1982 BMW 323i Baur

1982 BMW 323i Baur
Memorial Day 2010 First Drive 1982 323i BMW Baur Lapisblau M20 5 speed #4154 of 4595 made. The car was imported to California by Dietel Enterprises. I have since changed the wheels, installed the clear turn signal lenses, and I am in the process of installing a new cabriolet roof. I have to do something about those bumpers, too. :) I love this car! To see one of the reasons why, check my post "Score One For the Good Guys" on 6/26/2011.

Monday, August 6, 2012

YOU ARE THERE 1983: Federalizing A BMW TC1 Baur: An Eyewitness Account

What was it like to buy and own a NEW (!) BMW Baur in 1983?  Here is a first hand account I discovered in an old issue of Der Bayerische.  What a great magazine!  You will see a familiar name, btw:  the ubiquitous Lothar Schuettler!


The following is reprinted in its entirety from Der Bayerische March/April 1983:

by Skip Marsh

A "Weiss Mit Blau" 323i Cabriolet
I took delivery on a "federalized" 323i cabriolet in
August 1982, after a series of negotiations unusual for a
BMW purchase. The car is a 323i converted to cabriolet
specifications by Baur of Stuttgart — a longtime BMW
subcontractor which produces limited quantities of various
models in top-down configuration. After the Baur treatment,
the car was then shipped to the U.S. and
"federalized" to meet the stringent DOT and EPA emissions
control and crashworthiness standards by Sunbelt
Imports of Houston. Properly speaking, then, the car was
manufactured by BMW/Baur/Sunbelt — with labor, hardware,
and extra cost from each stop along the way. It is
one of about 3000 cars imported to the U.S. each year
for federalization, and is one of about 5-6000 3 series
cabriolets which Baur has produced. What is this type of
car like? Bill Ross and Gordon Kimpel have already
reported on a 323i cabriolet test drive in an earlier issue
of Der Bayerische, but there are a few other important
things which should be said based on my ownership.
Let me begin at the beginning . . . negotiations for
purchase. I found that my particular car was available
through Lothar Schuettler of VOB Auto Sales, which has
delivered a small number of such "federalized" cars to
local customers. My cabriolet was still in Houston when I
first spoke to Lothar. The importer promised the car to me
. . . then changed his mind. Lothar had to intervene to
close the deal. The Sunbelt owner had decided that HE
wanted the car for his own personal use! After this minor
skirmish was won, Lothar's son, Fred, flew to Houston
and drove the car back. The car was truly custom built —
following German practice. Literally everything on it is
optional, down to a separate price for the right side
mirror, the tinted glass, a transmission choice including a
four speed or two different five speeds, etc. (This fact
doesn't necessarily allow you to "tailor" a car easily,
however, because you may have to wait 8 or so months
for such a special order car to arrive from Germany.
Instead, a faster delivery can be had if you do as I did
and take a car with certain equipment on it which is
already in the U.S.) Regardless of how you do it, there
are plenty of 3 series options available on these special
imports: power steering (about $450), the cabriolet conversion
(a mere $3800). Recaros, sports suspension,
expensive air conditioning (at about $1600), large or small
tool kit, "pop out" or "fixed" rear side windows on the
coupe, high dollar sound systems, a locking glove compartment
($40), foglights ($125) — even the last two items
are optional in Europe!
This all adds up to a very expensive fully loaded car
— with a top-of-the-line price probably at about $33K.
While you may see these cars advertised for about
$21-22K these days in AutoWeek, check the optional
equipment closely — for example, air conditioning and
power steering adds $2K alone, and the cabriolet option
would drive it up another $4K, much less adding a radio,
foglights, etc. However, if you're considering the purchase
of a federalized car, shop around a bit, because
there are wild variations in prices for a similarly equipped
unit. In my case I purchased the car from VOB because
another local area dealer wanted an additional $5K for the
same thing! Obviously, then, there are those who would
like to make a healthy profit on these special cars. In
some cases, however, you really can't blame the dealer
for the price because of the peculiarities of the federaliza- ^ ^
tion process. The loophole in the law which allows these ^ ^
cars to be imported in the first place makes the federalization
of each car a unique case — the importer converts
the car to U.S. specs., hands a nonrefundable $700-800
to the EPA test facility, and hopes his conversion will pass
the two day long federal tests. If it doesn't, he gets the
car back with a list of items to correct and hopes he can
figure out how to get the car through the test the next
time. Since each two day test costs the same price, each
time a car fails it adds another $700-800 to your price —
and stories are told of cars which have failed as many
as four or five times before finally passing. Obviously,
then, once an importer has found a "correct" way to get
a particular model of car through the test, he should be
able to duplicate it on each of his subsequent cars to
keep the cost down. This is generally true, although I've
also heard stories of cars set up with emission control
systems using hardware identical to that on a car which
passed, and still having them fail. This means that there is
a natural variation in what the price of two identical cars
could be.
Another variation is caused by the type of emission
control hardware the "federalizer" actually uses. My car
uses a real Heinz Variety mixture — a General Motors air
pump and evaporative emission control system, Porche
double pulleys to carry the extra pump, a Ford catalytic
converter cut in three places and hand welded to fit the
dual exhaust pipes, and plenty of hand fabricated A
brackets — shaped with a cutting torch. On the other ^^
hand, high priced federalizers use more sophisticated
emission control gear; since BMW itself sells cars in emission
regulated countries like Sweden and Japan, some of
this gear is available for use in U.S. federalization of the
same models (albeit at higher cost than the GM/Ford gear
used on my car). You may want to ask questions about
the type of emission control gear the federalizer used
when considering a purchase . . . a higher price might
mean higher quality.
Speaking of quality, what is the quality of the Baur/
Sunbelt 323i conversion? Baur does an excellent job on
the cabriolet arrangement; the fit, quality and hardware of
the top are superb. The top even came with a rectangular
vinyl cover which snaps on over (just) the rear window . . .
great to keep the dew and dust off the window at the
racetrack or at night. I had some minor repainting to do
on the drip rails above the doors, however, because the
Baur rubberized paint was unevenly applied. The only
other problem area which I watch is the Baur trunk lid
seal, installed below the rear window line, which tends to
collect water rather than sealing it out.
On the other hand, the Sunbelt federalization is . . .
only pretty good. The good news is that there are absolutely
no driveability problems associated with federalization.
The car starts easily hot or cold, runs smoothly on
premium unleaded, and delivers a solid 27 mpg on the ^k
open road. The emission gear itself is another matter. As V
Woody Hair pointed out in an earlier Der Bayerische
article, the catalytic converter on my car is close to the
ground and can scrape easily . . . it was situated as close

