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BMW 323i. Driving the E21 everyone wanted

BMW 323i. Driving the E21 everyone wanted
ER Classics Desktop 2022

At the end of the seventies, the BMW E21 was the preferred car of many enthusiasts. The version that topped the list was the BMW 323i, the car with which the Bavarians crowned the work of the E1978 generation from 21. We drove with a new example, delivered in the Netherlands, from the private collection of Gerard Kramer, and enjoyed it to the fullest.

This BMW, painted in Polaris Silber, has been on the retina for a long time, and during a beautiful Saturday it was finally there. The example of the Kramer family is a jewel of a car, completely original, economical in the options and equipped with almost all documentation. In addition, it dates from its first year of construction, 1978. And the BMW 323i is immediately recognizable. Forget the logos, look at the car diagonally from behind and two protruding exhaust pipes smile at you. They tell you that a ride with the wannahave from that series is waiting for you. This raises expectations and we can already tell you: these will be fully met.

Typical BMW interior

The interior is typical BMW from those years. It's sporty business, as if nothing should distract from what really matters: driving. Before you do that, it is important to delve into the structure of the controls, but you will get there. The seat is great, but it sinks quite deep into the interior and clamps your hands to determine the correct position on the fine steering wheel, which is bent towards you, as it were. The right position in the BMW 323i is quickly found, especially after the backrest moves back a little. And then the party can begin.

Beautiful development of torque and power

This BMW 323i leaves an unimaginable amount of goosebumps on the arms. The silky smooth six-cylinder M20B23 engine (2316 cc, Bosch K-Jetronic) reveals balance, a beautiful and nicely spread out torque, a ragrin Reihen-Sechs sound and still a lot of potential to quickly exceed 100 kilometers per hour. In the latter case, you don't even have to work very hard to reach that speed, because the engine reacts balanced but powerfully to a gradual downward movement of the accelerator pedal. The power development (143 DIN hp) goes very well together with the strong entering torque. That only reaches its peak of 190 Nm at 4500 rpm, but a value of 125 Nm at 1500 rpm leaves nothing to be desired in terms of clarity. The finely overlapping four-speed gearbox can handle it all with ease, although a five-speed gearbox would certainly not have looked out of place in this formidable BMW, which was also available with a three-speed automatic transmission.

Comfortable chassis, certainly 'straight ahead'

A glory of a power source, which appears balanced and powerful and fits very well with that blessed chassis. It bounces in and out wonderfully comfortably. And it dampens well unnoticed. That part is also top notch, but be careful: the BMW 323i doesn't like corners at the sharpest of cuts. The chance of a breakout is not for the cat thanks to the considerable power on the rear wheels at high speeds. We know that. We don't even try, also because we have the car on loan. We do take a few nice corners at a slightly higher speed. The BMW keeps its course, but subconsciously you feel a light warning coming from the rear.

Sought after masterpiece

This is a wonderful touring car, which shows its qualities unequivocally, especially on the Langstrecke, you can feel that immediately. And what you also feel is the combination of steering, clutching, shifting and deceleration. Not a penny of pain, plenty of communication and that for a compact executive from 1978. It says everything about how BMW used to be able to let its cars roll off the production line. And the ride with the BMW 323i from the private collection of the Kramer family makes it clear why this was the car you had to have if you were fully in the speed of the nations. He made careers. And placed others in the shadows. What a masterpiece. What an impressively good car this Bavarian is. Still.

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Photos: Bart Spijker
Thanks to: Jannie, Gerard and Anne Kramer

BMW 323i. Driving the E21 everyone wanted
Making meters at speed is great with this BMW E21
BMW 323i. Driving the E21 everyone wanted
Fits on the highway, but also feels extremely relaxed in the countryside
BMW 323i. Driving the E21 everyone wanted
The combination 320/6 already had something titillating. This is the superlative.
Lovely sight, those double tailpipes. Also note the great wheels
BMW 323i. Driving the E21 everyone wanted
Still looks great after 44 years, this BMW E21
Business sporty, but more than an attractive interior
BMW 323i. Driving the E21 everyone wanted
Provides an important part of the driving pleasure, this M20B23 engine.
Comprehensive lighting package, it serves multiple purposes


Give a reaction
  1. Bought a young 1982i E318 second hand in 21 as a daily vehicle. I have never been able to say goodbye to it, and after a full restoration in 2004 I only use it in the summer months in dry weather. The E21 is a car that you will not tire of.

  2. I am still a big fan of this brand. Also wanted to categorically in an e21 lessons. That is what happened in a 320/6, great experience. And yes the 323i was also on my wish list.

  3. Nice comments here, I bought a 37 320 cylinder 6 years ago and I still drive it regularly. I also often get thumbs up and reactions from…. soooo I used to want or had that too and I should have never got rid of it. Well, I'm still in love with the car and will never get rid of it. Greetings from an E21 driver

  4. Nice car, but it used to be very expensive.
    A boy from my class had one (he had a little rich dad), although a young second-hand (or demo) but still. Always tearing with that thing.

    'Business-sporty'. I still understand that sporty, but I always find that 'business' so nonsensical. Is there a stapler, hole punch and typewriter in the dashboard or something?

  5. At the time, he worked at a BMW garage where the E21 reihe had just been followed by the E30 series. The 323i was BMW's first 'small' six-cylinder (distr. belt engine) with injection. The beauty of the extended models was the customization that some of our customers did at the time, such as dog-leg Getrag close-ratio, sperdiffs, bilsteins and turbos were provided. Beastly what a potential that this car is all the BMW's!

  6. When I see this car I have 1 very nice memory that I will not forget in my life. In 1979 I was 13 years old and a student of Rob locksmith. We are going to pick up something at home, he said to me while he threw the keys to me in front of the door of the slip school. I thought until the gate of the circuit. He thought otherwise. No police officer who believes there is a 13-year-old man behind the wheel, he said.
    Driving the boulevard of Zandvoort with a smile from ear to ear with the grandmaster next to me. I will always cherish that memory.
    RIP Rob.....

  7. In the 70s, this was my dream car for me as a novice motorist. Especially that 143hp appealed. Then, however, it remained with a 10-year-old Volvo 144S.
    But times change: in 2008 I got a 118D as a company car, with…. also 143 hp and almost 300nm of torque. And that was the smallest diesel version of the 1-series at the time. By the way, it drove almost 240.000 trouble-free kms.

  8. The best car I've ever owned; goosebumps up to my toes!
    Ever traded in on a 1600 Renault Fuego ... phew, that took some getting used to

    • That 323i must have been faster than the Fuego (unless you had a turbo), but such a Fuego is much nicer! At least I think so.

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