This E23 has a nice summery feel about it, with the light blue paint and general feeling of these cars kind of like being on permanent vacation.
The other thing about the E23 is that it was replaced by a totally different car - the larger an heavier E32. This makes the E23 more interesting for collectors because it represents distinctly old-school design and engineering that was really never quite replicated.
Make no mistake though, these are cushy still people-carrying saloons. We had an exclusive on one a couple years ago that I got to inspect in person. My first impression was being surprised at how small they are. The current 3-series is now the size of this 7-series. And even then, this thing wears tight, clean, minimal sheet metal that maximizes interior space. German cars always photograph larger than they actually are, so this really classifies as a small or mid-size car today.
What makes this example really interesting is that it's being offered by the original owner who purchased it new in 1979 from Helmut BMW in Connecticut and have kept it in pretty good shape all these years. Cosmetically, they say it still wears the original paint and nifty blue leather interior. They do note one small area of rust but speculate it shouldn't be difficult to fix and say they don't see any other problem areas.
Underneath the hood is BMW's venerable straight-six. It will provide a healthy dosage of power, boosted by the 4-speed manual transmission on this one. The seller has provided a very detailed account of everything they have done and yet to do. They say it will need new struts and an injector. These aren't deal breakers and when addressed will make for a very sweet vintage ride in unusual original condition.
Available here on craigslist for $3,500.
This is just about the worst version of the 2002 you can buy. It's a base model, base engine US-spec with the huge bumpers and automatic transmission to sap the already small engine.
That said, it could also make for a great jumping point into a nice 2002 build. I'm usually all for originality, but when originality means US DOT mandated bumpers, needless side markers and engine-strangling emissions equipment, modifying is a very attractive alternative.
The thing about the 2002 is that you know it can do so much better. Introduced in 1968 as part of the Neu Klasse cars that revolutionized the company and brought it widespread acclaim from the press and sales from consumers. Intended as a smaller, less expensive alternative to the sedans, the 2002 made good impressions with its relatively light weight, good handling and affordable price. In 1973 a Turbo version was launched, the first production turbocharged car in Europe.
It helped the styling was so good that it is now a certifiable classic. It wears the high-wasited bathtub shape that was popular on cars in the 50s, 60s and 70s after designers saw the first generation Corvair. and later NSU 110. The Europeans further tweaked and refined this charming, unpretentious shape.
The interior is also classic early BMW, with an all-black dash, clear, simple gauges and an oversized steering wheel. The seller says the interior is good and it looks mostly disaster free in the photos.
Underneath the hood is a small inline 4-cylinder that makes around 85 horsepower. The seller says its "great running". This can easily be given more life with some simple, common sense upgrades. A manual transmission swap is a must, and the seller even says the sale of this car comes with a spare parts donor car.
The exterior color and interior are fine for the meantime on this, but it's begging for a stick shift, weber carbs and euro bumpers.
Available here on craigslist for $5,800.
I love the E34. And what better E34 than the veritable M5.
The E34 is one of the greatest BMW so far and really one of the best cars of all time. It's spacious but not too big, extremely well-built, safe, aesthetically sharp, fun to drive, and very reliable. The only thing they aren't is fuel efficient and immune to rust. But those are small nits to pick when you consider the overall greatness that is the E34. Subsequent generations have only gotten larger and less attractive, too.
The M5 version was produced during the model's entire run of 1988-1995 with slight changes over time. In the US, it received a special 3.6-liter 6-cylinder engine that produced a very healthy 311 horsepower. Combined with special tweaking and a 5-speed (and later 6-speed) manual transmission, it was a standout sport sedan of the era and can easily provide thrills today. It was somewhat undermined by the later 540i, but it's still the star of the two.
This one looks pitch-perfect in black over black. Note the later cosmetic details such as the "throwing star" wheels, which, while preferred by some, did not ventilate the brakes as well as the more conservative initial pieces (which I liked better anyways), and the teardrop side mirrors shared with the E36 M3 but really don't jive with the rest of the car's hard angles. Again, that's probably a minority opinion but worth noting nonetheless.
