All photos by Michael Minor Flickr @pixelbacon
What a silly car, teutonic, meh chaotic. Take the e21, the successor to the 2002, and the first of a series that has not ended, wedge into it the baby 6, an m20 with K Jet Mechanical fuel injection and you have a wonderful brute. I will let legend race driver and automotive journalist Tiff Needell kick off the enthusiasm.
- Engine – m20b23 2.3L w/ Bosh k-Jetronic making 1401hp @5800rpm and 140lb ft @4500rpm
- Sizes – Weight 2450lbs, Wheelbase 101in, 63.5in Width
- Performance – 18/26mpg 0-60 8.2 Seconds and 125mph Top Speed
Early on I was fortunate enough to score a 78 Euro 323i which was imported and mostly stored stateside. I don’t remember the exact backstory, but it was owned by the neighbor of Ricky Rick of Audi vr6, and Alpha GTR fame. It had a bodykit which partially imploded on the trip home when one of the side skirts couldn’t take the 100mph and folded like paper in the wind. While the beautifully 80’s body-kit (I want to say Zender, but with more elaborate side skirts see image 1) was disintegrating so was the muffler. Hint, if a car sits forever and is only occasionally started it collects water in the exhaust which finds its way out. The small surface rust on the exterior of the exhaust was actually a sign that the tubes had rotted from the inside out.
By the time it arrived home it had a raspy growl, and half its body kit, the other half was recovered. I removed the skirts, and the bumper covers and decided to not repair them as they were badly damaged, and kept the euro rear bumper installed but the front one stayed off due to damage, not sure why I didn’t repair it, this was many years ago. While doing this I touched up the screw holes where the body kit was mounted and inspected some front fender damage which exposed a hefty layer of bondo on the front left fender, with a chunk missing. The exposed area had not yet started to rust but it eventually would despite some repairs.
The car came fitted with original Alpina 16in wheels in an offset setup with some old tires. Those tires were replaced with decent rubber the brakes were replaced fluids changed and the car perked right up. The mechanical fuel injection seemed perfectly happy if a bit rich, more noticeable with the rear glass canted open. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the exhaust leaked from many minute tiny pot mark like rust holes that were ever forming.
I ignored the exhaust for now, the car felt good and the sound was almost tolerable if not enjoyable at some speeds, with some intentions. One thing I couldn’t ignore was the car randomly dying on the side of the road without warning and for no apparent reason. I feared something bad, but wasn’t sure and decided to dive into the timing belt and water pump because I had no history on either and odometer which was limited at 100k. I decided the best approach was a proper front end teardown and yanked the radiator, belts, and eventually water pump and was about do the thermostat when I noticed a wire dangling on the head in that area leading to a sensor, or wiring harness. Later I would find out this wire needed to be grounded for the car to run and it was was meant to be under the head of a bolt and was instead bouncing around causing intermittent running. I still completed the timing belt and water pump and got the car running as I had a trip coming up and wanted to take the car. We went to the U.P. with some 175 Nokians fitted to 13in rims and what felt like a crispy limited slip diff. There was a lot of sideways action happening and besides some tank slappers leading to the rear buried in snow banks, everything went off without a hitch. The rest of that winter the car received similar punishment including an ice rally cross and some daily driving before being parked until summer.
By summer it was time for an exhaust and was gifted one from my Dad, he was also very happy to hear the excessively loud raspy growl go away. This was done by a local shop but it seemed to work out ok and they at my request they kept the dual exhaust, which nobody is very keen on these days. I drove the car a year like this and parked it again for winter.
Halfway through winter someone offered me a trade for an e30 and cash and jumped on it. Looking back it seems insane, but my few years with the car were very enjoyable, and I will have another. There were some other overlapping cars in my life which likely motivated the sale, not sure, but either way the 323i may be one of my favorite BMW’s. It’s rear end geometry had a wonderful lift off oversteer and the baby 6 up front had just enough weight to always keep the front end in grip. Sometimes it was so good sideways you wished for an overdrive on the power steering pump and a cooler as it couldn’t keep up with the back to back lock to lock.
The car sat in a barn to whoever I sold it to, and I missed an opportunity to buy it back by an hour about 15 years later. If the next owner is out there, I want it back.