Forty Years Of The BMW 3 Series

Forty years ago this month the very first BMW 3 Series rolled off the production line. Back then no one could have predicted how successful the car would be. Now it is in its sixth generation, and it is still a favourite of drivers in Ireland and around the world.

When it was first introduced the BMW 3 Series was ground breaking. It was a pioneer of the compact executive car and was responsible for a doubling of BMW’s sales within three years of its launch.

The launch happened at a time that was uncertain for the automotive industry. This was because of the oil embargo of 1973 to 1974 which saw the cost of oil quadruple. The smaller but sporty and agile 3 Series therefore had strong appeal compared to its bigger rivals. It would go on to become the world’s top selling premium car.

The first generation of the BMW 3 Series was called the E21. It was initially just released in Europe but following its success it was also launched in the US. This was in 1977. Unlike the cars of today there were just two options available – a two door saloon and a two door cabriolet. One of the things that set it apart from other cars in its class was the cockpit, which was very driver focused. That philosophy remains today.

The second generation of the BMW 3 Series was launched in 1982 and was called the E30. It built on the 3 Series’ growing reputation for build quality and driving performance. Four door versions joined the two-door cars in the range, and then in 1986 the five door touring version was made available. The first all-wheel drive 3 Series was also released in 1986 and then in 1987 BMW launched the first BMW M3, called the E30 M3 Coupe. It took the reputation of the 3 Series to a whole new level.

Then, in 1991, the third generation BMW 3 Series was born. It was called the E36 and was bigger than its predecessors. It also took performance levels and drivability up several notches and as a result it won many awards. The M3 was a particular favourite.

The E46 is the fourth generation of the BMW 3 Series and it was launched in 1998. It was bigger again, the M3 was a 333 bhp phenomenon, and the all-wheel drive versions were reintroduced in the form of the 325xi and 330xi.

The fifth generation first appeared in 2005 as the E90 saloon and the E91 touring. The styling was updated but it retained its sporty, executive and premium qualities. Four and six cylinder engines were available, while the M3 had a mighty V8. Sales of the 3 Series rocketed, cementing its place in history.

That continues now with the sixth generation, known by the nomenclature F30. Today it is available in three different styles – saloon, touring and gran tourismo, in addition to the much loved M3.

In Ireland, generations of families have now driven the BMW 3 Series, but it remains as popular as ever. This popularity is sustained because of its styling, performance, realistic price tag, and technological features. But it is also popular because the BMW 3 Series has maintained its reputation throughout its 40 year history as being a drivers’ car.

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