The 323i was the very first six-cylinder E30, fitted with a fuel-injected M20 engine.
The story of the 323i really starts with the E30's predecessor, the E21. This car was the first BMW 3 Series, and was a sporty, sprightly sedan that won the hearts and wallets of the Yuppies, and sold strongly over its seven-year production run. When designing the replacement, BMW knew that the next model would have a lot to live up to, which is what led to the creation of the E30.
Serving as the flagship of the E30 fleet at the model's 1982 launch, the 323i was actually created over a year earlier. The very first E30 models, delivered to sales rooms and technicians worldwide for demonstration and training, were 323i's, fitted with the same buzzy M20 engine that had powered the most powerful E21's.
At 140hp, the 323i wasn't a slouch, although the extra bulk of the E30 toned down the wild-eyed mania of its predecessor. It was certainly a significant improvement over the other six-cylinder model, the 320i, and a performance tweak in 1983 boosted the power a little further, to 150hp.
However, it wasn't to last. By 1985 BMW had developed the M20 further, building a higher-displacement 2.5-litre version of the M20 that pumped out 170hp. Launched as the 325i, it offered improved reliability and performance at no extra fuel cost, and shouldered the 323i into a chrome-bumpered retirement.
While it remains a rare beast, some of the most cherished E30s in existence are 323i models, and a well-maintained example can be a real retro joy.
Because of their age, all 323i cars are chrome-bumpered pre-facelift units, with the earliest featuring a very rare two-piece front valance. The engine management is similarly prehistoric, using a Jetronic system which becomes increasingly troublesome with age. However, the rest of the mechanicals are shared with the 325i, including the gearbox and differential, and therefore spare parts are relatively easy to come by. The rest of the running gear; suspension, brakes and steering, are the same as fitted to the 320i, with front and rear discs.
A very small number of 323i Sport models were also produced. Rather than being a specific model, these were standard 323i's with a sports package that offered a dog-leg gearbox with closer ratios. Unlike any other E30 unit, these gearboxes did not have an overdriven final gear - fifth was a direct drive, which necessitate a much lower ratio differential to compensate.
Please also see the E30 323 Register