The seller says this car has 132k miles (normal and even desirable), no accidents and original paint. They say it will need new tires (predictable and no big deal) and the electric rear windows move slowly, a weak point on many older German cars, but certainly not a deal breaker.
With no accident history, this is certainly a nice find that seems to have also been mercifully left unmodified. The seller also says they are becoming hard to find - and that is a true statement. While the succeeding E38 generation M5 introduced a roaring V8 in the game, BMW's classic inline 6-cylinder philosophy makes this E34 truer to the soul of the brand while also marking the end of an era.
Available here on ebay for $16,995 or the Make Offer option.
The E31 8-Series is a classic in the making. It was an entirely new car at the time of its debut, quite unlike any other BMW that came before it, and it wasn't immediately followed up with a successor. It stood alone, isolated and practically unrivaled in the 1990s. In fact, the V12 6-speed iterations like this one, besides being extremely rare on an E31, are extremely unusual in any car except for a vintage Ferrari.
The styling by Klaus Kapitza working under Claus Luthe is nothing less than brilliant. It's the ultimate expression of 'the ultimate driving machine', encompassing the shark nose of their past with a bold look to the future. I particularly love the big rear lights that taper to the slim turn indicators up front, it's a cool flow. Laguna Green is a color that will no doubt be looked back upon the same way 70s pea green is - that stereotypical shade of an era, but it's certainly vibrant and looks okay in certain lightning.
The interior is one of BMW's best, and is a revelation today as their current design department throws nearly 50 years of functional, understated design out the window in favor of potpourri-esque over-design. The speedometer overlapping with the tach is a neat touch. Pixels sometimes fade in the digital readouts but it is fixable. Black or grey are preferred but the tan color scheme is fine. I would consider sourcing BMW's non-airbag three-spoke wheel in place of the bloated unit here, because if any BMW deserves that wheel it's this one.
For a while, buyers had just once engine choice in the E31: the M70B50 5.0-liter V12 that pumped out 295 horsepower to the rear wheels. Now that sounds decent on paper, but the problem is that it had to haul over 4,000 lbs. of vehicle, so it wasn't as quick as you'd think, and it was horribly fuel thirsty. On top of that, depending on which owner you asked, it was either an expensive engine to maintain, or an expensive nightmare of an engine to maintain. In 1993 it was supplemented by a V8, but even that had its own set of problems.
Still, if there's an E31 to own, the V12 mated to a 6-speed manual transmission is among the most desirable.
The key things to inquire about on all E31 are maintenance history and accident damage, both of which are pretty easy to find out about. The seller says this one has just 59k miles on the clock and is in excellent condition.
Only around 7,000 E31 ever made it to the US, and much less with the V12-6-speed combo. This one seems clean, but warrants further investigation.
Available here on craigslist for $24,950.
Ah the E30. Perhaps the definitive new classic BMW. It's modern enough to still hold it's own among todays cars, but wears sheet metal and features design touches that are nowhere to be found anymore.
The 318i was a poker. But the 325i was a peppy little thing. This here, however, blows both out of the water with a V8 pulled from a '94 E34.
It's obviously in rough shape. There's body damage, the paint is poor and the interior is a mess. But the black sport seats and M steering wheel are pluses.
The seller says the body is rust free and the V8 engine and and trans worked good in the E34 they came from. However, there are a bunch of mechanical things left to do, and then the thing needs a thorough cleaning at at least a repaint.
I rarely post project cars due to their unfeasibility but this seems so uncomfortably in transition that somebody with a garage, time and money should finish it themselves, re-name it a 330i and drive the hell out of it (not to mention confuse the local bimmerheads).
Available here on craigslist for $4,500.
The 80s were BMW's breakthrough era. It not only meant making great cars, but also catching up with the competition. One of those competitors was that other legendary German luxury automaker, Mercedes-Benz. While BMW had offered cars that lightly infringed on Mercedes' territory (one could say the E30 was a shot at the W201), the E32 was designed specifically to take on the big ol' W126 Benz.
