BMW E3 SALOON (1968-1977) As far as Mercedes-Benz was concerned, the arrival of BMW’s big 2500 and 2800 saloons (inte...
BMW E3 SALOON (1968-1977)

As far as Mercedes-Benz was concerned, the arrival of BMW’s big 2500 and 2800 saloons (internally known as the ‘E3’) was akin to a poke in the eye with a stick. Mercs were well made of course but they were super expensive and as solid to drive as they were built. The Jaguar XJ arrived in the same year and would also cause raised eyebrows in the Daimler Benz boardrooms. The E3 sold slowly but steadily in the UK and whilst there weren’t many out in the sticks, they were a common sight in London and most towns had a few examples.

The 3.0 arrived in 1971 and shortly after, the 200 bhp 3.0Si which was quite a rocket ship that could outpace the 6.3 and 6.9 Mercs as well as XJ12’s on the sprint to 60 mph before surging on to 130 mph – these were seriously fast cars. BMW was a small company back then, known to make expensive cars with expensive spare parts and depreciation was swift. By the time the 7-Series took over in 1977, you could pick up an early 2500 in decent condition for 500 quid and by the mid ’80s they were just about worthless. Tired E3’s littered London streets like old Jaguars and it’s only in the last few years that anyone has bothered to save any – I bought a running one myself in 1999 for £100. As brilliant as it was, the E3 was just an old BMW for many years and most of the UK-supplied cars have now gone.
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  •   Daniel 1982 reacted to this post about 2 years ago
    Car #BMW-3.0Si / #BMW-E3 / #BMW-3.0Si-E3 / #BMW / #BMW-New-Six / #1977-BMW-3.0Si-E3 / #1977

    Name Tony Wilkes Age 38
    Occupation TV / film location manager
    From Glasgow
    First classic ’1974 Triumph GT6
    Dream classic Probably a ’1973 911 RS 2.7 Lightweight
    Best trip Lake Como, Italy, to Achensee, Austria, via the Stelvio Pass in the BMW


    Imagine my delight when I spotted My BMW 3.0 Si E3 on page 187 of June 2017’s edition of C&SC. Martin Buckley’s assertion that ‘it’s the best-driving chrome-bumper BMW of them all’ is one that I couldn’t agree with more. In the five years that I’ve owned it, my Si has been a most impressive companion over some 10,000 miles – the majority of which have been in mainland Europe.

    Built in January 1977 and delivered the following month, it wasn’t registered until July. RUW 848R was worked hard over its first few years. Traded in for an E12 M535i at 60,000 miles in 1981, the Si then found its second and longest-term owner in Motortune’s Brompton Road showroom. Lord Montagu- Pollock (who sadly passed away last year) paid the princely sum of £2800 for the E3 and owned it for 18 years. He used the car exactly as intended – on long, hard-charging European adventures, or cruising around central London in luxury and style. Towards the end of one of these journeys in 1992, the thermostat failed and cooked the ‘six’. The Si was fitted with Munich’s last reconditioned engine in Milcars’ Temple Fortune workshop.

    The Montagu-Pollock family made the difficult decision to finally part with their beloved companion in 1999, and the 3.0 Si was replaced by an E34 M5 Touring.

    Fast-forward 14 years, and I couldn’t believe my luck when I found the car – a rare, late Bosch L-Jetronic-equipped model. It came with voluminous history and a vast quantity of new-old-stock genuine BMW parts. Not being one to do things by half measures, I decided that RUW’s maiden voyage should be to the Leutasch Valley in the Austrian Tirol. Seven hours and 700km into the trip, I was hooked by the E3’s remarkable ability to hoover up the miles with absolute poise and comfort. Next was a jaunt to Italy via some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable. I was delighted to be invited to Munich in September 2016 to exhibit the car at BMW’s 100th-anniversary celebration weekend at the 1972 Olympic Park – one of the most fantastic events that I’ve attended. The E3 was also my wedding car, bought as a surprise for my wife.

