Reliving the Golden Era: The Best BMWs of the 80s

In the halcyon days of the 1980s, when neon lights cast their glow on the streets and the synths of new wave reverberated through the air, a technological revolution was underway in the automotive world.

The Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) played a pivotal role in shaping the era, forging a legacy of performance, design, and innovation that endures to this day. As we take a nostalgic cruise down memory lane, allow me to be your guide in this fascinating journey through the best BMWs of the 80s.

The decade was marked by BMW’s relentless pursuit of perfection, an ethos that gave birth to a fleet of vehicles that set the benchmark for their respective segments.

From the iconic E30 M3, which redefined the sport sedan, to the luxurious E32 7 Series, a paragon of automotive refinement, BMW’s 80s lineup was truly an ensemble of engineering masterpieces.

As we delve into the rich history of these mechanical marvels, you’ll be immersed in the stories that capture the essence of their creation, the visionary engineers who breathed life into them, and the unrelenting passion of the Bimmer community.

From the racetracks of Europe to the bustling streets of America, these legendary machines etched their names into the annals of automotive history and continue to captivate enthusiasts and collectors alike.

Join me, fellow Bimmer aficionados, as we relive the golden era of BMW and celebrate the masterpieces that helped shape the automotive landscape.

Together, we will rediscover the beauty, performance, and innovation that made these vehicles the envy of their contemporaries, and learn why their allure has endured for decades. So, buckle up and prepare for an exhilarating ride through time, as we explore the best BMWs of the 80s.

The Iconic E30 M3

The birth of the E30 M3

As the 1980s dawned, BMW found itself yearning for a competitive edge in the fiercely contested world of touring car racing.

The answer to this quest for dominance came in the form of the E30 M3, a purpose-built machine designed to conquer the racetrack and capture the hearts of enthusiasts.

Developed by BMW’s Motorsport division, the M3 emerged as a thoroughbred racing machine that would go on to reshape the landscape of the sport.

The development process: The M3’s genesis was marked by the careful fusion of racing technology and street car usability. Based on the standard E30 3 Series, the M3 featured a bespoke, high-revving 4-cylinder engine known as the S14.

The car’s aggressive bodywork, including its wide fender flares and distinctive rear wing, was meticulously designed to improve aerodynamics and stability at high speeds. The result was a harmonious blend of performance and practicality that would define the M3’s unique character.

Performance and design

Engine specifications: The E30 M3’s S14 engine was a marvel of engineering, a 2.3-liter inline-four that produced 192 horsepower in its initial iteration. Later models, such as the Sport Evolution, would see the displacement increase to 2.5 liters and power output reach up to 235 horsepower.

The engine’s high-revving nature, combined with its individual throttle bodies, provided an exhilarating driving experience that was both visceral and engaging.

Chassis and suspension enhancements: To complement the engine’s raw power, the E30 M3 received a number of chassis and suspension upgrades.

The car’s front and rear suspension were fine-tuned for optimal handling, while the addition of a limited-slip differential and larger brakes ensured maximum traction and stopping power.

These enhancements allowed the M3 to carve through corners with surgical precision, earning it a reputation as a true driver’s car.

Racing success and legacy

Touring car championships: The E30 M3’s true prowess was revealed on the racetrack, where it dominated the touring car racing scene. With over 1,500 victories in various races and championships, the M3 became one of the most successful touring cars of all time.

Its victories included multiple wins at the prestigious 24 Hours of Nürburgring, the European Touring Car Championship, and the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM).

Impact on future BMW models: The E30 M3’s success on and off the track cemented its place in automotive history and laid the groundwork for future M models.

The car’s perfect marriage of performance, handling, and practicality set a new standard for sports sedans, inspiring a long lineage of M3 models that continue to captivate enthusiasts to this day.

The E30 M3 is a testament to BMW’s commitment to performance and innovation, and its legend will forever live on in the annals of automotive history.

The Luxurious E32 7 Series

Redefining luxury and innovation

Introduction of the E32 7 Series: Launched in 1986, the E32 7 Series was BMW’s answer to the growing demand for a sophisticated, luxurious sedan that would stand head and shoulders above the competition.

As the successor to the E23, the E32 built upon its predecessor’s strengths while introducing a host of groundbreaking features and technologies that would redefine the luxury car segment.

