The humble 316 holds the entry-level position in the E30 stable. Released on an unsuspecting world in January 1983, it served as the perfect foil to the more prestigious 323i; identical in outward appearance, but different in every mechanical way.
Despite the name, the car actually had an 1800cc engine, inherited from the E21. It earned its 316 for being the only carburreted model in the range. Despite sharing the same M10 engine as the contemporary 318i, its version was taken from the veteran BMW 2002 range, which harked all the way back to 1968. For that reason, power delivery is best described as asthmatic.
The rest of the car is equally primitive. The simplest forms of solid front discs with rear drums, bolted to simple 45mm struts with manual steering, meant that the 316 wasn't a particularly inspiring drive. To make matters worse, BMW offered it with steel wheels and a four-speed gearbox - buyers would have to pay thousands of pounds more to bring the car up to any enjoyable standard, which is why it was bought by only the most parsimonious of purchasers. Buyers were lucky to be offered a choice of two or four doors; no Cabriolet or Touring versions were ever made.
In an attempt to improve things, BMW upgraded the carb with an electronic model, which only made things worse. The increased complexity added all sorts of reliability issues to the 316, and the few remaining examples will have had these electric Pierburg 2E carbs replaced with a Weber alternative.
Overall, the car didn't do much for the E30 image as an upmarket saloon. However, it managed to dodge the cull by the 1987 facelift, seeing one year of plastic-bumper production before being unceremoniously ditched to make way for the 316i. But a few examples remain, nestled away in garages by thrifty owners trying to eke out the last drop of value from their initial purchase.
The M10 that powers the 316 is the same legendary engine block fitted to the BMW 2002 turbo, among others. It's a solid construction, and nigh-on indestructible if serviced correctly. However, the rest of the car will be spartan, with only the most rudimentary brake, steering and suspension setups fitted, with 45mm suspension struts, solid front disc brakes and rear drums.
One of the benefits of the car's design is its fuel economy. When correctly set up, the car can return decent mpg, although you'll never win a drag race in it. It's very common to fit an uprated carb to these engines; learn more about Weber carburettors.
These models can be bought extremely cheaply, and are a perfect base for an engine swap.
Please also see the E30 316 Register