1 2
Jerry
Jerry PowerDork
4/21/21 12:41 p.m.

I've talked myself out of the Elise.  Search continues onward.  A turbo MR2 is probably #1 spot, but I'm keeping an open mind.

I never thought about BMW before, but there must be a reason they're so popular in racing.  Would a $10K-ish budget buy me a driver?  Which models and years should I look for?

I know the 3 stands for 3 Series, what do the other numbers mean?  And which are the ones I should look for?

iansane
iansane Reader
4/21/21 12:59 p.m.

I'm a luddite so I would say the e30 chassis (82ish-94ish) is the best as there are basically no electronics and they look the most appealing to me. And they'll accept almost any engine you can dream of.

3 is obviously the series, the other two sporadically mean engine size.

ross2004
ross2004 Reader
4/21/21 1:16 p.m.

E36 (soon, if not already, the E46) is the new E30. E30 prices have really shot up. Is this to be a track car or street car?  

02Pilot
02Pilot UltraDork
4/21/21 1:17 p.m.

Recommendations are going to vary wildly here, based on what how much you want to spend, what you want to do with it and how much you're willing to deal with in terms of either age or electronics. The universal advice is to buy something with a service history, the more complete the better. BMW CCA has classifieds and is probably worth a look; you'll pay a little more, but you'll save in the long run by not having to spend on defered maintenance.

Even up to the E90 (5th) generation they are pretty well-designed for basic maintenance, though of course things get more and more cramped. Suspension are easy to work on and OE parts are not terrible. They drive very well when things are taken care of. Each generation has its quirks, but at your $10k figure I'd look for a really nice E46 or an E90, leaving something aside for maintenance; avoid the temptation of turbo E90s. Good E36s are hard to find and appreciating, as are E30s; even the least desirable E30s with eta motors and automatics have become desirable as swap candidates. E21s suffered a lot from rust and neglect, but good ones exist; if you could find a unicorn like a Euro 320i/6 or 323i it would be a contender.

gearheadE30
gearheadE30 Dork
4/21/21 1:17 p.m.

3 series covers a lot of time, from the E21 in the '70s up to the current cars. What kind of an experience are you looking for?

Like iansane said, 3 is the model range and the following numbers roughly correlate to power output. It's intended to be something like equivalent engine size. The bigger the number, the more power/performance and generally greater the amenities and cost.

E30s are the happy place for an older car experience (I own 3 of them...). You could easily get in an E36 M3 for that budget, or possibly an E46 330i or E90 330i. I wouldn't go to the newer turbo cars unless you are okay with maintenance $$$.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
4/21/21 1:18 p.m.

There's a Wikipedia page that gives a brief timeline of the different generations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_3_Series The older ones are slower and it's getting harder to find good ones, the newer ones are more complex and less reliable.  Personally I like e30s (I own one) but suggest looking for something from the e36 or e46 eras.

infinitenexus
infinitenexus GRM+ Memberand Dork
4/21/21 1:45 p.m.

I've always loved those cars.  I bought a 1998 323is right after joining the Army  - I modded it a bit and sold it with 150K miles and it still ran like new.  The mechanic I took it to once told me that it was designed to run a million miles on 3 engines.  That's all I really have to add.  The E36 and E46 are great cars with a healthy aftermarket and solid motors.  

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
4/21/21 1:56 p.m.
ross2004 said:

E36 (soon, if not already, the E46) is the new E30. E30 prices have really shot up. Is this to be a track car or street car?  

This. I'd love to have an E30 again. But only if it was my "fun" car. They are a bit basic for a DD for me, these days. 

Jerry
Jerry PowerDork
4/21/21 2:14 p.m.

This is to be a replacement for the Abarth.

A 3 season semi-daily like 3-4 days/week to work, fun drives on a weekend. Mostly street, possibly autocross casually and a track day is always a possibility.

Something fun, hopefully low maintenance or at least nothing major. I'd accept modified or stock, just looking for the next toy to play with and keeping options open.

Matt B (fs)
Matt B (fs) UltraDork
4/21/21 2:22 p.m.

