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It began when BMW coined a replacement for its 2002 coupe. An important car in so many aspects, it summed up and defined the fact that the 3 Series was, and still is the very car of which all other small to mid-sized sport sedans are weighed, measured and judged against.

23 Jan 2009

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Today, the 3 Series is known for its outstanding dynamics, quality and prestige that come with the package. This year also marks the 33rd anniversary since the launch of the first 3 Series. Like how Ferdinand Porsche perfected his cars even with the engine in the wrong place, we'll take you through the years and several innovations that were pioneered since the 3's inauguration.

E21 - 1975 to 1983

Planet Earth was in the midst of recovering from the devastating oil crisis when the first 3 Series stood up with its four wheels on the ground, outside the Milbertshofen factory on the 2nd of May, 1975. The timing seemed just right, as everyone started looking for smaller cars. BMW was so proud of its 316, they even presented the car in the Munich Olympic Stadium.

It was anything but simple. The track control arms with independent spring strut suspension at the front and semi-trailing arms at the back were dramatically different, as were the disc and drum brakes. The steering was one of pioneering technology - an elastically mounted, rack-and-pinion unit.

A new 2.0-litre four-cylinder in the 320/4, fitted with a Solex carburettor, had 110 bhp, and met emissions regulations without the need for a catalytic converter. The transmission featured a Getrag four-speed manual, and later on, five-speed boxes were updated as standard, on top of the ZF three-speed automatic option.

Later on, the 320 staple gained the "i" suffix, as well as a three-way catalytic converter and a five-speed manual. The recipe worked - sales had tripled in the first year, and had continued to climb despite another hike in oil prices in 1979.

When the six-cylinder 320 and 323i models were released, they grabbed the attention of many. The 323i gained its reputation quickly, thanks to its 143 bhp engine and 190 km/h top speed. It was technologically ahead of its time and even had a limited slip differential option.

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