I’ve always been of the opinion that the E30 325i convertible is the perfect classic car. Reliable, great fun to drive, good looking, particularly in chrome bumper guise, easy to maintain, relatively cheap to buy, practical with four reasonably useable seats and still a desireable car to own today.
The E30 arrived in ’82, but the full convertible didn’t appear until ’86. Until then, the only convertibles available were the factory sanctioned and dealer sold coachbuilt Baur TC cabriolets – converted two door saloon harking back to the E21 Baurs of the late 70s and early 80s.
Here’s a lovely E21 320 Baur cabrio, I kept for a little while.
These converted cars were continued into the E30 range and while, understandably, they became less popular from ’86 on when the factory full convertible became available, many were still converted for owners after the factory ragtop became available – the discerning purchasers presumably taking the view that the improved rigidity of the shell, comparative lack of scuttle shake and a full four seats were worth paying the significant cash and aesthetic premium for.
The Baur TC is beyond the scope of this article, but I would suggest that if you can find one of these later cars, particularly a facelifted post 1988 one, like the one pictured below, it might be worth considering for two reasons:-
1. The Baur is currently unloved and while cheap just now, there will be far fewer Baurs around than standard convertibles in years to come. They are good cars, just not quite so good looking as the later convertible.
2. The original purchaser would have had to walk past the far prettier car and would have chosen to spend significantly more on the Baur conversion. You could be forgiven for assuming that money was not this purchaser’s primary concern and that this type of owner would be unlikely to scrimp on maintenance or options. A late model Baur was bought by somebody who really wanted one and who could afford it. You could reap the benefit now.
Now might also be a good time to explain the position of the convertible in relation to the 1988 facelift. Basically the convertible got the mechanical facelift parts at or about the same time as the rest of the range. However the body changes didn’t appear on the convertible until 1990. So you have the chrome bumper, smaller rear light cars continuing until 1990 in the convertible and the plastic bumpers and larger lights appearing in 1988 on saloons and Tourings. I’ve seen 1990 “H” cars in both guises. It should also be noted here that the convertible stayed in production after the saloon was superseded by the E36. 1992 saw the end of convertible manufacture and the last cars were pretty much 1992 K – and almost exclusively 318is. There may be the very occasional straggler on the “L”. Tourings also remained in production much later than saloons and “L” plate Tourings are far from unheard of. All Tourings are post facelift.
So, getting back to the convertible, which to choose? 318i, 320i or 325i? The four cylinder cars do feel a bit lighter and nimbler, but they are often lower spec with fewer goodies and at the end of the day no lightness or feeling of deftness can atone for the lack of two cylinders, four valves and loads of bhp and torque.
Of the sixes, the M20b20 in the 320i is a lovely smoooth engine, if a little pedestrian, but the urban myth that it is no more economical than the 2.5 is actually true. It sounds just about as good and it really is, in general terms, just that little bit smoother, but its comparative lack of power and the fact that that loss isn’t offset by improved economy pretty much rules it out.
Though for a limited use cruiser, a good 320i convertible shouldn’t be discounted. They are possibly easier to find, particularly in good condition, and have often led an an easier life than the 325i.
But, for me anyway, it really boils down to a 325i convertible or a 325i convertible. The only real choice is between manual and auto and that is down to personal taste, but the M20b25 powered E30 convertible is ideally suited to the 4HP22EH switchable sports box. I would strongly recommend that you do not discount the switchable auto until you have tried one. It is perfect for the convertible.
So having established that we are looking for 325i convertible, what do we look for?
It is pretty common sense stuff, much the same as you would check before buying any classic car. By far the most important thing to look for in any E30, or indeed any classic BMW, is rust. Where?
For the convertibles you want to be checking everywhere externally visible, the base of the wings, inner wings, sills, front valance (bolt on) and particularly under any body kit fitted. From inside the boot, have a good look the boot floor – both for rust and evidence of accident repair – and the inner arches on both sides with the carpet trim out. Check the wells that hold the jack etc. too. From inside the cabin, if you can lift or peel back the carpets and get a look at the floor and sills so much the better. Removing the rear quarter cards lets you see the other side of the inner arches.