    We got married at Lake Como in Italy, so my parents volunteered to drive the BMW across Europe in secrecy. I planned a route for them, plus one for myself and my fiancée, to ensure that there was no chance of spoiling the surprise along the way. My parents then changed their directions and ended up three cars ahead of us coming over the St Gotthard Pass. I was concerned to say the least. Once we’d dropped down the other side into Italy and onto the autostrada, I had no option but to pass as quickly as possible.

    Moments later I received a text from my mother stating: ‘That was close!’ Needless to say, we got away with it and the big reveal on our wedding day worked a treat. Our Si is now very much part of the family. In my ownership, the BMW has been phenomenal. It has never let me down and is perfectly comfortable occupying the outside lane of any motorway – more so now that I’ve fitted a five-speed ’box from a BMW 635CSi E24, which, as well as reducing revs at higher cruising speeds, has also improved fuel economy.

    Sadly, the passage of time has not been kind to the E3. A combination of rampant rust, savage depreciation when new and suppressed values in comparison to the more popular E9 coupés has meant that these handsome saloons have virtually disappeared from our roads.

    Many succumbed to terminal rot, while others were broken for parts. At the last count, there were about 50 E3s left in the UK, only a handful of which are roadworthy. They are hugely sought-after and attract incredibly enthusiastic owners. But then you could say that I’m biased, because I now own an Si pair and run the E3 Register on behalf of the BMW Car Club.

    Much-travelled BMW, during an outstanding run from Italy to Austria via the breathtaking Stelvio Pass, after Wilkes’ wedding at Lake Como.

    The Ultimate Driving Machine on one of Europe’s greatest routes, the Großglockner Pass. E3 part-way through its Alpine adventure. Previous owner Giles Montagu-Pollock RIP. Sierra beige Si at BMWCC Gaydon festival. Milcars fitted last recon ‘six’ from Munich.

    ‘Seven hours into the trip, I was hooked by its ability to hoover up the miles with absolute poise and comfort’

      Buckley has missed two examples of the 3.0Si: is fate working against him?

      Ten years ago I got friendly with quite a A CAR I WISH I’D BOUGHT

      Buckley has missed two examples of the 3.0Si: is fate working against him?

      Ten years ago I got friendly with quite a famous American film producer who shared my love of boxy Italian saloons. Lovely guy and not at all ‘Hollywood’ – as you’d expect for someone who owned a Fiat 125. I can’t remember how it came up, but one of us was offered a rather nice BMW 3.0Si E3. Mr Film Producer said he’d buy it for when he was in the UK and that I could run it the rest of the time. Somehow, we didn’t do the deal and a bit later I missed a sound 3.0Si E3 through another attack of uncharacteristic ‘sensible’ thinking, so maybe I’m just destined not to have one. Pity, to my mind it’s the best-driving chrome-bumper BMW of them all.
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  •   Rob Scorah reacted to this post about 4 years ago

    We meet a man who loves his classic #BMW-3.0Si-E3 . After a 20-year wait #BMW-E3 enthusiast David Maughan finally got his hands on the car of his dreams. Here he talks to us about the thrill of owning a 3.0Si. Words & photography: Mike Taylor.

    Work began on the first generation of new #BMW engines, the in-line four cylinder units to replace the ageing 700 Series, in the early 1960s, designed by powertrain engineer Alex von Falkenhausen and his team. Critical features were a single overhead chain-driven camshaft and a cylinder block with exceptional strength and size, capable of being extended to increase its cubic capacity later. To overcome the unit’s height, the engine was installed at an angle, canted over for a lower bonnet line, a characteristic which became common practice in BMW power train installations over the years.

    It was an inspired concept and laid the foundations for the next generation of BMW engines, the straight-sixes, which over the years generated a deep-rooted reputation for power and smoothness. Initially, the straight-six would be used in the E3 Saloons in 2500 and 2800 capacity and the coachbuilt Karman E9 Coupés, first appearing in 1968 as the 1969 model year cars, the larger engined model boasting better quality trim level as befitting its improved performance.

