Your next classic car should probably be a Bimmer, but which one?

Photography Courtesy BMW

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Classic Motorsports.]

BMWs are hot right now. And have been hot. And likely will continue to be hot.

So, let’s say you want to pick up a classic BMW. Which one? After all, the brand has been in the car-building business for nearly a hundred years. 

We turned to some experts for guidance. First, Mike Marijanovic, owner of The Werk Shop, a BMW restoration house that has delivered many major show winners, offers advice regarding the classic BMW ownership experience in general. Then several other BMW experts help us narrow down the choices.

Classic Motorsports: If someone is looking to get into an older car, why should it be a BMW? 

Mike Marijanovic: “Nothing feels like a BMW. The relationship that is formed between the driver, the road, and the vehicle are cemented when you drive any BMW. You feel the road. The response and feedback leave you feeling like you’ve just had a truly unique experience, and it always keeps you wanting more.

“If a BMW is maintained properly, one can expect to be able to put well over 200,000 miles on it before a motor rebuild is needed. There is no better feeling than taking your BMW for a gorgeous fall drive and having the confidence that you will make it home in your own car and not riding shotgun in the tow truck. 

“Having said that, storing a good tool kit in your trunk can be a lifesaver if you need to do a quick roadside repair. You’d be surprised by what you can do with a couple screwdrivers, wrenches and spark plugs.”

Q: What makes an older BMW a smart purchase today? 

A: “BMWs have continued to go up in value over the past decade. Look at the coupes themselves, starting with the CSL Batmobile, and having that appreciation trickle down to the CSis and CSs. The Batmobile value has more than doubled in the last 10 years. 

“During the economic downturn in 2008, I had customers calling me to buy and restore cars as an investment. They didn’t feel confident in the stock market or in real estate and said, ‘Where can I put my money?’ We guided them to the BMW M1 and Batmobile. 

[The BMW M1 proves that M is for motorsport]

“All of those customers saw a significant return on their investment—a return better than anything else that was available. 

“With the most recent economic downturn due to the pandemic, I’m starting to field similar calls to those from 2008. They seem to like and feel comfortable investing money in an asset they can enjoy driving while it appreciates.

“We do find the market to be quite robust. Our main line of business is restoration and servicing European vehicles, but we’re often asked by our customers to help them find a car or sell one of their own. When this happens, we usually bring the vehicle into our shop, perform an evaluation on it, and ask the current owner to fix whatever is wrong with the vehicle so the new owner can get in and enjoy the new purchase right away.

 “After the issues are fixed, we place the car on our website and sometimes in our showroom. Typically, most of these vehicles sell within the first few weeks, and there are usually quite a few inquiries.”

Q: How is BMW parts availability today? 

A: “That can always be an issue with vintage cars, but we have developed a network of sources all around the world that helps us source the necessary parts during a restoration.

“BMW Classic has been pretty good about recreating parts. However, once something goes out of stock, it usually takes them two to three years to accumulate enough orders to then warrant the creation of another batch of parts for the vintage cars.”

High demand for BMWs means they’re worth restoring. Parts supply and institutional knowledge are both strong. Photography Courtesy The Werk Shop

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wspohn SuperDork
6/16/21 11:09 a.m.

Sadly, the only older BMWs I'd be interested in are already obscenely expensive.  328, 507, M1, Z8. I am not a sedan guy so that eliminates about 2/3 of the candidates. There are still the 3.0 CS which I do rather like and the Z4MC (which I already own) but not too much else.

Although old Bimmers don't seem to have escalated in price as much as the Porkers have, they certainly do seem to hold value really well.


jr02518 HalfDork
6/16/21 1:06 p.m.

My life with these cars can be traced back to the 1969 2002 that my parents purchased in Monterey, CA as my dad was getting transferred to Whibey Island ,WA  while he was flying for the Navy.  He sold the '56 Porsche Speedster to make to happen, a coupe was a better choice moving into the Pacific North West.  Yes, life with a young  Navy family of five requires taking one car to the next duty station.

That car stayed with us for the next three moves, to include being towed being the Old's Vista Cruiser to the East Coast and then back to Monterey.  Then two weeks before my sixteen birth bay, the car was sold.  

Oh I now understand why, the pending cost of insurance sealed the deal.  But I have been bitten by the BMW bug and have more than made up for it.  They are fun to drive and if you can allow your self to enhance their weaknesses they are great.  But no longer stock. Really ,as delivered by the factory stock.

Starting with my 1975 2002.  I like the square tail cars , as apposed to the early round tail light cars. It makes it easier to add the upgrades that have to be completed.  Trust me, the BMW E-21's Recaro seats, 5-speed and limited slip differential (LSD) are a must.  Then you have to address the tire/rim limits of the cars sheet metal.  If you can find the rims with the correct offset you can go a little bite wider, but adding larger 15 inch rubber is going to require the 'tii style flares.

But my 1982 E-21 has proven to be a better starting point.  Once you embrace the odd front end suspension, back date to the earlier vented front brake rotors and find a set of calipers that are now on older Porsche's.  The CIS fuel injection is not very flexible and when you have it running correctly better to leave it alone. The electronic ignition does a good job, the distributor on these cars is geared to run the opposite direction from the early M10 motors, fyi.  Then you get to keep the better seats, 5 speed and LSD as delivered.  The best part of this car is that you can run 15x7 rims and 205/50 tires under the stock fenders. If, you can find rims with the right offset.  Kosie, made them.  I have two sets.