Look for interior dampness and try to find out where it is coming from. Not always easy on an old convertible.
Externally the rear arches rot as does the bulkhead at the base of the A post and in behind the glove box caused by poorly draining rain water.
So with the shell checked out and you’re happy that you know at least what rust is in there and how much it’ll cost to repair, the next thing to do, is to double your estimate. Having done that, where do you look next?
We can’t leave the body shell without a word about identity and accident damage.
You should obviously check for accident damage – check the shut lines, check in the boot floor, the slam panel area and the chassis legs. Check for uneven tyre wear. Don’t be too concerned, though. These cars are at least 20 years old and the chances are there will have been a bump at some time. If it has been properly repaired, it is no big deal. Have the car HPI checked and again, be realistic about what you find.
These cars are worthless in the eyes of insurance loss adjusters and have been for a long while. They will be written off for the smallest repair. I bought a category C Motorsport convertible that needed a bonnet, a grille and one headlight to repair. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, i would think that any Cat C or D write off in the last 10 years is likely to have been pretty minor.
Anything older than that and repaired would have been an expensive repair and likely – but not certain – to have been done properly, but if not done properly, I’d think signs would be showing by now.
Unfortunately, it has to be mentioned though that a sizeable proportion of convertibles may have some issues with their identity. These were one of the most likely cars to be targeted by thieves and “ringers” (they buy an accident damaged write off and steal an identical car and give the stolen car the identity of the “repaired” damaged car) back in the day and I have certainly seen a few that were dubious.
Get the last seven digits of the VIN and ask a local dealer to do a specification enquiry. If the manufacture date, body style, colour and engine/gearbox all match the car you are looking at, the chances are it should be OK – unless they’ve been very professional and stolen the exact twin to “ring up”.
I’ve seen 316 4 door saloon identities on convertibles and Baurs were popular to “ring” into convertibles because of the body style on the V5.
Bear in mind too that many have been legitimately altered over the years with different paint and different engines and gearboxes. 320 to 325 conversions and auto to manual being pretty common place and the chances are that any dodgy dealing going on was many, many years ago and the original owners, insurers and Police are extremely unlikely to be interested now.
Remember though, that any write off categorisation may have an impact on future values and bid accordingly.
Probably the next most important part of a convertible is the roof. A new one to a good spec, supplied and fitted, will be £750. Ignore people who say you can have rear screens stitched in or that small holes can be easily repaired. They can’t, not properly and not without removing the fabric from the frame – at which point you are better replacing the whole thing. Second hand roofs that are good enough to fit are few and far between. Expect to pay £350 for one.
Check the top seal where it fits on to the screen header rail, look all round for small “abrasion” type wear and holes, check the stitching. Try and play a hose on the car to see if it lets water in. It will. It’s just a question of how much.
Frames are likely to be OK. If you can raise and lower it, it’ll be fine.
Power roofs come in two flavours, the 1989 EH electro hydraulic roof that is a masterpiece of over engineering fitted to M3s and Motorsports and the later simpler, less robust, electro mechanical versions based on a wiper motor. These were implemented not because they were better than the EH, they weren’t, but because the EH roof was fortunes to build and install. No matter which type is fitted, If they are working, consider it a bonus. If not, don’t believe the usual, “probably just a fuse” nonsense spouted by sellers. Either version can be costly and time consuming to get working correctly. As an example the ECU for the EH roof is £2500 plus VAT! A working power roof is a joy to behold. A faulty one is a nightmare. I like the EH. I wouldn’t have an EM. A manual is probably the best option.
We had this roof fitted to an E30 M3 convertible recently – it is a superb job at a cost of about £750 complete.
Next up is the interior.
Continue reading “E30 325i Convertible Buying Guide – Part 1”