From Der Bayerische September/October 1982
BMW 3231 Cabriolet
By Bill Ross
I f this is Summer, and i t surely i s ,
then the time has come to take to the road
in an open car. VOB Auto Sales, Rockvilie,
MD, provided just such an opportunity for
Gordon Kempel and me on June 30. The car--a
sleek new, federalized BMW 323i Cabriolet.
The appointment had been made with
Lothar Schuettler almost a week e a r l i e r.
The days just seemed to draq by--the weather
seemed to change almost daily . We must have
good weather—surely we would not be
confined to having the top up! Finally ,
Wednesday arrived and my work day could be
cut in half.
At 1:00pm I pulled into VOB's parking
l o t - - s i x t y minutes early for the test drive.
Where is the car? It was not to be seen!
The rain that had been f a l l i n g off and on
for the last 2+ hours was now down to a
drizzle. Even i f i t stops and allows us to
take off the top, would the streets be dry?
I again looked around the parking
lot--no 323! As I walked into the service
lane, I noticed the dual exhaust system on
the 3 series up ahead. Was this some kind
of a modification, or could this be the 323?
Can that be a vinyl top on the car? As I
drew closer I could read the 3231 on the
rear of the car. That's i t ! I had found
i t .
I proceeded to inspect, the car both
inside and out, starting with the front
spoiler, fog lights and guards, to the 3?3i
insignia which appeared in both the front
and the rear. Tne rear fold down portion of
the top was covered with a t i g h t l y woven
materal of obviously high quality . The main
section was covered with the same fabric.
The trim and workmanship were also top
quality . From the outside, I could see that
l i t t l e lateral v i s i b i l i t y was lost by the
expanded side pillow which was adorned with
the name BAUR ( the German firm which
supplied the coach work).
As I climbed into the car and slipped
into the Recaro seats, standard in the U.S.
S-package, I checked out the differences in
the instrument panel. The digital clock
expressed time in militar y fashion, the
brake warning light used the international
symbol; the tachometer was calibrated with a
green safe-zone and a red danger-zone; the
fuel guage was calibrated in l i t e r s ; and
there were two cigarette l i g h t e r s , the
second in the speaker-fader control
position—ideal location to plug in the
radio selector. The side panels in the rear
below the fixed windows also showed the
planning and workmanship which went into the
conversion. No space was lost in the rear
seat. Head room, thought a l i t t l e tight for
a six footer, was respectable.
Upon inspection of the trunk, I noted
the special clips designed for storage of
the center top section. These clips which
held the top firmly in place and, when in
use, sacrificed only 2 to 3 inches of trunk
height -- indeed a small price to pay.
Aside from t h i s , there was no loss of trunk
That which was not apparent included a
5-speed sports gearbox (unlike the U.S.
5-speed, i t had a shorter throw and no
overdrive), coupled with a limited-stip
d i f f e r e n t i a l . The engine was smooth and had
the distinctive sound of a RMW six cylinder
power plant. The increase in torque over
the 320i was apparent from take off.
Lothar had taken us out for only a
couple of blocks to introduce us to the car.
He then turned i t over to us for what turned
out to be a truely enjoyable test drive.
Gordon strapped in behind the wheel, while I
secured his Escort to the dash -- off we
As we went into the f i r s t curve the
beefed up suspension and increased engine weight (approximately 100 pounds) added to
the front end stability. The only way we
could improve on the handlinq was to
proclaim ~ GET THOSE CONTINENTALS OFF THIS CAR!
Finally it was my turn to drive. The
car shifted smoother, and was faster and
more responsive then any 320i either of us
had ever driven. The car was quiet too.
Such a solid feel. The only noise which was
discernible, and only when I was riding in
the rear seat, was a slight flapping of the
sail panels at high speeds. In fact, at
high speeds, with the top down and windows
open, the absence of wind noise was
The smooth and effortless character of
this engine, the forerunner of the 528e
engine, was an absolute jewel. While
compliments go to RMW, the Texas firm which
federalized the engine is also do credit.
The torquey feel on the road of an engine
which was free revving right to the
limiter, won us over. This 2.3 liter engine
is what the three series needs to brinq back
the days of the tii.
We found that the rear suspension
maintains calm over even the most choppy
Maryland roads. If you lift off the
throttle quickly in a tight turn, the rear
end hints only slightly of running wide. The
four-wheel disk brakes (unlike the US 320i)
are above reproach and modulate easily to a
stop -- short and straight even on a wet
surface and with hands off the wheel.
The rear view with the top stowed is
actually very good, but the difference
between the coupe and the cabriolet would
give some a sense of blindness. The blind
spot is not big enough to hide a car that's
really there, hut its big enough to make you
sweat a little when you don't see anything.
Changing lanes, however, you can't help but
wonder if something small, sleek and exotic
... The 3231 cabriolet was more fun than
either of us have had in a long time. You
too may share this enjoyment on a more
permanent basis. VOB can, on a very limited
basis, put a 323i, cabriolet or coupe, into
your future. The 323 cabriolet came in at
about $31,000. In coupe form, they start at
about $23,000, without the bells and
whistles. The Club now has a member with a
4-speed 323i coupe and another with a Hardy
& Beck 323i on order. Who will be next?
Our sincere thanks to Richard Rankin
and Lothar Schuettler for arranging the test
drive. We are also available when you
receive a 635 convertible!
Technical Data BMW 320i vs 323i
US Specs. European
Capacity 1766 cc 2316 cc
Power (at 58nn rpm) 101 143 hp
Torque (at 4500 rpm) 100 140 ft.lh
Compression ratio 8.8:1 9.5:1
Final drive ratio 3.91:1 3.45:1
(0 to inn km/L) 11.5 sec 9.5 sec
Weight unladen 2271 2448
SEE THE 323i AT THE SEPTEMBER 23rd MEETING!