Eighties Coupes – 1981 BMW 633 CSi

Here we are again, looking at cheaper alternatives to a BMW icon, namely, the E9 coupe of 1968 – 1975. The obvious and nearest choice is the BMW E3 (2500/2800/Bavaria/3.0S), but if you prefer the style of a coupe, the E24 6-series comes pretty close in terms of elegance and performance. You still get a nice open greenhouse, the forward-angled shark nose, and the famous BMW six, along with a reduced (although far from eliminated) propensity to rust and the enhanced reliability and comforts found in a more modern car. Check out this 1981 BMW 633 CSi, for sale for $3000 (negotiable) in Walnut Creek, CA.

1981 BMW 633CSi left front

This car features the 181hp/195 lb.-ft. M30 3.2 liter six-cylinder engine, and is said to have only 138,000 miles. It does pre-date the improvements made in 1983, when the 6-series was migrated from the E12 to the E28 platform (quite unusual – what other car do you know of where they changed platforms but left the body unchanged?), which might account for some of the low price. It does have the 5-speed manual transmission, which gives it an edge over most cars in North America, which seem to have been delivered with the less-exciting automatic transmission.

1981 BMW 633CSi interior

The interior looks good enough, although it’s hard to discern much from the picture. It does have a dash mat, which suggests there might be cracking, and the seats seem to have some splits, or just deep creases. At the very least, you’re looking at treating the leather, and worst case you’ll be spending half the price of the car to have the seats reupholstered. The sports steering wheel, likely from an E28, is a nice addition. What little you can see of the carpet appears to be stained, although again, the photo quality means an in-person inspection will answer most questions.

1981 BMW 633CSi engine

The engine compartment looks serviceable for a driver, and shows the same color as the exterior. It could probably use a good cleaning once you’ve had a look, but a not-clean engine compartment is a far better clue to the condition of the car than one that’s been slathered in Armor-All. Note the cone air cleaner – depending on which side you fall on that debate, you’ll want to either clean and oil it or just dump it for a stock airbox. One thing that’s hard to argue with is that it does provide a nice intake growl.

1981 BMW 633CSi right front

The rest of the car looks similarly decent from the outside, although those chrome fender covers deserve to be flung anywhere as long as it’s away from the car. The wheels, from an E39 540i, work pretty well as a factory upgrade, although the ultimate upgrade might be the obvious Alpina-style turbine wheels. The selection is pretty limited here – the only other choice would be some kind of BBS-style mesh wheel, but that’s been done to death, so perhaps stock is best. What would you do with a cheap shark?

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3 Responses to “Eighties Coupes – 1981 BMW 633 CSi”

  1. Dave Says:

    I couldn’t agree more – these cars represent incredible bang for the buck…especially compared with the E9. Where else can you get a basically hand-made luxury GT with gobs of style on a Hyundai budget? They are also a VERY easy classic to live with. Even using one as a daily driver should present few problems. The biggest problem I had with mine was finding trim parts. Many are NLA from BMW and surprisingly difficult to find secondhand in pristine condition.

    I agree about the wheels – a nice set of BBS meshies would help. Virtually all E34 or E38 wheels are a direct bolt-on. This car also has a nice color combination. Early models had a far better selection of paint colors; the 6 got more somber as the 80s wore on.

    Changes between these early E24/1 (E12-based car) and the later E24/2 (E28-based car) are far more significant than a few chassis parts! The bulk of the interior, electronics, and much of the bodywork are different between the two production runs. While many parts can interchange, the early and late models should be considered as completely different cars.

    Hilariously, E24s built in that transition year (mid-’81 to mid-’82) also coincided with the introduction of Bosch Motronic 1.0. So there are quite a few hybrid early chassis E24s with late-model motors… Expect to spend some quality time with parts diagrams and the proper BMW electrical troubleshooting manual.

    Thanks for the posting – sure makes my miss my ’82 633CSi. Despite it being one of the red-headed stepchildren (built in 11/81), that car was a lovely ride.

    • Chris Keen Says:

      Good to know, this is one of the older BMWs I’ve always been interested in, and now I’m even more amazed they overhauled the car so substantially without making changes that would be obvious to Joe Yuppie on the BMW lot back in ’83. Not that I’ll argue with having more of these around, they’re great lookers….

      • Dave Says:

        I like the way these look as well, though they’re a bit frumpy from the back end. Other problems are the tight rear seat and the very shallow trunk.

        The easiest way to determine an early or late model is the location of the radio antenna. Early models had it mounted in the front driver’s fender. Later models have it mounted it on the rear fender.

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