The South African variants.
The main reasons for certain countries to develop (or have developed for them), unique variants of established car model lines can roughly be traced back to tax laws, vehicle or traffic legislation and domestic motorsports homologation requirements. BMW is a brand that has sired several bespoke cars only available in certain markets. Italian and Portuguese legislation resulted in the E30-series 320iS which was fitted with a 2-litre version of the M3 engine, avoiding the severe tax hike for engines with a displacement exceeding 1999cc.
BMW South Africa gave birth to an E23-series BMW 745i with a different and arguably better engine than the 3.2 litre turbocharged six with which it was originally equipped (because the turbocharger got in the way of right hand drive conversion), and homologation rules put cars such as the E30-series BMW 333i on public roads, again in South Africa, which turned out to be a fertile ground for deviant model versions. Today, let’s take a peek under the hood of these last two South African variants.
In 1984 Bernd Pischetsrieder worked at BMW South Africa and together with then president Vic Doolan hatched a plan to regain the dominance in Group One racing once enjoyed by the three litre BMW E12; other unique homologation specials such as the Alfa Romeo GTV 3.0 and Ford Sierra XR8 leading the pack at the time.
Pischetsrieder was doubtless aware that the M3 was in development but rather than wait a few years it was decided to create their own race weapon with the aid of German enhancement specialists, Alpina. The recipe was similar to what Alfa Romeo and Ford had done – shoehorn a larger engine under the bonnet and upgrade the car where necessary.
The powerplant chosen was the M30B32 3.3 litre six as already used in the 633CSi and 733i; Alpina supplied the close ratio gearbox, limited slip differential, front dual ventilated 296mm disc brakes, sports suspension with Bilstein shocks, 16 inch Alpina light alloy wheels and a special bodykit.
With 197 bhp at its disposal, very similar to what the initial version of the M3 could muster, the 333i was the fastest E30-series in the world at the time with a maximum speed of 142 mph and a 0-62 mph sprint of 7.4 seconds. In May of 1985 the 333i entered into limited production – advertisements clearly stated that only 204 would be built – but this homologation special would never race, as Group One was cancelled that same year to the dismay of its many fans.
The 333i would still see racing action though, as some owners entered them in local competition. Despite the bad news BMW South Africa pressed on regardless and duly constructed the promised 204 cars, the last one being completed in late 1987.
The turbocharged 745i was introduced in 1980 as the pinnacle of the E23 line. Right hand drive markets such as South Africa however were presented with a seemingly insurmountable problem, the turbocharger left no room for the steering column which made the conversion impossible.
For the first few years of its life this meant the 745i was limited to left hand drive markets only but at around the same time the E23-series received a facelift in 1983, BMW South Africa dealt with the problem by once more making a creative grab at the corporate parts bin.
The famous M88 3.5 litre six that started life in the legendary M1 and in M88/3 form powered the M5 and M635CSi was installed in the South African 745i, in effect creating a kind of M7. The M88/3 was not turbocharged but with 286 bhp delivered some 30 more horses than the regular 745i.
BMW South Africa made sure the car could handle the extra grunt in the way expected of a Bayerische Motoren Werke product by upgrading the suspension, fitting brakes sourced from the M635CSi as well as its ABS anti-lock system, and adding a limited slip differential plus sixteen inch BBS alloy wheels.
At the time the South African 745i was the fastest four-door BMW with its top speed of 146 Mph; the 0-62 Mph dash was dispatched in just over seven seconds. Inside it also differed from its European cousin by having leather upholstery sourced from domestic cows; the unique leather-covered centre console had its power window switches placed around the gearshift instead of the parking brake handle, and the ashtray was located behind the gearshift instead of under the radio as it was in all other E23-series 7 series.
Munich reportedly never contemplated following BMW South Africa’s lead as they feared they would be unable to produce enough M88/3 engines to meet the demand, and also because they thought the engine would be considered too noisy in this application by the majority of its European and American customers.
Just 209 cars were built between 1984 and 1987, among which seventeen were equipped with a 5-speed Getrag manual gearbox. Even though this special 745i was never developed with motorsports homologation in mind, one was entered in the South African Modified Saloon Car Championship for the 1985 season; piloted by Tony Viana it won that year’s championship, so far the only instance where a BMW 7-Series has competed in official motorsports.
* For South Africans only