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BMW E21 3 Series. The complete story

The BMW E21 is the first generation of the BMW 3 Series compact luxury car and was produced between June 1975 and 1983, being replaced by the E-30. It was originally available as a 2-door sedan, replacing the 02 Series. At the time of its launch, all models used 4-cylinder engines, and 6-cylinder engines were added in 1977. A convertible version of the E-21 was marketed, manufactured by Baur, and was available from 1978 to 1981.

Design and development of the BMW E-21

The BMW E-21 was designed by Paul Bracq, BMW Design Director from 1970 to 1974, under the supervision of BMW director and BMW majority shareholder Herbert Quandt, and was presented to the public in July 1975 at the Olympic Stadium in Munich.

The front view of the new car was dominated by the kidney grille that stood out clearly from the radiator shroud. Like many other BMW models, the C-pillar of the E21 featured the famous Hofmeister crease.

The cabin design of the E21 marked the introduction of a new design concept, with the centre console and central dashboard area angled towards the driver. This feature has become part of BMW’s interior design philosophy for many years.

Measuring 4,355 mm long, 1,610 mm wide, and 1,380 mm high, the E21 continued the tradition of the new class of 2-door sedan models.

The BMW E-21 featured MacPherson struts at the front and independent suspension arms at the rear, with a tendency to oversteer. It had disc brakes at the front, while the rear wheels had drum brakes (except for the 323i model which had discs on all wheels).

Initially, a four-speed manual gearbox was fitted, until five-speed manuals were introduced in 1980. Optionally, buyers could opt for a ZF 3 HP-22 three-speed automatic transmission.

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BMW E-21 Baur Cabriolet
The BMW e-21 had a convertible version, designed by Baur GmbH, based on E21 models, which went into production in 1978 and was sold through the BMW dealer network. A total of 4,595 BMW E-21 Baur cars were produced before production ended in 1981.

Motorsports
The Group 5 racing version of the BMW 320 was introduced in 1977 as a replacement for the now obsolete BMW 3.0 CSL and was nicknamed the Flying Brick in reference to the vehicle’s distinctive design style, being powered by a Formula 2 engine that was tuned to 225 kW (306 hp) by BMW Motorsport in just 12 weeks.

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It had as drivers, among others, Manfred Winkelhock, Eddie Cheever and Marc Surer, winning its first race at the Zolder circuit (Belgium) in 1977 with Surer at the wheel.