Innovations in design and technology: The E32 7 Series was a showcase of BMW’s commitment to blending elegance, comfort, and cutting-edge technology.

The car’s sleek, understated design was a testament to the brand’s evolving design language, while its innovative features such as double glazing, Xenon headlights, and the first-ever integrated telephone and fax machine set new standards in automotive luxury.

Performance and comfort

Engine options: True to BMW’s performance heritage, the E32 7 Series was offered with a range of potent engine options. From the silky smooth 3.0-liter inline-six in the 730i to the monstrous 5.0-liter V12 in the 750iL, the E32 delivered both luxury and performance in equal measure.

The 750iL’s V12, in particular, was a technological tour de force, producing 296 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque, making it one of the most powerful sedans of its time.

Advanced suspension and ride quality: To provide the ultimate comfort and road-holding capabilities, the E32 7 Series was equipped with an advanced suspension system that adapted to the road conditions and driving style.

The car’s self-leveling rear suspension and optional Electronic Damper Control (EDC) ensured a smooth, comfortable ride without sacrificing handling prowess. This delicate balance between comfort and performance elevated the E32 above its rivals, solidifying its place as a leader in the luxury sedan market.

Legacy and Influence on future models

The birth of BMW’s flagship sedan: The E32 7 Series marked the beginning of BMW’s long-standing tradition of creating flagship sedans that epitomize luxury, technology, and performance.

The E32’s impact on the automotive world was profound, influencing not only future 7 Series models but also setting the standard for luxury sedans across the industry.

Impact on the automotive industry: The E32’s innovative features, elegant design, and exceptional performance made it an instant classic, compelling other manufacturers to follow suit in the race for luxury supremacy.

Its technological advancements, such as the introduction of Xenon headlights, would go on to become industry staples, while its striking design language would inspire a new generation of luxury cars. In many ways, the E32 7 Series was a harbinger of the future, forever changing the landscape of the automotive world.

The Stylish E24 6 Series

Introduction and development of the E24 6 Series

Replacing the E9 coupes: As the 1970s drew to a close, BMW set out to create a successor to the beloved E9 coupes, aiming to capture the essence of their timeless design while incorporating modern engineering and technological advancements.

Enter the E24 6 Series, a stylish and sophisticated grand tourer that made its debut in 1976 and continued production into the 1980s, cementing its status as a true icon of the era.

Penned by the talented Paul Bracq, the E24 6 Series showcased a design that was both sleek and muscular, characterized by its low-slung profile, graceful lines, and distinctive “shark nose” front end.

The car’s elegant silhouette and aggressive stance conveyed a sense of power and refinement, perfectly encapsulating the spirit of the grand touring experience.

Performance and handling

Engine specifications: Under the hood, the E24 6 Series was powered by a range of BMW’s renowned inline-six engines, delivering smooth, linear power that complemented the car’s touring capabilities.

Early models, such as the 630CS and 633CSi, featured engines displacing 3.0 and 3.2 liters, while later versions like the 635CSi and M635CSi (M6 in the US) boasted a 3.4-liter engine producing up to 286 horsepower in the European M635CSi model.

Chassis and suspension setup: The E24 6 Series was built on a modified version of the E12 5 Series chassis, providing a solid foundation for its handling prowess. With a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution and a fully independent suspension system, the E24 delivered a balanced and engaging driving experience that belied its grand tourer nature.

Optional equipment, such as the limited-slip differential and sport-tuned suspension, further enhanced the car’s road-holding capabilities and driver appeal.

Iconic status and lasting appeal

Pop culture appearances: The E24 6 Series’ unmistakable design and suave persona made it a popular choice in movies and television shows of the 1980s, further cementing its status as an icon of the era.

Perhaps most notably, the 6 Series made a lasting impression in the 1980s hit TV series “Miami Vice,” where it became synonymous with the show’s stylish and thrilling atmosphere.

Collectibility and enthusiast following: Today, the E24 6 Series continues to captivate the hearts of BMW enthusiasts and collectors, who are drawn to its unique blend of style, performance, and comfort.

Pristine examples of the 6 Series, particularly the M635CSi and M6 models, have become sought-after collector’s items, as they represent a bygone era of automotive elegance and the pinnacle of BMW’s grand touring coupes.

