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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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  •   Chris Hrabalek reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    NEW SIX ON THE STOPS #BMW-2.8L automatic

    We see a lot of bagged cars but it’s rare to see something as majestic as this classic #BMW-E3 on air, and it’s a corker. The E3 was a revolutionary model for #BMW in the 1960s. This Belgian example gives the old-skool formula a 21st century twist.

    ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 2.8-litre straight-six #M30B28 , automatic transmission #ZF .
    CHASSIS: 8x17” (front and rear) #BBS RC 008s, AccuAir air-ride suspension setup.
    INTERIOR: Original seats retrimmed in leather, renewed wood trim, original radio.
    EXTERIOR: Full respray in original colour.
    THANKS: SG Motorsport, Kean Suspensions.

    The 1960s were turbulent but exciting times for BMW. The late- Fifties had seen much financial strife, with the gorgeous #BMW-507 roadster proving too expensive to be profitable, the Isetta-based microcars selling badly, and the motorcycle market imploding. BMW’s board of directors even proposed a merger with #Daimler-Benz in #1959 – imagine! – but this was vehemently opposed by dealers and shareholders. What the company needed was a shot in the arm, a new direction. And that came in the form of the Neue Klasse. Debuting at the 1961 Frankfurt Motor Show, the fresh new BMW 1500 demonstrated a solid set of values that have carried on through the model range ever since; it had disc brakes and all-round independent suspension, offering the latest technological developments in a wellequipped car that, while selling at a premium price, wasn’t absurdly out of the reach of the man on the street.

    Job done then, yes? The 1500 morphed into the slippery 2000C/CS coupés and the iconic ’02 series, and so BMW’s 1950s personality-split between big luxury cars and economical micros was smoothly merged into one logical 1960s whole.

    Ah, but that wasn’t the end, of course. You can’t build an empire on just one idea. BMW had been keeping a keen eye on Mercedes- Benz, eager to ensure that they could compete on all levels with their rivals over in Stuttgart. Benz was dominating the large luxury car sector, and BMW wanted to muscle in with a range that could both compete and offer a sportier edge. And the result? The New Six. The thinking behind this is what carries through to the modern Bee-Em that may well be sitting on your drive right now – luxury, with sporting intent and technological capabilities in spades. The poster boy for the New Six has always been the Batmobile – the superaerodynamic racy variant of the E9 3.0 coupé, the #CSL – but it’s important to remember that this mould-breaking range featured two body shapes: alongside the #E9 Coupé sat the car we’re looking at here, the E3 Saloon. The Neue Klasse’s hardy #M10 four-bangers were comprehensively reworked into the six-pot #M30 range, and the New Six styling featured such details as the twin-headlights-in-grille and the celebrated Hofmeister Kink that have since become BMW staples. At launch, the #E3 was available in either 2500 or 2800 flavour, and it’s the latter that we’re looking at today.

    This particular 2800 is owned by Belgian Kevin Pourtois, who’s taking the current stance scene’s excitement over retro motors to its logical conclusion, bypassing the E21s and E12s of the 1970s and diving right back to the previous generation (okay, his E3 is a #1976 model, but the ethos remains true…). So, was this a conscious decision to shake up the scene a little? “Well, no, actually,” he explains, “this was actually my grandfather’s car. It was sitting there in the garage in perfect condition, just waiting for me! So this is more of a sentimental project…”

    Keeping the concept all in the family, Kevin set about refreshing and contemporising the revolutionary old motor car along with his father. “First, we started with the interior,” he says. “The seats themselves were in good condition, but we wanted to recover them with something a bit more contemporary, so they’ve been retrimmed in quality leather.” You can see from the pictures that this was a good move, the creamy hue neatly complementing the otherwise bone-stock insides. These old E3s have a lovely solidity about them, and details such as the lozenge-like instrument binnacle and slender heater controls speak of a time of uncluttered simplicity. It’s a very classy place to be, and even more so now that it’s slathered in baby-soft cowhide.

