Pop Art : BMW E30 M3 & E23 745i Driven [review]

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Youngtimer cult-cars like the BMW E30 M3 & E23 745i are in that collectible sweet spot where they can be driven or just parked and admired

MUNICH, GERMANY - The concept of ‘youngtimer’ (as opposed to ‘oldtimer’) is a nebulous one, because it’s a revolving door catch-all for cars that aren’t old enough to qualify for classic or vintage status, but are significant enough to be treated ‘special’. This comprises many of our favourite cult cars from the 1980s to the late 90s, a golden period for petrolheads born in the early 70s since these were possibly the last great driver’s cars before everything went digital and assisted.

Even then, despite what some people continue to think, not everything old is gold and the concept of rarity isn’t based on absolute numbers alone, so even if it’s the last of its kind on Singapore roads it doesn’t automatically qualify as solid gold – it could just be old.

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Of course, you also get the sort of people who think ‘old’ is the ‘new cool’, but insist on comparing the old’uns with something modern. These types come out of the cars with a scowl, because they can’t appreciate the youngtimers for what they represented when they were new. Don’t forget, these living relics are snapshots of bygone years, and help show where the model lineage has come from, as well as where it could be going – more importantly, they also show where it’s all gone wrong.

The best part about youngtimers is they’re still modern enough to be flogged reasonably hard on the roads, yet can be cleaned up nicely to share concourse space with a trailer-only classic car without looking out of place. Given that 2016 is BMW Group’s 100th Anniversary, it was as good a time as any to sample some of the brand’s automotive icons against their modern counterparts,

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E30 M3 & F80 M3 Competition Pack

Like the Audi Sport quattro we drove during the Audi Alpine Tour a few years ago, the E30 M3 has been on my driving bucket list for ages, well it’s actually the gnarlier M3 Sport Evo variant that’s been on the list, but we’ll take what we can get!

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Unlike its Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.3-16 counterpart, the E30 M3 was only available as a left-hooker, so none were registered in Singapore. It was conceived to bring the fight to Merc’s compact sports sedan in the mid-1980s (the 2.5-litre Sports Evo was created to compete against Merc’s 2.5-16 Evos), but its coupe body endowed the E30 with a nice degree of rigidity compared to the 2.3-16.

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However, it is interesting to note that back then, the traits that have come to characterise M and AMG (if we wanted to split hairs, the 2.3-16 was pre-AMG) today were already set in stone – the M3 has that urgent track-honed urgency to its engine and chassis, while the 2.3-16 always seems to be up for some juvenile hooning!

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Although it’s based on the E30 3 Series, the M3 has been fully-fettled by BMW Motorsport as a racing homologation special, flared fenders and all; it shares only one common panel with the Plain Vanilla model – the bonnet. At its heart is the venerable naturally-aspirated ‘S14’ 2302cc four-cylinder engine with individual throttle bodies rated at 195bhp (at 6750rpm!) and 230Nm; the S14 was used because it was compact, strong and high-revving, in short everything needed to go racing.

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Like the 2.3-16, transmission duty on the M3 is served by a Getrag five-speed transmission with dog-leg first; both cars feature the same 1:1 fifth gear ratio, so it’s no sissy overdrive gear – the car will continue to pull if so desired. With first a ‘dog-leg’, or left and down, second to fifth is arranged in a ‘H’ pattern for quicker shifting. The rationale behind this was that on a track, first is only used to exit the pits; the driver is typically between second to fifth the rest of the time.



At low revs, the Henna Red M3 potters about rather grumpily but then the roads open enough for you to open her up and my, can she really hit the high notes with a spine-tingling wail; wring to redline. Repeat. Downshift if necessary. Then repeat again! BMW’s route took us through proper winding roads, not silly straight highways, so we managed to keep it between second and third gears – with the occasional foray into fourth on longer straights – because we wanted to keep her constantly on the boil.

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This is unadulterated driving feel at its most visceral, with lovely sharp organic steering responses and a sweet balance to the car that gives you the confidence to push harder and harder. Whoever said it’s a mistake to meet your childhood heroes clearly never had a properly focused car like this on their wish-list, because we’re still dreaming of the drive a month later.

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Today, the ‘M3’ moniker refers to the sedan, while the Coupe has been renamed M4, in line with BMW’s model nomenclature. Like the E9x M3s, BMW has introduced a Competition Pack as a mid-life refresh, which brings a small bump in engine performance to 450bhp/550Nm, gorgeous forged BBS-esque '666M' alloys from the M4 GTS as an option, and most importantly a host of chassis and suspension updates to endow it with the same sort of driving thrills that snared so many drivers’ souls in M’s earlier days.

