Beach Day Find: BMW 320i


As my wife and I often do once summer arrives in Rhode Island, we spent a Sunday by the beach and cruised around the adjacent communities looking for new places to grab a bite. Between all that, I always have my eyes peeled for any barn and/or garage finds, as there tend to be an abundance of retirees nearby with more interest in acquiring land than old cars. So, when I spotted this E21-series BMW 320i sitting alone in a parking lot, I made a quick stop to take a closer look!


The good news: lots of neat, period-correct bits on this car. The bad news: it’s been idle for quite some time, as evidenced by the Pfeba rear wing that has become a pile of twisted foam. The gold BBS wheels were a sharp look against the peeling blue paint, and when the rear spoiler is in good condition it accentuates the car’s lines nicely. I counted at least two BMW CCA stickers, so it belonged to an enthusiast at one time.


The OEM-correctness continues around the front, with big Hella fog lights and the awesome (and desirable) factory chin spoiler. The BMW CCA grille badge is one of the original designs (it’s just brushed metal, not painted like the “new-school” ones), but all of this pales to the enormous amount of rocker rust I spotted. I hope someone brings this car back, but baking in the summer sun will do nothing for its cosmetics.

And at the end of the day, when I hopped back into my first project – the 1987 325is I’ve mentioned on occasion – I realized one more project is nothing I need. Being able to roll down the road without fear of rust overtaking the chassis or wondering when the next mechanical malady will strike (well, I do wonder about that – but most of the big ones have been addressed) is quite blissful. It doesn’t stop me, however, from wishing that someone would save that little 320i before it’s too late!


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  1. Doug M. (West) Member

    Every once in a while I see a clean one of these and find myself thinking “Wow! those are cool! But ya hardly ever see them any more?” I wonder if some day we’ll all wish we had saved one of these? Great cars… but I think many of them bit the dust to donate seats and motors, rotors, and more to a restoration project 2002?

  2. Jeff Staff

    You’re not wrong – especially if those seats were the factory Recaros! I think it will definitely become a case of a car that remained under-appreciated for a very long time, and one day people will wonder where all the good ones went.

  3. Dolphin Member

    Having had an ’87 325is as my winter beater for over a decade—-even with that battering ram front bumper and air dam—-I think they are way more car than a 320i. Galvanized body, LSD, smooth 6-cylinders are all hard to beat.

  4. James

    I think the Galvanized body was just an old wife’s tail.. having dealt with loads of E30’s and E21’s and owned a fair few as well ive seen them rust in places you would never believe.. but then that could just be the UK climate who knows..

    • Dolphin Member

      James, BMW E30 bodies and later actually are galvanized. That doesn’t mean that eventually they won’t show rust where the zinc has been penetrated by flying stones and then corrosive road salt can get in. Galvanized bodies just take longer for rusty spots to develop, and the rusty areas are smaller than they would otherwise be. I’m not sure, but I don’t think E21s were galvanized. Where I lived, my ungalvanized Volvo 244 and 245 both rusted away and had to be replaced. My galvanized E30 was my winter beater for over a decade, and then I was able to sell it for good money.

      It’s no ‘old wive’s tale’, or even ‘tail’……and what were you referring to there?

  5. kam1271

    These cars are still out there and there are still nice ones to be had. I found mine about four years ago – it had some severe fuel system rust issues (thanks to that useful ethanol in our gasoline). My car has lived in WI since new and while not perfect, it has held up well to whatever salt exposure it received early in life.

    • Jeff Staff

      Kam, nice ride! I told my brother yesterday that my next acquisition will be a euro 323i, Alpine White like the rest.

  6. Tom

    The Recaros sit high in the 02 and need custom mounts. I have installed them in a 02.

  7. James

    heres a picture of my last E30. ive had a few.
    Ive never known them to be galvanized. it might be a UK thing but ive never known them to have it done.
    Ive seen VW’s and Audi’s of similar age with a lot less rot.

    • Jeff Staff

      James, you should know the Tourings are all the rage over here at the moment. With the 25 year rule now allowing late 80s models into the states, many E30 enthusiasts are snatching up the wagons…

  8. RickyM

    Nice BMWs but I prefer them with the UK/European bumpers, and underneath the bumper number plates. Good looking Touring, James.

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