WATCH | The fascinating history of the BMW 3 Series

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• The BMW 3 Series has a close connection to South Africa. 

• The German carmaker built 1 191 604 3 Series models across five generations at Plant Rosslyn in Pretoria. 

• We outline the fascinating history of one the world's most well-known cars. 


Seven generations, six different body styles and characteristic six-cylinder engines. The BMW 3 Series is the brand's best-selling model and has based its appeal on offering rear-wheel-drive driving pleasure. 

The executive sedan contributes to a third of BMW's annual total sales. Since 2014 almost 460 000 3 Series were sold in the United States, in that same period BMW 816 440 units were sold in Europe. 

There's no doubt the model is prevalent worldwide, including here at home where immaculate E30-generation models garner chatter among enthusiasts alike. That was the first 3 Series iteration sold in South Africa, and later on, BMW would build over a million 3 Series models in Rosslyn, Pretoria. 

Let's backtrack and start with the E21. It burst onto the scene in 1975 and lasted until 1983 and replaced the 02 Series, it featured the twin kidney grille we see on all BMW models. It was only available in coupe and convertible body styles.  

The E30 model ushered in saloon and estate versions and around two-million units were built between 1982 and 1994. BMW also introduced a performance derivative, namely the M3. The 3 Series range flagship is world-renowned and has been the benchmark performance sedan since the E30. 

The E30 is a particularly special model to South Africans as from 1983 to 1992, the second generation of the 3 Series, affectionately known as the "Gusheshe" locally was produced at BMW's Plant Rosslyn. 

Limited edition models of the 3 Series such as the 333i and 325iS also emerged from the 45-year old plant.

We gave these models our own names and the next generation or E36 was called the "Dolphin" because of its "elegant colours". 

The E36 sported features like an electric sunroof, and later models featured ABS brakes. 

The next model to arrive was the E46 that was built between 1997 and 2006 and featured a flagship M3 powered by a naturally-aspirated 3.2-litre inline six-cylinder engine.

BMW will build its next-generation X3 in SA in favour of its much-loved 3-Series (pictured).

The E90 model that followed the E46 ushered in modern styling, brilliant driving dynamics and high-quality finishes. It was built between 2004 and 2013. The E90 M3 is the only V8-powered M3 constructed and the last naturally-aspirated M3 ever.  

Along came the F30 in 2011 with all-new turbocharged engines across the range, including the first turbocharged M3. It was also the first generation to have a hybrid model. 

And finally, the current G20 is the most advanced 3 Series to date with a myriad of driver-assist features, small-capacity turbocharged engines but still offers a brilliant drive.

I have driven the last generations of the 3 Series and felt the progression each new model has made over its predecessor. The styling of BMW's compact sedan has always been a talking point and spy pics of the latest generations create huge debate among fans of the brand. 

The 3 Series' six-cylinder engines either in normally-aspirated form or with forced induction are lauded for their high-revving nature and delicious power delivery. They also have a unique sound that is somewhat muted with the newer engines. 

I can't wait to feel what the latest M3 will deliver when it arrives later this year. 

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