Design review of the BMW 3-series E30: stripped-down, minimalist and out-of-the-box

Design review of the BMW 3-series E30: stripped-down, minimalist and out-of-the-box

The E30 platform formed the bottom of the BMW range in the 1980s. It succeeded the E21 in 1982, a car that was sharper and sportier in design, with a shark nose and slim body.

BMW 3 Series E21, only available with two doors.

The 3 Series was the entry-level model from 1982 to 1991. After its unveiling in 1982, the two-door 3 Series was quickly joined by the somewhat clumsy-looking four-door sedan. Later, the E30 was also produced as a touring car and a convertible.

BMW 3 series

The first BMW 3 Series Convertible before the facelift.

BMW 3 series

A copy of after a facelift.

E30 models produced from 1984 to 1987 can be identified by their chrome bumpers. These were shortened in 1988 and replaced in 1989 with a chrome-stripped plastic one. The latter bumpers shift the visual weight downward. From the front and rear, the 3 Series has become more trapezoidal, improving the appearance.

BMW 3 series

BMW 3 series

The E30 was also the first 3 Series of which BMW Motorsport offered the M3 model.

BMW M3 E30

BMW M3 E30

BMW 3 series

The M3 retained the small taillights, which were replaced with larger ones in the 1987 facelift of the regular 3 Series.

BMW 3 series

In 1992, the replacement was ready, the BMW 3 Series with factory code E36. That car was also more dynamic and more clearly drawn with BMW proportions than the E30.

BMW 3 series

BMW 3 series

The 1980s were a decade of excess, following years of uncertainty, instability and economic decline in the 1970s. The flaunting of the booming economy of the 1980s was a logical consequence. This was reflected in music, culture, clothing and of course cars. This is how Porsche came up with the full-fat 930 Turbo. Although it was actually introduced in the 1970s, with its sexy hips and muffin top, it actually heralded the trend of the following decade. The Lotus Esprit also became more powerful as the Turbo with increasingly larger wings over the years.

Porsche 930 Turbo

Porsche 911 Turbo, from the 930.

Lotus Esprit Turbo

That's how the Lotus Esprit Turbo began. Abundance will increase over the years.

Mercedes-Benz certainly couldn't compete with the SEC, the coupe based on the S-Class, the W126 generation.

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Mercedes sec

The SEC also formed a rewarding basis for very flashy regulation.

Mercedes sec

And of course the radical Testarossa and F40 were brought from Italy. Especially for people who really wanted to show that they are in good shape:

Ferrari F40

In this sense, it was surprising that one of the luxury cars of the 1980s had a fairly simple design and simple appearance.

With its angular outline, slightly dated-looking high side windows and subdued detailing, the E30 was anything but a display piece. Especially when compared to its then very advanced competitor, the Mercedes-Benz 190.

In a positive sense, it could be said that the E30 was a sober piece of automotive design with finely applied chrome elements and expertly sculpted surfaces, but the design could not be described as very eye-catching. The E30's design lacks the strong stance and good proportions that BMWs deserve: it is Driving pleasure-Ultimately, the principle must be expressed in form.

Later in its life, the E30 got more flair. With the recent facelift, sobriety has become a thin layer, and pragmatism has become a reserved elegance. As a grand tourer and cabriolet, the little BMW was like no other. Literally: these cars had no competition in their class. The E30's design also radiates quality with well-balanced surfaces and the styling is well done. However, this 3 Series will never be seen as a major step within the BMW design ranks, even though the terrible status quo of BMW design cannot stand in the E30's shadow.

Niels van Rooij

Niels van Rooij

Columnist/writer

Through his automotive design studio, Niels van Rooij focuses on building vehicles and designs, among others, the Model SB, Adventum Coupe, Silver Specter Shooting Brake, Breadvan Hommage and Daytona Shooting Brake Hommage. He is also co-owner of Heritage Customs, which carries out the finishing work on the new Land Rover Defender.

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