You have heard the name “Italo M3” many times, but what is it or how did this name and this vehicle come about?


Well, it can be explained simply as follows;

Because the Italian state imposes a luxury tax on cars with a displacement of more than two liters, BMW is building a three-seater with 192 hp four-valve two-liter engine for Italy – an interesting offer also for German buyers

The idea is not new. Paul G. Hahnemann, BMW Head of Sales from 1960-1971, made a name for himself with it, but for Karl H. Gerlinger, President of BMW Italia, it has become more of an emergency program. The magic word is niche politics.

Gerlinger owes this to the Italian state. Because anyone who drives a car with more than two liters of displacement (diesel over 2.4 liters) in Italy is the target of the tax authorities. Everything that goes beyond the two-liter framework is also subject to a 20 percent luxury tax; Traders cannot deduct the purchase price for tax purposes. And – as we now know in Italian capitalist circles – a displacement giant in the garage is a magnet for tax investigators. Cars with more than two liters south of the Brenner Pass, like fast racehorses or sleek yachts, are classified as real luxury objects. Their market share is correspondingly small: where in Germany at least 13 percent come together, in Italy just 0.5 percent is sold.

Accordingly, the competition is raging below the two-liter limit. In this class alone, 27 percent are now covered by so-called high-performance cars, including the BMW 320is tested here.

A three-seater, optionally with two or four doors, optionally in the standard look or with a subtle spoiler and sill attachment, with a two-liter four-valve engine, which occupies a special position in the BMW engine range. As an external feature, the “Italo M3 E30” had to do without the body extensions and the shorter chassis of the M3 E30. For this he got the complete M – Technik 2 package from the E30 shelf.

BMW E30 Italo M3

BMW E30 Italo M3 

BMW E30 Italo M3 

BMW E30 Italo M3 

BMW E30 Italo M3 

BMW E30 Italo M3 

BMW E30 Italo M3 

BMW E30 Italo M3 

BMW E30 Italo M3 

BMW E30 Italo M3 

In addition, the Italo M3 did not get the M speedometer of the M3 E30 with the red pointers.

BMW E30 Italo M3 

The so-called dog-leg transmission with first gear at the rear instead of the front from the E30 M3 was also given to the E30 Italo M3


With 192 PS (141 kW) from exactly 1990 cubic centimeters, the four-cylinder sets completely new standards for Italia. While the two-liter four-valve engine of the Opel Kadett GSi 16 V and the 2.3-liter four-valve engine of the BMW M3 were previously considered the showpieces of occidental engine construction, the four-valve engine from the 320is now claims this dominance. When comparing the mean working pressures – a variable that is independent of the displacement – the Kadett achieves a maximum value of 12.36 bar, the M3 reaches 13.13 bar, and the 320is achieves a maximum of 13.24 bar.

The decisive factor, of course, is not just the record, but the pressure curve over the entire engine speed range – and that’s where the little BMW four-cylinder can shine: the working pressure reaches an unrivaled 10.09 bar even at 2000 tours.

Despite a liter output of 96.5 hp per liter, the four-cylinder is not a sensitive racing machine, it starts powerfully and completely smoothly at 1500 revs.

BMW E30 Italo M3 

Externally, the S14, which has been reduced to 2 liters with 192 hp, is no different to its big brother, the M3 E30 S14 with a displacement of 2.3 liters.

The Bavarian for Italy achieves astonishing performance: Accelerated from a standstill to 100 km / h, it takes just 7.5 seconds – the more powerful and larger-displacement M3 takes three tenths of a second more time.

Only shortly before the 200 km / h mark was the M3 able to catch up and overtake the 320is. The 320is has a top speed of 231 km / h. reaches its speed limit, but can stay in the slipstream of the M3, which managed 237 km / h in the auto motor und sport test. Even if Philipp Waldeck had the Austrian “Auto Revue” announce: “For mountain hikers, three km / h is already three km / h less than standing still”, the M3 and the 320is are practically the same speed cars.

