The perils of eBay: we've just bought a brown E30

Published: 01 December 2011

Part 2: time to pick up our BMW E30 3-series bought on eBay

The long drive down to Bournemouth gave me plenty of time to think about what I’d let myself in for. I kept thinking about an interesting comment made by CAR Online reader RicoD: 'Up to what price would you buy a car unseen?'
I suppose I was banking on the trustworthy principles of eBay; that if you’re selling something you aren’t going to stitch up buyers because you end up getting negative feedback. Still, I was pretty trusting to part with £700 for something I’d never even set eyes on... What had I done!

Doing the deal

We arrived on time but the seller had gone out for lunch, so we sat and waited for a further 45 minutes until I saw my purchase appear in the door mirrors of the BMW I'd driven down in… an F10 M5. Cue me explaining I didn't own every single type of BMW, honest.
Dad had come along for the ride, so we hopped out, introduced ourselves and set about giving the 3-series a good looking over.
Part of my trust in buying this car unseen came in the lengthy description the previous owner had given; other sellers at this price give one-liners naming the bare minimum, instilling no confidence whatsoever. This guy had gone to some length and seemed very genuine.

The acid test: was the car any good?

The car looked, sounded and smelt great. Apart from one thing he missed out in his description. The ‘previous owner’, he told me, had done some work to the rear arches, including filling some minor rust and respraying. Unfortunately this wasn’t quite up to my high standards and left me feeling a little annoyed – was it my fault for not quizzing enough over the phone beforehand?

It wasn’t however enough to put me off buying the car and the sale was finalised. Cash was handed over and I’d bagged myself a beautiful little car, for what I think is a great price.
Because my dad wasn’t insured on the M5, he had the pleasure of driving the E30 home again. When we stopped in The New Forest for a sarnie he said overall he was pretty impressed; the brakes had a bit of travel but worked fine and everything else was great on this 25-year-old car. A huge relief. Bit slower than the new M5, mind!
Since Saturday I have driven it to work and back a few times. I’ve filled the tank to try and work out some fuel figures and I can honestly say I’m over the moon with my purchase.

It’s unlike anything sat on the driveways around where I live and E30s in this good nick are rare on our roads. It will definitely take some getting used to with the lack of power steering, but I love its no-nonsense packaging and back-to-basics vibe.

BMWs old vs new

Trying to draw comparisons between this old E30 and all the new BMWs I’ve been lucky enough to drive over the past couple of years is pretty tough. The exceptional build quality has definitely stayed in the family, as has the sheer delight of driving them. D287 EFK's 2.0-litre straight six feels substantially down on power, closer to my girlfriend's 1.2-litre Clio I’d say, but that doesn’t detract from the buzz I get from driving it.

You need to get your foot on the brakes nice and early to deal with the huge amounts of travel on the pedal but there’s plenty of stopping power on them once you get your foot planted. 

Visibility is overwhelming, with huge windows and the thin A-pillars showing the age of the car. It's a cinch to see out of. Impressively on such an old car, there's not a single creak or rattle and the brown seats have lasted remarkably well, with not a single tear or rip. They’re comfy enough but I don’t think they would serve me well on any long journeys. The driving position feels a little crowded with the door pressing right up against my right hand side and despite some of the comments, at 6ft 2 I fit behind the wheel perfectly.

Just goes to show you can buy a bargain on eBay Motors, sight unseen. Or perhaps I was very lucky...

Part 1: we've bought a BMW E30 3-series on eBay sight unseen!

Working for CAR brings possibly one of the best perks you could dream of – access to an endless supply of new cars delivered to our offices. But what that also means is you don’t need to own your own car, and that is something I’ve been missing.

So much so that for the past couple of months I’ve been addicted to following eBay, Pistonheads, Autotrader etc in the search for an early E30 - the chrome bumpers were a must.

I wasn’t particularly bothered about bagging a performance 3-series, let alone an M3 (although I may later regret that). I was more interested in a nice little cruiser to get me from A to B, in retro 80s style.

The eBay diaries

My search came to a head this weekend when I saw the relisting of a car I had fallen for once before, but missed. The car had nine hours to go on its auction with 16 bids. It was only at £265 and had a Buy It Now price of £795.

Win BMWs for a year

The car clearly had some other people interested, and I couldn’t face not getting it this time.

Should I wait and put in a last-minute bid, but potentially lose out? Should I call and make an offer? The excitement and nerves were building. Anyone who’s ever bid for something substantial on eBay will know the adrenaline rush you get.

Quick call to dad

Before doing anything rash I made a call to my dad; he’s had early 3- and 5-series in the past so he has an idea of what troubles I should look out for. He gave me the thumbs-up, but points me in the direction of a beautiful later version, lovingly cared for by a BMW employee. ‘No Dad, I need the bronze one with brown interior!’

He just laughed.

After much deliberation I made the call, and agreed a sale at £700. Have I overpaid? Have I got myself a bargain? I don’t care, I got the car! It’s a mercurial champagne brown 1986 BMW E30 320i automatic.

Now for insurance

Next up was insurance. A couple of quick online comparison sites left me feeling a bit sick – well over £600 was the cheapest… But the next morning I arrived at work, opened my email and I’d received a Twitter follow from Peter Best Insurance (@PBestInsurance). It must be fate. I called straight away, and received a quote for just under £165 on a classic policy. That’s more like it.

There’s just one problem. I haven’t seen the car yet. I’m planning a trip to Bournemouth on Saturday to collect it from the south coast. Will it be a rust bag underneath? Have I bought a dud?

Stay tuned to find out what buying blind over eBay has left me with. I’ll report back on Monday. Fingers crossed!