to improve airflow and ultimately front end grid.

The aluminium bonnet, fender and door panels reverted back to steel. The ride height was lowered by 10mm with the installation of stiffer, shorter springs and a thicker rear anti-roll bar was installed to keep the tail in check.

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The engine remained as the 2.7-litre unit but modifications were made to the cylinder head (supplied by Alpina together with the pistons) to increase compression ration from 9,8:1 to 10,4:1 and so inlets ports from the inlet manifold were adapted to accommodate the enlarged diameter of the inlet ports of the cylinder head. The intake manifold plenum chamber, airflow meter and throttle butterfly were uprated to that of the E28 535i and incorporated into the Motronic system to enhance the airflow. A cross-piece was stalled in the larger diameter downpipe of the exhaust. All of this led to an increase in power from 145kW (194hp) to 155kW (208hp) at 5920rpm, with maximum torque remaining at 265Nm (196lb ft) at 4040rpm. This resulted in improved acceleration and mid-range performance, eventually culminating in a Group N championship win for Robbi Smith in his 325iS in 1993.

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This factory-fresh example we see here today in Ice white belongs to Jack Kaplan a serious car enthusiast with an even more serious car collection. Most noteworthy are the eight exceptional BMWs which also includes the M3 we see here, the only 2002 Turbo on the African continent and an absolutely gorgeous Batmobile replica in Polaris metallic, to mention but four. Jack likes to put his own touch to his cars and these two examples are no exception, not to everybody’s liking especially the purists who believe cars should be kept exactly as the automaker intended. I appreciate the fact that Jack puts his own personal touch to each of his cars, it makes them standout and more personalised. Jack does not stop with the aesthetics and the mechanicals; he is more hardcore than that and that is why most of his BMW fleet runs on 102 avgas jet-fuel including the two you see here.

Jack acquired this 325iS from new in 1991 and used it as a company car. It’s done 96,000km and from a cosmetics perspective the grille has been colour-coded, with slits cut into it on the left-hand side where the lights meet for additional cooling. He has also added darker indicators, racing pedals and a Nardi steering, other than that from a cosmetics perspective the car is completely original. The mechanicals have definitely been tweaked. A stage one performance upgrade was carried out which included: gas-flowing the cylinder head, installation of a 280 degree camshaft, Unichip, K&N air filter, with a modified air-box and a special sports exhaust fitted, pushing the compression ratio to10,9:1.

E30 M3

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So much has been written about the E30 M3, motoring scribes worth their salt have at some point contributed to the growing documented volumes on the M3. In my opinion the M3 is the most significant BMW model post the Second-World-War. Yes it does not have the halo image of the M1 (the closest BMW came to producing a supercar) but its contribution to the success of BMW is unprecedented. Unfortunately the development of the M1 was plagued with problems, which is putting it rather mildly. But where the M1 might have failed the M3 was triumphant winning virtually every form of competition it was entered into.

As so much has been written about the M3 I thought I would just give a brief summary of the highlights of this most illustrious model.

The M3 was developed from the ground up as a racer, Paul Rosche was tasked to develop a suitable engine and what he came up with is totally ingenious – a 2302cc four cylinder, 16-valve dual overhead cam. For all intents and purposes the S14 engine is two thirds of the M88 motor (although the block is based on the cast-iron M10 engine), developed for the M1, the M635CSi and the South African only 745i, this engine was further honed for the E28 M5 (second generation) to become the S38. BMW’s initial intention was to sell 5000 units to ensure eligibility for racing, but such was the demand that it ended up manufacturing three times this amount during 1986 – 1990. In its first iteration it developed a maximum power output of 140kW (200hp) at 6750rpm and 238Nm (177lb ft) of torque at 4750rpm. It sold for £22,750 (R57,599) in 1985.

During its five year production run BMW Motorsport kept on honing the performance and agility of the M3 giving rise to the EVO 1, EVO 2, Europa Meister, Cecotto Edition and Ravaglia Edition. It was however most lethal in its final incarnation known as the Sport Evolution, the engine capacity had been increased to 2467cc which was achieved through an increase in bore and stroke. This necessitated larger valves and camshaft, plus special spigots to spray oil under the pistons to keep temperatures under control. Power was up to a staggering 177kW (238hp) at 7000rpm and torque remained the same at 238Nm (177lb ft) at 4750 rpm.

The M3’s war paint clearly defines its intentions, (it is rather different to its regular 3 series brethren) with flared wheel arches to accommodate wider rubber, and at the rear sits a large wing on a raised bootlid, with a separate cowling over the rear window aperture, all of which help improve the aero- dynamics. All of this translated into the M3 being the most successful Touring Car racer of all time, with more than 1500 individual victories and more than 50 international championship titles. These included a World Touring Car Championship, two European Touring Car Championships, two German Touring Car Championships, several other individual European titles including, Nurburgring 24 Hours, Spa 24 Hours and even a few Rally titles.

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The second of Jack’s cars is this pristine Lachssilber M3. It is the first version of the M3 – imported to South Africa in 1995 and Jack acquired it in 1997. This is only one of three M3’s in South Africa, as mentioned previously it was never imported as it was left-hand drive only. There is also a Cecotto and a racer, which has just undergone a complete restoration; it competed in the Touring Car race series in the ‘90s. It was piloted by well-known motoring and racing enthusiast Farouk Dangor, who also competed with his 325iS in the Group N racing championship earlier on in his racing career.