And the larger motor even has the lower elastic reserves. Accelerated from 40 km / h in fourth gear, the M3 needed 13.6 seconds to reach 100 km / h, the 320is completed this test in 12.8 seconds. The architecture of both machines is the same. Also “the four-valve technology in professional format”, as BMW advertisers proudly describe the two intake and two exhaust valves per combustion chamber.

The valves and cylinder head are identical in the M3 and 320is, only the substructure has been modified. There, in the Italian edition, a new forged crankshaft rotates with a shorter stroke (72.6 instead of 84 mm) and modified counterweights. This benefits the smoothness as well as the longer connecting rods (149.7 instead of 144 mm long).

The work on the base reduces the displacement by 313 cubic centimeters. In view of the measured values ​​and driving performance, one thing is certain: a little less is more. Which does not apply to consumption. Despite a shorter rear axle ratio (3.46 for the 320is versus 3.25 for the M3), the test consumption was 12.2 liters per 100 kilometers – an M3 without a regulated three-way catalytic converter had approved itself in an earlier test by 1.5 liters more.


The small offshoot of the large four-cylinder is also more sophisticated than its big brother. Free of annoying vibrations and roaring frequencies, however, the two-liter engine does not come close to the smooth running of a six-cylinder.

In the first year of sales, 1,500 copies of the 320is were already sold. Certainly not just because of the refreshing appearance, but also because of the driving pleasure that this little BMW conveys. The fact that the driving pleasure appears a bit more natural than with the M3 is due to the fact that the technicians have oriented themselves more towards the 325i when tuning the chassis. The camber, caster and lower ground clearance (minus 15mm) are adapted to the higher requirements, as are spring rates and damper design. It is interesting that sporting toughness was not the only thing that was favored. The rear shock absorbers, for example, are designed to be softer in rebound and compression than in series production.

The modification is having an effect. In any case, short bumps in the road are elegantly swallowed. On longer waves, the Italo-Bavarian makes it clear that he is an athlete – one with manners, however, who does not shake his chauffeur through, but rather gives him good contact with the road.

An understeer before Italian law, the 320is is a vehement oversteer in practice. It reacts more willingly than an M3 to every turn of the steering wheel, looks more maneuverable, but requires more attention from the driver than the good-natured understeer designed M3.

In this country, too, the 320is would have career opportunities as a people’s M3, because it is an extremely good offer. In Italy, the 320is with spoiler and sill look costs the equivalent of 51 714 marks (49 866 marks for the four-door, spoiler-free version). Anyone who transfers it to Germany can deduct 19 percent VAT and then pay 14 percent of the purchase price to the German treasury. Makes 47,753 marks for the two-door and 46,046 marks for the four-door 320is. Before approval, an individual inspection by TÜV is required, but according to BMW, no problems are to be expected.


At the same time, the headquarters in Munich do not want to encourage BMW shopping in Italy. The Italian prices could cause an uproar in this country, behind closed doors Munich sales experts reveal that the 320is price is extra tightly calculated. Their goal: The BMW 320is is to become the attraction in the highly competitive Italian two-liter arena.

At the same time, the headquarters in Munich do not want to encourage BMW shopping in Italy. The Italian prices could cause an uproar in this country, behind closed doors Munich sales experts reveal that the 320is price is extra tightly calculated. Their goal: The BMW 320is is to become the attraction in the highly competitive Italian two-liter arena.


Water-cooled four-cylinder in-line engine lengthways at the front. Crankshaft with five bearings, two overhead camshafts (chain drive), four valves per cylinder operated by bucket tappets. Thermostatically controlled cooling fan. Electronic fuel injection (Bosch ML-Motronic)

Output 141 kW (192 hp) at 6900 rpm,
specific power 70.8 kW / L (96.5 PS / L).
Displacement 1990 ccm, bore x stroke 72.6 x 93.4 mm, compression ratio 10.8: 2,
Maximum torque 210 Nm at 4900 rpm. Average piston speed at nominal speed 21.5 m / s. Engine oil content 5.0L, cooling system content 9.0 L. Battery 12 V 66 Ah, three-phase alternator 1260 watts.

