1979 BMW 323i (E21)

BMW 323i at Riverside
Track time at Riverside in 1989 (original wheels and tires)
BMW 323i today
Current appearance (July 2008)
BMW 323i badge

  • Alpina (and Dinan) suspension
  • MSW 7×15" wheels similar in appearance to original (5˝×13") wheels
  • Dunlop 205/50ZR-15 tires (original were 185/70HR-13) - the largest which will fit without body modifications
  • aluminum front stress bar
  • 3.73:1 differential (original was 3.45:1) - lowers top speed from 132 MPH to 122 MPH at redline but improves performance in typical US use
  • US DOT modifications (door beams, side marker lights, US speedometer)
  • Hella Z-beam headlights
  • Original German-spec engine, overhauled less than 6,000 miles ago
  • 2291 cc (140 cu in) inline 6-cylinder
  • 143 BHP @ 5800 RPM
  • 140.1 lb-ft torque @ 4500 RPM
  • 9.5 : 1 compression ratio
  • Bosch K-Jetronic fuel injection
  • dual exhaust system

Other Original Features:

  • Getrag 4-speed manual transmission
  • 4-wheel disc brakes (320i has drums in back)
  • Recaro seats (black cloth)
  • leather-wrapped sport steering wheel
  • sunroof
  • European bumpers - much sleeker than US-spec "boat anchor" bumpers

under the hood
Overview of the engine compartment
engine and stress bar
Engine and aluminum stress bar between shock towers
front wheel
7×15" wheels; 205/50-15 tires fit in stock wheelwell
driver's seat
Recarro seats and leather sport steering wheel
view from the driver's seat
View from the driver's seat
German controls
German labeling on controls
pedals and carpet
Original carpet; pedals in good condition
floor mats
Full set of floor mats

BMW's M20 "baby six" engine debuted in 1977 in the E21 body -- the original 3-series. Compared to the 100ish BHP 320i, which the 323i replaced outside North America, the 323i is wickedly fast.

This example was built in May 1979 and imported into the United States around 1984 under a one-time exemption from EPA emissions regulations. It cannot be licensed in California but has readily passed a tailpipe smog test in Illinois and should do fine in most states. It can handle leaded or unleaded fuel but demands 91 octane or better fuel. I'm told that the catalytic converters from a 5-liter Mustang fit easily in place of the resonators and that this conversion actually improves performance.

I bought the car in 1987 and subsequently made many improvements to make the handling match the performance of the (stock) engine.

BMW says the car's top speed is 119 MPH but I've seen 132 MPH, at which point the rev-limiter takes charge. (The car's top speed should be about 122 MPH now due to the shorter gearing that was installed.)

It has readily beaten early M3s (E30 body) at Laguna Seca. It even lapped a Ferrari F40 at Sears Point but I think that had more to do with the Ferrari's driver.

repair manuals
Repair manaul set (English)

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