There is something really appealing about old BMWs
We can start by acknowledging that any M class BMWs are absolute classics, but not easily affordable. If it's any consolation we could argue that they still scream boy racer over sophistication. OK, it's no consolation, but we'll still feel better about settling for almost anything else.
I reckon ideally go for a 6 cylinder engine preferably in a manual coupe. On that criteria you'd be heading in the right direction. Although I have never managed to follow that criteria.
My two 1980s E30s were nice little manual coupes but only 4 cylinder ones. One I picked up from a wrecker for under $1000. It started, had a sunroof, and appeared to be the black diamond swartz colour or just really covered in grime. Instant JPS replica, those gorgeous black and gold ones that they raced in the day. So I ordered some gold pin striping and JPS decals on line, added some seat covers, a new battery and from 5 meters away, maybe 10, yes an instant JPS replica. Someone actually left a card under my wiper and asked to buy it. I regrettably sold it, (and yes he knew it was a replica). It had wind up windows and manual wind open sunroof which bi-passed a whole range of potential electrical gremlins, and I think added to the classic feel.
My 1986 5 series E28 is a quick 6 cylinder 535 sedan but alas I have not been able to find that elusive manual. I had the impulsive idea that I would purchase it on the other side of the country and drive it home. It was a great idea, like many, that lacked any practical application. The owner provided pages of info, service history and photos, then even offered to pick us up at the airport. He was very happy when he met us. The car was a little sadder. I guess after many years together he had just got used to the vibrations, non functioning electricals, and some weird high pitched squeel. My wife just stood on the road side pointing at this very dirty, slightly rusty BMW, bellowing in fits of laughter, then pointing at me, laughing even louder, and then let out some weird high pitched squeel. She didn't actually do it that way of course, it was all contained within the expression on her face. But she was right. And only 1786 km left to drive home together.
I will say this, they are tough old beasts and can carry on for thousands of kilometres with a staggering number of vibrations, stutters and intermittent electrical faults. We actually found ourselves cheering it on like an underdog who never gave up. There is something exciting in finishing a days driving with a victory dance.
I love its shark style front grill, chrome bumpers and legendary old M30 motor. The market seems to have ignored them so they are really affordable to pick up, although a bit more effort to keep everything working.
A few years back I bought an unassuming 1993 E36 325 coupe in a midnight purple type of colour with leather and a sunroof. It only had one previous owner, a sad bloke, who had reduced the price to not much higher than the parking fines he needed to cover. I think it was the best drive of any of them, and we worked a wonderful low rumbling exhaust note out of it. I had a 20 year old daughter studying mechanical engineering at the time. One day I climbed in to find it full of iPod adapters and fashion accessories. She absolutely refused to ever hand it back.
Which poses the question if you could buy, or take somebody elses, BMW which one would you chose?