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BMW E30 Bumpers and Grilles
 
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Pelican Technical Article:

BMW E30 Bumpers and Grilles

Robert Bowen

Applicable Models:

BMW E30 3-Series (1984-93)
The CarTech BMW 3-Series Performance Guide

Whether for on-track duty or simply improved street performance, the E30 series cars have proven to respond to well-chosen upgrades. The CarTech BMW 3-Series Performance Guide offers current and future owners a wealth of important information, including a buyer's guide, year-by-year upgrades and changes, and more. This book is a valuable addition to every BMW owner's library, and Pelican is proud to present you with the excerpt below.

Bumpers and Grilles

The biggest difference between the US-market E30s and their European counterparts were in the bumpers and grilles. The bumpers further changed during the 1987-era facelift to the car. If you want to change the look of your car, you can swap to Euro-spec parts, or trim your US-market ones.

European Bumper Conversion

During the 1980s, the United States had a strict, 5-mph bumper strength requirement. This was significantly different from the bumper requirements in the rest of the world so BMW (as did most manufacturers) simply added larger bumpers onto a car designed with European bumper requirements in mind. Sometimes the result was not obvious; sometimes it spoiled the look of an otherwise clean design.

In the case of the early E30, the bumpers are larger versions of the aluminum bumpers shipped with European-market cars. Depending on your point of view, they either are not that bad or they are an abomination. Post-facelift cars have an entirely different bumper design that integrates with the lines of the car much better; the US-market and European-market bumpers are more or less the same with the exception of the turn signals.

Lucky for owners of the early cars, the diving-board bumpers, as they are not-so-affectionately known, are easy to replace with their European equivalents. The European conversion also does away with the bulky shrouds around the corners of the early car and the heavy bumper shocks that connect the US-market bumper to the chassis.

There are a lot of small parts required to swap to European bumpers. For this reason most vendors sell a complete kit to convert a car. You can import the bumpers from Europe yourself, since the parts are relatively inexpensive, but the cost of shipping will very likely eat up most of the savings.

An alternative, free version of the European bumper conversion is called a bumper tuck. To "tuck" your bumpers, simply drill holes in the bumper shocks and drain out all the oil. Drape a moving blanket over the bumper then, snug the car up to a firm wall and let out the clutch to push the bumper into the body. Repeat the process at the rear. This does not remove the heavy US-market bumper mounting parts and large corner shrouds, but does eliminate the awkward way in which the US bumpers stick out past the body on the early E30.

US-market E30s differed from their European counterparts in a few other ways. For one thing, the grille surrounding the headlights on both sides has a distinctive brow on the European cars. Many people prefer this look to the wide-eyed US-market headlights and grille. It's a very easy and inexpensive conversion, costing less than $75 for the parts and only a few minutes of labor.

European E30s received a few lighting improvements from BMW as well. They were all shipped with glass headlight assemblies with replaceable H1 halogen bulbs. US cars, on the other hand, were shipped with either glass sealed-beam headlights or US-spec replaceable-bulb (9005/9006) lights. Both types of US-market headlights have sub-standard optics designed to conform to generally misguided US import and lighting laws.

There are a lot of reasons for this, but the situation is easy to remedy. You can install a set of European ellipsoid headlamps in place of your factory lights. These provide not only better optics (European E-code with a hard cutoff to avoid blinding oncoming drivers), they also have better bulbs, a "city light" side bulb, and the "smiley" clear area in the outer lenses.

The wiring is relatively simple on an E30. BMW used relays for both high and low beams, making upgrades far less difficult than they are on other cars. There is one catch to the change, however. The US-market sealed-beam cars (1984-1987 and 1990-1991) have two filaments in the outer (low) bulb. When the high beams are on, power switches to the high filament on the outer bulb and shuts off power to the low filament.

The European lights, on the other hand, have a single filament in each bulb. They are designed so that when the high beams are on, both lights are illuminated. So, if you power the outer bulbs with the US-market lowbeam wiring, they turn off when you switch to the high beams.

To fix this, modify the fuse block. Behind the fusebox is a large-gauge brown wire that must be cut and a short splice added to get power from the hot side of the K3 relay (highbeam relay). Pull out the original relay pins to get the power and solder the new wire to the remains of the old. Or buy a couple of Hella relayblock terminals, which are readily available, and make your own replacement wire.

Bumper Swap

If you have an early E30 with metal bumpers, it is possible to swap to the later plastic bumper covers. The front is a nearly direct swap, but the rear, depending on the year of your car, can be very difficult. The reason the swap is difficult is that all 1988-up E30 models (and all cabriolets) have a different (smaller) rear wheel arch. Only the later plastic bumpers fit these bodies properly.

If you have a 1984-1987 coupe or sedan, it is still possible to swap to the rear plastic bumper with some creative trimming and mounting. The first modification that has to be made is to slot the attaching holes on the body for the bumper shocks. The plastic bumper needs to be raised approximately an inch compared to the early-style shocks. Once these holes are slotted and the rear of the bumper is mounted in approximately the right place, you can see where the rear bumper needs to be modified to fit the early body.

This clean touring has a striking look with period-correct wheels, blackout trim, a Euro grille, Taurus skirts, and European headlights
Figure 1

This clean touring has a striking look with period-correct wheels, blackout trim, a Euro grille, Taurus skirts, and European headlights. The yellow-tinted high beams are a French-market item. (Photo Courtesy Christian Bouchez)

All US-market E30s were shipped with these rather poor sealed-beam headlights
Figure 2

All US-market E30s were shipped with these rather poor sealed-beam headlights. Thanks to outdated and misguided laws, the DOT did not allow replaceable-bulb headlights like those used in Europe.

These later US-market headlights have replaceable bulbs that provide better illumination than the usual US-market sealed beams
Figure 3

These later US-market headlights have replaceable bulbs that provide better illumination than the usual US-market sealed beams.

These later US-market headlights have replaceable bulbs that provide better illumination than the usual US-market sealed beams
Figure 4

These later US-market headlights have replaceable bulbs that provide better illumination than the usual US-market sealed beams.

This M3 sports a European grille and headlights. The low-beam lights have a
Figure 5

This M3 sports a European grille and headlights. The low-beam lights have a "city light" built into the bottom. Usually wired to come on with the markers, the city lights give these headlights their nickname, "smileys". (Photo Courtesy Lance Richert)

To convert to European headlights, you have to modify the wiring that powers relay K4, the low-beam relay
Figure 6

To convert to European headlights, you have to modify the wiring that powers relay K4, the low-beam relay.

How''s this for a rare option? The Headlamp Cleaning System and Intensive Wash System
Figure 7

How's this for a rare option? The Headlamp Cleaning System and Intensive Wash System. Available on Canadian and European E30s, this was never shipped to the United States. (Photo Courtesy Christian Bouchez)

Late is models have the most aggressive/most modern looking front valance
Figure 8

Late is models have the most aggressive/most modern looking front valance. It is nearly a bolt-on to early cars as well, just make sure you get the right brackets.

The post-facelift rear is bumper is much more difficult to fit to the earlier cars because BMW changed the shape of the rear wheel arch in 1987
Figure 9

The post-facelift rear is bumper is much more difficult to fit to the earlier cars because BMW changed the shape of the rear wheel arch in 1987. The later arch is lower to the tire, so the bumper has to be cut back to fit the early arch.

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Page last updated: Mon 12/5/2016 02:23:47 AM