Generation 2 hit the world market in 1982 and went on sale locally in 1983. A definite evolution in style, this E30 BMW stamped the firm’s brand firmly in SA. Thanks to its sporting nature and ‘sheer driving pleasure’ it made owners want to really drive, which in some cases earned BMW drivers a bad rap with other users. Even today, the 1980s BMW is highly sought-after and has a cult following amongst the ‘spinning crowd’, thanks to its rear-wheel-drive layout and decent grunt which enable doughnuts at the drop of the clutch. The best E30 for this task is obviously a manual with limited-slip differential, which BMW so kindly gave as standard in the 323i and 325i versions. These antics have earned the drivers fame and BMWs of the 1980s the nickname gusheshe, which translates to… wait for it…’panty dropper’. Added to the two- and four-door sedan styles were a station wagon (titled Touring) and drop-tops, both in full cabriolet and Targa format.
Initially power came from a 1766cc four-cylinder petrol (318i), a 1990cc six-cylinder petrol (320i) or 2316cc six-cylinder petrol (323i) and bodywork was in two-door guise. A four-door version soon went on sale though, and along with facelifts and the move from chrome bumpers to plastic ones, the box-shaped BMW also dabbled in other capacities like 1766cc (316), 1596cc (316i) and 2494cc (325i). A homologation special BMW Motorsport M3 was added to the mix in Europe but never sold in SA. True to form, we had to shoehorn some extra cubes under the E30 hood, but that part of the story will come later.
The third-generation E36 overlapped E30 production a bit, running from 1991 through to 1998. Local fans referred to this as the ‘dolphin’ shape because of the side silhouette’s diving nose. Four-door, coupé, full cabriolet and wagon versions were sold and while the badging by engine capacity continued with four- and six-pot configurations, the six-cylinder did change from the E30’s single-cam layout to a twin-cam unit. This was also the first shape to officially introduce local fans to the M3 – who can forget the tinny exhaust note coming from a Dakar Yellow M3 in the 1990s?
Generation 4 arrived in 1998 and ran through to 2006. In SA this is referred to as the ‘G-string’ because when viewed head-on, the way the bonnet metal splits through the two rounded ‘kidney’ grilles looks like what you’d see if you were walking along the beach behind a lady wearing a very skimpy bikini. It is also the model that makes it confusing in the badge department; it no longer indicates the capacity – a problem for those of us following a Beemer and looking for a dice.
The end of 2005 saw the arrival of the E90 fifth generation, and the current sixth version replaced that in 2012. Both these need a bit of time under their belts to develop into some sort of cult star but what is certain is that they are pushing limits when it comes to economy, safety, technology and performance, continually improving on these but keeping at the sharp end of the performance sedan brigade.