The E32 was a resounding success. Sure, it was larger and heavier than it's predecessor, but it gained new engines that helped scoot it along, including a rather insane 12-cylinder.
Styling by genius designer Claus Luthe was a home run, introducing a whole new language theme that the company would use for years, then depart from, only to revisit again and again in the 21st century. Looking closely, it's actually a rather bizarre shape, with a long, low hood, big windows, high trunk and those devilish L-shaped rear taillights. But it miraculously works.
Unfortunately for a while the only engine options in the E32 were the underpowered 3.5-liter inline 6-cylinder or the over-complex 12-cylinder. Only until 1993 did an option in the middle arrive in the form of a V8, but by then the competition had caught up and the body would undergo a major restyling in 1995.
Fortunately, this early model has a stick to liven the driving experience up. Very, very few were brought to the US with 5-speeds and have become a coveted collector item since.
The interior looks sumptuous in a saddle-shade leather and awesome pre-airbag steering wheel.
The seller says it was imported from Canada and all paperwork is sorted with a Florida title. Cosmetically they say it wears original factory paint and chrome wheels. Mechanically, they say all power accessories work and it drives excellently and is ready to go anywhere.
Another great thing about the E32 is that it's still a pretty simple car, especially compared to BMW today. They are known for being rock solid and overall very reliable. With just 95k miles on this one, it's just getting warmed up. Drive it hard, change the oil religiously and just enjoy her.
Available here on ebay for the reasonable price of $5,700.
The BMW 2000 was part of their "Neue Klasse" of coupes and sedans of the 60s and 70s. These are classics now, but also represented over a decade of experimentation, growth and change for the brand.
The 2000 was intended to be a more upscale version of the 1800 sedan. It featured different taillights and headlights, although the front lamps were changed on US models. This one happily features the original square Euro lamps.
The styling is pretty sweet. They look like exactly what they are: an early BMW. The forward leaning front is truly a sign of a bygone design era, as is the whole "bathtub" shape, but the lights and simple slab sides are surprisingly clean and modern. I don't care for red in general and especially not on German cars but it actually works really well on this and helps brighten it tremendously. The seller seems to have spray painted the grilles, bumpers and wheels black, which, while unnecessary, isn't terrible either and certainly isn't worth the effort reversing. The front fog lamps are a cool add-on and together everything gives the car a subtle rally vibe.
Inside, the interior looks remarkably clean, although it's hard to see the entire dash. The seller says the seats were recovered, which explains why they look so good, and black is a great color and saves the next owner the hassle. Thumbs up.
This is a rare car that has clearly been given some recent love. The seller says it has almost no rust and have the original steel rims and hubcaps. The asking price is high given the age and that it had the paint and interior re-done, but those are also plusses. The extent of the rust will have to be checked out as well as full ownership and maintenance history, if any. Otherwise, this seems like it's ready to be a driver.
Available here for $8,900.
The dimensions of the E30 really are a revelation. Here is a design that actually shows constraint, seemingly using as little sheet metal as possible. Taught, clean and no-nonsense. The pillars are thin and glass huge for maximum visibility inside and out. The whole thing is about the same size as a 1990s Honda Civic. Except it looks way better and drives a million times better.
Perhaps the next rarest E30 sold in the US after the M3 is the "iX" models that debuted in the late 80s and lasted until around 1991. These had full time permanent all-wheel drive, utilizing an open, all viscous 10-100% limited slip with three differentials. The torque was divided 37:63 with bias to the rear wheels to retain the rwd feel. The rear and center differential use viscous couplings to split torque, while the font was open.
Inside is one of the greatest interiors of all time. An oversized steering wheel, center console angled towards the driver, and simple white-on-black gauges make a statement that this machine means serious driving business. The leather seats are in unusually good shape. The seller says the dash has cracks but everything is functioning and there are no lights on.
