Ciro drives the iconic BMW 333i

In our latest classic car drive, Ciro de Siena gets behind the wheel of one of his all-time icons, the uniquely South African BMW (E30) 333i. It is Heritage Month, after all! Increasingly coveted by collectors, the 333i is rapidly rising in value. Does it live up to the hero image?

Images: Roarke Bouffe

“There’s no replacement for displacement,” used to be a popular performance-enhancing approach in South Africa, and so when BMW South Africa realised it would not be able to sell (and race in Group 1) the E30 M3 in South Africa (due to it being left-hand drive only), the obvious route was to install as big an engine as possible in the compact E30 body. This was easier said than done… 

In the end the engine selected for the job was the 3.2L M30B32 straight-six that was also used in the 733i. This powerplant is such a snug fit that buyers could at the time select whether they wanted power steering, or air-conditioning, but not both at the same time - there simply wasn’t space! You can visually identify which feature a 333i has by looking at its nose. A car with power steering has driving lights in the front bumper while one with air-con has vents.

BMW 333i

Alpina provided a special inlet manifold and plenum chamber, cast-alloy, copper-cored radiator, special exhaust manifold and revised control profiles for the Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system. Compared with the standard engine, the power (145kW at 5 500 rpm) and torque (285Nm at 4 300rpm) outputs and peaks are unchanged, but the torque curve is altered, with significantly more oomph available at lower revs. 

BMW 333i

The result was explosive performance for the time, with the next fastest car available in South Africa back then being the BMW 745i, at twice the price. The engine was coupled with a Getrag close-ratio 5-speed manual with a “dog-leg” pattern. CAR Magazine tested the 333i in its January 1986 issue and achieved a 0-100kph time of 7,23 seconds (faster than the later 325iS Evo 1 and Evo 2) as well as a high top speed (231kph). 

BMW 333i

The pristine 333i you see on these pages is the 104th car built and as you’ll notice, it features the vents in the front bumper, so is cool-air equipped. Finished in striking Aero Silver, this 333i glistens in the harsh Gauteng sunlight. The 333i was offered in only three other colours, namely Henna Red, Ice White and Diamond Black. 

BMW 333i

The exterior changes made to the 333i (compared with a standard E30 Coupe) were all subtle, except for the comparatively large 16-inch Alpina alloys with 195/50 low-profile rubber. As part of the standard M Technic 1 package, the 333i has a deeper front spoiler, side skirts and rear-end panel to improve airflow. A small black spoiler on the bootlid rounds things off, but it’s the badge that usually gets onlookers excited. 

BMW 333i

The 333i’s cabin upgrades are similarly purposeful and classy. There are supportive BMW Motorsport front seats, a leather-bound steering wheel and, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that the needles of the analogue dials are red. There’s also a digital read-out panel in one of the air-vents which monitors things such as engine and rear axle oil temperatures, engine oil pressure and manifold vacuum… but you’ll have to brush up on your German to make complete sense of it all.

BMW (E30) 333i


Engine: 3 210cc, 6-cyl

Transmission: RWD, 5-speed manual

Power:  145kW@5 500rpm

Torque: 285Nm@4 300rpm

Weight: 1 256kg* 


0-100kph: 7.23sec*

Top speed:  231kph*

Price new:  R41 300

Value now: R700 000

* CAR Magazine Road Test Data, January 1986

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