The car received one facelift during its lifetime, when the metal bumpers and chrome trim were replaced with plastic bumpers and plastic trim. This facelift also necessitated changes to the front valance and the shape of the rear arches, but all other body panels are compatible across the production range.
There is a lot more to the body of an E30 than just its metal form. All other areas, both mechanical and cosmetic, contribute to the car's increasingly iconic status. Understanding how they all fit together is key to keeping your E30 in one piece, rust-free and on the road.
The standard shell of an E30 uses pressed steel to form a cabin. The floorpan is strengthened at the sides by inner and outer sills. A forward bulkhead meets a scuttle underneath the window, and at the front corners A-pillars rise up to carry the leading edge of the roof. B-pillars run from the centre of the sills upwards and are bridged by a buttress to carry the centre of the roof (except on the cabriolet, and C-pillars rise from the rear corners of the sills to hold the rear of the roof. Rear quarter panels run from the C-pillar (B-pillar on 2-door saloons and cabriolets) to a rear valance. At the front of the car, inner wings carry the suspension turrets, and connect to the bulkhead. The front end is closed with a front cross member. Underneath, two chassis rails run from the front cross member back to the centre of the floorpan, and end underneath the front seats. A number of other smaller panels in various locations provide strengthening and rigidity to the shell.
All joints on the shell are spot-welded to make a one-piece construction. If you are restoring the shell of your car, seam-welding all joints can add extra rigidity as well as reducing opportunities for rust.
Main article: Roof
Connected to the main shell are body panels, all of which are considered removable using basic tools. These are:
- Front Valance
- Front Wings
- Sunroof - if fitted
- Front Doors
- Rear Doors - 4-door and Touring only, not interchangeable
- Boot lid - except Touring
- Tailgate - Touring only
Many of these parts are interchangeable between models, except where stated.
Two styles of bumpers were fitted to E30s. Earlier cars had chrome bumpers, which employed a metal bumper with a thick rubberised strip around the front face. Following the 1988 facelift, bumpers were made of colour-coded plastic, with black plastic inserts on the leading face.
These two styles of bumper are not interchangeable; significant body work needs to be undertaken to convert the front and rear valances to accept the different type of bumpers. Despite the labour involved, it is possible to convert a pre-facelift to a facelift.
Main article: Paint Codes
The E30 was offered in a number of colours during its lifetime, in both solid and metallic paint. Some are unique to early cars, others were only available to facelift models.
The colour of your car will be printed on a sticker on your front passenger suspension turret.
The windscreen on E30s is the same across the entire model range; there is no difference between saloon, and touring windscreens. Cabriolet windscreens are the same dimension as all other windscreens, but have a mount to attach the rear view mirror.
Removing and refitting a windscreen is a quick and easy job that does not require any specialist tools. However, a weather seal tool will job the job even quicker.
To remove the windscreen, remove the small black clip in the middle of the weather strip (between the two windscreen wipers). Then, using a flat screwdriver or the appropriate tool, gently pry out the weather strip all the way around the windscreen. Once this is removed, gently but firmly press the windscreen out from inside the car. Do not apply too much pressure at the edge or the corner of the windscreen or you will crack the glass.
Once the glass has popped out of the rubber seal, clean the seal thoroughly but do not use washing up liquid; this contains salt and will cause corrosion.
To refit, place the new glass into the seal at the bottom edge, and then use a thin tool to ease the rubber seal around the edge. Masking tape on the bodywork around the window will help protect if the tool slips. Once the windscreen is in, the weather strip can be refitted by applying firm but controlled pressure with a screwdriver, or with the weather seal tool. Then reattach the black clip to join the weather seal together.
Main article: Door windows
Door glass is specific to the doors of each car. Since cabriolet doors will not fit a 4-door, neither will the glass, and vice versa.
While manual windows were the standard for most cars, all models had electric windows as an option, even on pre-facelift models. However, the regulator that controls the window is different between pre- and facelift cars, and therefore the glass must be changed to match if changing regulators.
Electric windows not working at all is a common problem, with a simple troubleshooting process.
If your windows aren't lining up properly, learn how to align the door windows.
The side window of a car is known as the quarterglass and can be found on two-door models and the rear doors of four-door models. The shape of the quarterglass, especially as it meets the C-pillar and rear quarter panel, is the defining feature of most BMWS, and is known as the Hofmeister Kink.
On Tourings, which have a fixed glass pane in the rear doors, the Hofmeister Kink can be found on the D-pillar, and the side window between the C- and D-pillar is known as the quarterglass. This window is bonded in, removal and refitting should only be done by a professional.
