The BMW E30 333i – Big Displacement Performance

Produced with assistance from Alpina, the BMW E30 333i was all about performance using the M30 engine

For many, the BMW e30 epitomizes the term “the ultimate driving machine” that the brand has come to represent. Much of this reputation has to do with the legendary BMW E30 M3, the historic racer created to compete in Germany’s DTM racing series.  However, few know about the BMW E30 333i made for the South African market, with help from Alpina.

In recent years, the BMW e30 has become desirable to collectors and automobile aficionados alike with the BMW E30 M3 amongst the most sought after. While values for the rare variants of the BMW E30 M3 have shot into the stratosphere, the most sought after versions are not derivations built on the M3, but rather the E30.

The BMW E30 320iS

The BMW 320iS was a typical BMW e30 sporting an M-Technic body kit built for the Italian and Portuguese markets. However, underneath the hood, lurked a specially made BMW s14 engine, the same engine powering the BMW M3.

Whereas the S14 powering the M3 had a displacement of 2.3 or 2.5 liters, for the Evo versions, the S14 powering the 320iS for the Portuguese and Italian markets had just 1,990 cubic centimeters displacement. These cars were built to get around the additional taxes levied on vehicles having engines having a displacement greater than 2.0 liters.

Meet the BMW 333i

At the other end of the automotive displacement spectrum is the BMW E30 333i built for the South African market.

The BMW E30 M3 was not available in all of the markets where BMWs were sold. South Africa was one of those markets. BMW South Africa (SA) wanted to campaign a vehicle in the local touring car championship competing against such cars as the Ford Capri, Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0, and the Ford Sierra. All of these racing cars ran larger six- and eight-cylinder engines, putting the high-revving S14 four-cylinder engine at a disadvantage.

The engineers at BMW SA were going to have to build a race car if they were to compete. Their solution was the BMW straight-six M30 engine powering the 7-Series (e23) at the time.

To make the conversion work in the smaller engine compartment of the e30, BMW SA turned to a tuner with extensive experience with BMWs and the M30 engine. Alpina, the legendary German tuner, had extensive experience coaxing additional power and torque from BMW’s venerable workhorse, the BMW M30.

Alpina had successfully turbocharged the M30 powering the Alpina B7 Turbo. They had also shoehorned a tuned 3.5 liter normally aspirated version of the into an E30 chassis to create the Alpina B6 and B6S. Whereas the Alpina B6 was based on a stock E30 chassis, the Alpina B6S started with the E30 M30. To produce the BMW 333i, Alpina provided the engine mounts, the water cooler, air filter box, and intake manifold.

As a side note, buyers had to choose between air conditioning and servo-assisted driving, but not both. The servo pump and the air conditioning did not fit into the cramped engine compartment with the M30.

Changes to the driveline of the BMW 333i

A new engine alone was not going to be sufficient. To handle the increase in power and torque, BMW upgraded the driveline adding a ZF limited-slip differential on the rear axle and a five-speed Getrag sports transmission. Also known as a “dogleg” transmission, the first gear is downward and to the left instead of forward.

Performance of the BMW 333i

Producing a healthy (for the time) 194 horsepower, driveline improvements to the BMW 333i were sufficient to rocket the vehicle from zero to 62 miles per hour in 7.3 seconds, accelerating all the way through to 142 miles per hour. While not impressive by today’s standards, the vehicle was better known for its driving dynamics that were purely mechanical and free from electronic intervention.

Driver’s lucky enough to experience the 333i firsthand has stated, “the 333i storms forward from every speed as if there was no stopping.” Additional comments include the “top-heaviness associated with the BMW 325i disappears with the BMW 333i.”

Production of the BMW 333i

The South African touring class for which the BMW 333i was built was discontinued before it went into production. As a result, it never saw competition. Only 204 copies were produced making it rarer than the E30 M3 but not as unique as the Alpina B6S. When you consider the prototypes produced, only 210 copies were ever made, all being two-door, right-hand drive vehicles. Available colors included henna red, diamond black, alpine white, and arctic silver.

A distinguishing feature of the BMW 333i was the Alpina 20-blade fan wheels that came to epitomize the brand. This was the first BMW that left the BMW factory wearing Alpina wheels.

The BMW 333i was never sold outside of South Africa. If you are ever fortunate enough to see one, rest assured that you are looking at a vehicle that you are unlikely to see again in the wild.

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