Though I’ve owned an E36 convertible (and still have an E46 sedan), I have to confess a real fondness for the E30. This is my second and just like the first one, it’s very easy to live with.
An E30 is fun to drive, amazingly reliable and probably the last of the BMWs you can easily work on yourself. Parts are plentiful (if occasionally a little pricey) and everything seems to be put together with 13mm bolts. (If you do enough work on an E30 you’ll have every kind of 13mm wrench made, plus breaker bars, extensions and God knows what else.)
I bought this particular car two years ago. Though far from perfect, it seemed well cared for and the CARFAX report came up clean. So even though I was to be the fourth owner, I felt pretty good about buying it. And I’ve had no regrets. Silky smooth engine. Decent power. Handling so good you’ll forget it’s an older car. Plus it’s practically guaranteed you’ll get more thumbs-ups and nods of approval from complete strangers than you would in cars costing three times as much. (Word of Warning #1: Cops are drawn to BMWs. It’s programmed in.)
The basic issue with BMWs of this age is that stuff dries out. Be prepared to replace the vacuum hoses, coolant hoses, belts and valve cover and oil pan gaskets. In all but a few cases, it’s very easy to do it yourself. (Word of Warning #2: Replacing the oil pan gasket isn’t particularly complicated, but it’s an absolutely horrible experience. A mechanic will charge you upwards of $500 and about halfway through doing it yourself you’ll think it might just be worth it.) And no matter how recently the previous owner tells you the timing belt was changed, do it anyway (it’s cheap insurance). Go ahead and replace the water pump while you’re in there. You’ll probably need new shocks, too. And be sure to keep the brakes up to snuff.
This isn’t meant to scare you into thinking you’ll always be working on the car – quite the opposite. Once you take care of these things, you’re pretty much done. Change the oil and filter regularly. Use BMW antifreeze. Check the fluids weekly. And you’ll get years of reliable service.
And in those years to come? The steering rack is going to leak, but you can put that off for a long time. The control arms will wear out around 120,000 miles, but they’re easy to fix. Sources say that if it has an automatic, you’re going to have to replace it someday, but mine has 130,000 miles on it and seems fine.
But the best thing of all is an E30 in really great shape will set you back only a couple of grand. Cheap thrills.