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Patience Prevails: 1979 BMW 320i


From Russell D. – Hello Barn Finds. I just love looking at the many finds from around the globe. I just had to tell you about my recent find. We moved to the Pacific Northwest about a year ago and have been on the lookout for a project car. Via craigslist, I just purchased a heck of a find. I located a 1979 BMW 320i in Spokane, Washington. One owner with 95,200 miles on the clock. Completely stock except for a aftermarket BMW steering wheel. The original wheel is in the trunk. Totally rust free. The car even has A/C. The car had been sitting in the garage covered up for 9 years I was told. But, when my wife went to title it today, she was told that the car has not have a valid tag since 1991.

I talked to the owner about 3 weeks ago about the car. Something kept telling me to call him back. So, last week we spoke and I found out that he was more interested in who bought the car vs. how much money he got for it. I explained to him that I had owned 3 older BMWs previously and we settled on a fair price. So long story short, the wife and I set out for the 2 1/2 hour drive yesterday with trailer in tow. I had not even seen any pictures of the car, but just knew it would be right. There are still honest people out there. No false statements, etc.


Unfortunately, the owner and his son had already uncovered the car and pulled it out of the garage so it was ready for me to load and take home. When we spoke on the phone, he had told me that the interior and exterior condition was STELLAR. When we turned the corner to his street and saw the car parked in the road in front of his house, well I was dumbfounded.


The body doesn’t have any dents and the paint is in excellent condition. The interior is perfect with not a single tear or wear mark. The dash is perfect. So, at this point I didn’t even care how many miles the car had on it. I didn’t even look at the odometer. The wife told me the miles as we were driving home. So, check out the attached pictures and remind all of your readers to be patient. THE car they are looking for is out there!


P.S. As one of the pictures shows, there was a mouse house behind the driver’s side front shock tower. Luckily for me, the mice used some insulation from the house instead of eating the wiring. I would be glad to keep you updated of the project. My wife will document with pictures of my progress. This car was the original owner’s baby. And I will treat it the same. Once again, love the site!


  1. Rick

    Nice enough car, but once again here’s another guy afraid to say what he paid, why?

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    • GreaserMatt

      A lot of people are flippin’ cars these days…

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  2. Horse Radish

    You can assume he paid between $1000-2000, is my guess, but you’re right.

    These older 3 series are way undervalued, for what reliability they had and great driving, The same for the E30

    Love to hear these stories.
    A lot of times people don’t bother and just call the junk yard, especially if it’s inherited, quite shocking what some kids do with their deceased parents’ former pride and joy.
    I’d love to hear the continuing story.

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    • Tirefriar

      Horse, you are right in that the e21 is undervalued, but really not by much. The e30 is a better handling, better performing and in many of the eyes better looking than an e21. I had a 78 or 79 e21, can’t recall now as it back in 1990. It was not that great of car. My friends e30 was better screwed together and could really go through the corners without swapping ends. I don’t believe I’m the only that feels that way based on the market response to these cars. After 79, in US these weren’t even the 320 but 318. Having said that, I wouldn’t mind owning a 323 with euro trim intact or an e21 breathed on by Alpina or Hartge.

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  3. jean Lecointe

    You are a lucky one!
    I do agree with you that there are very good honest people who look for true people like you to go on with the cars they have loved and took much care about and are happy to know that the car will be on the road again.
    Good luck and keep us informed about the pleasure you have with that nice find.

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  4. Mike Burnett

    Be careful of a loose rear end, if you accelerate on a slope or coming out of a sharp bend. They can easily spin out of control. In the UK we solve this by placing a concrete paving slab in the boot/trunk

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    • Horse Radish

      So THAT IS where all the concrete slabs went…..

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  5. Jeff Lavery Staff

    As the site’s unofficial BMW nut, I say well done Russell! The E21 is such an under-appreciated member of BMW’s classic family and a fine choice. Oh, and if you should decide to part ways with that Alpina wheel – I would pay you a fair price for it!

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  6. SoCal Car Guy

    Great find, congratulations. The E21 320i’s are serious;y underrated, overshadowed by the zealous following for the earlier (and much more primitive) 2002s and the next generation E30s. The 1980-83 models are a little more refined, with five-speed overdive manual gearboxes (rather then the ’77-79’s four-speed. with1-to-1 fourth) less intrusive emissions gear (where still applicable) and other minor tweaks. The best of the US=spec E21s were the 320iS (sport package) with Recaro seats, limited slip differential, a more comprehensive tool kit and BBS (standard size) alloy wheels amongst the upgrades. If one can be found, a great upgrade on any ’77-79 is a ’80-83 iS differential — all 80-83s had 3.91:1 rear gears (vs. I believe 3.64s in the earlier models) and, of course, the “posi,” which helps a little to tame the E21’s traditional BMW tail-happiness. The later E21’s five-speed is another great improvement.

