History of the BMW Represented in Scale - Part I • DiecastSociety.com

History of the BMW Represented in Scale – Part I

Words and photos courtesy of Alex Kustov



BMW miniatures are a popular subject among scale model car collectors. Over the years, a wide range of models was released by various manufacturers. Most prominent diecast companies and resin casters – from inexpensive Revell and Maisto to premium AUTOart, Kyosho and Minichamps made bimmers in various scales. Almost every model of the legendary Bavarian carmaker is represented in 1:18th scale, and likely every model and body variant available in smaller, 1:43rd scale. While there is a lower number of models in 1:24 and larger 1:12, there are still some very interesting pieces to collect there as well.

This series is devoted entirely and exclusively to BMW miniatures in 1:18th scale. Apart from a few obscure models, the BMW range is very well represented in this scale. Models from almost every era and every model generation are made, and though some are rarer and harder to find than others, even novice collectors will have plenty of pieces to collect right off the bat.

And after collecting these models for over 20 years and dealing with a lack of information on the subject, I decided to compile this guide to help others trying to put together a comprehensive BMW scale model car collection. As of early 2020, this is the most complete guide on 1:18th scale bimmers ever done.

Obviously, being the most popular car series in the BMW lineup, 3 series models are the most popular subject of model-makers. These are made in various shapes and guises, including a multitude of racing versions and variants. If you ever decide to collect scale BMW models, I can guarantee the 3 series cars will comprise a good chunk of your collection.


The first time the world heard the name 3-series was back in May of 1975. New sporty-looking car was a successor to the very popular 2002 series and was only available as a coupe, although the body styles have been expanded to almost infinite variations with the later generations.

The most successful model for BMW (3 series sales account for close to 30% of all BMW sales to date) and one of the best passenger cars ever built by any manufacturer, 3 series have been produced for close to 45 years and spans 7 generations. The BMW 3 Series won numerous awards throughout its history. Many consider BWM 3er one of, if not the best compact car money can buy.

To meet the ever-increasing demand for more power, refinement, and luxury, starting with the 2nd generation (E30) in 1988 BMW introduced its Motorsport-division-tuned version called an M3 (starting with the 2015 model year, all M3 Coupes have been renamed M4, with M3 moniker reserved only for sedans). M versions of the 3 series all had more powerful engines, improved handling /suspension /braking characteristics, subtle body enhancements, lightweight materials used in construction.

Based on the M1 racing success, M3 became an instant star of the international racing, winning many titles on various racing tracks around the world in many disciplines. The BMW M3 remains the only car ever to have earned more titles than the venerable Porsche 911 in Motorsport and is the most successful touring, and grand touring car ever to have participated in racing. M3 racing success is one of the reasons BMW as a brand is enjoying such a strong following of diehard racing enthusiasts.

3-Series Generations

E21: 1975–1981 Coupe/Baur Cabrio
E30: 1982–1991 Coupe/Sedan/Cabriolet/Touring
E36: 1992–1998 Coupe/Sedan/Cabriolet/Touring/Compact
E46: 1999–2005 Coupe/Sedan/Cabriolet/Touring/Compact
E90: 2005–2011 Sedan/E91: 2005–2011 Touring/E92: 2006–2013 Coupé/E93: 2007–2013 Convertible
F30: 2012–2019 Sedan/F31: 2012–2019 Touring/F34: 2013–2018 GT/F35: 2012–2019 Long Wheelbase
G20: 2019-202x Sedan/G21: 2019-202x Touring

E21: 1975–1981

For quite some time, the only road-going 18th scale model of the E21 was the lonely AUTOart’s 323i release in their excellent Millennium series.

AUTOart Millennium E21 BMW 323i Alpine Weiss

The model was released in Alpine white, Polaris silver, and also in Aspen silver as a dealer edition. It is the most detailed and highest quality model in the entire series thus far.

Full chassis, engine and interior detailing of the highest calibre. Many working features and superb paint finish.

The only knock on AUTOart offering would be a lack of interesting colours.

With the original price for the model of just around $60 at the time of the release, their values have skyrocketed almost 10-fold over the last few years.

This fact caught the attention of other manufacturers, especially with the price of diecast models slowly rising over the last few years as it is. The temptation to earn quick buck prevailed, and late in 2015 and early 2016, three separate model manufacturers released new E21 models. While none of the new models were fully functional (opening features) diecasts – in fact, most of the new models were made from resin – these models filled the holes in the E21 road car collection nonetheless.

Minichamps released 3 resin E21 models that covered 316i, 320i, and 323i cars. All 3 are nice sealed resin models, with just subtle changes to reflect model differences (323i having 4 headlights is the biggest change).

Minichamps E21 BMW 316i

Minichamps E21 BMW 320i

Some assembly issues were present, which made these expensive models hardly a bargain at close to $200. Interestingly, only one colour for each version was offered, and models were not re-released since the initial offering.