Underneath the hood was BMW's venerable straight 6-cylinder that was good for almost 170 horsepower, which really helped propel this small car. What is gained in weight with the iX equipment is forgiven with the added traction.
The seller of this example is the third owner and has racked up 139k miles. They say it is car fax verified and still wears the original paint. Mechanically, they say everything works except the air conditioning, and a bunch of parts have been replaced. They also say it has a chip boost for extra horsepower, which is awesome, except they say 91 Octane fuel must be used, which should probably be used anyways. Since most were sold in foul weather climates were salt was used on roads, they have mostly rusted away, but this one seems to have survived. The seller says there is no rot except around the rear trailer hitch but they are having it repaired.
Available here on craigslist for $5,900.
Since we're facing another fuel and energy crisis (or really just the same one we've always had), diesels are popular again, even though those who know their advantages never stopped loving them over the years. What makes diesels especially interesting despite their own merits of efficiency and reliability is a 21st century twist of converting them to run on biofuel - that's right, vegetable oil and restaurant leftovers.
Biofuel is cheap and inexpensive (though smelly) so interested customers are hunting down old diesel cars like predators. That makes otherwise insignificant cars like this Lincoln Mark VII rather significant again.
Of course, someone like me already finds this car intriguing.
The fuel crisis of 1979 renewed interest in efficient vehicles again, and this time American manufacturers were listening, unlike their woeful incompetence after the first incident in1973. Of course, diesels still didn't take off for one reason or another, but some of the cars they stuck diesels in were amusing to say the least.
Such is the case with this Lincoln. The Mark VII was based on the rear-wheel drive Fox platform. It lasted from 1983-1992. These aren't sports cars, but they are great, comfortable cruisers, and they styling isn't terribly offensive.
Underneath the hood, however, is a real surprise: a BMW inline 6-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, the same one in the brief 524TD that came and went here. Just how Lincoln struck a deal with BMW is a story still untold, but it's not a bad idea; Ford's diesel experience was limited to trucks, and BMW's diesel was a great engine the fastest of it's day (even with just 115 horsepower). But since the Lincoln is a bigger, heavier car, you really can't expect much power. Still, you can expect overall reliability if you change the oil religiously.
Lincoln only offered the Mark VII diesel from '84-'85, along with a diesel Continental. From that point on, declining gas prices, politics and the general buoyant mood of the times made diesels disappear again.
The seller says this survivor has just 45k miles on the clock, comes from southern California, has no rust, wears the original paint and has never been in an accident. They say they have been a diesel mechanic for 30 years and have given this engine a new injector pump, a/c compressor, timing belt and battery, and have religiously changed the oil using Mobil 1 full synthetic turbo diesel oil.
This is a rare car in good shape that seems to have been very well cared for by a mechanic that just simply understood the quirky appeal of this car.
Available here on craigslist for $6,000.
Last summer, without much fanfare (on COTC at least) I traded a 2008 Honda Civic coupe with around 80k miles for a 2003 BMW 325xi with only around 34k miles. At first glance, it might have seemed unusual. Trading a newer car for an older one? A "reliable" Japanese car for an "expensive" German one?
On paper, however, there was no comparison. The Civic was two doors, front wheel drive, and four measly cylinders. After driving it for about 5 years I can tell you that it got pretty annoying, especially from the critical perspective of an auto enthusiast like me. It was unrefined around town, and slow on the highway until around 70-80 mph when V-TEC finally kicked in. It was pretty good at handling, but it blew like a ragdoll in crosswinds. The automatic transmission felt rough. Exterior styling was ok, but the interior was full of foolish flaws: a gaudy electronic speedometer that cast glare on the windshield, cheap spray-painted silver accents, and a steering wheel logo that started peeling (which I ended up replacing but was a huge pain in the neck to do). As for that famous Honda reliability, it needed a whole new engine block at 60k miles, which was mercifully under warranty, but after that all four coils broke, which wasn't covered, and upon hearing that, I became so angry that the dealer gave in and replaced them for free, sparing me $1,000+ in repair costs. A little bit of rage goes a long way sometimes.
