So long as I can remember, I’ve always loved cars. I can vividly recall as a child poring over manufacturers’ brochures, absorbing every detail and savouring the fabulous photography along with the technical specifications which told me everything I could possibly want to know. Trips to dealerships were a treat not to be missed – to see the actual cars in person that I had studied in extraordinary detail on paper was an amazing opportunity to appreciate the cutting edge technology and design.
But it wasn’t just any car that I developed an unhealthy obsession with – for me, the ultimate driving machine had to be a BMW. This was a golden age for the Bavarian marque, before they rocketed to the level of popularity that we enjoy today. A time when buying a BMW was almost an obscure or eccentric choice, but very much for the exacting, discerning driver. No, the 1980s was a very special time – E21s, E24s, E28s and E30s represented the absolute zenith of car design and engineering excellence, and I loved every minute of it.
It was on one of these visits that I spotted a car that encapsulated that sheer automotive excellence – a BMW E3 3.3Lia. It was in the workshop and just radiated an aura of magnificence. From the elegant yet slightly menacing and aggressive styling, to the spectacular contrast of Arktisblau paintwork, the sumptuous black leather interior and deeply dished BBSalloy wheels, to the promise of high performance shrouded in refinement and luxury, I just knew that the E3 was the car for me. One day.
Fast forward 25 years (and many, many BMWs later!) and I found myself transfixed by a Chamonix white E3 3.0S on the BMW Classic stand at Techno Classica in Essen. This utterly spectacular car took me right back to that awe-struck childhood moment, and I just had to absorb and appreciate every minute detail. My good friend Barney was equally taken by it, and mentioned casually that he might soon be receiving an E3 from a customer who wanted to sell; this warranted further investigation…
A few weeks later, I popped down to Classic Heroes HQ to have a look. And what a car it was. A very late 1977 ‘R’ registered 3.0Si, resplendent in Sierrabeige, tan velour upholstery and Alpina wheels. I was instantly hooked. Whilst the car needed some work, the potential was there as was a fabulously documented history, so a deal was done. And I had big plans for this car…
I was due to get married the following year and wanted something special for my wedding car, which was to be a surprise for my future wife (who luckily is VERY understanding of my passion for cars!). As we were planning the wedding to take place in Italy, there would be quite a roadtrip involved with a number of logistical hurdles to overcome in the progress. Not least of which, how to get the car there without her knowing! People thought that I must be insane to be contemplating driving thousands of miles through Europe in a 36 year old car. But I knew better and had complete faith – because it was a 36 year old BMW.
Fortunately, my parents were delighted to accept the challenge of driving the Si all the way from England, through France, Switzerland and Austria via the Alps and finally to our destination in Italy. I wanted to ensure that they had the best possible experience, so planned as enjoyable a route as I could for them, trying to avoid too much motorway driving. I threw myself into the task, calculating distances, seeking out nice, traditional Alpine hotels and guesthouses that would take in magnificent views, as well as ensuring that all the key passes over the Alps were tackled. In just under a week, they covered over 1000 miles through spectacular scenery, traversing the Alps a number times over the Furka, San Bernadino, Fluella, Stelvio, Grossglockner and St Gotthardt Passes to name but a few. Unsurprisingly, the E3 cruised all the way without skipping a beat, or using a drop of oil. My parents loved it, and I was delighted.
The plan had been carried out in total secrecy – I wanted the surprise on our wedding for my wife to be absolute, so imagine my horror as I spotted a certain ‘R’ registered Sierrabeige BMWE3 a few cars ahead of me on an Italian Autostrada on the approach to our wedding location! My parents had been caught in terrible traffic, had to take a detour and we had caught them up. I had gone to great pains to plan my own route out, carried out in my trusty E30 Touring, ensuring that our paths would not cross. Fortunately, I managed to overtake without them being recognised – a very close call!
Following a beautiful wedding in a spectacular, idyllic Italian setting, it was time for a honeymoon with a very special person in a very special car on a very special route. My wife was delighted when she saw the Si – at which point the penny dropped, much to the gathered throng’s amusement, when she said ‘hang on, didn’t we pass this car on the way here?!
Having lived on the Continent for quite some time, we were both well acquainted with the Alps and had enjoyed many happy times there on previous roadtrips in a succession of my M3s, so it seemed logical to take the long way back to the UK! Via the Italian Lakes, it was back in to Austria over the Stelvio Pass, thence the Grossglockner and up in to Germany via Lindau and the Bodensee. We had a beautiful drive all the way up the Mosel Valley from Trier to Cochem (I resisted the quick blast over the Eifel mountains required to visit a certain other favourite place of mine!) before the cruise back through France and across the Channel.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the sheer capability of the E3 – I can’t imagine what it must have felt like in 1968 when the model was introduced. When the 3.0Si appeared in 1971, it must have seemed space-age technology; a 3 litre, Bosch electronic fuel injected, executive sports saloon with all round vented disc brakes and independent suspension, that could hit 60 mph in a whisker over 7 seconds and go on to nearly 140 mph, all in total comfort, refinement and luxury – that was nearly supercar performance back then. Compared to what British Leyland was producing… well, there is no comparison! On a subsequent continental trip, we covered 700km in 7 hours through France (including fuel and food stops) in complete comfort and relaxation. The 3.0Si is a truly remarkable car, but then I am biased given I run the BMWCar Club’s E3 Register!
Since our epic wedding journey, our E3 has become part of the family and we will never part with it. I’ve said that before about many, many cars. Just this time I know that it’s true.