Me and my car
BMW E30 325i: A classic daily driver – Why one owner loves his 200,000-mile Touring
When you picture the gleaming, sun-scorched highways of Hollywood circa 1988-ish, what pops into your head? Slickhaired execs in pastel-hued suits driving Porsche 911 930s (Turbo) and Ferrari Testarossas?
That sort of hedonistic, supercar excess does seem to characterise the cash-rich ostentatiousness of the era, but there’s one slightly more attainable car that shouts just as loudly – the E30 BMW 325i.
If there’s one motor that really encapsulates the white-teeth, go-go nature of late-eighties California, this is it – it goes hand-in-hand with Ray Bans, massive cellphones and rolling your suit sleeves up to the elbow. The image of rounding Sunset and Vine in a razor-sharp 325i, on your way to Paramount to stick your nose into the filming of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; that’s the dream. It’s a car for upwardly mobile, perma-tanned young gogetters.
The 1980s have a lot to answer for, that’s true; shoulder pads, Filofaxes, music with synths, Fox-body Mustangs, Grease 2 – there was a lot going on, and much of it was made of brightly-coloured plastic and surprisingly toxic. The decade wasn’t without its charms, however; it brought us Cheers, Appetite for Destruction, perestroika and the charmingly infuriating Rubik’s Cube.
Yet, while the TV shows of the era seemed to represent a society eager to eulogise about the easy-going nostalgia of the 1960s – Happy Days, The Wonder Years and so on – the man on the street was firmly on the cutting-edge of up-to-the- minute 1980s fantasticality, and the E30 was an essential part of this upwardly mobile existence.
The second-generation BMW 3 Series (E30) was very much where it was at. From South Beach to South Central LA, the supercars may have talked the talk, but this was the real world. Real people dreamed of Beemers. Forget the Athena posters, the 325i walked the walk.
Transplant this dazzling image into the drizzly gloom of early-2000s England, and this is a lifestyle to which Pete Griffiths tremulously aspired, working at Enterprise Rent-a-Car and taking a keen interest in cars that may elevate his scope of experience above the humdrum Vauxhall Corsas and Chevrolet Aveos he was contractually obliged to subject himself to.
FIRST E30 ENCOUNTER
“We used to see all sorts of interesting cars on driveways, and idly wonder about whether to leave notes on the windscreen offering to buy them,” he recalls, with endearingly sepia-tinged whimsy. It was around this time that Pete had been gifted an H-reg E30 318i by an owner who was moving back to Africa and needed shot of the car. “It had dents on every panel, steel wheels; very basic and a bit tatty,” he recalls. “But it was lighter and far more civilised than the budget hatchbacks we were renting out. It was a revelation! Just a far, far nicer place to be.”
The E30 had Pete firmly enraptured, and it wasn’t long before he spied the ideal upgrade sitting on somebody’s driveway; a 325i Touring in glorious Malachite Green metallic. He knocked on the door, and discovered that he wasn’t the first to show an interest – someone had apparently expressed a keenness to take it away for £750, although had gone a bit quiet since. Pete left his details and slunk away, and was somewhat surprised to receive a phone call a little while later offering it to him for £500. Needless to say, he was down there the next day to take it away!
“I put an MoT on it, and my dad gave it a thorough service,” says Pete. “He approved of the car and was very positive, which is a significant development as he’s a tough man to please and can find fault in most cars…” This was undoubtedly a good sign and, given that all of this was happening back in 2009, Pete’s old man’s faith in the platform was clearly well-founded. That knock on the door ended up leading to a long-standing relationship. Because, as you can see, the car is still here.
It’s worth noting that, while £500 was a good price 10 years ago, it’s the sort of thing that just wouldn’t happen today. The market for 1980s performance cars has gone a bit nuts recently, owing to the fact that the kids who grew up in that generation have now reached an age when they’ve forged a career, started a family, got the mortgage in order, sorted their figurative ducks into a neat little row, and now have the ready cash to splash on the cars they always dreamed of through their youth.
