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BMW 318i Touring (E30) | Shed of the Week

Finding a good E30 Touring is hard work. Finding one for Shed money is all but impossible...

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, January 10, 2020

When particular Sheds are being talked about on Petrolicious, you know that this is the time for you to start paying attention.

Okay, so that last sentence may be stretching the truth somewhat. You won't find our E30 Touring shed anywhere on that online haven for lovable motors, but you will find generic E30 content on Petrolicious because the gen-two 3 Series‘s 1982-1994 years represent a rightly well-loved period on the BMW timeline.

Although the E30 debuted as a two-door saloon in 1982, it was another five years before the estate came along, and it did so with a very odd backstory. It’s not certain that BMW had a 3 Series estate in mind at all until a BMW employee who hated not being able to take his family on holiday in a regular 3 Series saloon started hacking around with a written-off Three in, of all places, his shed. The management liked the fruits of his labours so much, they signed it off for production. The E30 Touring could therefore be the last example of a mainstream car design being knocked up by one bloke in a shed. He obviously got it right too because Touring E30s generally fetch about 50 per cent more on the used market than their four-door siblings.

What makes our own humble Shed especially interesting is the fact that it does qualify as a Shed. As most of you know, cars only get chosen for this feature if (a) they cost £1,500 or less and (b) they have a current MOT certificate. Everyday E30s will sometimes fulfil one of those two criteria, but outside of the super-expensive sports models they will only rarely tick both boxes at the same time. That’s because they’re old and very rot-prone, a toxic combo that has brought most of the non-specialist models to a grisly end.

The wonder of our 1989 318 in white is that corrosion hasn't been mentioned as either a fail or an advisory on any MOT reports since 2006, when it had 114,000 miles on the clock. Fourteen years later, nine of them in the current owner’s care, the mileage has reached 185,000, which is no small amount, but the critical point is that the body still appears to be sound.

That apparent solidity makes it a very interesting candidate for a driveline transplant, something the next custodian might want to consider anyway given that this is the lowest-powered 1.8 version of the Bosch Motronic-injected, Steyr-built M40 single-cam four hooked up to a power-sapping four-speed automatic. The Touring was hardly a gulliver at 1,200kg, but with just 113 or so horsepower on tap the 318i’s 0-60 time was in the 13 second bracket, the top speed was just 115mph and the town fuel figure was around 25mpg.

Not exactly a roadburner, then, but at least the 318i was faster than the 86hp diesel option you could get in some markets, and you can always tell doubters that your M40 motor formed the basis for the epic turbo F1 motors of the 1980s. These Tourings were more about civility than searing performance. With a lot more refinement than the preceding E21 Threes, they brought classy second-car practicality to a moneyed clientele that had previously had to choose between Astras and Escorts. The driving position is still one of the best ever and the rear-wheel drive balance was beautifully judged.

The present London-based owner tells us that he bought the 318i as a project, but that he found the car to be too useable in its existing condition to disturb the status quo. Shed likes this type of honesty in a car seller. Photographs of the interior have been deemed unsuitable for public viewing, which is a pity, but using his spidey senses Shed will lay money on the seat bolsters being scruffy at the very least. Ebay and scrappers are your friends, but be warned that some trim parts are getting scarce. Dashes in particular are super-rare.

Engine-wise, the M40’s timing is by belt, and that needs to be replaced every 30,000 miles/three years. Skipped oil changes may impact adversely on camshaft wear, but the good thing about pre-1991 M40s is that top-end work is relatively easy. Keep the coolant under surveillance and if you want your auto box to last, look after its oil. If the wiper isn't doing intermittent wiping, it will very likely need a new motor. 

Now, although we said there was no MOT-based indication of structural problems, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is none. These E30s are well known for crumbling. Get a profile picture of one and draw a horizontal line on it at floor level. That entire lower section of the car from the boot floor to the front subframe mounts and suspension turrets is vulnerable, taking in the front wings and arches, the inner wing tops in the engine bay, the metal areas at the base of the windscreen, the cabin footwells, seatbelt mounts, sills, jacking points, door bottoms and sunshine roof (which this car has). Inner rear arch housings rot on later E30s with plastic bumpers (which this car has). Front struts go in the spring cups, but replacement dampers aren't expensive. Rear coils break, as do trailing arms. Steering racks leak, and so do fuel tanks.

The owner admits to some very typical rust at the base of the back window, so you know that the grim reaper has already made a start on his dirty work. Your job is to ‘catch it’, as Mrs Shed shouted after Shed’s moggy Tibbles had blithely curled one out on the parlour floor at an inopportune moment. Not that there ever is an opportune moment for that sort of thing to happen, of course, but if there was ever an opportune moment to invest in E30 futures this might be it.

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  1. BMW E30 3 Series [82-94]

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