BMW E3 Series 3.3Li Sports Limousine

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BMW 3.3 Li Sports Limousine

1974 - 1977
In-line 6 cyl.
3,299 c.c
190 bhp
3/5 spd. man
Top Speed:
128 mph (claimed)
Number Built:
4 star
BMW 3.3 Li Sports Limousine
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3


BMW OF MUNICH built a great reputation for high-quality cars following the war, cars that were extremely enjoyable to drive and desirable in almost every way.

During the 1960's and early 1970's the company continually extended their range of high-performance sedans so that it was all-embracing. From the 1½ litre 1602 model to the very fast and luxurious 3-litre cars at the top of the scale, BMW had a choice for almost every lucky citizen who could then afford personal travel of such a high calibre.

Thus it might have seemed that there was no place for another BMW. However, the State-occasion, really-spacious type of luxury-car was seen as representing a gap to fill, which the Bavarian engineers did with the new 3.3 L limousine.

The 3.3L Limousine came at a time when Europe was suffering from rising inflation and rushing towards poverty, while Germany, who had lost the war, was very obviously winning the Industrial battle of the 1970s. The Li range was BMW's first real attempt at a car for the limousine trade since the "Baroque" 505 some 20 years earlier. The extra length was almost entirely used for rear legroom, like the later 7-Series L models. Initially, the sole LWB E3 was the 3.3Li, but it proved popular enough for it to be extended to the 2.8 and 3.0 E3s in 1975.

The car may not have strictly fitted the bill as a "limousine", however it arguably created its own class, that of a "sports limousine". With its claimed top speed of 128 m.p.h. and the ability, in spite of its unladen weight of 3,196 lb., to accelerate from rest to 60 m.p.h. in around nine seconds, it could hardly have been described as anything less.

What BMW had done was to lengthen the wheelbase of their bigger six-cylinder car to 10ft. 2 in. (the overall length of the 3.3 L was 15 ft. 9 in.) and it was permitted to carry a gross laden weight totalling 4,188 lb. and to increase the capacity of the well-tried single-o.h.c. engine, with its "triple hemisphere" shape combustion chambers, to 3.3-litres.

The increased swept-volume was obtained by increasing the stroke to 88.4 mm from 80 mm. This improved the power output by 5%, to 190 (DIN) b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m., and the maximum torque by 15 %, to 217 lb./ft. at 3,500 r.p.m., the latter important as a means of maintaining effortless running with the four-inch-longer wheelhase car. These outputs were achieved from the 88.4 mm. bore, 3,299 c.c. engine with twin Zenith 35/40INAT carburetters.

Inside the 3.3L featured sculpted black leather upholstery, electric windows, the Becker Stereo Grand Prix radio, tinted glass, an electrically-operated aerial, an acceptable driving position achieved by a seat adjustable for height and a steering-column adjustable for length, the so-comfortable seats themselves, a generous window area, and, of course, a heated rear window. The controls and instrumentation of the 3.3 litre followed standard right-hand-drive BMW practice, which meant that providing you remembered that the turn-indicators stalk was on the left, everything was conveniently arranged and no dials could be more easily read, especially as the needles pointed to clear white figures.

Around 70 m.p.h. those of tachometer and 140 m.p.h. VDO speedometer moved approxiimately in the same plane - a Bentley-ish touch. Further reducing the effort of leaving the Metropolis behind, this BMW 3.3 L had automatic transmission. It was controlled by the expected T-handled central lever. This selected somewhat vaguely but the action was rendered of no moment because in a line below the indicator lights on the centre of the instruument panel was a row of lamps which showed the gear you had selected - P, R, 0 (for neutral), A (best thought of as "advance"), 2 and 1. The pick-up, even under kick-down, was not violently brisk in "A", but if "2" was selected full BMW acceleration was certainly available. As an automatic transmission the Borg-Warner box worked with commendable smoothness.

There was ZF power-steering to overcome the grip of the 195-VR14 Michelin XWX tyres and it had the usual excellent BMW feel and sense of control and was geared about four turns, lock-to-lock. The safety-pad wheel had horn-pushes in each of its four spokes but a rather too thick leather-bound rim. Unlike most other "limousines", the 3.3 L was not particularly quiet, the sound of silence being broken by an eager note from the engine, not an issue in itself but reflecting the cars title as a "Sports Limousine". It handled well and with a sure-footedness that made you feel safe. The all-disc, servo, dual-circuit brakes added further assurance to anyone hurrying along in the Beamer. They were very powerful, yet could be stamped on withhout the wheels locking up on slippery surfaces.

Although this big 3.3-litre BMW developed maximum power at 5,500 r.p.m. the tachoometer warning did not apply until 6,400 r.p.m. was reached and indicated that the engine could be kept spinning between there and 7,000 r.p.m. should one feel disposed to exploit to the full the sports aspect of this fine limousine. Reverting to the dials, a fuel gauge and thermometer supplemented the main instruments behind that simple transparent panel and the warning lights covered generator charge, lack of oil pressure, full-beam from the commendably powerful headlamps, flashers' reminder, low fuel supply, and central handbrake on. A minor gripw was that the instrument lighting did not show the setting of the heater controls, as on smaller BMWs. But as you would expect on a car of this calibre, the air conditioner was fitted as standard and did not need to be varied often anyway. Rear seat occupants had their own reading lamps, and their own hot-air supply. There was an electrically-operated sliding roof, operated by buttons close to its leading edge.

High Gears For The Big Beamer

The "Big Beamer" was also nicely high-geared. At an indicated 70 m.p.h. the engine was running at only about 3,250 r.p.m., whereas my 520i at the same speed was doing some 4,000 r.p.m. This was thankfully beneficial to fuel economy. BMW suggested that 23 m.p.g. was possible at a constant 68 m.p.h., but we cannot confirm or deny how accurate this figure was. Road testers of the day noted that the fuel gauge needle sank into the red after about 280 miles, but the fuel light had not begun to flash; so that would suggest the car had a range well over 300 miles.

The size of the boot was in keeping with a car designed, according to BMW, "for ambassadors, heads of large companies and senior Statesmen". There were flap-style door pockets, and the neat zipper in the roof for taking private or important papers. The headlamps wipers, as pioneered by Saab, were interesting, the cleaning fluid being contained in a separate 4-pint reservoir and the wipers functioned when the car's lights were first switched on, then whenever the screen-washer was used, after a 30 sec. interval in each case. The screen wipers had the usual BMW delayed-action and stalk-tip control of this and the two-speed main setting.

In 1977, the 3.3Li was replaced by the 7-Series.Altogther the biggest BMW was a splendid car for long distance travel in maximum comfort. It looked unpretentious, and was available with optional extras including a 4 speed manual gearbox and limited slip differential, as well as cloth upholstery (not sure why) and self levelling rear suspension. As a car it was good, as a limousine it was great, particularly if you got the gig to drive it.
BMW E3 Series 3.3 Li Sports Limousine

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