BMW is on the seventh generation of the 3 Series by now, with curb weights 50% higher and horsepower levels 50% to 400% greater than what we saw when the very first 320i two-door sedans showed up at American BMW dealerships in late 1976. The E21-platform 320i stayed on sale here until the soon-to-be-legendary E30 replaced it for the 1984 model year, and I’ve found this 200K-mile example of a mid-series E21 in a self-service boneyard near Reno, Nevada.
Mt. San Antonio College, known by its students as “Mount Sac,” is located in Southern California. A life spent in California and Nevada would explain this car’s lack of body rust.
This car appears to have been purchased with the Luxus Touring Group option package, which included a sunroof (considered a powerful status symbol in 1980) and cost $1,545. That’s about $5,920 in 2022 dollars, or enough to buy about 50 grams of cocaine back then.
The sticker price on this car was $11,810, or about $45,230 today. A new Chevy Camaro Z28 cost just $7,121 that year.
All U.S.-market E21s came with a fuel-injected 1.8-liter or 2.0-liter version of the M10 engine that powered 1602s and 2002s in earlier years. If this is the original engine, it is a 1.8 rated at 101 horsepower. The car weighed about 2,300 pounds, just a bit more than a new Mitsubishi Mirage, so it was fairly quick for the era despite barely achieving triple-digit horsepower.
Each successive generation of 3 Series became more luxurious and powerful as the decades went on, but the E21 still had plenty of its lightweight 02 Series ancestry.