So first things first: how can I call this a disposable sports car when it’s so upright and seats four life-sized humans? Well, I suppose the true definition of “sports” car is debatable, but for me it is simply something that I can drive with gusto, I can row my own gears, and puts a big grin on my face every time I get behind the wheel. My sports cars aren’t required to have sloped front ends and 3″ or less of ground clearance, neither must they be limited to a carrying capacity of 2.5 people. But that’s just me. If it makes you feel better and we can move on to the car, then think of this as a disposable “sporty” car.
So in the interest of full disclosure: the car pictured here is my car. I bought it just this past week because it was there, the price was right, and it drives absolutely brilliantly. That isn’t to say it’s perfect, because it isn’t. The interior needs a thorough delousing although all the key stuff is there and functional (save for the air conditioning) and the paint has seen better days. A lot of them. In fact, this car has over 223,000 miles but it still runs and drives like a scalded ape. A remarkably smooth scalded ape. In a good way. And that’s what compelled me to write about it. This is an amazing amount of fun for less than $3k, and I’m totally addicted.
Compared with the contemporary 325iC six-cylinder BMW E30 convertible, make no mistake: the 318iC is slower. But that’s not the whole story. The 16-valve M42 inline-four means that the 318iC is substantially lighter than its bigger-engine sibling – about 300 pounds – and you can feel it in the way it drives. And I know: I’ve owned both. The lighter car is just more tossable, and for the fun roads near me that’s exactly what I want. I can go faster than both cars for the same money, but I want to put the top down, row my own gears, hit the hills and curves, and listen to the motor sing. And boy does it – especially starting at about 4,500rpm and right up to the 6,500rpm red line. With 138hp and 129 lb-ft of torque the little Bimmer that could pulls 60mph in just over 9 seconds and is good for a terminal velocity of 125mph. I don’t know about where you live but that’s about double the maximum speed limit in these parts.
I’ve always been a fan of BMW’s 70s and 80s driver-oriented dash layout, first designed by Paul Bracq of Mercedes Pagoda and BMW E12, E21, E23, and E24 fame, not to mention the interior of France’s TGV trains and a lot of other cool stuff. E30 BMWs like this one have relatively high cowls, but the clean dash layout makes up for it, and outward visibility is still great. Later 318s like this came with airbag steering wheels that were kinda huge and partly obstruct the view of the neat gauges, so many owners upgrade to an older sport wheel like I have done here. Your mileage may vary, but now I can see everything nice and clearly. The change also means that my horn works now, but I assume that was an issue local to my own car… Unlike the 325, the 318iC came with standard vinyl on the highly-bolstered manual sport seats, which seems to last much better than the 325’s leather, at least in cars that haven’t led the pampered good life. Both cars have the spacious sculpted rear seats which mean that family guys like myself don’t have to choose on person who gets to tag-along from among three other family members. If you’ve got more than four people in your family and you want a convertible your best hope is a 1970s American land yacht – which is most definitely neither a sports nor a sporty car.
One of the other cool things about the E30 318i Convertible is that is was only sold here from 1991-1994, so they are relatively uncommon compared with the E30 325iC which spanned 1987-1994 and was the convertible of choice – usually with a slushbox – of yuppies galore, not to mention Kelly Taylor from Beverly Hills 90210. The 318i Convertible was also ONLY available with a slick-shifting 5-speed manual, which is just cool. The M42 had its share of growing pains when first released, such as dumping all the coolant out at random and overheating itself to death. They have a timing chain versus a belt, but even the chains (and more specifically, the chain rails and tensioner) require periodic looking-after. By and large, however, they are pretty darned bulletproof. Many enthusiasts refer to the 318 as a “mini M3” given its free-revving 16-valve motor, and you know? I get that. Here’s a 1994 318iC in Walpole, Massachusetts that could be yours for just $2,975. I’ll bet they won’t stay cheap forever…..