1990s / BMW / Future classic / German

Is the BMW 3-Series (E36) a future classic?

bmw-3-series-e36-6The BMW E36 was bigger, faster, more luxurious and more expensive than its predecessor, the E30. Although purists lamented the shift from a purely driver-focused machine to a more family-oriented vehicle, the change of status was necessary in order to keep up with the demands of car buyers in the early 1990s.

Like the E30, the E36 was offered in several body styles including a four-door sedan, a two-door coupe, a five-door station wagon, a two-door convertible and a short-wheelbase three-door hatchback dubbed Compact. All models were rear-wheel drive as BMW explained there was not enough demand to justify developing an all-wheel drive, ix-badged variant of the car.

A glance at sales figures shows that consumers were not at all put off by the changing ingredients of the 3-Series recipe, and the E36 was even more popular than its predecessor. It enabled the 3-Series nameplate to keep its position as BMW’s bread-and-butter model, and it cemented the Munich-based firm’s foothold in the ever-important United States market.

It’s hard to argue against the E30 being a classic as well-preserved examples are starting to command a decent amount of money and full restorations are increasingly common. With the exception of the iconic M3, will the E36 follow the example set by the E30 and go up in value as it gets older, or will prices stay down?

12 thoughts on “Is the BMW 3-Series (E36) a future classic?

  1. I have a 95 318i grey color that I bought last year with 165,000 miles. Daily driver and still running good. It was a California one owner car and lives now in Arizona, therefore zero rust. It`s an automatic and lacks the power I would it like to have, but pushing it in curves it will still justify the “ultimate driving machine” moniker. When it goes bad it will get an M3 engine with a stick shift and it will keep the 318i badge. I could care less if anybody will classify it as classic or not. Due to the large production numbers it will take many years until they will be considered classics. But in reality they are already rare on the streets, here.
    Since you are car guys, you are aware that you buy more with your heart than your brain, unless you are looking to invest your money for a return. I look for cars that I like when they are around 15-20 years old, not a classic yet and still affordable. I bought my 75 Datsun 280Z in 1999 when the japanese classic car term was hardly accepted, for $3,000. They were made and sold in large numbers in US. The term classic is a debatable term. Datsuns are not considered classics by many even now, but I have seen asking prices form $8,000 to $25,000 for a good example. I think the E36 might see the same evolution.
    Thank you for your E-mails. I enjoy reading them and I appreciate the knowledge and passion they convey.
    The only other one one that I read and I would recommend for the cars and comments is the daily one from “bringatrailer.com”.
    Best Regards from sunny Arizona.
    George

  2. I’m not sure about the E36. I’ve driven or owned every 3 series except this one, so my driving experience is secondhand – even though car was extremely highly rated by the press at the time and is undoubtedly a far more modern drive than the E30, visually it lacks the simplicity or the E30 or the cohesion of the E46 both inside and out. So head says it’s a classic, heart says no!

  3. I LOVE my E36 (97 328i sedan, manual.) It’s the perfect balance between simple enough to DIY and sophisticated enough to feel modern, and it’s great to drive.

    I don’t understand why used prices don’t show the E36 any love – they’re about at parity with the E30 and it’s a much better car all-around. Not as old-school charming, but these days hop into a new Sonata or Malibu – or even an F30 3-series – and back into the E36 and it sure FEELS analog, mechanical and old-school.

    The M52 motor (and it’s S52 ///M derivative) is great too – no need to worry about the timing belt like the E30’s M20, it’s got VANOS so good low and high end power, low maintenance, and doesn’t have some of the headache-inducing non-serviceable components that give E46 M54 owners headaches.

    They aren’t without problems, but come on, it’s a 15-20 year old german car. I run mine as a daily driver with almost 200k miles on a shoestring budget and it’s never let me down.

    Future classic for SURE

    -James Mackintosh

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  5. I absolutely love my E36 328i sedan, bought it 3 years ago with high mileage and has never let me down. For an in-line 6 motor, it has exceptional low down torque and excellent fuel consumption on long trips. I found the E36 to be the ultimate drivers car, the E30 is a bit rough around the edges & the E46 is too subtle, in short it is the best 3 series ever made.

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  7. The sedan, coupe and estate will be classics except for the 316i or any of the diesels. The compact won’t be. Maybe the 323i at a push but I just can’t get on with the compact and feel its a bit of a gimmick car for people who just wanted the BMW badge
    .

    • I agree on the Compact – I didn’t like them when new and they haven’t grown on me since. Same deal with the C-Class coupes Mercedes sold in the early 2000s.

      Surprisingly, Compacts are starting to become quite popular in hill climbs and other forms of amateur racing.

    • I disagree – while i own a 4 door i think the ti is a great looking car and the shorter overhang (nearly a foot and a half shorter) and light weight (over 100kg/250lb down on the full size) would be great in the city and it is unique in the segment as a rear wheel drive hatch, with handling and plenty of room in the back with the seats down. If you live in the city and still like to get out on the road it is a great all rounder, and that would be why it sold like hotcakes in Europe.
      I live in Australia and they are common here too – my neighbour has an e46 318ti, she isnt into cars at ALL – she went shopping for a hatch and of all of them she said it was the only one that didnt sound ‘tinny’ – thats BMW build quality for you – i would guess it sold a fair few for the same reason – a hatch that doesnt feel cheap inside and has a nice solid feel when you shut the doors etc.
      In the US i honestly think they would have sold more if they had made it the same price as the 4 door so people there didnt think of it as just the cheap version.
      Of all the e36s it is the most like the e30, with its lighter weight and the rear suspension form the e30, but enough width for your shoulders.
      Obviously the 170HP 323ti is the one to have, and with a top and and computer form a 325i should REALLY move along nicely.

      • Good point about the handling. There’s a surprising amount of 3 Series compacts that race in local hill climb events here, and they’re generally among the top finishers.

    • I disagree – while i own a 4 door i think the ti is a great looking car and the shorter overhang (nearly a foot and a half shorter) and light weight (over 100kg/250lb down on the full size) would be great in the city and it is unique in the segment as a rear wheel drive hatch, with handling and plenty of room in the back with the seats down. If you live in the city and still like to get out on the road it is a great all rounder, and that would be why it sold like hotcakes in Europe.
      I live in Australia and they are common here too – my neighbour has an e46 318ti, she isnt into cars at ALL – she went shopping for a hatch and of all of them she said it was the only one that didnt sound ‘tinny’ – thats BMW build quality for you – i would guess it sold a fair few for the same reason – a hatch that doesnt feel cheap inside and has a nice solid feel when you shut the doors etc.
      In the US i honestly think they would have sold more if they had made it the same price as the 4 door so people there didnt think of it as just the cheap version.
      Of all the e36s it is the most like the e30, with its lighter weight and the rear suspension form the e30, but enough width for your shoulders.
      Obviously the 170HP 323ti is the one to have, and with a top and and computer form a 325i should REALLY move along nicely.

  8. I have a drift missile that is an e36 325i and I love. I am still in the process of building it but I love it !!! I am considering selling my e90 and buying another e36 for a daily

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