As other have indicated this is a really broad question, but I can offer a little comparison.  I own an street MK1 MR2 and I race an E36 in Lemons.  I like them in their respective roles. The BMW is well supported, powerful enough without the complexity of a turbo, balanced handling, and has enough interior room to keep my body away from the cage.  That said, it isn't a special driving experience like the AW11.  Between the rearward weight bias and front visibility the car feels way faster than it is.  It doesn't take much road to make an errand an little experience.  I think of an E30 as somewhere in between.

Driven5
Driven5 UltraDork
4/21/21 2:28 p.m.

If looking at E92/E93, the coupe or convertible, also consider E82 1-Series. Same platform, but slightly smaller/lighter.

Honestly though, I have a love/hate relationship with my 128i. It has a combination of key attributes that make it uniquely fit to my requirements, and a few key characteristics (like uncorked engine note) that I love. But hate how BMW missed the mark for me with much of their 'German engineering', and while it may have more on offer than most true appliances, it generally lacks character compared to other 'fun' cars.

Honestly, I enjoyed my 2005 Mustang GT more, and (if not for precluding requirements) would rather be driving a Miata than either. 

cyow5
cyow5 Reader
4/21/21 2:29 p.m.

So given your broadly posed question, here are some broad answers. Beyond just 3 series, the categories break into body style (wagon, coupe, sedan, convertible). Then into drivetrain - AWD (xdrive) vs RWD and manual vs. auto. Especially for the E9x and older, a RWD 6MT is going to command a premium, all else the same. For a $10k budget, your choices there are going to be slim unless you accept auto and xdrive. But that's where I drew the line for reliability/ease of maintenance. I got an E91 (so that's the wagon) with 6MT and RWD for $9,500 last year and my nearly twin car just sold on BaT for $12,500+5% buyer's commission. While I am glad I got in when I did and it is a fantastic wagon, it isn't playful, even with the M3 suspension and coilovers I have on it now. Capable, yes, but just not tenacious. The Abarth would probably be described as playful, and that's a rare market. My Elise and (less so) my Mini could be described as such. Outside of a modded E30, I don't think you'll find a 3er that would truly playful. As they got more capable, they just got more serious. 

 

Edit: I wrote this up then got distracted. After posting, I see that a couple of the responses who leap-frogged me said very similar things, so sorry for the redundancy. 

dyintorace
dyintorace GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
4/21/21 2:39 p.m.

I'm a big BMW fan. I think I've owned 15 to date. Currently have a 2012 X35d and a 2010 128i M-Sport in the stable. I especially love the 3 series and have owned 9. I also owned an Abath for a while (some endearing attributes but also some I couldn't stand). 
 

I agree with the comment above regarding playfulness. None of my BMWs felt like the Abarth did. But I prefer the BMWs across the board. Fantastic driving cars, very engaging, very capable and relatively inexpensive when bought well loved. 

02Pilot
02Pilot UltraDork
4/21/21 3:10 p.m.

If it's going to be a toy/discretionary use car, then the 1-series is an option - I didn't mention it before, as I wasn't sure what you wanted to do with it. It's on the same platform as the E90, so lots of 3-series bits fit, including the suspension. My 128i is astonishingly capable on a lowered M3 suspension; that's the configuration I would suggest if you want to autox or use on the track. The turbo 135i is popular but the engine's reliability scares me. 1-series cars are not common, but these days tend to be more likely to be enthusiast-owned.

dps214
dps214 HalfDork
4/21/21 3:23 p.m.

I want to know where you thought you were going to get an elise for $10k from. Open up to the same budget and get an E90 M3 and enjoy the high revving V8 goodness.

Slippery
Slippery GRM+ Memberand UberDork
4/21/21 3:27 p.m.

$10k budget you are probably looking at an e46 ZHP, maybe ... middle of the pack. 

MR2T for $10k? Its going to be a basket case. 

dps214 above has the right idea. 

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
4/21/21 4:42 p.m.
dps214 said:

I want to know where you thought you were going to get an elise for $10k from. Open up to the same budget and get an E90 M3 and enjoy the high revving V8 goodness.

But make sure to keep plenty in the bank for rod bearings, broken valve springs, and failed gears in the throttle body actuators. 

