History Of The BMW 3 Series | Part Four

1987 BMW M3 Convertible

BMW 3 Series

In 1981 this high degree of satisfaction on the part of customers was confirmed by a very convincing number: Almost exactly six years after the start of production, to be precise in May 1981, the millionth 3 Series came off the production line, thus making the 3 Series the most successful BMW of all times.

1982: the Second Generation

Clearly, this success was also a commitment. And it opened the door for even greater success: In 1982 BMW presented the thoroughly revised and updated second-generation 3 Series. Working consistently on this best seller, BMW’s engineers had done an outstanding job: Although the new model offered four centimetres more space inside, body length had not just remained the same, but had even become three centimetres shorter. The front direction indicators had moved from the front edge of the fenders into the bumpers, and now there was a wider, stronger-looking B-pillar finished in matt black.

By now the wedge shape with the high rear end had long been accepted, nobody criticising the somewhat higher luggage compartment lid and the larger tail lights. On the contrary: With its track 35 millimetres or 1.38´´ wider, the new 3 Series looked a lot more powerful and muscular. And this impression was quickly confirmed on the road: First, BMW’s development specialists had put the 3 Series on a strict diet, saving some 30 kilos or 66 lb per car, despite the wider range of equipment. Second, the power units within the wider engine compartments were in part even more powerful.

In particular, however, the new two-door models were faster than their predecessors also thanks to their significantly improved aerodynamics.

Powered as before by a 90-bhp four-cylinder, the 316, for example, now had a top speed of 175 km/or 109 mph. Featuring mechanical fuel injection, the identical four-cylinder in the 318i developed maximum output of 105 bhp, sufficient for a top speed of 184 km/h or 114 mph. The two six-cylinders, finally, now came with electronically controlled fuel injection giving the power unit in the 323i even more torque and truly outstanding performance, with a top speed of 202 km/h or 125 mph.

Despite this superior power, the top-of-the-range 3 Series was by all means fuel-efficient, consuming just 8.9 litres on average in the DIN consumption test (31.7 mpg Imp) thanks to its five-speed gearbox with an overdrive economy top gear. The 320i, finally, was hardly any slower, reaching a top speed of 197 km/h or 122 mph with its 2.0-litre 129 bhp power unit. And its list price back in 1982 was almost DM 3,000 lower than that of the 323i, DM 24,550 definitely being an interesting offer.

The updated engines were not the only features to be admired beneath the sheet metal. For in the interest of enhanced driving safety without impairing the car’s handling, BMW’s engineers had given the new 3 Series a single-joint spring strut axle at the front with sickle track arms and a reduced roll radius. The rear axle, in turn, came with separated dampers and springs, with the control angle of the rear semi-trading arms changing from 20 to 15o. In all, this provided an even better suspension set-up offering in particular an even higher standard of driving safety with handling remaining at least as good as before.

continues... | Part Five
Published 19 January 2005 Melanie Carter

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