The final touch was added to the car’s straightforward design by the special configuration of the cockpit: In terms of cockpit design, the new BMW 3 Series marked the introduction of a revolutionary design concept, the centre console facing towards the driver destined to become a particular highlight of BMW’s interior design philosophy for many years. And as a visible sign of exemplary passive safety, all edges and control elements within the interior were carefully rounded off and padded.
The large engine compartment lid extending down at the side over the wheel arches housed a range of updated and revised power unit displacing 1,573, 1,766, and 1,990 cc, respectively. Hence the model designations 316, 318, 320, and 320i.
With fuel being expensive following the first oil price shock, BMW’s engineers had set up the power units for less expensive regular fuel. But this did not mean that the engines’ output and performance was “regular”. On the contrary, right from the start the 316 developed a very substantial 90 bhp which, given the car’s unladen weight of 1,010 kg or 2,227 lb, gave the car that dynamic performance so typical of the brand. Developing 98 bhp, the 318 already came very close to the three-digit horsepower range at the time reserved to the luxury performance class, and with maximum output of 109 bhp the 320 was definitely the leader in its class. As if even that was not enough, the BMW 320i with fuel injection offered an even more substantial 125 bhp, albeit on premium grade fuel.
This kind of power, together with the streamlined body design, gave the new cars top speed between 160 and 180 km/h (99 and 112 mph).
To draw a clear sign of distinction within the new model series, the two two-litre models came with dual headlights, the other two had single round headlights. In the German market the entry-level 316 retailed at DM 13,600, the 318 sold for DM 14,420, and the two 2.0-litre models went for DM 15,330 and, respectively, DM17,400.
“BMW Moving out of the Niche”
The new model series was a great success right from the start. Eberhard von Kuenheim, at the time the Chairman of the Board of Management of BMW AG, thus made a clear statement on the new 3 Series in a two-page ad in 1976 under the title “BMW Moving out of the Niche:” “This model series has given us a level of success far beyond our own expectations. And the new cars not only meet the sporting ambitions of a relatively small group of excellent motorists. Rather, they are aimed at a larger group of experienced drivers looking increasingly for quality and safety. Hence, we are actually appealing to a far larger group of prospects.” And indeed, BMW was speaking the right language: Just one year after its debut, the BMW 320 was voted the best saloon in the world in the category up to two litres by the readers of Europe’s largest car magazine.