Power transmission
Rear-wheel drive, five-speed gearbox, hydraulically operated clutch.

Gear ratios:
I. gear 3.72
2nd gear 2.40
III. Gear 1.77
IV. Gear 1.26
5th gear 1.00

Final drive: 3.46: 1
Speed ​​at 1000 rpm in 5th gear 32.3 km / h


landing gear
Independent suspension front and rear, front with MCPershon struts, rear with semi-trailing arms, coil springs. Rack and pinion steering with power assistance. Steering ratio 19.6: 1.3 steering turns, hydraulic dual-circuit brake system with brake booster, internally ventilated disc brakes at the front, disc brakes at the rear, anti-lock braking system (Bosch), parking brake acting on the rear wheels. Rim size 6.5 J x 14

Four-seat sedan with two doors.
Seat depth front / rear 505/5700 mm,
Standard knee room 210 mm

Drag coefficient cw 0.34
Frontal area A 1.86 sqm
Air resistance index cw x A 0.63

Turning circle right / left 10.6 / 10.9 m

Empty weight 1218 kg,
Weight distribution front / rear 52.1 / 47.9%,
permissible total weight 1640 kg.
Payload 422 kg, roof load 75 kg

DIN consumption
at 90 km / h 6.3 liters / 100 km
at 120 km / h 8.0 liters / 100 km
City traffic 12.8 liters / 100km

Test consumption super
minimum 9.3 liters / 100km
maximum 14.5 liters / 100km
Average 12.2 liters / 100km

Steering and pedal forces
Steering at 100 N stand
Steering while driving 39 N
Clutch pedal 100 N.
Accelerator pedal 20 N
Brake pedal cold 350 N
Brake pedal warm 550 N

Powerful and easy-revving four-cylinder with very good response and good acoustics, very good performance, low-vibration running without annoying hum frequencies, easily and precisely switchable five-speed gearbox, see good gear ratio adjustment

Driving characteristics:
Neutral cornering behavior that oversteers in the limit area, very good handling, improved steering response compared to the M3, easy to dose, effective brakes, high pedal forces

Driving comfort:
Tight suspension, better rolling over short bumps than with the M3, limited absorption capacity on long waves

0-80 km/h    5,5s
0-100 km/h  7,5s
0-140 km/h 13,8s
0-180 km/h 24,9s
0-200 km/h 39,8s

1 km with a standing start 28.1s

60-100 km/h (IV.Gang) 8,2s
80-120 km/h (V.Gang) 11,3s

Top speed 231 km/h

Braking distance
from 100km / h cold 42.4m
(Deceleration 9.1 m / s2)

from 100km / h warm 44.9m
(Deceleration 8.6 m / s2)

Interior noise
Noise level 53 dB (A)

bei   50 km/h 72 dB (A)
bei 100 km/h 67 dB (A)
bei 130 km/h 70 dB (A)
bei 160 km/h 75 dB (A)
bei 200 km/h 80 dB (A)

Equipment and prices

Basic price two-door 51,714 DM

Standard equipment
Anti-lock braking system
Outside mirrors left and right
Front and rear spoiler
Five-speed sports transmission
Plastic paneling on the side
Leather steering wheel
Leather-covered gear lever knob
Light alloy wheels 6.5 J x 14
Reading lamp in front
Metallic paint
Oil temperature display
Power steering
Sports seats
central locking system

Base price four-door 49,886 DM

Standard equipment
Five-speed sports transmission
Light alloy wheels 6.5 J x 14
Oil temperature display
Power steering
central locking system