The unique-to-SA BMW 333i: SentiMETAL Ep4

In the mid-80s BMW fanatics in other parts of the world were enthralled by the debut of the first-ever M3, a vehicle that has since become a highly desirable collectable. But in South Africa, where even back then BMW had a big and loyal following, enthusiasts such as Lenasia’s Arshaad Nana could only dream. The E30 M3 was not destined for South Africa, but fortunately, BMW SA had a solution.

BMW South Africa has a history of developing local special editions. It partnered with BMW Motorsport and Alpina to develop a uniquely South African E30 edition, called the 333i. It took the M30 engine from the 733i and shoehorned it into the engine bay of the small and light 3 Series, instantly creating one very hot compact sedan. 

It’s not clear exactly how many were built, but only around 200 were sold to the public, making the 333i one of the rarest and most desirable E30s in the world. Key to its appeal was always the stirring straight-6 under the bonnet, as opposed to the 4-cylinder used in the M3. In the 333i, and with the help of various Alpina bits, the 3.2-litre motor punched out 148kW, which doesn’t sound like much today, but keep in mind that the 333i was light. The low-down torque of the engine, as well as its stirring soundtrack and edgy dynamics make the 333i a massively rewarding car to drive.

The easiest way to distinguish the 333i from other E30 coupes is to spot the chunkier bumpers and the 16-inch Alpina rims. 

Owner Arshaad Nana grew up in the era of Group N racing in South Africa, and as a young boy the likes of BMW’s Tony Viana and Deon Joubert, dicing it out with the Opel of Mike Briggs, ignited a love affair with the BMW brand that lasts to this day. Arshaad, who owns a workshop called EuroSpec that specialises in BMWs, may have grown up being entertained by the 325iS models on South Africa’s racing circuits, but for him the 333i was always the ultimate. 

“This car was my destiny”, he says. “I found the car, or the car found me, a very long time before I could buy it,” he explains. Given the growing value and desirability of the 333i in recent years, Arshaad knows he was lucky that it wasn’t snapped up in those years before 2010, when he finally was ready to buy it, with help from his grandmother. Neglected for years and standing under dust, Arshaad bought the car and lovingly restored it to its current state himself. 

Only about 200 examples of the 333i were sold; the cars are exceedingly rare, especially ones as nicely turned out as Arshaad's.

Arshaad drives the 333i as often as he can. “The car always gets an amazing reaction from passers-by, which is great, but the fun comes from driving it. I love the tone of the engine and, of course, the handling. It loves to point the back to the front, so you have to be careful…. It’s thrown me around a bit! But what’s the point of taking her to the party if you can’t have a dance!”

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