WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Regular cambelt changes are imperative for all engines; make sure it’s been replaced in the last 40,000 miles. Early belt tensioners can seize, so we recommend using more modern replacement units. Gear linkages suffer from wear after 100,000 miles but are repairable. Shaft seals fail, too – apart from that, the manual ‘box is golden.
Check the joints by rocking the wheels when the car is jacked up. Front strut top mount bearings go – beware of big clonkings up front, spin the wheels and listen for bearing rumblings. Rear damper bushings can also go – the steel mounting hits the bodywork and punches holes in the metal.
Hot rot spots include the door bottoms, sills and arches. Front wings crumble, but these are easily bought and are a bolt-on item. The chromework pits easily. Check front subframe mountings, too.
It might sound obvious, but if the car you’re looking at has electric windows, make sure they work. The E30 is notorious for problematic window motor regulators. Ensure none of the check control LED lights are on, and confirm the central locking work.
Interiors vary depending on trim level, but they have some common foibles. Seatbelt mounts rot and can become unsafe. Lift the carpets, check for dampness and examine the floor for rust. The cloth seats found in cheaper models wear well, but leather-clad interiors are worth more when selling on. Headlinings droop, gauges are known to misread, and rear light seals fail, leaving you with a soggy boot.
DON’T BUY A FAKE
The M3 is the pick of the E30 bunch and its price reflects that (about £60,000 these days). Many people have tried to dress up lesser models as M-cars. M3 VIN numbers start with WBS and they don’t have automatic gearboxes. Also remember, M3s have four-cylinder engines, so one with six is a 325i dressed in wolf’s clothing.