Initial Ramblings – Spring 2020: The E21 Movement
by JT Burkard
The following is an expanded article I did for the Spring 2020 edition of Ultimate Classic, the quarterly newsletter for the BMW Classic Car Club of America. For me this was just another step closer to achieving a childhood dream of getting something I wrote published in a national magazine. I do not have a journalism degree or even took any kind of classes but yet here I am, typing away at 11:16 pm before our deadline. My column in our Chapter’s newsletter has always been very fulfilling and I appreciate all of you who take the time to email me or come up to me at an event or meeting to say how much you enjoy what I write. It validates that my ramblings have some value. I have immense appreciation for those who do this for a living. Now, enough of this, onto the article.
In the car world, there are vehicles that slip under the radar for years. Cars that only the most dedicated enthusiast are aware of. Perhaps you can describe them as the neglected middle child. BMW has one of those cars, the E21. This is a forgotten gem and the sleeper of collectable BMW’s. It’s perhaps the Bimmer that has been the most overlooked model. It’s the first to carry a 3-Series badge. It is nestled between the classic and ever popular 2002 and the leader of the vintage 3 series lust factor, the E30. Yet the E21 has had little interest, until now.
For those who are unaware, this car was built from 1975 to 1983, but first available in the US in 1977. We will focus on the US versions. Built during the second gas crisis, these sports sedans were fun, nimble and efficient for the time. The first years 1977 to 1979 were 2.0L M10 overhead cam, hemi-head 4-cylinder motors equipped with Bosch KJetronic Injection and 4-Speed transmissions, or an optional 3 speed automatic. The 1980-1983 versions were powered by a 1.8L M10 4-cylinder and followed by a Getrag 5-Speed or optional automatic. The later versions were also available as an S model equipped with Recaro Seats, front air dam, rear spoiler, cross hatch wheels, and larger anti sway bars front and rear. When compared to today’s basic BMW’s, they are antiquated, but to the enthusiast, it provides a raw, direct and connected feeling to the road. With manual everything, this is a sports sedan in primitive form. I always say the E21 doesn’t do everything right, but doesn’t do anything wrong.
I have been an E21 owner for 18 years now, a 1977 320i. It was my first BMW I owned. My uncle always said his favorite BMW he had was his Alpinweiss 1983 320i. When my wife Sandy spotted ours for sale, I remembered this so I had to see it. I spoked to the seller, loaded up my trailer, withdrew cash from the bank, and headed out to buy it. I was so focused on negotiating of the deal I almost walked away from this car, all over $100. When I got into my
truck, Sandy said what happened? I told her we were at a stalemate and I wasn’t giving in. It must be my stubborn German heritage. My wife then said “Are you going to really lose the car over $100? Is it worth it?” Rationale won over my need win the battle and I grabbed the seller before he left – Always listen to the wife. In the end, we all won.
Since then I have had an additional 4 other E21’s, as well as 11 other models of BMW’s. Still, the E21, and my original 320i are my favorite. When I had first bought mine, you can purchase a nice one needing very little work for $2,000-3,000. In the last couple years, interest in the E21 has seen an increase in popularity. I’ve noticed Millennials are discovering this little gem. As a result there has been an uptick in their value. Maybe this new generation isn’t all that bad? I performed a search of previous sales on Bring a Trailer. The average selling price has been between $5,000 and $15,000 with an astounding price being achieved in June or 2019 for a clean 320i of $25,500. The ultimate E21, a drool worthy 1979 BMW Alpina B6 2.8L, sold for $80,000 on September 28, 2018. This has to be a world record sale for any street legal E21. But for those who don’t have that kind of cash in your Bitcoin account and can do some wrenching yourself, you can still find project cars out there from $1,000-3,000 depending on the needs of the vehicle.
Parts can be a little scarce depending on what you need. Tune up kits and such are readily available, but some stuff is not, like original trunk lid weather stripping. BMW Classic division was still producing a large array of E21 parts, but some have gone No-Longer-Available. Those seeking original used can search eBay or E21 groups, just have patience. I have a small stock pile of parts I acquired from a fellow CCA member as well as parts cars I’ve picked up over the years. The more popular items have already been sold but I still have interior, fuel related, and body parts available. If you need anything, feel free to contact me at my email below.
In 2002, when I bought my 320i, I knew nothing about these cars. I searched the web for information and found Bimmerforums had an E21 section. I joined, participated and absorbed as much as I could. There are a lot of helpful enthusiasts on there. Another informative site that was dedicated to these cars was bmw320i.com. This was a treasure trove of technical info and repair tips. Unfortunately that site is no longer around. I started to add a lot of that info on my own website but after changing servers, I haven’t done any work to restore these pages yet. Some of you may remember back from 2003-2007 I held E21 gatherings where owners from around the northeast would congregate, swap stories, show their cars and have a bite to eat together. It was a lot of fun but in 2008 I was getting married the same month I usually held them. Unfortunately for the E21 gang, my nuptials took priority. I’ve recently considered resurrecting the gatherings but the pandemic has put an indefinite hold it, at least for this year.
As with any obscure but devoted group of enthusiasts, clubs will form. In the mid 2000’s a group called the E21 Legion came to be. I have no idea what my membership number is but I know it was only 3 digits I think in the 200 or 500 realm. There’s probably several thousand now and I am happy to say the Legion is still going strong today. You can find them on Facebook and Instagram. The most recent and significant advancement for the original 3Series owners is the formation of a BMW CCA sanctioned
SIG (Special Interest Group) called E21 Sharknose Register run by Joel Palmer. You can also find it on Facebook and Instagram under the name e21 CCA. With the CCA sanctioned group, this solidifies the strong resurgence in the interest in E21’s and it will continue to grow. I am proud to be one of the pioneers of this chassis blazing a way to a new frontier. And to think I was going to lose all of this fun over $100?
The Movement is on.
Are you in?
JT Burkard jtburkard.blogspot.com
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