I think we can all agree that owning a classic car is cool. It doesn’t really matter what sort of car it is, what brand it came from, or how old it is. If it’s old enough to be considered a classic and it’s in running condition (which isn’t always mandatory), it’s cool. However, owning a classic BMW, as desirable as it may seem, can be difficult, costly, and sometimes scary. So you can’t just go out and buy any old Bimmer if you have no experience with classic cars. But if you have no experience, you have to start somewhere. So what’s the best classic BMW to start out with, for the novice classic car enthusiasts?
Let’s start out with some of the more famous classics. The first one that comes to mind is the BMW 2002. Not only is it an icon for the brand, it’s one that still holds up today. Not all classic cars are as good as we remember, once you take off the rose-tinted specs and actually get the thing in your driveway. The 2002, though, by all accounts is as enjoyable and charming as it was back in the ’60s. Maybe even more so now. Plus, it’s a simple car, with a small 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, a four-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive, and no real electronics to speak of.
If a BMW 2002 doesn’t run, you really only need to check the three basic things any engine needs: fuel, air, and spark. There really aren’t any sensors to worry about, not much wiring to deal with, and nothing to plug into a laptop. It’s all pretty simple and pretty easy to work on. Plus, because tuners and enthusiasts have been building and restoring 2002s for decades, there’s a plethora of parts, both stock and aftermarket, available and a massive community of online enthusiasts willing to share their knowledge. The only real downside of a 2002 is that they’ve become quite pricey, so even a ratty one will set you back $10,000-$20,000 and that’s before any restoration.
E28 5 Series
It’s a bit more complicated than the BMW 2002, having debuted 20 years later, but the E28 5 Series is a great classic Bimmer for enthusiasts to start with for a few reasons. One is that it comes with an excellent, old-school BMW inline-six engine, the sort that seemed to never die. They’re relatively simple engines to work on, still without a lot of electronics to deal with, and they’re quite robust. The E28 5 Series came with either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission, so you can take your pic. And it’s also a great looking old BMW, for my money the best looking 5 Series of all time.
Another reason why the E28 5er is a great classic is its usability. It’s a sedan, so you can put car seats in the back if you have to (although, I’d advise against driving an old classic among today’s gargantuan SUVs with children in the car. A modern Chevy Suburban would rip through an E28 5 Series as if it were an old beer can). But that extra usability means you can use it everyday, all the time, and constantly enjoy the you classic car. It might be more complicated to keep running than a 2002 but it’s also quite a bit cheaper to buy. You can find decent ones for $5,000 or less.
E30 3 Series
This one has to be on the list for a few reasons: driving enjoyment, parts availability, and versatility. Despite the obnoxious increase in price for E30 3 Series’ over the past few years (even crappy ones will cost you $10,000), it’s probably worth it. Firstly, there’s an E30 for everyone. Want a sedan for the daily usability? They’re out there. Want a coupe for the sporty looks? Yup, those are there, too. How about a six-cylinder engine for the power? Yup, BMW’s excellent 2.5-liter I6 is available. How about a four-cylinder for better fuel economy? Sure, there are four-pot E30s. Want all-wheel drive? Shockingly, there are BMW 325iX models out there, though they are hard to find.
There’s also an absolutely massive aftermarket for E30 parts, performance upgrades, and even OEM parts. So you can restore, tune, or restomod to your hearts desire. It’s also incredibly versatile in what you can do with it. If you want a comfy daily driver, you can make one. If you want a track day toy, the E30 makes a great track car. And if you want something in between, it can easily be that too. If you can afford one, the E30 is a great first classic BMW.