It’s tough to live in the shadow of an older brother. Frank Stallone, Cooper Manning and even Fred Claus all are great people who go unnoticed due to the fame and success of their older siblings. The E30 BMW 325i is lumped into that group of under appreciated younger siblings.
The E30 BMW M3 is considered to be one of the greatest performance cars ever made and is one of the winningest cars in the world of motorsport. Its praise is deserved, though, as it genuinely is a transcendent vehicle with telepathic steering, incredibly chassis balance and an engine that could write the book on how to make great engines. But its baby brother, the E30 325i, was another phenomenal car, but one that lived forever in the shadow of the M3.
There are no collectors scouring the dark corners of the world for a mint-condition 325i, nor are there people who dedicate their lives to restoring them. Instead, you can find an E30 325i online for under $1,000 in about 30 seconds. In fact, you’ll find them for under a grand all day long. They’re everywhere. And that’s because they’re under appreciated.
The E30 325i is almost as fun as the M3 is to drive. In fact, it could be more fun because it isn’t a classic, nor is it worth much, and doesn’t need to be babied. Instead, it can just be driven like it was designed to be. Its suspension is fairly pedestrian, using a McPherson strut setup up front and semi-trailing arms in the rear, its engine is unspectacular, being just a 2.5 liter, single-overhead cam, 12 valve I6 and its looks and interior are pretty ho-hum. But it’s so much more than the sum of its parts. The engine revs out to 7,000 rpm, with a silky smoothness that isn’t found in most engines even today, and makes a fantastic noise while doing it. The manual gearbox has a long clutch travel as well as long throws, but it makes you work for it each gear change and it’s more rewarding for it. The steering wheel is fixed, as it can’t be adjusted, and it’s weight is heavy, but its reactions are instant and direct. It’s just such a perfectly balance, perfectly tuned car.
In this video, Jason Cammisa of Motor Trend goes to New Hampshire to put the E30 325i to the test by beating on it at a rally stage. We recently saw the same car tackle some serious off-road trails and now we get to see it on a rally course. The E30 was tough as nails and never seems to give up, no matter how much abuse you put it through. After hooning it on a rally stage, Cammisa takes his personal 1990 E30 BMW 325iT wagon, imported from Germany, to the track and lets professional race car driver, Randy Pobst have at it. Hearing a racing driver talk about how direct the steering is and how great the engine note is on a 25 year old car makes you realize just how good the E30 was and still is.
After his laps, Pobst then does a hot lap in the 325iT as well as a brand-new 2016 340i sedan to see how they compare. Cammisa’s 325iT has had an engine swap, to BMW’s 2.7 liter version of the M20 engine for the extra low-end torque, but it still only made around 160 hp. The 340i has double that with 320 hp, adjustable dampers and all sorts of fancy new-aged gadgetry. So which one will win?
In the straights, the 340i obviously crushes the 325iT without issue. However, in the twisty stuff, the 325iT is able to carry much more speed through the corners, thanks to its much lower curb weight and Cammisa’s super sticky tires, so it’s able to make up through the corners what it lost on the straights. In the end, the 340i wins the race, but only by a few tenths of a second. It’s genuinely surprising how well the old Bimmer was able to perform on a track compared to the new one. It just goes to show, power isn’t everything.