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So the car we see here is ultra rare (with just 94,600km) – legislation in South Africa has changed (since about 2000) in such a way that left-hand drive cars can no longer be imported, with very few exceptions, racing cars being one of them. The first thing we notice is that Jack has fitted the rims from the E36 M3 (in certain circles he will be lynched for doing this), running on SO2 225/35/17 Bridgestone rubber. The capacity of the engine has been increased to 2493cc by changing the crankshaft and connecting rods. Further upgrades include: gas-flowing of the cylinder head, installation of a 260 degree Schrick camshaft, Unichip, K&N air filter, with a modified air-box and a special stainless steel sports exhaust, plus a 228mm organic spring disc clutch pushing the compression ratio to11,8:1.

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Now that all is said and done can we actually get down to what it is like to drive them? In a word…….Fantastic!!

This is by no stretch of the imagination going to be a fair contest with the substantial modifications done to the 325iS and M3, not forgetting that they both run on aviation fuel.

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Let’s start with the 333i in which I have spent quite a substantial amount of time in, at idle it has that nice straight-six BMW bass and once on the go it has that familiar BMW big-block exhaust note. The most distinguishing factor about this car is the amount of torque that has been bestowed upon it. One gets the sensation that it has more bottom-end grunt than both the other competitors put together. It really is the hooligan among the lot and is always keen to get its tail sideways. Key in getting the most out of it is figuring out how to regulate the throttle feed, letting go while going through a bend will result in you facing the wrong way on the other end. This thing will snap your neck if you don’t give it the attention and respect it deserves.

In July 2012 I was fortunate enough to be taken on a few hot laps around Aldo Scribante Raceway in Port Elizabeth while shooting a 2002tii Alpina replica for BMW Car (see October 2012 edition). The 333i was definitely nose heavy with the 3.2-litre lump in the front but the owner new the twisty track like his own back yard, using the insurmountable amount of torque and making good use of the limited slip-diff to power-slide through the corners – definitely the quickest way around the track with the 333i.

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Although the 333i has a close-ratio gearbox the gear throws are long which detract from the experience when pushing in the red line. As stated throttle control is paramount and once you have mastered this the chassis is actually quite compliant, the Bilsteins and stiffer strings holding things together nicely.

The 333i is better suited for the open road, with the extended torque flow even from low revs, making it a great continental cruiser.

The 325iS is definitely a more balanced and focused car, the Nardi steering being smaller than the standard item gives very good feedback and much better turn in. This car is based on the M3 suspension so handling is superb and direction changes ultra sharp. The short-shift gearbox is definitely one of the highlights making gear changes easy and precise when pushing on, in vast contrast to the 333i. Surprisingly though things only really start to come alive at 4000rpm which is reached with such ease – it is addictive though, which leads to unnecessary down-shifts just to achieve the giddy sensation once again. The standard exhaust on the 325iS is a real charm with plenty of delightful notes being belted out but the custom item fitted to this car is so much better, especially when one trounces the throttle and then lifts off immediately to be greeted by a delightful crackle.

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Everything in the M3 is turned up a couple of notches, at idle even when at optimum temperature the idle is erratic, a strong indication that something extraordinary is happening. The M3 picks up revs far easier and quicker than in both other cars and the red-line seems much further down the line. The car displays amazing levels of grip and is extremely well-planted on the asphalt – turn in is razor- sharp and even on a charge going through hairpins seem to require far less braking and instead more acceleration. But when one does need to stop the retardation happens so instantaneously that there is a new-found appreciation for seatbelts. Gear changes are instant and make you appreciate why this car is the most successful Touring Car ever produced and the sound from the tailpipes puts Beethoven’s Fifth Concerto to shame.

This M3 is everything I had hoped it would be and so much more, this experience is definitely part of my motoring Nirvana.

All three of these cars were developed out of a need to race and it clearly shows. Each car has displayed its own unique characteristics and each has its own special charm. Yes, outwardly the M3 is more dramatic with its flared arches but the M Technik aero kit on the 325iS still gives it an assertive sporting look and the 333i has its own aero appendages though being slightly more subtle. On the inside all three cars feel and look very similar (and one is transported back to the ‘80s), with Sports/Racaro seats, BMW Sports three-spoke leather steering, leather gear-lever with M tricolour stripe and instrument binnacle housing a speedo and rev counter the size of flying-saucers. The cabin is airy with very thin A-pillars that are virtually in the upright position and by today’s standards these cars seem rather rudimentary. The driving experience is so much more involved though – these are cars you need to take by the scruff of the neck to get the most out of them. If you want a sensible choice get a 1 Series.

So which one is the winner? As a South African I am definitely biased but I have to say that the M3 on the day was definitely the best driver’s car – the one to tackle sweeping back roads with and track days. The M3 though feels like it is all or nothing all of the time, maybe it’s just the way Jack set it up. The 333i is definitely the hooligan of the bunch and is much better suited for long distances. The 325iS is the better balanced car and much better suited for everyday use. Interestingly, editor Bob Harper did a direct comparison between the 325iS and the Alpina C2 2.7 and gave the 325iS the nod (see BMW Car January 2008 edition).

Driving anyone of them is an occasion in itself and always puts a smile on your face and as the song goes, “when you’re smiling the whole world smiles with you.”

Special thanks to: Ron Silke

Photography: Oliver Hirtenfelder

Originally featured in BMW Car Magazine: www.bmwcarmagazine.com

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