My 1988 E30 is a refreshed NASA GT2 car that never had the fenders cut.  What makes this car is it has a non vanous M50 motor from a 1991 donar.  They only made this motor for one year.  This is a very sweet combination of earlier and latter, old school technology that just sings.  

Then I have my E-36, a 1994 M-Tech.  Before they delivered the M3 they built a run of 150 of these to test the market.  The interior is unique and the 17x7 rims are priceless, but the one thing that has to be fixed is the profoundly slow steering.  It is always something with these. I need to find a steering rack from an earlier Z3 1.9 roadster to fix the issue.

I am grateful I do not mind that they are not "stock". Keeping them all running is my cross and no end of a quest.






Bardan New Reader
6/20/21 8:37 p.m.

In reply to wspohn :

Pardon my ignorance "Porkers"?

wspohn SuperDork
6/21/21 11:06 a.m.
Bardan said:

In reply to wspohn :

Pardon my ignorance "Porkers"?

That's what we British sports car fans sometimes call Porsches - I picked it up long ago while racing in California, a solitary MG, hip deep in bathtub Porsches.

Coupefan Reader
3/1/22 10:12 a.m.

A bmw?  You assume we're all rich and afford the expensive parts and constant maintenance?  

Hirondel New Reader
10/17/22 11:24 a.m.

For an all-around balance of driving pleasure, practicality, and reliability, I'd go back to a car I had and enjoyed in the 1980s—a 1979 528i sedan. Fun to drive, compact, great handling, comfortable for driver and passenger(s) alike on short hops or longer, it was a great car.

And as for reliability, I will quote the Service Manager of Beverley Hills BMW, where we had the car serviced: "This [1979 model year] was the year BMW got it all right."

Tomwas1 New Reader
10/17/22 4:50 p.m.

I love my three present BMWs, a 99 techno m3 vert, 99 titanium 528 msport sedan and 96 328 sedan... I rock to the oldies. Some of te  the best cars they ever built...

bimmerbob New Reader
9/22/23 2:00 p.m.

  as a car nut,

First, thanks David for the article. I enjoy your perspective on the old car market, especially BMW's. More specifically, as BMW nut, I've owned so many BMW's I can't even recall them all. The one's that I do remember, a 2002Tii (still have) a 2002 Turbo (wish I still had), a plethra of 635's, loved every one of them. Wish I still had the top dog, a euro M635, white over tan, 58Klicks (KM). An E30 M3 (wish I still owned, but value was just too great to ignore, especially for a retiree), an E28 with the baby six, such a wonderful driver and family car! OK, move on, bro... daily driver: '10 328 (E93) convertible, just a delight to drive, easy on gas and maintenance, '10 535 GT, wife loves it, gorgeous, even despite the "bustle back" look (like the Bangle Butt, it grows on you). The previously mentioned 1971 2002 Tii, very low VIN, drove it for years while stationed in Italy, all original, fun and more fun! Finally, I looked a lot at all kinds of late model cars to buy as an "investment" (yeah, I know, but it'll likely be my last car), one I could enjoy and take pride in and drive to car events. One I wouldn't be parked in a line of 10 others, one whose value I think has about bottomed out after a long downward trend (but who knows?). The car? a 2019 I8, copper on copper. It is a stunner! Not so fast as to cause heart palpitations, but plenty of fun to drive, and it is a star-ship! Gets ~50-60 MPG depending on my "need for speed". Down side: lots of lookers, including the local gendarmes. While still expensive today, it was said that BMW lost money on them even at $174k. It was built as a "production demonstrator". Wow!

ddavidv UltimaDork
9/23/23 7:57 a.m.

I've owned a few and worked on a few more.

IMO the 2002 is overrated. It's a good car, and was an important car in its day, but there are plenty of similar cars from that vintage that are equally good or better, often for less money.

Personally, I think BMW peaked in the non-M branded cars with the E30.  Rock solid reliable, reasonably easy to work on, cheap parts and a few suspension changes make it one of the easiest cars to drive at 10/10ths I've ever experienced.

E36 M3 is the most approachable M car, but you will need to have some mechanic skills and tolerance for GM quality interior parts.

Anything after that had good performance but high repair expenses and unnecessary complexity, IMO.

Tomwas1 New Reader
2/24/24 8:34 p.m.

Just purchased a 98 328 auto sedan prepared as an msport over the last five years by its previous owner... Had sold him a gorgeous e36 328  a few years back which his wife totalled.. Just happened to cross paths with him at a North Salem ny cars and coffee I attend... Gave me a full spread sheet listing about 75 items he had upgraded, replaced and renewed...  Gave me a deal I couldn't refuse... Sold my 99 528 msport but now in addition to the new e36 I have an 09 v6 pony package mustang convertible and a 1963 Mercury comet s22 convertible just like my first car at 17... I'm 72 and trying to limit my stable to 3... Sweet rides all...!!!

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