    “I have to admit that we didn’t make a lot of progress for some time after that,” Kevin concedes, “but after a while I just decided it was about time I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in.” And so he, along with his father, attacked the project with renewed vigour, starting with the engine. The future plan is to swap the venerable old M30 out completely for something else, but in the meantime they’ve had the 2.8-litre six refreshed by SG Motorsport to ensure that all is running as it should. You’ll notice the ‘i’ badge on the bootlid too, indicating that this car is running fuel injection rather than the launch-spec carburettor setup.

    With motive power taken care of, they turned their hands to paint – or rather, one of Kevin’s friends did. “We wanted to keep the original colour, as that’s what my grandad chose, so I asked a friend of mine to refresh it in the original shade,” he explains. And you’ve got to admit that it looks pretty damn perfect. It’s a mysterious greeny-blueygrey that’s at once subtle and classy, and also pure hot rod. It complements the 2800’s oodles of extra chrome rather neatly too. It’s at this point that the project took rather a radical turn. Now, E3 aficionados will happily fill you in on the details of the car’s factory suspension setup – rather radical in itself, for its time, featuring Boge Nivomat self-levelling trickery at the rear – but that sort of pub-bore geekery won’t win you any trophies. So Kevin decided to take the concept of self-levelling to the next, er, level by having a word with Kean Suspensions. Regular readers will have spotted this name cropping up with increasing regularity of late, as the renowned altitude adjusters’ star rises in the stance sphere. And in Kevin’s eyes, their famed prowess in air-ride systems was exactly what he needed to freshen up the attitude of his grandad’s old Beemer. “I asked them to build me an AccuAir system, because I wanted this to be a fun project,” he grins. And the quality of the install manifests itself in two key ways: firstly, the neatness inside – that uncluttered BMW dash and console look factory-stock, if gently patinated, and it takes a moment to locate the air-ride controls. Go on, have a peek, see if you can spot them…

    Secondly, there’s the way the thing sits. There’s something about these large, slabsided old barges that lend themselves very well to being aired out and kissing Tarmac, isn’t there? Like some kind of vast snake, slithering on its belly. The wheels are neatly tucked, a bold wedge of camber presenting itself at the rear – it’s the perfect way to pull that ’60s style right into 2014.

    Oh yes, and those wheels. It’s always a tricky business bolting newer rims to a classic car, isn’t it? For every tastefully executed #E21 on a set of boxfresh Schmidts, there’s a shonky 2002 on ’90s three-spokes – you’ve just got be very careful with your choices. Fortunately for Kevin, his eye was bang on with this one. The E3 wears BBS RCs: “Because I just really like these wheels, I never considered any others!” he says. And they do work perfectly with the overall aesthetic; while clearly modernising the silhouette, that newness becomes less jarring in conjunction with the panscraping stance created by the air-ride. And hey, they’re hardly new-new, they’re a classic wheel in their own right now. Again, it’s all just about the appropriateness.

    He gives us a coy smile when we ask how much this retro uniqueness has set him back so far: “A lot,” he replies enigmatically, “but when you love something, you don’t count the money! This always had to be something a bit special, being my grandfather’s beloved old car, so I couldn’t do anything that would totally alter its character, and yet I wanted to do something fun that would make it stand out on the scene. I took some inspiration from forums and car shows, and I basically just wanted it to be a bit different, more oldskool.” It was lucky that this family heirloom was waiting in the wings, then – it’s turned out to be the perfect base for a project with such clarity of vision.

    All of those gorgeous classic touches, such as the fuel filler that sits behind the hinged rear number plate, the tall windscreen above the slender nose that makes it look like a Pixar character, the ‘automatic’ script on the bootlid, and the ohso- retro ashtrays in the rear doors, are superbly modernised by the simple concept of sitting it lower to the ground. And sometimes, with the right car, that’s pretty much all you need to stand out – no sense in changing things for the sake of change. Kevin’s E3 takes a near-perfect package and adds the finishing touches to create a showstopper. A success, wouldn’t you say?
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