The fact that so many desirable cars of this era were subject to the irreparable vagaries of the Max Power treatment, as well as oodles of them being wrapped around lamp-posts by over-exuberant teens, means that surviving examples are relatively few and far between, and these all-grown-up enthusiasts are more than willing to pay top dollar when a good one hits the market.
The Touring variant may not be the most objectively desirable 325i, but it’s still a 325i. Besides, priorities change.
All of this naturally means that Pete has been keen to take care of this car in the appropriate way – although that’s not to say it’s a car which has been mothballed as investment-grade. It’s always been a machine to be used, and used properly.
“Not long after I bought it, I drove it up to Gairloch and Ullapool in the Scottish Highlands,” he remembers. “It did four- hundred miles to a tank, and it didn’t miss a beat the whole time. It was still on the BBS bottle-tops at the time, and it looked a bit nerdy, like a teacher’s car, but it behaved brilliantly.
“The driving was a little sedate on that trip, although I’ve been back up to Scotland a few times since, including to the famous Skyfall spot where James Bond drove his Aston; we found the exact place. In fact, Glencoe turned out to be the end of that clutch as the driving was a bit exuberant! Although I have a good history of managing clutches from the Enterprise days, when customers used to return cars that were basically undrivable…”
The 325i has proven to be a faithful sidekick over the years, including helping to facilitate a couple of house moves (did you know you can fit a double mattress in the back of one of these?), and it’s enjoyed its fair share of adventures. Misadventures too, actually – like the time, a few years back, when Pete hit a deer at 70mph on the A417. Deer like to stick to their established runs, it turns out, and building a bypass across such a run means the deer tend to run into the traffic; he saw one flash in front of him, and before he had time to react there was another one on its downleap, clattering into the front off side corner. It took out the headlights, dented the wing, broke a few plastics, but the car essentially shrugged it off . It was repaired by a fella in Stourbridge for £300, who moulded the original wing back into shape.
The car remains largely factory-standard, although a few tweaks have evolved over time – most noticeably the wheels, which were originally fitted to a Lancia Delta Integrale. “I bought them from Bulgaria,” says Pete. “The PCD is very close to the BMW’s, only a couple of millimetres out. When I first posted photos in the usual places, I had all sorts of people sucking through their teeth and saying I’d get wheel-wobble and off set problems, but it’s just not the case, they fit perfectly.
“I had them refurbed in graphite grey, with no silver lip, and they really complement the Malachite Green. The tyre choice is important too; before I got good tyres, I used to think E30s were very tail-happy, it became instinctive to correct the tail, but mid-range or better rubber transforms them. I’ve got 205/55 Falkens now, which are quiet and never over- or understeer. A set lasts me four years, I’m on my second set now.”
It’s only an extended ownership that can reveal such insights about a car, as its story becomes increasingly intertwined with one’s own. The 325i’s brakes are a further example: “I’ve sworn by EBC’s Green Stuff pads for years,” says Pete, “then one day good friend – who’s an ex-Chinook crewman and all-round excellent bloke – introduced me to the concept of hard discs with soft pads. He also introduced me to MTEC brakes; cheap and reliable hard discs he’s used on his varied fleet for years. They’re affordable, drilled and grooved discs for everyday use and they’ve been excellent.”
The interior is another case in point. Pete loved the factory beige, but at the same time, he wanted the chunkier bolsters of the Sport interior. He spent four years searching for the right seats, which had to be beige to match the factory door cards and headlining, and also be from a four-door, as the two-door fronts are recliners and the rear bench is a different shape. Eventually, the correct interior arrived at an E30 parts specialist in Birmingham, and this was fitted as part of the restoration in 2016.
Restoration? That’s right – Pete reached the point where he wanted to lavish a bit of proper care on the E30. He had a bit of money from a serious bike accident he’d suffered, and decided to invest it in the one thing that’d stuck by his side through the various trials and tribulations of the previous few years; his trusty Touring.
