40 Years of BMW mid-sized coupes

A tribute to BMW’s mid-sized coupes from the 1996 1
602 to the all new 5th generation 2006 E90 335i Coupe

1602-2002: Beginning of a new automotive era, The 02 1966-1976

On 7 March 1966 the BMW AG celebrated its 50th anniversary. On this particular day, Gerhard Wilcke, the then Chairman of the Board, presented to the guests invited to the Bayerische Staatsoper a new model, the BMW 1600-2.

Being smaller and more stylish than the then-current New Class saloon models, this new model served as a basis for the model range from then on. The 4 centimetre lower roof, the somewhat flatter windscreen, the round headlights and the circular taillights accentuated the car’s dynamics and sportiness. But presumably only a few of the guests noticed these design cues at first glance, as this new saloon had a much more striking feature: It had only two doors, a feature to which the model owes part of its model designation (–2).

Apart from very few details, the interior of this new model was, technologically speaking, on par with the previous four-door BMW 1600, the production of which ceased simultaneously: It was powered by a four-cylinder engine displacing 1,573 cc and producing a maximum output of 85 bhp. As is the case with all BMW models produced at that time, the engine, which was inclined by 30 degrees, was front-mounted. The suspension combining an A-arm front axle and a semi-trailing arm rear axle was also derived from the “New Class”. The braking system was highly advanced and efficient with disc brakes at the front, a feature which had so far been reserved for upmarket automobiles or sports cars. The 1600-2 was not exactly what you would call cheap. At DM 8,650, the entry-level model’s price corresponded to the annual income of an employee. What customers did get for their money was a state-of-the-art car with a total weight of 940 kg, offering a formidable power/weight ratio. The 0-62 mph sprint took about 13 seconds, and with a top speed of 166 km/h (103 mph) it was one of the fastest cars at that time.

The concept was much more promising for the future than initially expected by critics and dreamt of by its supporters. Thus, for example, some Munich dealers, who doubted this concept’s success, kept asking: “Who’s going to buy this car?” Their customers soon taught them otherwise: In the first production year BMW manufactured as many as 13,244 units. In 1967, the four-door car’s production volume of 38,572 units almost exceeded the production figures pertaining to the four-door version with 39,930 units produced.

Whilst young people were revolting all around the globe in 1968, a new “small” BMW caused a sensation among automotive enthusiasts of all ages: The 2002, the ultimate sports saloon for many years to come. The 2002 was available at a price of DM 9,250. Under the bonnet there was a 2-litre engine producing 100 bhp, giving the car a top speed of 170 km/h (106 mph). As many as 339,092 units came off the production line until production was ceased in 1975, thereby raking in the lion’s share of profits made by the 02 Series. However, in 1973 the 2002 turbo with 170 bhp caused an even bigger stir. It was the first German production car to be equipped with a turbocharger.

This top-class model of the 02 Series reached its top speed at 210 km/h (130 mph) while 0-100 km/h came in just 7,3 sec. The 2002 Turbo was available for ten months exclusively in white and silver.

E21: The first 3 Series 1975-1982

Expectations were high when BMW unveiled the first 3 Series in Munich’s Olympia stadium in the summer of1975. BMW opened a new chapter with the launch of the 3 Series. Technologically speaking, the 3 Series was the result of a further development of the 02 Series. Although, from outside, it bore resemblance to the 5 Series, its character was completely unique. A characteristic feature of the new two-door car was its distinct wedge-shape design, which was much disputed by the public at the beginning. The designers also trod new paths as far as the interior was concerned: The cockpit design celebrated its premiere, including the centre console angled towards the driver, a typical feature of the BMW interior for many years to come.

And yet again, gloom was foretold for this BMW model series when it was launched. But again customers reacted positively: In the category of up to 2 litres cubic capacity, the BMW 320 was voted the world’s best saloon by the readers of Europe’s biggest car magazine in 1976. The 3 Series outperformed the 02 Series in every respect: In May 1981, the 1,000,000th 3 Series vehicle came off the production line, making the 3 Series the most successful BMW model series of all times

E30: The 2nd generation – also available with a diesel engine or an all-wheel drive 1982-1991 (Coupe)

In the autumn of 1982, the second generation of the 3 Series replaced the previous models. By the end of the first production year BMW had already sold 233,782 new 3 Series cars. At that time, however, the real attraction had not yet even been released. In the autumn of 1983, the 3 Series featuring four doors hit the showrooms. The small BMW class had already attracted a considerable number of customers who very much approved of the car’s improved fuel economy and increased comfort as a complement to its sporting performance. Thus, in 1985, BMW dared to take the next step with the launch of the 325iX and the 324d. Above all, the six-cylinder diesel engine with a peak power of 86 bhp quickly gained the reputation of being the diesel engine offering the most excellent running smoothness in the entire market.

In 1986, BMW presented the 3 Series Convertible, the first fully open four-seater from Germany for 11 years. With this awesome convertible BMW created once again a trendsetter on four wheels, soon to be followed by the next one: In August 1987, BMW presented to the public a small touring. This utility and sports car has not only been most successful with customers who frequently transport bulky goods, but also with all other groups of buyers simply due to its attractive appearance.

The ultimate "3" was of course the first ever M3. Equiped with a 4cylinder engine, the first generation M3 produced 200 Hp. Latter, BMW debuted two revised versions, the EVO II with 215 Hp and the EVO III with a 2.5 litre engine and 238 Hp - 0-100 km/h in 6,5 sec & top speed of 248 km/h.

E36: The 3rd generation with five body variants 1992-1999

In 1990, the third generation 3 Series, a four-door saloon, was put on the market, gradually followed by the coupé, convertible compact and a touring. When this model series reached its pinnacle at the end of the ’90s, customers could choose from five body variants and ten different engines, the spectrum ranging from a four-cylinder diesel engine delivering 66 kW/90 bhp to a high-tech six-cylinder engine on the revised M3 with a maximum output of 236 kW/321 bhp. The E36 M3 was equiped with a 3.0 286 Hp engine that was latter replaced with a more powerfull 3.2 litre 321 Hp engine -0-100 km/h in 5,5 sec & top speed 250 km/h (electronicaly limited)

E46: The 4th generation 1999-2006
In May 1998, the current BMW 3 Series, which was even more comfortable, safer and more powerful, was launched, first of all in the form of a four-door saloon, with the coupe versions following in 1999.

And it created a great sensation when it was revealed to the public: The 320d made its debut as BMW’s first direct injection diesel engine with a maximum output of 100 kW/136 bhp, a top speed of 207 km/h (129 mph) and a fuel consumption of 5.7 litres. Owing to its running smoothness in particular, it outperformed all its competitors in its class. Toping of the range was once again the all mighty M3 equiped with a 3.2 straight six producing 343 Hp 0-100 km/h 5,2 sec, top speed 250 km/h (electronicaly limited)