    It’s just too bad that BMW didn’t see fit to share their good stuff with America at that time — the six-cylinder (2.3L) 323i was/still is a blast to drive and was one of the easier gray-market cars to make DOT and EPA legal. All it took was money…

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  7. Neil

    I’m not sure the price is particularly relevant to the story, Rick. In my experience if you tell someone what you paid for a car you get one of two responses – “you were ripped off, my uncle’s cousin’s friend’s sister got the same car for $100 and a pack of bubble gum, and it was in better condition.”, or, “you ripped off that poor old lady – that car was worth at least $10k more than you paid for it.” Much, much easier just to tell the tale and leave the money out of it.

    Barn Finds highlights piles of rust that sell for 5 figures and mint-condition unwanted bargains on the same day. A car is worth what someone is prepared to pay for it and that ‘worth’ is so subjective, based on personal experiences/desires/nostalgia/profit/not-for-profit that I think it is irrelevant. There are plenty of sites that will give you their opinion on a car’s monetary value, but very few where you get opinions on historical or personal worth.

    I am absolutely sure Russel is not ‘afraid’ to say what he paid for it, but that value to him means something so different to other parties that why bother mention it at all?

    You all know the televised auctions and reality TV shows where people pay ridiculous money for a tarted up, so-called ‘super muscle’ car just to show their peers that they have money – I am really happy to have found a site which is the complete antithesis to that.

    Not that some cars on here aren’t expensive – they are – but it’s about the value, not the price; a big, big difference.

    Like 1
    • bob

      yeah…….what Neil said

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    • Rancho Bella

      I don’t care what the guy paid for the car………none of my business.
      Just like the find I purchased last week……….no one needs to know

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    • Neal

      I just found this thread connected to another Barn Finds 320i many years after you commented above.
      I wanted to write to say that I really appreciate your words here.
      Nicely said, from one Neal to another!

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  8. SoCal Car Guy

    Russel D., that steering wheel looks like a Momo, which is a very desirable piece. With an “ALPINA” script etched into one spoke and an “ALPINA” horn button, that was the wheel that was used in every Alpina BMW for a lot of years. Take good care of that beauty, well, take good care of both beauties, your “new’ 320i and the Momo steering wheel.

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      SoCal Car Guy
      Good Catch on the Steering Wheel.
      APLINE and MOMO are etched on one of the Spokes.
      The Horn Button says BMW

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  9. russell36

    Wonderful buy. I had a 76 2002 I purchased new. I later added 320i wheels as they were wider and made the 2002 look better. Almost traded for a later 320i. Still think the 320i is a great cars. Current BMW is a 95 e34 525i with 234,000 miles in excellent shape and owned for 11 years.

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  10. jim s

    from one good home to another, great find. the new owners are going to have a lot of fun putting miles on this car. looking forward to updates.

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  11. Alfaholic Member

    I always adhere to the buy high, sell low mantra. Kidding aside… In the end any purchase or sale is what two parties agree upon at that moment and nothing else matters. I’m at 13 cars at the moment and everyone of them was bought because it’s one I wanted and I was willing to ante up.

    Like 1
  12. Jeff V.

    My first real car after discharge in the Navy was a first year ’77 body style change 320i, unfortunately it was an automatic but loads of fun. On a business trip to Dallas I was sideswiped by an 18wheeler which spun me around like a top, ended up in the grass. I caught up with him, and then preceded all the way back to WI without missing a beat. The car only required just the minimum maintenance to be perfect the 2 years I owned it.

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  13. Rick

    Bet he paid closer to $4K

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  14. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    Nice ! Who cares what the trend mongers wanna pay ? They’d sell their left… If they could do without it. The value is in driving it & appreciating what it represented for the time. Now’s the time to inspect that old fuel injection system. Nice buy !

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  15. Leon

    Has there been a forum or past discussion about keeping amazing barn finds running smoothly like not using ethanol fuel. Or for some older cars the oil additives and lead substitutes

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  16. Dolphin Member

    This was the first BMW model I ever drove, and I was impressed by everything except the grunt, which there wasn’t much of. But the build quality and refinement were excellent. I later had an ’87 325is as my first BMW, which was a much more satisfying car on the road with its straight-six engine and better everything else too, so I didn’t mind not having a 320i.

    But I can certainly see the appeal of this 320i since it’s in such great shape, and likely a relative bargain compared to any modern new car pretty much whatever sane price it might have cost Russell. Plus it’s stylish in the typical German fashion for the time, and with BMW’s move to have parts available for their vintage vehicles it will be a terrific economical car to use to get around.

