Powered by detuned version of the legendary S14 motor from the BMW M3, the BMW E30 320iS is not an M3
Many fans of the BMW E30 would agree that the most exclusive of the E30s is the E30 M3. However, there is another variant of the E30 that is little known and very rare as it was only sold in two markets.
The BMW E30 320IS was called the “Italian M3” because it was only sold in Italy and Portugal. Many E30 fans often believe that the E30 320IS is either a race homologation special or a substitute for the BMW M3. In fact, it is neither. The car was created to beat the taxman in those countries as they assess a large tax on vehicles sold having an engine displacement greater than 2.0-.liters.
When the 2.5-liter, straight-six equipped 325I first came out, it was a big sales success in just about every country where BMW sold the vehicle. However, sales were flat in Italy and Portugal where it was exceptionally expensive as a result of the added tax because of the displacement of the engine. Even the legendary E30 M3 was also very expensive in those markets because it was just above the 2.0-liter threshold at 2.3-liters. An affordable alternative the 325I was needed to increase sales.
The BMW 320IS
BMWs response to this dilemma was the BMW 320IS. There were only 2,540 two-door and 1,205 four-door versions of these cars designed and built exclusively for the Italian and Portugese markets. As a result, they are very rare and desirable vehicles.
What makes the 320IS so special is that it has the legendary BMW Motorsports S14 ‘M3’ engine in a standard E30 body. The engine has been modified to get around the 2.0-liter displacement by reducing engine capacity to 1990cc. This was accomplished by adding new connecting rods, crank and pistons to a 2.3-liter S14 block. Displacement was reduced because of the piston design. However, the 320IS S14 had a higher compression ratio than the S14 in the E30 M3.
The engine was not the only treat that came with the car. It was also available with the M3’s Getrag dog-leg gearbox. The result was an engine that produced considerably more power than the E30 325I it was intended to replace in the Italian and Portugese markets.
The big difference between the 320IS and the 325I was their peak performance figures. The 320IS produced 192 horsepower at 6900 rpm whereas the 325i produced 165 horsepower at 5800 rpm.
An E30 M3 it is not
Despite sharing the legendary S14 engine with the M3, it is most certainly not an M3. The legend that is the M3 is not just the engine, but rather the complete package made up of the engine and vehicle’s handling and balance. The 320is did not have the chassis modifications of the M3 like the an increased castor angle, wider track, strut mounted and thicker anti-roll bars, larger breaks or quick steering rack.
While the 320IS had an engine displacement of less than 2.0-liters, the engine produced 5 horsepower less than the M3 S14. It also weight in at 242 pounds less than the M3 giving it a very good power-to-weight ratio.
The 320IS was produced between 1987 and 1990. It was available with the M-Technic body kit for the E30, which is what you see here.
The car you see here is offered at $29,950. Looking at current prices for an E30 M3 and factoring in how rare the 320IS is, I expect that the value for these special cars will only increase. However, with these cars now eligible for importation under the 25-year DOT exclusion rule, I would expect to see more of these cars showing up on our shores.
Photo credit: Park Place Ltd.