Shot and written for Petrolicious.
Not everyone feels this way, but for me, hour-long driving trips are one of the best uses of free time in this life. What many see as a nuisance or a sacrifice to endure in order to get somewhere further away from home than the local supermarket is for me the best means of relaxation; a perfect way to spend some time away from the world, cruising cozily along enclosed in a comfortable shell of metal and leather. Perhaps there’s a little wind noise, but otherwise you’re sealed off from life’s little distractions. Add good music, the company of a person you love to talk to, and the fact that at the end of the journey you will have reached a worthy destination far from home, and I really don’t need more to be happy.
To be fair, a big part of the magic is played by the wonderful modern classic that I’m lucky to call my car, a 1982 BMW 628csi in Polaris Silver. Since I got it five years ago, it has effortlessly handled everything I’ve found to throw at it: road trips across Europe, to Croatia and Tuscany, thousands of kilometers on German and Austrian Autobahns, visits to the Salzburgring and Monza, ice-cold and slippery winter drives and blazing hot summer days. I still have yet to find another car that is as affordable, capable, and fun to own and use as this one.
People must have thought the same in 1976 when the E24 6-Series was launched into BMW’s new line of luxury GT cars. With its beautiful angular design that progressed the styling of the times while also recalling the great E9 coupes that came before it, the 6-Series also had excellent build quality on the practical side of things, and it proved a success even during those years of uncertainty following the fuel crisis in the ‘70s. The strong and balanced inline-six engines could push the big, one-and-a-half-ton coupe up to 210km/h if need be. Today it still drives like a modern car in terms of comfort and pace, be it for a leisurely but rapid cruise on the Autobahn, or a lively run on the mountain roads.
With the 6er, BMW also timidly began to show its interest in technological innovations that would later become one of its distinct trademarks. For a car born in the late ‘70s, the E24 already has power windows all around, power mirrors, as well as an innovative “Check Control System” with different icons alerting the driver if something with the brakes, the lights, or the fluids needs attention. A big button labeled “Test” even allows for testing of the system itself. Today it looks more retro-Casio than cutting edge, but as always, these were “different times.”
The smaller, Bosch-injected engine of the base-model 628csi boasted much better gas mileage than its carburetor-fed predecessors the 630csi and 633csi, but back then being a bit lavish was a prerogative to buying this kind of expensive car, so the one to have was the more powerful 635csi, which turned out to be the best selling one despite the high price. This means that today the 628csi is one of the rarest models, with only around 5,000 made, not many more than the exclusive and more extreme M6 and M635csi, models that had motorsport parts and were reportedly tested and approved by World Champion Nelson Piquet.
The same year that my 628csi was built, BMW unveiled the second generation of its successful 3-Series: the beloved E30. With over 3.2 million cars built between 1982 and 1994, this model turned out to be a real icon of the ‘80s that’s still visible in every major city of the world, to say nothing of its race tracks. It was offered in an unprecedented variety of body styles and engines: there were two or four-door options, petrols or diesels, four or six cylinders, sedans, wagons, even cabrios. The one shown here is a 320i sedan built in 1990 and bought online sight-unseen by a good friend of mine. I’m always happy to see a buddy buy a classic or a so-called modern classic car and enter into the experience of owning something that has quirks, character, and history, even if it sometimes requires more care than a new one might.
Its Bosch-injected inline-six develops around 125hp, which is enough to have fun with when one considers the weight; about 1,060kg, or just a bit over 2,300lbs. 10.4 seconds to 100km/h and a top speed of 200kmh were definitely nothing to be ashamed of in the late ‘80s, but today it’s more of what we’d call a fun momentum car in stock form. The E30 is on the way to becoming a solid classic choice if it hasn’t passed that nebulous threshold already, and pristine examples are going for increasingly strong prices even in non M spec.
What better way to appreciate all the qualities of both these cars than with a road trip to Italy then? A land of endless country roads and culinary delights sounds like prime traveling to me. So, we took our BMWs and drove them to the Piemonte region, famous for its truffles and its wines, and spent a short but memorable weekend driving without a plan, just cruising around from town to town with no overhanging urge to arrive somewhere specific. Just enjoying the driving, the company, and all the little views in between that you’d never see without doing the route by its backroads.
Stopping at the side often for photos, seeing both cars together, their common design elements are easily noticeable. Both their bodies and interiors are pure and functional, unobtrusively elegant, without frills but not plain because of it. Nothing about them feels dated to me, and their designs have aged beautifully, unlike some of the models that came after them, and their peers that were more “of the times” and the worse for it.
In the end, both cars brought us back home without the slightest issue. After all, they were built in a time when the German manufacturer was chasing the ideal of a long-lasting car and people weren’t leasing to nearly the same degree. What these older Bimmers lack in electronic aids and accessories, they more than make up for with tons of style and a charismatic driving experience that makes even errands a pleasure to run in first and second gear.
The BMW E24 and E30 offer a lot of car for the money even if they’re both creeping up in value, so if one looks hard enough or is not afraid to go with a not-perfect example it can be a rewarding and rather affordable experience, all things being relative of course. Here’s my advice if you like these cars: get one cheap-ish while you can, call some good friends, and drive it to a place where some good food awaits to reward your prudent fiscal decision to buy something fun to drive!