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E30 M3
2203cc, inline4, nat-asp, 195bhp, 230Nm
0-100km/h 6.7secs, 230km/h vmax

F80 M3 Competition Pack
Inline6, turbo, 450bhp, 550Nm
0-100km/h 4secs, 250km/h vmax

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E23 745i & G12 750Li xDrive

Apart from the distinction of being the first 7 Series, the E23 was also notable for one other thing: the range-topping 745i variant that we had along for this epic drive. Like the E30 M3, the 745i is a left-hooker that never made it to Singapore, but more intriguingly it was not just the first turbocharged 7 Series, it was also the first turbo’d inline6, much like today’s M2/M3/M4s and the 1M Coupe before that.

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Unlike the latest cars, this great-great-great-grand-pappy is a fine example of restrained elegance – it’s probably as inconspicuous consumption as one can get. Clean styling, a distinctive shark-nose and a low belt-line for perfect visibility combine to create the ultimate stealth lux-limo. It’s got a tonne of old-school tech and the solid wood panels that clad portions of the car are real, not the veneer you get these days.

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For the 80s, the 745i already had automatic climate control, cruise control, a fault code monitoring system and an early generation ABS, which isn’t surprising considering this car sat at the top of BMW’s hierarchy. If you’ve seen what the latest G11/G12 7s are capable of, it’s clear the 7’s tech-fest onslaught isn’t ever going to stop.

batch IMG 20160919 182603Around the smaller German towns, the 7 was the very soul of gentility, and seemed to attract attention from older gents. The 745i and the classic Mini were two cars that other road users were happy to cheerily wave on, even when they had right of way. The supple suspension was cushy even over the cobblestones (the 15-inch footwear probably helped!) but more importantly, it never felt too big for the narrow streets...

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… And then you put your foot down as you clear the town limits and oh boy, does the sleeping beauty really come to life. This is old school turbocharging at its most fun – turbo lag till about 3grand (the relatively large displacement torque helps pull you to that point, so it never feels tardy) before the KKK turbo fully spools and kicks you towards the horizon. The pace is relentless and it seems almost incongruous coming from such a stealthy sleeper. Mind you, it’s no mere autobahn-stormer either, although it’ll dispatch highway runs easily (even with the three-speed auto), but we got to savour it through some of the same roads as the E30 M3, which is where it really surprised (and scared!) us.

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In terms of outright speed, it’s decently quick, but the tricky part is to make sure the boost doesn’t kick in mid-corner to unsettle the car. This is exactly how we enjoy a turbocharged engine, as opposed to those that have been tuned to deliver low-rpm performance to masquerade as naturally-aspirated. For best (and fastest) results, the engine should be on-boost before entering the corner, which means entry speeds are rather high – this lets you balance it through the bend before flooring it once you’re clear of the apex.

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Now, that’s fine and dandy in a sportscar like the M3, but on something that rolls as much as the 745i? Time it wrong and you’ll want to get a whiff of oppo ready on the partly damp bits – which you can also do for fun! However, the steering has so much lock to it, it almost seems you’re winding back half-to-three-quarters more than on regular cars, but don’t get us wrong, it’s all jolly good fun, especially since there’s such unsullied steering feedback coming through the helm.

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The latest G12 we had was in 750Li xDrive guise, so the all-wheel drivetrain helps the car put its monstrous 450bhp/650Nm to the road without too much drama. The pace is stupendous, but this lux-limo also looked the part of the yakuza-boss’s steed of choice, especially after we deployed the rear sun-shades on our black car. There’s no hoping for the best with this beast, you just stomp and it’ll go, and go fast it will. Like all BMWs, the emphasis is on the driver, but in the 7 Series, it’s also on the passengers, which makes the big 7 a car you can drive yourself, or be driven around in if you know you’re going to be stuck in traffic! PHOTOS UWE FISCHER / DAVID KHOO

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E23 745i
3210cc, inline6, turbo, 248bhp, 380Nm
0-100km/h est. 7.5secs, 221km/h vmax

G12 750Li xDrive
4395cc, V8, turbo, 450bhp, 650Nm
0-100km/h 4.5secs, 250km/h vmax

This BMW E30 M3 & E23 745i feature first appeared in Top Gear Singapore #55 (October 2016)

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.

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