BMW 320I CONVERTIBLE REVIEW

The ‘full-convertible’ brought the drop-top E30 in-house, and they’re now a stunningly affordable summer choice...

fter slack sales of the coachbuilt Baur ‘TC’ Top Cabriolet conversions, BMW looked at how sales of VW’s Mk1 Golf GTI cabrio had taken off and in 1983 readied a soft-top E30 to be built in-house. As a premium car, the launch of the expensive convertible boosted BMW sales and offered an additional reason for dropping into the local Bimmer showroom – the classy lines of the E30 ‘full-convertible’ with its hood dropped looked sexy in the window. 

VITAL STATISTICS

1983 BMW 32Oi CONVERTIBLE

Engine                                    1991cc/6-cyl/SOHC

Power (bhp@rpm)                  123bhp@5800rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 125lb ft@4000rpm

Top speed                                124ph

0-60mph                                   9.5sec

Consumption                            24mpg

Gearbox                                    5-speed manual


WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

The E30 is noted for its exceptionally rigid bodywork, and the convertible version has additional bracing in the sills and scuttle to compensate for its lack of a tin roof. Yet there can be some instances of scuttle shake when driving, so it’s important to buy one with little or no rust. Rear aprons, rear wheel arches, sills and the A-post around the base of the windscreen frame are all likely candidates for corrosion. Trim items aren’t immune from deterioration either, so check the underside of the rear bumper for rust. The black coating on mirror housings can delaminate in thick sheets of paint – these can be repainted though it’s often easier to source good secondhand and simply fit another mirror body. 

 

ENGINE

The 2.0-litre straight-six engine is a peaky performer. When buying an E30 fitted with this engine, you need to pay special attention to the service history. The presence of BMW’s SII (Service Interval Indicator) lamps on the dashboard and the ease with which it can be reset using a £10 tool means that if there’s any lack of supporting paperwork to ratify the car’s mileage, then you’re best off walking away. With the engine ticking over, listen out for noisy tappets. Sometimes you may be hearing loud injectors, but being sure about it might mean knowing the difference between a relatively cheap re-shimming, and an expensive re-injectoring of the LE Jetronic injection. 

  

RUNNING GEAR

Manual and auto gearboxes are quite tough. Watch for poor synchromesh on the Getrag 240 and 260 transmissions. These aren’t cheap gearboxes to rebuild so any crunching or noise should ring warning bells. The differentials can sometimes be noisy, but can soldier on for a long while as long as you’re prepared to put up with the noise. Sport-suspension equipped models (check your chassis number with a BMW main dealer to find out what equipment your car was made with) also often have a Limited Slip Differential. These can be noisy after a fast or long run, and need LSD compatible oil for changes and topping up. 

Automatic transmissions came in three and four speed versions, made by ZF. Four-speed 4HP22 versions can suffer damage if too high an engine speed is applied for too long when held in park or neutral, a situation that occurs when emissions testing occurs. Watch for flaring on gearchanges and poor drive uptake. 

Suspension bushes need to be in top condition. The design of the strut/trailing arm suspension can give rise to large camber changes in use, which accounts for the car’s tail-happy reputation. 

 


INTERIOR

Electrics are generally reliable, and only the attentions of previous bodgery should trouble a potential buyer. Are there wires hanging down under the dash? Evidence of additional wires in the engine bay? Any of these should ring alarm bells. Most of the attention on interior condition focuses on the driver’s seat: bolsters wear where the driver gets in and out. Driver’s side carpets can deteriorate, and the trim panel above the pedals can become detached falling onto the driver’s feet. Pedals are a good sign of lower mileage, as the clutch rubber can show wear on leggier cars. 

 

OUR VERDICT

If you need a family classic with drop-top potential, buying BMW’s 320i convertible is a sensible choice. They’re cheap, relatively plentiful, easy to work on and stylish to use.

Modern fripperies such as power steering make the car usable by anyone in the family, and there are many upgrade and tuning options available should you need a full-house, hot engine and sports suspension in the less-rigid convertible ’shell. 

It’s got character, personality, and as a modern classic has everyone stopping to tell you those tales of ownership. Best of all, if you are looking for one you’ll be spoiled for choice – the wet summer has depressed prices. 

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