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The History Of The Iconic German Sports Saloon

Jul 9, 2008
The 3 series was brought into production in the mid 70's and it had the task of replacing the older 2002 model that was ageing very fast and needed a big improvement. BMW however had a big problem because the 2002 model was a car that brought out the spirit of BMW and the new 3 series would somehow have to follow that same spirit. In 1975 the first BMW 3 series rolled out of the factory in Milbertshofen. BMW then waited for the public's opinion on the new car, and to their surprise the public took very well to it. The car also had to compete with other performance cars such as the Mercedes Benz W124.

Many of the cars before the 3 series were relatively small and BMW were afraid that members of the public would find the car too big and expensive. Many people were attracted to the 3 series sleek looks and good craftsmanship and from then on the opinion has never changed. After the first year of sales, around 221,298 3 series had been sold around Europe and then the following year when the car hit the North American shores BMW reported sales of up to 290,000. The BMW 3 series has had many evolutions over its 30 year life time. They include:

From 1977 to 1983 the E21 entered the world and sold over 320,000 examples around Europe and North America. From 1984- 1991 the E30 was the next generation of the 3 series and the big difference was the price tag it also had to compete with the Audi 80. The E30 was priced at $18,210 and that was more than double that of the E21. The public found nothing new other than a sleeker body and an updated engine that pushed out 101hp. There were also convertible versions released in 1987. In 1988 the M3 was released sparking the start of the M3 generation with a 2.3 litre four cylinder engine that produced 192hp; it was primarily built to take on the Mercedes 190E Cosworth in the FIA Group A racing series.

From 1992- 1998 the E36 was introduced and many new variants were made including a sedan, compact coupes and convertibles. It was slightly larger than its predecessor and this led to more legroom and a much stiffer chassis giving 50/50 weight distribution. New engines were released including the 24 valve straight six that produced 189hp! At the time this was very good. A 0-60 time of 6.9 seconds meant that the new 3 series was as fast as the last generation E30 M3. The new M3 featured a new 3.0 litre straight six that was coupled to the faultless 3 series chassis. The new engine produced 282hp that propelled the car to a 0-60mph time of 5.6 seconds; the public loved the car due to it being so quick and so accessible in a 4 door sedan. An evolution M3 was also available pushing the 0-60 time down to 5.5 seconds!

The E46 was the newest generation that restyled the look of the 3 series. It featured a new look body and a new rounded front end that made it more appealing to customers. It also inherited large wheel arches bulking out the body making it look more intimidating. It also grew larger than the previous E36. Even though it was larger it was just as comfortable and smaller than most other saloons.

The new E46 used an aluminium chassis which made it 70% percent stiffer than the E36 and it still maintained the 50/50 weight distribution. Due to the larger body the new car was roomier and to make it safer, new airbags were added. New engines were also introduced with 2.5, 2.8, and 3.0 litre variants installed in the model range producing around 184hp, 193hp whilst the new 3.0 litre produced about 225hp.

The next M3 was truly magnificent with a 3.2 litre engine producing an amazing 333hp. It ran the 0-60 time in just 5 seconds dead. The E90 model on sale now has redefined the looks of the 3 series again, making a much sleeker and styled version of the body giving it more curves. The engineers have said this new body is 25% stiffer than the previous generation.

The 3.0 litre engine has been modified to produce 255hp and placed in much of the range. The new M3 will have a new 400hp V8 engine from the previous M5 and it has a claimed 0-60 time of 4.8 seconds raising the bar once again. With competition like the Mercedes SLK and Audi R8 the M3 has its work cut out to be a leader in the packed German performance saloon market.
About the Author
Motoring expert Thomas Pretty looks into the history of BMW and how a used 3 series BMW can be considered a worthwhile investment.
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