My wife and I owned an '83 320is for 18 years. It was a wonderful car that taught me how low horsepower cars could feel fast. It represents German engineering at it’s best. Simple, well built, dependable and easy to service. It was also great fun to drive. I set ours up with a Bavarian Autosport header and anti-sway bars, Bilstein struts and Eibach springs. That little E21 went through turns faster than any car that I’ve owned before or since. That includes two 911s, a Miata and my E30.
Prior to the E21, I had been into restoring V8, 4 speed pony cars from the 1960’s. The BMW was my wife’s car and I didn’t pay much attention to it at first. But as I began servicing and driving the car, my appreciation grew into enthusiasm. Despite the low horsepower, the car was always going faster than I had intended.
Our little 320is got me into '80’s German cars. I sold the '60’s cars and spent some time with Porsches. For the past 3 years, I have been restoring a 325is, which is a very nice car. But the E21 has a beautiful simplicity that will hold up over time. The E30 has a lot of plastic electrical connectors that have become fragile and prone to breakage. German plastic from the 1980’s is often fragile and difficult to source. The E21’s simplicity minimizes that problem.
Rust is the enemy of the E21. My wife drove her car in the winter for just two years, but a massive and thorough restoration effort was unable to reverse the damage of a short exposure to road salt. So, if you are looking for an E21, get one with a rust free body. They are worth owning and restoring, regardless of market value.