Home » Straight Sixes And Slushboxes: 1984 BMW 325e vs 1977 AMC Hornet

Straight Sixes And Slushboxes: 1984 BMW 325e vs 1977 AMC Hornet

Sbsd 1 22 2024

Good morning! To start out this week, I’ve selected two different cars united by a common drivetrain configuration. And it’s a configuration you don’t see very often anymore: a straight six, an automatic transmission, and rear-wheel-drive. But that’s about the only thing these two have in common.

Before we get to those, however, let’s finish up with Friday’s low-mileage Nissan Stanzas. I’m disappointed in myself about Friday’s headline, because it just this minute occurred to me that it should have been “Poetry In Major Motion,” not just “Poetry In Motion.” Can’t believe I didn’t think of that earlier. It’s like when you come up with the perfect one-liner comeback to someone three days after the conversation happened. So annoying.

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Anyway, I expected the stickshift wagon version to win, and it did. But really, I think they’re both decent choices. I hope they both make some new owners very happy, and each garner their own share of “wow, I haven’t seen one of those in forever!” comments.

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Today we’re looking at cars in sunny Southern California. We’ve got a pair of slowpoke inline sixes with mushy automatics, both for the same price, both of which come from places known for their beer, coincidentally. But which bottle will you set on the roof on a hot day – Bitburger or Leinenkugel’s? Let’s check out the cars and see.


1984 BMW 325e – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 2.7 liter overhead cam inline 6, four-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Odometer reading: stuck at 141,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but “needs a lot of work”


I’m about to commit automotive heresy. Ready? Here goes: I don’t understand the hero-worship of the BMW E30 platform. Yes, I have driven a few. Yes, they drive nicely. And yes, I could definitely see the appeal – back when you could buy a nice clean stickshift one for $2,500. This is the first running, driving E30 I’ve seen this cheap in a while, and it’s an undesirable spec, and frankly, a bit of a pile. Yet I fully expect it will sell for this price within a few days. Decent ones sell for three or four times this much, to start. I just don’t get it.

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What makes it undesirable, for the uninitiated, is the engine: a low-revving, economy-minded 2.7 liter version of BMW’s otherwise awesome M20 inline six. Built to boost BMW’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers, this engine is about as malaise-y as BMW ever got, just as American engines were climbing out of the doldrums. To add insult to injury, this one is a junior-executive-special automatic transmission model, which is the BMW equivalent of the Fun Police. A manual 325e is OK – not great, but OK – but an automatic is just dull. It does run well, according to the seller, though it needs exhaust work and a new battery.

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Speaking of dull, there isn’t a flake of clearcoat left on this car. This sandy-gold color isn’t bad when it’s shiny, but I don’t think this one has been shiny since Bill Clinton was in office. At least it’s a two-door, and the sheetmetal looks straight. I suppose that’s the appeal here: a complete, straight body that can accept any number of more exciting drivetrain options.


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We don’t even get any photos of the interior. The seller describes it as “completely wasted,” and “you name it, it’s broken.” That’s as may be, but we’d still like to see it.

1977 AMC Hornet – $2,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 258 cubic inch inline 6, three-speed automatic, RWD

Location: Chula Vista, CA


Odometer reading: 79,000 miles

Operational status: Runs and drives, but won’t pass smog

Now we go from the green hills of Bavaria to the green hills of Wisconsin, and turn our attention to another automaker known by three initials: AMC. Kenosha’s favorite son introduced the Hornet in 1970, as a replacement for the Rambler American. The basic design defined AMC’s models for a decade and a half, spawning the Gremlin, the Concord, and the Eagle 4×4 wagon. It was state-of-the-art when it was introduced, but quickly became outdated. By the time Chrysler took over AMC, the Eagle felt positively ancient.

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The Hornet is powered by AMC’s venerable inline six, in this case displacing 258 cubic inches, or 4.2 liters, if you prefer. It powers the rear axle through a three-speed “Torque Command” automatic, AMC’s name for the Chrysler Torqueflite transmission. This one runs, but it failed its smog test. Apparently all the smog equipment was removed or plugged up at some point, and needs to be reinstalled or reconnected. I can’t imagine who would yank all that stuff in California, knowing it will be needed to make it legal. The good news is it’s all included, but reassembling everything and getting it past a smog check will be the new owner’s responsibility.


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My favorite thing about AMC cars has always been their interiors, and this one is a good example. The bullseye air vents, the plaid upholstery, that weirdly-shaped steering wheel – it’s all so distinctive, and, from what I remember, quite comfortable. That modern stereo below the “Weather Eye” climate controls looks out of place, but it probably sounds a lot better than the original AM/FM/8-track.

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Apart from the stereo, it looks very original, right down to the hubcaps.  It’s a good looking car; I’m not sure why AMC insisted on all the chrome and landau top nonsense of the later Concords. Oh, and by the way, while a six-cylinder automatic Hornet may not be anyone’s idea of a high-performance machine, it bears remembering that this is the car that pulled off one of the greatest movie stunts of all time.

Both of these cars are going to be pretty pokey. They both clock in at a little over a hundred horsepower, and both are geared for economy rather than acceleration. But speed isn’t everything, as we all know.  These are both interesting cars, and $2500 is cheap for an interesting car these days. You just have to choose between Germany and Wisconsin.


(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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1 month ago

7 years apart and such different vehicles. It would be a good article for this site to ask readers, ‘What 10 year span had the most different types of cars?’ My opinion is 76 to 86. Circle headlights and carburetors to multiport turbo FI aerodynamic vehicles. Passenger cars example: 76 ford lineup to 86 ford lineup.

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