It's such a sweet engine though.

irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
4/21/21 4:49 p.m.

$10k gets you a very nice later (88-91) e30 325i these days. For that much it would be in very good running, cosmetic, and interior shape.

And it'll be worth $20k in 5 years if you keep it that way. 

$10k can get you a nice e36 318ti, which is the hatchback 4-cylinder that all the rally guys are snapping up these days because they're great motorsports cars. 

$10k can probably get you a so-so shape e36 M3 or a very nice non-M e36 non-Ti

$10k can probably get you a so-so e46 330i or a nicer lower-level e46.

 

Slippery
Slippery GRM+ Memberand UberDork
4/21/21 5:15 p.m.

BTW:

Duke
Duke MegaDork
4/21/21 6:23 p.m.
irish44j (Forum Supporter) said:

$10k can probably get you a so-so e46 330i or a nicer lower-level e46.

Is that COVID talking?  Because 1-2 years ago $10k would get you the nicest non-M E46 around.

 

mr2s2000elise
mr2s2000elise UltraDork
4/21/21 6:26 p.m.
Slippery said:


MR2T for $10k? Its going to be a basket case. 

 

Heck ya! I wouldn't let my 94T or my 95T go for anywhere close!

wake74
wake74 Reader
4/21/21 6:29 p.m.

Owned a few E36s (currently down to just the track car), an M52 swapped 318ti and an E46 M3.  I would say that for $10k, you currently won't find anything better than a beater E36 M3.  2-3 years ago, $10k would have gotten you a decent example..  Hard to find anything that hasn't been beat on, salvage title, etc. for less than $15k on the E36 M3 front.  Lots of escalation there.

An E46M3 is out in that price range, unless maybe you are willing to take an SMG convertible.  The S54 is just a fantastic engine though.  The pinnacle of 30 years of BMW I6 development. 

The track car is (was) a '96 328.  Had 250k miles on it, when I bought it, it's been flogged for the last few years, and has damn near perfect compression and leak down.  Turned more Hp on  a dyno with 250k miles (with an off the shelf tune) that it had new.  It's more M3 now (engine swap, all four corners, cross members, 3.64 LSD, GC coil-overs, etc).  Its hard to complain about that kind of reliability.

I feel the interior quality of the E46 is a big step up from the E36.  If I was going to use it as a street car, occasional daily driver, occasional track car,  I'd go E46.  For $10k, I like the E46 ZHP example mentioned above if you can find a clean one in that range.  Escalation has really kicked in on E36s and E46s lately.

Jerry
Jerry PowerDork
4/21/21 6:47 p.m.
dps214 said:

I want to know where you thought you were going to get an elise for $10k from. Open up to the same budget and get an E90 M3 and enjoy the high revving V8 goodness.

Totally different situation.  Elise was worthy enough to dip into my IRA.  Since I'm not going that route, decided to stick with a budget from my savings.

dyintorace
dyintorace GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
4/21/21 7:21 p.m.
02Pilot said:

If it's going to be a toy/discretionary use car, then the 1-series is an option - I didn't mention it before, as I wasn't sure what you wanted to do with it. It's on the same platform as the E90, so lots of 3-series bits fit, including the suspension. My 128i is astonishingly capable on a lowered M3 suspension; that's the configuration I would suggest if you want to autox or use on the track. The turbo 135i is popular but the engine's reliability scares me. 1-series cars are not common, but these days tend to be more likely to be enthusiast-owned.

I'd love to compare notes about the 128i. I love ours! It came with a boatload of upgrades, which make it a really great car. 

irish44j (Forum Supporter)
irish44j (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
4/21/21 7:57 p.m.
Duke said:
irish44j (Forum Supporter) said:

$10k can probably get you a so-so e46 330i or a nicer lower-level e46.

Is that COVID talking?  Because 1-2 years ago $10k would get you the nicest non-M E46 around.

 

IDK, seems like around here the prices are going up pretty quick. Seems to be the case with cars in general. 

1 2
Our Preferred Partners
M70xamH8LIVsWSENDb5gmMH9pYblAZrQJhKFKTrxPPNaIV0s5TTpqCh1dLSh0u6W