So, feeling fed up with the Honda I decided to look for a replacement vehicle, before the Civic needed anything more. I knew I wanted four doors, rear or all-wheel drive, and more power. And since I had just come from a Japanese car, I wanted one of the coveted German automobiles I had read so much about.
There really weren't many options that were affordable and practical. The pre-owned Mercedes-Benz C-Class were all overpriced. Then I considered BMW, whose resale prices depreciate notoriously, making them available to basically anyone. At first I was dead set on an E32, then an E36, until I finally set my sights on a silver 2003 BMW 325xi I had found not too far away. The mileage was low, carfax clean, and the body free of major damage. The engine bay was spotless. The interior smelled delicious. It started strong and drove flawlessly. I was instantly addicted to the absurdly heaving steering, silky acceleration and sexy sheet metal. I bought it and drove it home.
The '03 325 was also known as the internally designated E46 chassis code, which debuted in 1999 and replaced the beloved E36. In 2002 it was given a cosmetic refreshening. The 325xi designates it as the 3-series with a naturally aspirated gasoline powered 2.5-liter six cylinder engine, fuel injection and all-wheel drive. In 2006, it was replaced by the E90.
Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of this car is the pre-XDrive all-wheel drive system BMW used on these cars for a couple years, simply called "xi". It was based on the X5 SUV concept and featured a permanent full-time system that divided the torque 38:62 front:rear, so there was still a bias towards desirable rear-wheel drive, but with the added stability of power to the front wheels as well.
Inside, the interior was one of BMW's best. The analog instrument cluster was crystal clear, buttons were all in reach, and everything was composed of high grade plastics and looked and felt great. Mine was rather unique in that it had vinyl seats, which I loved and preferred over leather because they are indestructible. I also had heated seats, but no headlamp washers and no cruise control.
So, was it the ultimate driving experience? In short, compared to the Honda Civic, yes, absolutely. There's a reason why these cars have reputations and the E46 was no exception. Every act, every switch, every function of the car is so deliciously engineered feeling, from the turn of the key to the heavy steering, that it was thoroughly satisfying to routinely operate. Around town, the 185-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine was quiet yet torquey, like a coiled lion purring as it eyes prey. On the highway it was a true performer. No, it wasn't fast off the line. That's for drag racers and Corvettes. Where the car really excelled was in maintaining a high rate of speed for long distances. 85-100 mph did not feel nearly as fast as those speeds really are. The car was solid as a rock, composed, refined and stable. I had found it! It was the anti-Civic.
As for the all-wheel drive system, which was really rather basic and more truck-like than anything else, it worked really well. In rain it cut through puddles like a knife, sending a tidal wave over the hood where other cars would start to hydroplane. The winter of 2012-2013 also brought a massive snowstorm to the New England region, so I was able to test the car's foul weather resistance to the true limits. During one snowfall I was able to cruise long stretches of dark, icy highway at 60-70 mph (yeah yeah faster than I should have been going) and felt completely safe and comfortable doing so. The car also got me home alive in the thick of the later bigger storm. So in a way, it saved my life. Can the AWD system climb mountains? No, but the car wasn't designed for that. It was designed to add more control and predictability to the car's handling in inclement conditions. And after years of dingy FWD Hondas, this thing might as well have been a Land Rover in the snow.
What were the downsides? The sunroof slide (not the actual glass sunroof) fell off the tracks, and one mechanic told me repairing it would mean a whole new sunroof which blew my mind but may not be entirely true. Some plastics wore unfavorably. No cruise control was rather irritating. But perhaps the biggest flaw was fuel efficiency. If you drive with a lead foot like I do, combined with the full-time AWD system always churning, and add in the cost of premium gas during an era of escalating prices, this thing costs a lot to operate energy-wise. I was used to $40 or less bucks for a full tank after a week of normal driving, and the BMW was now costing me $60 or more.