    The straight-sixes used a crankshaft which rode in seven main bearings while carburetion utilised twin dual throat Zenith/Solexs. The aluminium cylinder head utilised two valves/cylinders in hemispherical-type combustion chambers. In ‘cooking’ level tune the #M30 2.8-litre engine produced 64hp/litre, an impressive output when for most manufacturers of the day 50hp/litre was reckoned to be more than acceptable. Underneath, the car utilised all independent suspension with MacPherson struts at the front and BMW’s semi-trailing arms at the rear. Transmission options included a four-speed manual or a three-speed automatic version, both ‘boxes being supplied by ZF.

    Designed to fill the gap left by the last of BMW’s large saloons the 2500/2800 E3 models, accompanied by the stylish E9 Coupés, provided BMW’s salesmen with a mouth-watering collection of upmarket models with which to tempt buyers who wanted elegance and performance. The introduction of the E3 3.0-litre versions, the 3.0S and the injected 3.0Si in 1971, elevated the Saloon (and the Coupé E9 version along with it) into an altogether different category. Autocar magazine was quick to point out in its short road test report of the 3.0Si in December that year that ‘standards of performance can be hard to keep pace with so much so they leap ahead at times. BMW has always been a trendsetter in this direction and the introduction of the latest 3.0-litres #M30B30 is nothing short of spectacular’.

    By replacing the carburettors with Bosch electronic fuel injection BMW hiked the 3.0 litre’s horsepower by a further 20hp, to 200hp, and while this doesn’t seem a major increase it was the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the car that so appealed; happy to respond with finesse to light throttle openings yet leaping forward with a satisfying surge and aggressive exhaust growl when pressed, covering the magic 0-60mph in just 7.4 seconds and going on to peak out at 132mph. ‘In terms of performance, BMW has taken the 3.0-litre saloon car records by storm’, added Autocar. ‘Because it looks so innocuous the Si is something of a Q-car extraordinaire, which can outdrag almost any car on the road yet, when the occasion demands, potter around like the smoothest limousine,’ concluded Autocar in its brief analysis. ‘Above all it is a driver’s car and in many ways we rate it as the ultimate in the five-seater category.’

    No wonder BMW enthusiast David Maughan has been a lifelong fan of the marque and model. “I was 14 years old and the first E3 I saw was owned by a friend of my father,” recalls David. “He was the kind of person who had the latest everything and he’d just bought it from a dealer in Cobham, Surrey. The car was a 2500 finished in Chamonix white and it was parked in his garage. It spoilt the rest of my day because I just wanted to have a closer look.”

    From then on David says his first objective was to try to encourage his father to buy one, but BMWs in the late 1960s were expensive cars and he thinks his father felt an E3 was not for him. “At the time I was tinkering with the family’s BL 1800 Land Crab and I realised the BMW was something totally different,” he tells us. “However, my father did buy a BMW 2000Ti. This meant we’d climbed onto the BMW ladder, which was the important thing. And while the 2000Ti did not have the pace and the up-to-date design of the E3, it did have the same engineering qualities. I recall thinking that one day I was going to have one of my own. In the event I had to wait until 1994.”

    “My first drive in a 3.0Si, one of the first in the country, and finished in Polaris silver, was owned by the friend of my father who had bought the 2500 a few years before,” explains David. “By that stage I had just passed my test. He lived on a private estate and he let me drive it up and down on his land.” David was instantly hooked. It was all about the sound, the smell, the feel and the engineering; the Si ticked all the boxes.

    “But, as time went by, BMW E3s went out of my mind as I became bitten by tuning my Mini within an inch of its life,” he continues with a grin. “Then, one day in April 1993, I saw an article in Classic & Sportscar magazine in which motor noter Martin Buckley compared a Daimler Double Six Vanden Plas, a Mercedes 300SEL and a #BMW-3.0Si under the title ‘The Big Bopppers’. Initially acknowledging that pitting the V12 from Coventry against the mighty Mercedes was nothing new, adding a ‘wild card’ (Buckley’s expression) like a BMW 3.0-litre took the task of meaningful comparison to a whole new level: ‘Yet we’ve forgotten too quickly what remarkable machines these big BMWs were,’ he remarked. Performance-wise, the Browns Lane bruiser and the stag from Stuttgart were ahead on points. However, in terms of styling, it was the Daimler which came out on top, the austere BMW coming last of the trio. Yet, in the final analysis it was the magic of the Munich motor car that caught Buckley’s heart, its performance, handling and above all, fuel consumption which brokered the deal. It was a powerful recommendation.

