South Africa never got the original M3 but it did receive the next best thing – the 333i. Developed by BMW, BMW Motorsport, and ALPINA, the sportiest E30 sold in the country was built locally at Plant Rosslyn. To mark 50 years since the luxury brand set up shop in SA, a mint-condition example of the sports sedan is being brought into the limelight.
Also known as the Triple Three, the BMW 333i is one of the rarest 3er models ever made. Only 204 customer cars were manufactured, plus six prototypes and test mules. The idea behind the car was to compete in South African Group 1 racing but the series was terminated at the end of 1985. The intent was to go up against other special cars created for the local market, such as the Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0 and Ford Sierra XR8.
The BMW 333i was built in 1985. It started out in life as the 325i but received the M30B32 engine from bigger cars like the 533i, 633CSi, and the 733i. It made 194 horsepower and 295 Newton-meters (218 pound-feet) of torque courtesy of an upgraded Bosch L-Jetronic fuel management system. It also had inlet and exhaust manifolds tweaked by ALPINA and several cast alloy components.
Because the 3.2-liter engine was much larger than what the regular E30 had, South Africans had to make some compromises because of packaging constraints. Customers who wanted air conditioning had to do without power steering and vice versa. You can tell whether a car has AC or not by looking at the front bumper where the cars with air conditioning have driving lights (as seen here) while the ones with power steering feature vented covers.
That inline-six engine was linked to a Getrag five-speed, close-ratio dogleg manual gearbox with a ZF limited-slip differential. The BMW 333i did 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 7.4 seconds and topped out at 142 mph (228 km/h), with stopping power provided by ALPINA’s vented and grooved discs measuring 296 mm at the front axle.
All cars came equipped from the factory with 16-inch ALPINA wheels covered in 195/50 R16 Pirelli tires as well as an M-Technic 1 aerodynamics package. Besides this Diamond Black color, BMW South Africa also sold the car in Ice White, Henna Red, and Aero Silver.