The E30 M3. BMW’s most iconic sports car. There’s not much I can say about it that you don’t already know, but I’m going to anyway. The E30 M3 was built as a production car for homologation purposes so BMW could go racing with it. Basically, BMW put a high-revving gem of a four-cylinder into its smallest saloon car, lightened it up, gave it some cool aero bits and went racing. But the E30 M3 was only produced for certain markets, as it wasn’t originally meant to be a high-volume production car. So even though it became a massive success and was considered at the time to be one of the best driving cars in the world, many markets didn’t have the opportunity to try it out. South Africa was one of those markets. So BMW built them something else.
Welcome the BMW 333i, or Triple Three. Basically, the 333i was a standard E30 325i with a 3,210 cc (3.2 liter) engine, from 733i, 533i and 633CSi, stuffed under its hood. The car was built with some help from Alpina, in Buchloe, Germany, so naturally it had some extra performance tweaks as well. A close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox, limited-slip differential and Alpina dual ventilated front disc brakes were also fitted.
They also came with 16” Alpina wheels wearing 195/50/R16 Pirellis. ABS was an optional extra. Another interesting option was the air conditioning, which would eliminate the power steering option when had, as the massive engine wouldn’t allow the space for both systems. So you either sweat from the South African heat but had easy steering, or worked hard at the steering wheel and stayed nice and cool.
That big I6 engine gave the 333i 194 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque. That’s not bad considering the era and size of the car. Performance figures weren’t too shabby for the era, being able to hit 60mph in 7.4 seconds and do the standing kilometer in 27.7 seconds. It wasn’t the performer that the E30 M3 was, but it was the closest thing anyone could get in South Africa at the time and was a big upgrade from the 325i.
The BMW 333i is still a rare thing, though, even in South Africa. Only 210 were built with 204 being sold to the public. These are miniscule numbers, so the event of seeing an E30 333i in South Africa is almost as rare as seeing an E30 M3. That rarity almost makes the 333i more desirable to some enthusiasts, as E30 M3’s are so universally well known. But driving around in a 333i shows the world that you have a true gem, something with genuinely special performance capabilities as well as extreme rarity. The BMW E30 333i may not be as good of a car as the E30 M3, but it’s definitely just as special.