Yesterday, we asked the question of which BMW to buy for $20,000 and under. Well, today, we found a car that might be worth splurging an extra $5k or so on, depending on how high it goes. Currently for sale on eBay is a lovely and rare 1988 BMW 320is Coupe for sale and it’s seriously worth a look.
I love stories about automakers bending the rules. There seems to have been a time when car companies like BMW, Alfa Romeo and Mercedes-Benz were interesting in bringing awesome cars to markets that were restricting the sale of other cars. There was this sort of rogue mentality that they were going to give the world awesome cars, regardless of what sort of rules and laws were put in place by The Man. Such is the story with the E30-genaration 1988 BMW 320is.
Back in the ’80s, countries like Portugal and Italy had put heavy taxes on cars with engines displacing over 2.0 liters. This was due to the fuel crisis of the ’70s and trying to get their countries consuming less fuel. Because of these high taxes, people stopped buying cars with bigger engines and BMW’s E30 325i was one of the automotive victims of this. So the Bavarians had an idea and developed a very special car for these countries, so their people could buy something great without having to worry about extra taxes.
What BMW did was essentially take the brilliant S14 engine from the legendary E30 M3, which displaced 2.3 liters, and de-stroked it down to 2.0 liters (1990cc to be exact). Aside from the shorter stroke, the two engines were identical, which meant they both had the same M10-derived block with the same M88-derived cylinder head and four valves per cylinder. The smaller 2.0 liter engine also had the same individual throttle bodies as the larger 2.3 liter engine. So they look identical and even bear the same “BMW M Power” logo. The only difference was in power, as the smaller 2.0 liter engine made 192 hp compared to the M3 2.3 liter’s 200 hp. So not a significant drop off in power at all. And who knows, maybe the shorter stroke made it rev even sweeter.
Mated to that modified 2.0 liter S14 engine was the same five-speed dogleg manual transmission as the E30 M3. This meant it had the same strange dogleg shift pattern as the M3, meaning that first gear was left and down while reverse was left and up. If you ever saw the Top Gear episode where James May drives a Mercedes-Benz 190E Cosworth, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
However, the similarities with the E30 M3 end with the powertrain, though that isn’t a bad place to have similarities. The rest of the E30 BMW 320is is the same as a the 325i with sport suspension. But this specific car for sale was also optioned with the M Tech II kit, so it got a new body kit, rear spoiler, cool side mirrors and some nice interior M bits, to make it look almost like an E30 M3, only without the aggressive flared wheel arches. There are even some M badges throughout both the exterior and interior, to make it feel special.
Only 2,540 of these cars were ever made, making them rare. However, only four are known to have been imported to the United States. So that makes this car incredibly rare on this side of the Atlantic. It has 123,000 miles on it but that’s really not much for a car that’s almost thirty years old. Plus, it’s had some replacement work done. Both the steering rack and exhaust have been replaced with OEM parts, the cooling fan was serviced and the A/C has been serviced as well. At 123,000, the suspension and front end should probably be replaced but that’s cheap and easy stuff.
This is a stunning car and one that isn’t a garage queen, so there’s no harm in properly driving it. With over 120,000 miles, this car has been driven hard and begs to be in its future. It looks to be in superb condition though, so it deserves an owner who is going to take care of it as well. This rare and special car will provide owners with a taste of the E30 M3 without the astronomical price tag they come with and even more civility. The E30 BMW 320is is more comfortable than the M3 and more livable while still using that same absolutely brilliant powertrain. I don’t know if there’s another car in the world I’d spend $25,000 on. Admittedly, there’s still 11 hours left to bid so that price can and will still go up, so for anyone who has the money, keep a close eye on this special car.