    “Having read the article I realised I had to have one,” says David. Flicking through the magazine pages he had a stroke of luck; the BMW 3.0Si he’d just read about was for sale through Tony and Barney Halse, then at Munich Legends. A quick call and the car was his! “When I saw it I was amazed; it was totally a time-warp car, with just one owner from new and full documentation,” David reveals. “There were, and still are, a number of E9 Coupés around but at that time the E3 was comparatively unloved, so I thought I’d better buy it in case I never found another in this condition. It had my name on it.”

    Climbing back into an E3 after a gap of 22 years David was both invigorated and yet realistic about how the BMW performed. He explains: “From the time when I drove the Polaris silver car at the age of 17 to driving the car which was featured in Classic and Sportscar, automotive technology had moved on considerably. So, it’s not surprising when you get back into a ‘70s car that you notice things, such as the wind noise and the large glass area. That said, in many ways the car exceeded my expectations because it doesn’t have electric motors to power the seats or windows, so for its size it is very light, and with 200hp it still felt very quick and didn’t disappoint.”

    At the time BMW’s marketing of the 3.0Si gravitated even more strongly towards the sporting motorist who could afford its price tag and enjoy its performance. In a full page advertisement showing the car set against a background of an Apollo moon rocket perched precariously on its launch pad the copy read: ‘Unlike some luxury three-litres, the BMW isn’t an extravagant decoration. It’s a powerful sports saloon that earns its keep in the nuclear power age.’ Another interesting marketing ploy was that 3.0Sis were used by the Traffic Division of the police, one of the first non-British cars to be selected under the notion that it takes one to catch one. Later, in their conclusion of a long-term (22,000-mile) test report of a 3.0Si Autocar remarked: ‘All things considered, though, this BMW more than all the rest deserves all the keen following it has found among owners and we count ourselves in that enlightened band.’ High praise indeed.

    “I don’t drive it that often. Indeed I don’t drive it enough,” acknowledges David pensively. “But every time I do it never fails to impress. One of the lovely things about my 3.0Si is that despite being kept in winter storage for about five months, once I’ve started it and got it out and on the road in the spring, within a short distance I’m doing 70+mph and everything is as it should be. BMW gave it that level of engineering integrity. That said, one must be mindful of its age. For example, the Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection system is pretty crude by today’s standards and uses a high pressure fuel rail. The hoses are prone to crack, although if it’s maintained correctly it will be reliable.”

    One aspect that has helped the longevity of David’s car is that the first owner was an engineer who worked on submarines and took a great deal of time looking after it, including rust-proofing the body. All that care and consideration has paid dividends. Eating up the miles at the legal limit four up with a full complement of luggage has enabled David to enjoy his 3.0Si on many cross Continent excursions. He’s also enjoyed driving it to Le Mans on several occasions. “I’ve parked in the Blanc grand stand car park surrounded by a whole load of other motoring exotica and it’s interesting the degree to which my BMW receives attention. They are becoming quite rare,” he says.

    When it comes to servicing the E3 is relatively easy to work on though David does acknowledge that with 85,000 miles on the clock the engine would benefit from a rebuild at some stage. “Values of E3s have not been especially high and rust is a consideration since owners may not want to spend more on repairs/restoration than the car is actually worth,” he concedes sagely. “However, values are beginning to rise significantly and recently they have broken the £15k ceiling as people begin to realise their capabilities.” Clearly, David enjoys a happy relationship with his BMW and plans to continue basking in its performance for many years to come.

    Thanks to David Maughan and Barney Halse of Classic Heroes ( for their help with this article.

    “I’ve parked surrounded by a whole load of other motoring exotica and it’s interesting the degree to which my BMW receives attention”

    “I thought I’d better buy it in case I never found another in this condition. It had my name on it”
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