As well as the interior revamp, the bodywork came in for some major remedial work. To provide a sense of the scale of the project, the pedals had to come out for new metal to be let in beneath them! Two new front wings were also required, together with an offside rear door, sills and rear arches. Then, after all the extensive repairs had been made, the car received 70% new paintwork, front-to-rear.
“I wanted to keep some of the character, with the odd dents and chips that tell its story,” he reasons. “Not pristine, just presentable and perfectly usable. I’ve given it back its old life force, complete with the patina and greying plastics commensurate with its 209,000 miles. And yes, there is a new rubbing strip to go on the driver’s door – I just haven’t got around to fitting it yet!”
The 209,000 total is an impressive mileage for a car that’s so healthy, and this really is a testament to the E30’s solid engineering. The clock was showing 155,000 miles when Pete bought the car back in 2009; the following year it showed a strong 168hp on the dyno, remarkably close to the factory figure of 171bhp.
What’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that almost all of those horses are still there, whinnying melodiously through the Longlife stainless exhaust that’s at once quiet when sensible, and rambunctious when provoked. Aren’t we all?
Naturally, this story of passion and enthusiasm hasn’t been a one-man show, and there’s a cast of supporting characters to pay tribute to. “I’ve got to say thanks to Buffy de Latour for her support, encouragement and ideas – particularly regarding the wheels!” Pete enthuses.
“And also to Ash Winston at Palmdale Motors, for his generosity and support with alternative transport over the years. Paul at Super Duper Garage in Basingstoke who did the hard work for an amazing price and provided no-nonsense advice and support when I needed it most.
“Of course, I really have to thank the E30 itself – for being the last of the genuine driver’s cars; even though it was only ever meant to be a day-to-day car for the general public, BMW still managed to make a pointy, balanced, lively yet stable car with throttle-adjustable steering, that’s comfortable and capable by default, but entertaining on demand. It’s an amazing thing. Many cars have come close to replacing it, but nothing has ticked as many boxes as an all-rounder.”
And that’s precisely what it is – a car that Pete can use all year round, as demonstrated by our gloriously mucky winter photographs here (it was raining a lot more than it looks during the shoot!), which can cope with any- and everything life throws at it. Forget that 1980s Hollywood dream, this is the perfect car for modern-day British reality.
The car had 155,000 miles on the clock when Pete bought it in 2009; now the mileage stands at 209,000. Pete believes that the E30 is the last of the genuine driver’s cars from BMW, even though it was only ever meant to be a day-to-day car for general use. The car was restored in 2016, which included new front wings, an offside rear door, new sills and repairs to the rear arches. It also received a 70% respray in sparkling Malachite Green. Pete loves the fact that the E30 is a pointy, balanced, lively yet stable car with throttle-adjustable steering. It took him four years to find the right seats for this E30 Touring. The car remains essentially standard, although the most noticeable departure from the norm is the Lancia Delta Integrale wheels.
I wanted to keep some of the character, with the odd dents and chips that tell its story
The 209,000 total is an impressive mileage for a car that’s so healthy, and this really is a testament to the E30’s solid engineering
It was still on the BBS bottle-tops at the E30 325i time, and it looked a bit nerdy, like a teacher’s car, but it behaved brilliantly
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: M20b25 2.5-litre straight-six, Longlife stainless steel exhaust system, 5-speed Manual
CHASSIS: 15in Lancia Delta Integrale wheels (in graphite grey – no silver lip), 205/55 Falken ZIEX ZE914 tyres, MTEC drilled and grooved discs, EBC Green Stuff pads, stock 325i suspension
EXTERIOR: Malachite Green metallic, sympathetically restored
INTERIOR: Beige Sport interior (to match stock beige door cards/headlining)
The car’s M20 straight-six has been a reliable performer. Pete Griffiths bought his E30 325i Touring in 2009, for the bargain price of £500