    I just hope that the systems are OK after that long rest. Better have the brakes looked after, as well as the cooling system, which hasn’t always been BMW’s strong suit.

    It shows that the sunny Southwest isn’t the only place to get well preserved cars. The Northwest can be a great hunting ground too.

    I hope Russell will update us later when he recommissions the car and has some experience with it. From here it looks like a really great, useable find.

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  17. SnuffySmiff

    Umm, no Russel, MY car isn’t out there any more-as you just bought it!
    You lucky dog you. Good luck and congrats on a nice ‘un no matter what you paid for it.

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  18. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    A 320i was my introduction to BMW’s…my boss had one and would drive it quite aggressively–she loved it! Nice find and congratulations!

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  19. Ranco Racing

    If the car is that nice, why is it a “Project car?”

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    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      Well, any car that has been parked for a while is going to need some attention before it can be driven safely. It may be a different level of project than a full restoration, but personally it’s my favorite way to start!

      Like 1
  20. Jose

    Why doesn’t something like this ever happen to me? Heck, when the winds blows, I’m the guy that gets the leaves on his yard. Of course, what I’M looking for is a Glasspar G-2 for $500. Now that’s a REAL barn find and a VERY real answer to prayer. (smile)

    Love your site.

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  21. russell36

    I find all the comments interesting. I believe iIwould have bought it. Even so, itlooks like the original seller had to “approve” the buyer. i wish i did that a little more when i sold my 76 2002 in 1991, with 78,000 miles on privately. i sold it to a young woman with a small child. She names it “Hans” and promptly drove from KY to Florida after she had it tuned and checked out by my favorite Indy BMW shop. On second thought, perhaps i got the right person to buy the car after all.

    Like 1
  22. Tom999p

    I had two super rare 320i’s back in the day, a Motorsport and a Baur!!!! They were awesome cars.

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  23. Woodie Man

    Great catch no matter what he paid. Original caring owner!………whatever comes down the road repair wise it will be less of a problem than if the car had been through numerous prior owners.

    My mantra at least…buy em original and buy em as close to the first owner as possible if not the original purchaser.

    cant beat it with a stick! Well maybe an E30 M3 for four grand!

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    • russell36

      Your mantra is what I followed. Bought my current e34 BMW as a completely stock one owner car. That was 11 years ago and 161,000 miles.

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  24. Rick Wilkins

    I had a 1981 320i. Had had aftermarket wheel/tire upgrade. Loved it.

    Much lighter and more responsive feeling around town than the ’88 325is that I had after it.

    Compared to the the 2002 these cars kick butt. Many 2002 owners actually “upgrade” their intake with the Bosch FI manifolds from these.

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  25. rondai

    Nice find, not sure what price has to do with it.

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  26. Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

    It’s hard to believe from how clean that interior and the engine compartment is that it has 95k miles, must have been a lot of highway miles maybe. Great find.

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  27. Brian

    Back in the 1990s, I didn’t like these cars too much – because of the 4 cylinder engines and the lack of power steering. My-oh-my! What the passage of time will do to change one’s mind! Today, I love these cars! The are fun, efficient, and just the perfect little compromise between the old 2002s and the larger, contemporary 5 series cars. Why I think of the wonderful bargains I snubbed on these cars 20 years ago, I get alittle pit in my stomach!

    To this car’s new owner: enjoy your new purchase! Whatever you paid – you did just fine!

    Like 1
  28. Caveman

    When even the mouse knew how Good this BMW was and not only chose to live in it, But decided that tearing up the wiring or interior would be a shame…..You know you got a NICE car LOL

    Like 1
  29. Brian in Reno

    If that steering wheel is in fact a Momo with the Alpina script, it may be worth close to what you paid for the whole car. Close to $1,000 to the right person (maybe more depending on condition) Don’t let anyone talk your out of it for less than fair market value. On the other hand, if you weren’t completely stuck on keeping it, selling it on would produce some welcome cash for you to use elsewhere on the car. Real Alpina parts are always going to be in high demand for people restoring those cars.

    E21’s are a fantastic little car from a drivers standpoint, and have been under appreciated for years. With the recent rise in 2002 market prices (as well as good condition E30’s) it stands to reason that more and more people will be looking to the E21 for a great driving entry level vintage BMW. IMHO the E21’s are a much better built and much more civilized car than any 2002. Depending on where you live in the US, the performance sucking emissions issues (thermo reactors) can easily be resolved. Any of the M10 engines can be swapped in, as well as a five speed from the later models. And like many cars from this era they are completely transformed if a set of Euro bumpers can be sourced.

    Good luck!

    Like 0

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