Known by some as BMW’s “Forgotten Middle Child”, the E21 was the first in the popular 3-series range, but sat sandwiched in time between the New Class Sedans before it, and the much more renowned E30 that followed it. Paul Bracq, BMW’s Director of Design at the time set the styling direction and the E21 was introduced to the public at the Munich Public Stadium in 1975, going on until 1983 and selling over 1.4 million units. It was available as a two-door sedan or a two-door fastback with a front engine rear wheel drive layout. Powered by a variety of carburetted or fuel injected (Bosch K-Jetronic) powerplants of four and six cylinders and displacing between 1.5 and 2.3 litres, the E21 also offered a three-speed automatic apart from the usual four and five speed manual offerings. BMW’s Hofmeister Kink (named after designer Wilhelm Hofmeister) was present and correct on the E21.
Rack and pinion steering and power assisted brakes (disc at the front, drum at the rear on all models except the 323i) were standard, and the suspension incorporated MacPherson strut at the front and semi-trailing arm at the rear. A Cabriolet version was produced by Baur (BMW did not produce a factory 3-series convertible until the E30), and the Baur came with the full BMW warranty. Base models had single headlamps, while the more powerful ones (starting with 320 variants) came with dual headlamps.
The car we have here is a 1981 model 320/6. This designation is significant, as BMW had three 320 versions of the E21 (excluding the North American variant). There was the four-cylinder M10 engine, either in carburetted 320 form (97bhp) and later fuel injected 320i form (123bhp). There was then the 320/6 which used the M20 in-line six cylinder engine, also carburetted with a Solex 4-barrel carb and putting out 122bhp. This variant was said to accelerate from 0-100km/h in 10 seconds flat, and achieve 180km/h flat out.
The car we feature here is a 320/6 that touched our shores when it was imported by a Diplomat attached to the Malaysian High Commission. Thereafter, the car changed hands a few times and eventually found it’s way into the care of Nishantha Jayasuriya who subjected it to a total restoration. During the restoration process, current owner Rohantha Jayakuru acquired the car and continued the restoration to completion. “All the major work was done” says Rohantha. He entrusted the car to the care of Next Gear in March 2017, and the work was completed by end July.
Rohantha used to run the 3.0CSL as well. “Compared to that beast, this is a little tame” he says “but, its good to drive, to cruise in”. There is still some fine-tuning to be done and he plans to give the car to Chanaka Jinasena to fine-tune the complicated Solex carb. “Now, with the internet it is much easier to source parts, and as a result we see more classic cars in Sri Lanka being painstakingly restored to their original specifications” he observes. “Otherwise, they may have gone the way of the scrap heap or converted with a diesel engine”.
Seeing the car as it arrived for our photoshoot, it looked in impeccable nick with all lights working and brightwork gleaming. Rohantha tells us that the bits and pieces were carefully sourced and imported here. The car has been slightly lowered and looks good on its period-correct 13-inch wheels with tall profile tyres. It also looks quite pert next to the current day metal, and its kerb weight is listed as a svelte 1090 kilograms. Yet, it still has that Germanic build quality and sturdiness that is apparent right down to when you close the door. Rohantha hasn’t undertaken any long trips in his newly restored beauty yet, but tells us that a long drive may not be far off.