As for reliability, I can't say much as I owned it for just around one year. The coolant light came on at first until I topped it off myself and it never came back. Oil changes could either be $20 mixed or $100 synthetic. I did need new rear springs, however. And of course, being the immaculate owner I was, there were the small cosmetic fixes I couldn't resist: a new OEM front emblem, new OEM wipers (hard to find), an OEM replacement rest pedal, factory OEM floor mats, European-spec OEM convex side mirror glass pieces, and a sliding-cover storage bin that replaced the 'ugly american' cup holders and was what actually came on European-specification models. But beyond routine maintenance, the springs, and some voluntary changes, nothing terrible happened. The engine is bulletproof and known to go many thousands of miles, and even the automatic transmission (normally another problem area) was sourced from General Motors on the E46 xi so those aren't too exotic.
A change in location forced me to sell her, but it's with a tad of nostalgia for last summer and the subsequent tumultuous winter that I'm here writing about it all, my brief flirt with a fancy, hi-tech German sedan. I can say it was definitely worth it and I recommend that model to anyone else interested. I savor the days I spent flying through sleet and slush, basked in the glow of the red gauges, safe behind the wheel of German silver-steel.
The E30 is the definitive 3-series. It was unlike the E21 that came before and especially the E36 after. It also helped solidify the brand's status in the United States as a maker of great automobiles, and gave rival Mercedes-Benz some real competition against their W201 190. It's a New Classic.
These were produced from 1982-1993, otherwise known as the Reagan-Bush era. Sure, the E30 is the original yuppie mobile, but for all the right reasons: they were extremely solid, fun to drive and reliable. In fact, so well-built and relatively simple to fix were the E30 that Kiplinger's named them one of the top 10 Cars that Refuse to Die.
The body was designed by Claus Luthe and is an exercise in incredible restraint and detail. It's not quite boxy but definitely not round, the lines all laser-straight chiseled and crisp, and yet up close, the corners are softly rounded, like they were gently sanded and buffed by hand. The greenhouse is proportionally huge, making the windows look large and the space inside inviting, not to mention providing excellent visibility inside and out.
Inside, the interior is an all-business, no-nonsense, hyper-functional, driver-oriented paradise. The gauges are crystal clear white-over-black. The center console is angled towards the driver. Above the rearview mirror is an onboard service indicator that displays the status of vital systems through a red LED bargraph.
Underneath the hood is the timeless 2.5-litre inline six-cylinder engine providing a decent 168 horsepower to the rear wheels. This particular example is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission.
Since they were commuter cars for the upwardly mobile, they were often driven hard then quickly traded in for the next flashy car, before they fell into multiple hands and eventually rusted away. As such, clean, low mileage examples are very, very difficult to find. The E30 M3 is already a collectible classic, so it's likely the regular coupes and sedans may follow.
This particular survivor defies the odds. The seller says this '87 325i has just 81,574 miles on the clock. Cosmetically, it looks amazing. It helps the grey/black color combination is perfect and flatters the exterior and interior shapes. The seller also says the body has no rust, a huge plus. They even say the paint is shiny and not faded.
Mechanically, they say it was regularly serviced, taken good care of and now "runs and drives great".
I want this car. As long as there is no rust and the seller can provide some proof of prior maintenance, the next owner (should it not be me), has my sincere envy. This puppy is good looking, fun to drive, relatively fuel efficient, simple to fix and reliable. It could very well see 181k miles without major problems, if the oil is changed regularly and it's driven carefully.
Available here on ebay in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for $8,495.
Oh winter! How you punish me with your freezing temperatures, relentless snow and overly sanded and salted roads. But how you give me reason to buy cars that would make the winter so much more bearble - at least when driving.
The E30 station wagon was never officially offered in North America, and only a handful have made their way here since through private importation. While Mercedes-Benz wagons are legendary, BMW variants are less so. They were never offered in diesels, and weren't introduced until the late 80s, so they never developed a cult following. But that doesn't mean they aren't as cool.
The E30 wagon is particularly neat because the E30 chassis is arguably one of the best BMW cars of all time. It's about the size of a Honda Civic, but with superior design and engineering.
