Poor Man’s BMW #1 – 1977 BMW 320i

By the mid-1970s, BMW sorely needed a replacement for its aging 2002. By 1977, when its replacement came around, it was 11 years old – can you imagine any passenger car model lasting that long nowadays? Its replacement was the E21 320i, which had big shoes to fill, coming with the 2002’s 2-liter M10 engine. The engine itself was equipped with K-Jetronic fuel injection for cleaner emissions and a 10hp bump, but this was offset by an extra 400 lb. of weight. This and more insulation took away some of the feel of connection to the road, and the 320i got mixed reviews in the press. However, buyers still cited performance as one of their main reasons for purchasing the car – you can have your own taste of this somewhat forgotten 2002 successor with this 1977 BMW 320i, available for $1950 in Milpitas, CA (although possibly in northern Nevada, according to the listing text).

1977 BMW 320i right rear

The North American market had to wait 2 years for the 320i to arrive, during which time the car sprouted giant safety bumpers, optional air conditioning and radio, and thermal reactors to clean the already low emissions. These stunted the car’s performance even more, but that didn’t keep Car & Driver for giving the car glowing reviews for its interior and exterior, and its fun-to-drive factor.

1977 BMW 320i left front

And it is a fairly attractive car, particularly when the less-obtrusive European bumpers are retrofitted. The seller has a unique pie-chart approach to exhaustively analyze every aspect of a possible purchase – this is perhaps the first time in a while where you could complain about too much information. The body is said to be accident- and rust-free, and the pictures certainly underscore that, in spite of the car’s 203,000 miles.

1977 BMW 320i engine

The car is said to need a new clutch, as well as some tuning to help with cold and hot starting, and a new muffler. The seller is saying they may make some of the repairs on the car, but at the same time they are selling it as a parts car due to the risk of the car not passing smog in California. It is not clear why they are trying to sell a non-California car in California when there are 49 other perfectly good states to sell it in, but if you are interested, there should be a sticker on the car saying it will pass California emissions.

1977 BMW 320i interior

The interior is definitely in need of some clean-up. Under the cheesy seat covers is some unfortunate replacement upholstery, done in a cheap-looking tweedy material. You have to love any center console that houses the radio in a vertical position – this is probably the only characteristic the BMW has in common with Italian supercars of the same era, and was done to accommodate air conditioning for the US market. Perhaps the best use of this car would be as a drivetrain donor for our next poor man’s BMW – stay tuned to see what that is!


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