Rate It: The 333i, the BMW South African Take on the E30-Chassis M3

By Colin Wood
Aug 31, 2020 | BMW, e30, 333i, South Africa

The E30-chassis BMW M3 may be one of the most iconic BMW models, but it wasn't sold universally. Some markets, such as South Africa, never got a dedicated M version of the E30. Instead, BMW South Africa built its own.

Meet the 333i. Built in collaboration with BMW South Africa and Alpina, the 333i is, essentially, an E30 coupe powered by the 3.2-liter M30 inline-six normally found in the 5 Series, 6 Series and 7 Series.

However, this unique model is much more than just a shoe-horned engine. For started, the car's powerplant is said to be good for around 194 horsepower and 210 lb.-ft. of torque. (For comparison, the U.S.-spec E30 M3 is good for 192 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft. of torque.)

Other improvements include a specially configured interior, Alpina ventilated front discs, and a close-ratio, five-speed manual transmission.

Due to the enlarged engine, however, buyers could only add air conditioning or power steering. There wasn't enough room in the engine bay for both.

Considering that a little more than 200 examples are said to have been built, the 333i may be one of the rarest BMW models to get your hands on–more so than the M3.

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View comments on the GRM forums
WillG80 GRM+ Memberand New Reader
8/31/20 11:58 a.m.

Even as a South African (now in CO), I didn't even know these existed. They must be extremely rare. 

ebelements Reader
8/31/20 1:13 p.m.

I'm going to get a lot of hate for this, but I think the car in question is better than the E30 M3.  Well, more specifically, the US market variant.

nutherjrfan UberDork
8/31/20 1:22 p.m.


It's half evil.

That's gotta be worth something.


David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/31/20 1:27 p.m.

In reply to ebelements :

It does sounds very "usable," if you know what I mean. 

MadScientistMatt PowerDork
8/31/20 2:05 p.m.

South Africa has a weird tendency to take European cars and redo them as if they were letting Don Yenko rewrite the spec sheet.

WillG80 GRM+ Memberand New Reader
8/31/20 2:11 p.m.
MadScientistMatt said:

South Africa has a weird tendency to take European cars and redo them as if they were letting Don Yenko rewrite the spec sheet.

Land Rover sold Defenders in South Africa with BMW M52 engines as a gas engine option. BMW valve covers and all. 

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
8/31/20 2:52 p.m.

I like their looks, but an M30 engine puts a lot of extra weight in the front end of a 3 series car.

South Africa also had an interesting e23 745i back in the day...while the 745i sold in other countries used the turbocharged M30 single cam engine, theirs used the twin cam engine from the M5.  They apparently built less than 250 of them.  https://www.bmwmregistry.com/model_faq.php?id=4


cmcgregor (Forum Supporter)
cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
8/31/20 3:16 p.m.

This is cool, but if I were looking for an oddball e30 variant with m3 genes, it would be an Italian 320is for me.

ZOO (Forum Supporter)
ZOO (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UltraDork
9/1/20 11:15 a.m.

In reply to cmcgregor (Forum Supporter) :

Kind of a bucket list BMW for me.

Median New Reader
9/1/20 11:37 a.m.
RaabTheSaab New Reader
9/1/20 11:58 a.m.

I was actually fortunate enough to drive one of these when I was in SA. Very VERY fun car. Mine was an AC, no PS version and I assure you I didn't feel particularly front heavy. Never driven a US spec M3, so I can't compare the two. 

crankwalk (Forum Supporter)
crankwalk (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
9/1/20 4:40 p.m.
nutherjrfan said:


It's half evil.

That's gotta be worth something.


This just reminds me of the Green Jelly album. 


ebelements Reader
9/2/20 10:57 a.m.

In reply to RaabTheSaab :

They handle awesome, but without a ton of mods, a US-spec M3 is pretty underwhelming. To put it perhaps a bit too simply, the feel like a "more special" 318iS. 

That said, with 20k or so worth of mods, they become a legitimately perfect vehicle worthy of any and all hype. 

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