The E24 6 Series remains a shining example of BMW’s commitment to creating cars that stand the test of time, both in terms of design and driving experience.

The Innovative E28 M5

Genesis of the E28 M5

Development of the first M5: In the mid-1980s, BMW’s Motorsport division was once again poised to make history by creating a high-performance sedan that would break new ground in the automotive world.

Drawing inspiration from the success of the E30 M3, the engineers at BMW set their sights on the 5 Series, aiming to transform it into a super-sedan like no other. The result was the E28 M5, a car that would lay the foundation for a storied lineage of performance sedans.

The need for a high-performance sedan: As the market for luxury sedans grew, so too did the demand for vehicles that offered both refinement and exhilarating performance.

The E28 M5 was conceived to meet this demand, blending the practicality and comfort of the 5 Series with the raw power and handling capabilities of a true sports car.

Performance and design

Engine and drivetrain: The heart of the E28 M5 was the 3.5-liter inline-six engine derived from the iconic M1 supercar, known as the M88/3. Producing 286 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque, this engine propelled the M5 from 0-60 mph in just 6.2 seconds, making it the fastest production sedan in the world at the time.

Power was delivered to the rear wheels through a close-ratio five-speed manual transmission, offering drivers a truly engaging and responsive driving experience.

Exterior and interior enhancements: On the surface, the E28 M5 was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, featuring subtle exterior enhancements that distinguished it from the standard 5 Series.

The most notable exterior cues included a revised front air dam, unique alloy wheels, and the discreet “M5” badge on the rear. Inside, the M5 offered a luxurious and driver-focused environment, complete with sports seats, a leather-wrapped M-Tech steering wheel, and an array of M-specific instrumentation.

Legacy and Influence on Future M Models

Establishing the M5 as a performance benchmark: The E28 M5’s unmatched combination of luxury, practicality, and performance set a new standard in the world of high-performance sedans, establishing the M5 as the benchmark against which all others would be measured.

Its success paved the way for future generations of M5 models, each pushing the envelope further and continuing the tradition of blending supercar performance with everyday usability.

Setting the stage for future M models: The E28 M5’s impact on the automotive world extended beyond the realm of performance sedans, as it also set the stage for future M-badged models across the BMW lineup.

Its innovative approach to blending performance and luxury has continued to inspire BMW’s engineers, leading to the creation of a diverse array of M models that cater to a wide range of driving preferences and styles.

The E28 M5’s lasting legacy is a testament to BMW’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of automotive performance and innovation.

In Conclusion

As we look back at the best BMWs of the 1980s, it becomes clear why these iconic models continue to captivate the hearts and minds of enthusiasts around the world.

Each car represents a unique blend of performance, style, innovation, and craftsmanship that has stood the test of time, making them as desirable today as they were when they first rolled off the assembly line.

The E30 M3, E32 7 Series, E24 6 Series, and E28 M5 embody the spirit of a golden era in automotive history when BMW’s commitment to creating the ultimate driving machines was at its peak.

The influence of these groundbreaking models can still be felt in the automotive world today, as they set new standards for performance, luxury, and design that continue to inspire both BMW and its competitors.

These 80s icons have shaped the course of automotive history, and their enduring appeal serves as a testament to the talent and ingenuity of the engineers, designers, and craftsmen who brought them to life.

The enthusiasm for these classic BMWs remains strong within the Bimmer community, as collectors and enthusiasts alike continue to cherish, preserve, and drive these remarkable machines.

The passion for these 80s icons is a testament to their timeless appeal and the indelible mark they have left on the hearts of those who have had the privilege to experience them firsthand.

As we celebrate the best BMWs of the 1980s, we are reminded of the lasting impact these vehicles have had on the automotive landscape, and we look forward to the exciting innovations and thrilling driving experiences that future generations of BMW models will undoubtedly bring.

Georg Meier

BMW technician since 1996, began his automotive journey in 1993 as an apprentice mechanic at Automag, the world's oldest BMW dealership located in Munich. With years of experience and dedication under his belt, Georg has garnered a wealth of knowledge about the intricacies of BMW vehicles. His profound love for the brand led him to found BIMMERIST website, where he now shares his expertise and insights with fellow enthusiasts.

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