On Cabriolets, the rear windows can also fall out of alignment over time. If you have gaps between your windows and your roof, learn how to adjust your cabriolet windows.
Chrome and Shadowline
During the lifetime of the E30, two trim levels were produced, and are referred to as pre-facelift and facelift respectively. The terms Chrome and Shadowline are also applied, and determine whether the trim (such as window edges and roof gutter trim) were finished in chrome or in satin black paint.
Most of these trim items are connected to the vehicle using clips; very few bolts, nuts or screws are used to fasten trim to the car body. For this reason, removal of the trim is a very delicate process involving gentle pulling in strategic places, rather than simple unbolting. For more info, see removing the trim
All chrome and shadowline trim pieces are interchangeable, but specific to each body style. For example, the roof gutter trim (which clips to the A-pillar and over the door) is significantly longer on Touring models, and not present on cabriolets. However, it is possible to convert a chrome car to shadowline trim using simple parts from a donor vehicle, with very little modification needed, except to the bumpers.
The nose section of the E30 is the defining feature of the model, with its four headlights and double kidneys framed by plastic slatted grilles.
The grilles are held in place with two simple screws on the bottom edge, and a number of push-on clips along the top edge. Two different grilles were available for the E30 officially, but a number of third-party options are available, as well as eyebrows and bonnet lips.
All E30 models are fitted with BMW badges front and rear, made of aluminium with enamel paint. However, twenty years of exposure to the elements can cause to fading, chipping and corrosion to the badge, leaving even the cleanest E30 looking a bit sorry for itself. While original badges are still available from BMW, their high price means that many choose cheaper plastic alternatives.
Learn how to replace your BMW badge here.
E30s were also fitted with model badges to their rear, identifying the car as a 3-series of a specific engine. Badge deletion was an optional extra when purchasing the car, but you can remove your own badges if you feel so inclined.
BMW offered the option of having pinstripes fitted when buying your E30. These run the length of the body just above the coachline. On these pinstripes, the upper one is 3mm thick, the lower one 2mm thick, a 2mm gap between. Dependent on the colour of the car affected what colour pinstripes BMW offered, here's a list of those combinations.
There were also the stripe kits offered by the likes of Alpina, Hartge and AC Schnitzer.
Main article: Body Kits
Body kits, also knows as an Aerodynamics Package, were plastic or fibreglass accessories that fitted to the extremities of the car. While their aerodynamic function is limited, they do provide aesthetic enhancements to the E30's body style.
All E30s left the factory with a plastic lower edge on their front valance, known as a chin spoiler or lip. Optional extras include side skirts that protect the sills from road damage, rear valance spoilers to balance the effect of chin spoilers, and boot lid spoilers to add an aggressive look to the vehicle.
Bodykits were available as optional extras from the dealer under the M-Tech brand, and are referred to as Tech 1 for early cars and Tech 2 for facelift cars. The bodykits consisted not only of bumpers, valance lips and spoilers, but were also complimented by interior options including steering wheels and gear knobs. Touring and Cabriolet models had Sports Edition side skirts as standard, which 325i Sports models had the full M-Technic Aerodynamics Package as standard.
Fitting your car with an M-Tech kit is not difficult:
Learn more about fitting Tech 2 front and rear bumpers.
Third parties such as Zender and Reiger also produced body kits for the E30, with certain elements now being highly sought-after collectibles.
While a full inspection involves injecting wax into all body cavities and maintaining the condition of the underbody, one of the basic points is to keep the car cleaning, as well as maintaining a surface wax to prevent nasties from damaging the paint.
There are very few modifications to be made to the physical shell of the car, although it is possible to stiffen the front end by welding support plates from the top of the suspension turrets to the inner wings. Most other upgrades are cosmetic, and involve changes to the bumpers and trim.
Main article: Rust
It is becoming increasingly difficult to find an E30 that isn't suffering from rust in at least one location, but on these cars there are a few specific trouble areas. While all cars will become crusty around the wheel arches and sills, E30s are specifically prone to rust on the Scuttle, the inner arches, and four corners of the floorpan.
Body kits are excellent dirt traps, and many new E30 owners are greeted with nasty surprises when they remove their body kits for the first time. Especially prone are the ends of both sills, as well as the bottoms of front wings and the front edge of the rear wheel arch.
For excellent guides on removing rust and restoring the bodyshell, check out the Restorations.