to the manifold as possible to meet the nitrogen oxide
limits, which meant putting it very far forward. The air
pump was tucked in too close to the inner fender, so
some minor repositioning was necessary after purchase.
The same repositioning was required for the power steer-
I ing pump, which had been moved to accommodate the
air pump and had subsequently worn a pinhole in a
radiator hose. Another problem was replacing a piece of
heater hose which had been installed by Sunbelt on the
supply side of the power steering pump. They needed
some extra length, and apparently heater hose was the
only thing they had laying around the shop! In other
areas, however, the Sunbelt federalization is quite good.
This particular car was fitted with U.S. 5 MPH bumpers
(no longer necessary under the relaxed standards) and
the quality of the conversion is high. And, the door beams
that were added for crash protection were bolted rather
than welded in, which makes for a neat installation when
viewed from the end of the door. The seatbelts work quite
well, the steering column conversion is excellent, and the
gas tank filler neck conversion (the unleaded syndrome)
came with a locking gas cap.
Regarding any minor problems, VOB has been
absolutely great about the car. Lothar Schuettler stocks
basic parts for the car, and there are other stateside suppliers
as well. (The warranty with the cars, by the way, is
a standard European one year arrangement with a VOB
five year/50,000 mile drive train warranty.) It should be
said, however, that even such minor things as the dashboard
knobs are peculiarly German — the unique air conditioner
knob started to strip out and we found it
necessary to repair it since a special order replacement
from Germany never came through.
Well, that's enough on the intimate technical details of
the car. What's it like in daily use? Spectacular is probably
the best word for it. People ring the front door bell during
the dinner hour to ask about it. Passersby stop to
reminisce about their long lost 320 or 2002 or 530 (no
Isetta owners yet). A fellow BMW owner stopped her car
in the middle of a busy street to stare when I passed her.
White haired men in four door Chevrolets smile and wave.
We've gotten accustomed to having 60 MPH door
handle-to door handle window-down conversations with
fellow motorists on freeways about the car. The "thumbs
up" sign is common, and we collect thumb prints on the
hood from the curious even when the car is protected at
the back corner of a parking lot. Kids in souped up
Camaros stop to check out the top, although when I tell
them it's a SIX cylinder they think it's the economy model
(No V-8??). I still get shut down by 5 liter Mustangs and
Z-28's in the stoplight grand prix, but everything else has
trouble getting away. For some reason, the car makes
middle aged people who drive (or is it aim?) Chrysler products
mash down their accelerators when we're side by
side. Freeway driving becomes hazardous to one's health
when eight high school kids in a '66 Chevy park a few inches
off the bumper to stare. The mere act of passing in
the fast lane makes other people match the speed to
check the car out, and even eighteen wheelers honk and
wave. The uniformed say the car is like " . . . that Toyota
I convertible" conversion, and hardly anyone guesses the
high price. Owners of early 320's suggest that it probably
costs $18K (!), with most people saying $20K. (Let's see .
. . with a new Ford Mustang convertible at $16K, that
would be some deal

Is a federalized 323 cabriolet worth the money? it's
hard to say; by paying the money, I guess I've made my
choice. The car IS about as unique as you can get, and
obviously "unique" has a price . . . high. The uniqueness
of having a U.S. certified factory six cylinder 3 series will
pass if the so-called 326 e is actually imported, but on the
other hand a Baur BMW cabriolet will always be rare. If
the federalization loophole disappears as some predict it
will, the car will become even more unusual. On the other
hand, if the loophole stays open, federalizers may get
more competent in doing easy conversions, and competition
could drive prices down considerably. Parts availability
could be a problem in any case; only time will tell
on that issue, but fortunately most parts are common to
various models.
What IS safe to say is this: that with the top down in
good weather, hung out sideways on a 495 entrance
ramp, starting to enter the stream of traffic by shifting from
second to third gear at 60 MPH . . . the car is pretty hard
to beat. It's a pricey BMW that may or may not appreciate
in value, but all-in-all its a HAPPY car, and that's
worth a lot!
Skip Marsh
• 143 bhp 2316 cc 6 cylinder engine
• 140 ft/lb of torque @ 4500 RPM, 9.5:1 compression
• Vented front disc brakes
• Rear disc brakes, handbrake via drum brake
• Tilt angle limiters on the front suspension struts
• Sports suspension
• Dual exhaust
• No front wheel shimmy, no brake dust
• Cabriolet: no rear stereo speakers; fiberglass top panel
stows in a trunk rack
• Fast and smooth, vibration-free motoring.


  1. Great find, Tom! Very interesting.

  2. Thanks, Harry! I was actually researching different material when I literally stumbled upon that article. I couldn't believe I found it! My Baur is a 1982 323i, btw, practically the identical car in the article!

    Great little local magazine, a gold mine of stuff like this!