This particular example is the first year they starting making the wagon body style, and it's utterly brilliant. The roof is extended and the rear slopes perfectly into the same taillights as sedan, coupe and convertible had. It also has a rear wiper.
As a cherry on top, this one is also equipped with BMW's first all-wheel drive system, simply denoted by the "x" in 325ix. BMW did not advertise this system as much as Audi did with Quattro and Mercedes with 4Matic, so it disappeared after the E30 and did not return until nearly a decade later with the E46 "xi" (of which I am a very happy owner). As an additional bonus, this one has a stick shift for those rally enthusiasts.
The U.S. government prohibits the private importation of vehicles newer than 25 years old for road use, but this puppy just turned 25 this year, so it should be here legally. The seller says it is exempt from DOT and EPA exempt, and can be registered as a classic vehicle.
Cosmetically, it seems to be wearing ugly aftermarket rims, but otherwise looks fine. The front black plastic spoiler is missing, a common flaw on these as they are usually taken out by road debris or parking blocks, and should be easy to replace.
Mechanically, the seller says it's a 1-owner vehicle with full maintenance, everything working, and no needs.
If this thing checks out with no rust and a clear title, you've got one really cool car for a bargain price.
Available here on ebay in New York for $6,999.
When I started looking for an alternative to my beleaguered and disappointing '08 Civic Coupe, I originally wanted an E32. I relished the idea of trading a flimsy late 2000s Japanese econony car for a bank vault-like 80s/90s German sedan. What I didn't realize was how few E32 there are left in reasonable condition, especially in New England (where I currently reside). It's basically impossible. And when I did stumble on a clean example, the seller wanted absurd top dollar.
Not that I entirely blame them. The 1988-1994 E32 remains a high point in BMW history. True, it marked a shift towards the "Lexusization" of the brand, when it grew in size and weight from its predecessor the E23 and abandoned manual transmissions. But it was also before the overly complex E38. The E32, then, is the best of both words: contemporary size and space and operable on a manageable budget.
The most desirable E32, in my opinion, are the early 6-cylinder versions which BMW stopped offering in 1992 and replaced with the infamous Nikasil-plagued V8. Sure, you'll get more power with the V8, but worse fuel economy and the possibility it could die at any time (slight exaggeration but still). The 6-cylinder is no drag racer, but it will get the job done and last you a long time.
The exterior styling by Ercole Spada working under Clause Luthe is another highlight. It is an absolute masterpiece, a sculptural icon of the late 20th century, combining industrial form over function, classic BMW cues, and slight art deco-esque flair. The L-shaped taillights, where the trunk lid seemingly cuts into the taillight form to emphasize closure, have been copied many times by dozens of manufacturers. Spada and Luthe took everything that was good about previous BMW designs and leaped into the future, but kept a firm hand on tradition. How they were able to do this balancing act is still a mystery to me, especially as designers are utterly failing to do so today.
Inside is one of BMW's best interiors. The instrument cluster consists of crystal clear white-on-black gauges that illuminate red at night. It's also got a nifty analog fuel economy gauge tucked under the tachometer, a remnant from the fuel crises of the 1970s when consumers and automakers alike paid special attention to thrift and conservation. The center console is a stack of rectangular boxes angled towards the driver for ease of reach. And everything tactile is black to deflect from stains and wear.
This particular survivor is looking unusually clean and crisp in rare light metallic pale blue over tan leather. The seller says this is a one-owner car that was given up due to health issues, and has a 144,200 miles on the clock. They also say it has the premium and cold weather packages, but make no mention of the mechanical status of the vehicle. I'd give it a rigorous test drive and ask for any and all maintenance records. Since it's located in Colorado and wearing Colorado plates, I'd also check for rust. The mileage is high, but this could easily hit 200k without any major problems if it's well cared for. You're getting a solid, stylish, and comfortable cruiser for under $5k. Not bad.
Available on the dealer's site here in Greenwood Village, Colorado for just $2,500.