BMW’s forgotten South African specials

We look back at the most memorable Saffer 3 Series models as BMW switches Rosslyn production to X3

BMWs forgotten South African specials

THE final 3 Series has rolled off BMW’s South African production line bringing to a close 35 years of sedan and coupe production and a run of 1,191,604 vehicles.

As a sign of the times and a shifting global sales trend from passenger vehicles to SUVs, BMW is repurposing the Rosslyn plant to knock out its new third-gen X3 mid-sized SUV, ending the factory’s 3 Series relationship.

Production at the Rosslyn site started with the E30 second-generation BMW 3 Series and continued on through E36, E46 and E90 to the last F30 that rolled out this week, but the factory has produced a number of local specialities you might not have heard of.

South Africa was never offered the incredibly accomplished E30 M3, but local demand for a pumped up variant pushed BMW SA to take matters into its own hands.

1990 325is Evo I

Like the facelifted E30 325is that was offered in Australia and as the 325i Sport in the UK, the initial South African version was a standard 325i with a bodykit, LSD and sport suspension and interior, but the Saffers demanded more power and BMW obliged.

Standard versions were powered by a 2.5-litre six-cylinder petrol with 128kW but the updated Evo I version pinched the 2.7-litre version of the M20 (‘little six’) engine that Alpina had developed for its E30-based C2.7 with 147kW.

The front suspension was transplanted from the E30 M3 as were the rear brakes, but even more surprisingly, BMW remanufactured the bonnet, bootlid and front guards in aluminium.

1991 325is Evo II

A year later, the model was updated for even greater performance potential. A larger air mass meter and throttle body donated by the 535i allowed the 2.7-litre six to breathe easier and, in combination with a sportier camshaft, power rose to 157kW.

The third-gen 325is also gained stiffer anti-roll bars front and rear (also from Alpina), 10mm lowered suspension and a subtle black lower front spoiler.

An official zero to 100km/h acceleration time was never published but owners reported figures about the 7.5-second mark.

1985 333i

Unlike the 325is, which was created in consolation for the lack of E30 M3 availability, the South African 333i was born from motorsport connections.

Originally conceived to fight in the South African Group One touring car series, the 333i took the 3.2-litre M30 (‘big six’) that powered the 733i, 633i and 533i and slotted it under the pre-facelifted E30 bonnet.

The lightly modified engine produced 145kW which was significant for the lightweight 3 Series, but its wholesome 285Nm and flatter torque curve made the 333i properly quick. When Car Magazine tested the 333i in 1986, they clocked a 7.2-second 0-100km/h acceleration time and a 1000m sprint in 28 seconds.

Like the 325is and C2.7 connection, the 333i was related to the E30-based B6 of the same year and borrowed other bits from the Alpina parts bin including classic 20-spoke wheels to improve handling and road-holding.

A bodykit made the special versions stand out but its 333i badge which was imposed over the BMW Motorsport colours was a dead giveaway.

The Group One racing league was cancelled in the same year 333i production started and only 204 were produced.

333i Turbo

Just a handful of monstrous turbocharged 333is were built using a modified version of the E23 754i engine (also a South African special) for a mad model that is even rarer and significantly faster than the others above.

No more than five are thought to have existed and it is not known where the survivors are now if any live to this day at all.

Reports say the boost could be turned up with power stretching to the region of 300kW in the days before ESC and traction control, so we would not be surprised if all the 333i Turbos eventually met their maker, and we don’t mean the Rosslyn factory.


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