1981 BMW 323i Baur “Top Cabriolet” (E21)


  • Rare Baur convertible model
  • 2.5-litre engine from an E30
  • 5-speed manual transmission
  • Comprehensive service history
  • MOT to November 2023

The Appeal

Long before the first ‘in-house’ 3-series convertible was launched (which was the E30), Karosserie Baur, the Stuttgart based coachbuilders, built 4,595 “Top Cabriolet” models based on the E21. In reality, it’s more of a Targa than a full convertible, but that doesn’t detract from both its rarity and its ability to give that “million miles of sky” feeling to the driver.

This example has been owned by enthusiasts and collectors for the last 23 years and benefits from some tasteful and well-executed enhancements that make it a much more engaging and usable car. Complete with a fine service history and maintenance record, it makes this charming and quirky machine quite the thing. If you’ve always wanted a show-stopping modern classic, this has to be on your list.

The History and Paperwork

  • First registered in 1981
  • Cherished registration (KIW3231) included in the sale
  • Rare right-hand-drive model
  • A previous owner converted the car to a manual transmission and installed a 2.5-litre engine from an E30
  • Current owner since August 2019
  • Stored covered and garaged in current ownership
  • All work by current owner has been carried out by ‘Munich Legends’
  • The car is well known on the BMW classic car scene
  • 97,931 miles indicated
  • Current MOT to 10th November 2023, no advisories
  • Every receipt, invoice and MOT for the last 23 years is on file
  • Owner’s handbooks and sale brochure included
  • Service history is a mix of main dealer and specialist
  • Spare head rests and door mirrors are included
  • Only selling as it’s not being used and the vendor needs the garage space back
  • Almost £3,000 spent in 2021 having new sills installed and a full service carried out by Munich Legends

The Interior

  • Black leather Recaro sports seats
  • Rare ‘fishnet’ headrests and leather trimmed wheel
  • Modern Sony stereo system
  • Electric windows and door mirrors

Overall, the interior of this Baur is very well maintained. The black leather of the Recaro seats is in good condition for the vehicle’s age, with just a little creasing and wear evident on the seat squabs and bolsters, but nothing that would concern us. Of particular note are the ‘fishnet’ style headrests, which are quite rare. The original headrests also come with the car.

Complementing the leather, the black vinyl door cards also present well, with no signs of damage or notable wear, just a few minor blemishes as you’d expect.

Smart red carpet runs through the cabin, twinned with black overmats which have complementary red binding to the edges. In general, all the carpeting looks to be in very good order, with just a small area where it appears to require refitting to the driver’s side.

As far as we can see, all of the trim, driving controls and instruments look to be in fine fettle. There are a few marks and scuffs to some of the interior plastics, as befits the age and mileage of the car. However, overall it all looks to be in excellent condition with no notable damage or wear and no cracks to the dashboard. We particularly like the leather-trimmed, sporty 3-spoke steering wheel. A modern Sony CD/radio head unit has also been installed, and this features both USB and Aux ports.

At the back, the boot is in excellent condition, lifting the carpets shows the floor to be solid, with absolutely no evidence of corrosion or repair that we could see. It’s trimmed with black carpet and also holds a spare wheel and toolkit. When the roof panel is removed, this also stows neatly into the boot space.

The Exterior

  • Henna Red paintwork
  • Removable roof panel and drop-down rear section
  • Period correct BBS alloy wheels

Finished in the delightful shade of Henna Red, the paintwork appears to be in very good condition, with only a few minor blemishes and some areas of chipping that have obviously been touched in. There is also a little lacquer peel to the near-side B-pillar, but again it’s nothing severe and should be easily remedied.

All of the panels look to be neat and straight, with no signs of damage or serious corrosion we could see. There’s a small amount of bubbling to the bottom edges of the doors and the lip of the bonnet, but otherwise it all looks to be in very good order.

Much the same can be said of the trim: it shows well with some nice brightwork, clear light lenses and glass which appears to be free from chips and cracks. The headlamp wipers are currently non-functional. But the foam rubber boot spoiler looks to be free from cracking and UV damage, which is usually quite common on this vintage of BMW. The vendor has also fitted new door mirrors. 

Of course, the car’s key point of difference is the Baur engineered roof. The main panel lifts out to stow in the boot, while the section from the B-pillar back drops down in a traditional convertible way to ‘sit on’ the rear deck. There is a tonneau cover which neatens it up nicely when stowed. All of the roof’s elements look to be in good order, with no damage or fading from UV that we could discern. There is a tiny hole to one side of the tonneau, but it’s very minimal.

The original alloys would have been smaller metric items, which are very expensive to keep shod with tyres. Therefore, they have been switched out for larger, period correct imperial BBS items. These 15-inch alloys suit the car perfectly and look to have been kept in excellent condition. They’re shod in a matched set of nearly-new 195/55 Falken tyres.

Underneath the car looks to be clean and straight, with no evidence we could see of corrosion or damage.

The Mechanics

  • 2.5-litre inline-six engine from an E30
  • 5-speed manual conversion
  • Power steering

Originally supplied with the 2.3-litre automatic drivetrain, a previous owner has had a 2.5-litre engine from a low-mileage E30 fitted, alongside a manual 5-speed transmission. In such a light car, this should make for an engaging and powerful driving experience. 

The engine bay itself is very clean and tidy, with no signs of leaks or other issues. The installation looks to have been very neatly carried out and looks factory.

Other enhancements that have been carried out include: uprated Bilstein sports dampers, a Hartge front strut brace and stainless steel exhaust system.

We’re assured by the vendor that it offers a superb combination of performance and handling, with a beautiful inline-six growl. They also tell us that there are no leaks, smoke, untoward noises or mechanical issues they are aware of.


E21s are already becoming a very rare sight on our roads, but can you remember the last time you saw a Baur “Top Cabriolet” in the wild? We certainly can’t. It’s a properly rare groove machine and sure to attract plenty of attention, both on the road and at shows.

This example has been tastefully and sympathetically enhanced and modified to make it more practical and more fun to drive, while retaining that iconic BMW DNA. We think it’s a very desirable little car and would happily grace any collection you care to mention.

Notice to bidders

This item is sold on an ‘As is Where is’ basis. The condition of this item is the opinion of the seller and may differ from your own opinion. Photos and listing descriptions are for guidance purposes only*.** Car & Classic do not warrant listing accuracy. Full inspection is recommended. Viewings are at the seller’s discretion. Buyer is responsible for delivery and collection of any item purchased.*

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Vehicle specification
  • Year 1981
  • Make BMW
  • Model 323i Baur Convertible
  • Colour Red
  • Odometer 97,931 Miles
  • Engine size 2315
  • Town Redhill
Auction Details
  • Seller Type Private
  • Location Surrey
  • Country United Kingdom
Bidding history
33 bids
  • Fr•••• £17,250 27/11/22
  • DC•••• £17,000 27/11/22
  • DC•••• £16,750 27/11/22
  • Fr•••• £16,500 27/11/22
  • DC•••• £16,250 27/11/22
  • Fr•••• £16,000 27/11/22
  • Fr•••• £15,750 27/11/22
  • DC•••• £15,500 27/11/22
  • da•••• £15,250 27/11/22
  • Ja•••• £15,000 27/11/22

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