Minichamps E21 BMW 323i

KK Scale released a very basic sealed diecast of 318i that looks nice on the shelf but lacks detailing pretty much everywhere. 3 colours were available – official red and a very nice shade of light blue metallic, and “eBay” green version.

KK Scale E21 BMW 318i

The difference in the front ends – KK Scale has better shape and correct size headlights, but the grille is better on the Minichamps models. Also, note 4 headlights on the 6-cylinder models.

All models had the same style wheels except for the top of the line 323i. Rear-end is almost identical, though 323i has two mufflers to go with the more powerful engine. Minichamps cars have nice interiors, despite being sealed resin.

Almost entire E21 lineup: Minichamps 316i, 320i, 323i & 318i KK Scale

Finally, BoS Models released a resin model of 323i Baur Cabrio in weird green colour, which again looks nice overall but has incorrect body proportions (from certain angles it hardly looks like E21), lacks detail, and not finished particularly well – especially for resin model. At least both KK and BoS models were not very expensive.

BoS Models E21 BMW 323i Baur Cabrio

Not a bad interior, but the wrong body shape far outweighs the good things on this model.

In late 2018 another Asian startup LS Collectibles released several Alpina models in 1:8th scale, one of which was E21 Alpina C1 2.3 car. The model was released in 5 traditional Alpina colours and stripes and packaged in a very nice hard-shell box with the model itself mounted on a base with name plaque. While a nice model overall and certainly a welcome subject, the model is obviously larger than 1:18the scale, which clearly evident when putting on the shelf next to the rest of E21s. Which is a shame and unfortunate mistake when you are a newcomer in the business of making scale models.

LS Collectibles E21 Alpina C1 2.3

The main problem with the flat front end is clearly visible in this photo. Excellent wheels, good decals, typical Alpina spoiler and stripped interior are all Alpina specific touches.

BoS 323i Baur, AUTOart 323i, LS Alpina C1 2.3

So, as it stands at the moment, the only model of the E21 that is not represented in 1:18th scale would be 315i, but since it is visually identical to the rest of the E21 lineup, it is not that big of a deal. In order to have a complete E21 road car collection, you need 7 total models. Add 14 racers, and a full E21 lineup in 1:18th scale would consist of a total of 21 model cars. In 2019 Minichamps teased with some mock-ups of the E21 models at various toy fairs, but so far no new releases have been announced.

Racing E21 1:18 model lineup from Minichamps

Of course, the story of E21 would not be complete without many excellent race cars that were based on this model 3-series. Until Spark Models introduced its own line of racing E21 resin replicas in late 2018, all racing E21s were based on a very good Minichamps tool, which was developed a few years back when BMW decided to launch their BMW Art Cars series.

Roy Lichtenstein E21 320i Art Car was spectacular. One of the better-looking E21 due to the 4-headlight configuration and bronze coloured BBS wheels, made for one striking model:

BMW E21 320i Art Car Roy Lichtenstein. 1977 24h Le Mans Gr.5 9th Place

Like all models in the series, Roy Lichtenstein’s 1977 320i Art Car comes with a nice display case, a book about the program, and a nice packaging to show its exclusivity and limited release status.

BMW E21 320i Art Car Roy Lichtenstein. 1977 24h Le Mans Gr.5 9th Place

Only this model has a double-headlight configuration. Other 6 racing 320 cars have either a single headlight fascia or a double-headlight setup with covered inner lights.

But as it is usually the case, to better utilize the developed tool in addition to the Art Car Minichamps also cranked out 6 different racing versions of the E21 320i in various liveries from the 1977 racing season.

Unlike Spark’s sealed resin versions that followed, Minichamps models are full diecast, with opening doors, detailed interiors and chassis, removable hoods and trunk lids and nicely detailed engines and trunk spaces.

BMW E21 320 #4 Warsteiner. Team Warsteiner GS-Tuning, Div. 2 DRM 1977

BMW E21 320 #13 WÜRTH. Team BMW Junior, DRM 1977

BMW E21 320 #23 UNILOCK. Team BMW Faltz Assen, Mosport 6 Hours 1977 (Class Winner)

Back in the day, these were some of the most premium diecast replicas you could buy (retailed for about a $100 while most comparable replicas sold for under $80). They were packed in Minichamps premium boxes with styrofoam clam-shells and nice glossy outer boxes with pictures of the model and brief history and technical characteristics of the car.

BMW E21 320 #8 Fruit of the Loom. Team Fruit of the Loom, Div. 2 DRM 1977

BMW E21 320 #21 HAT. H.A.T. Freizeit Racing Team, DRM 1977

BMW E21 320 #15 Jägermeister. Team Faltz, Div. 2 DRM 1977

All models in the series are very similar with few minor details, but aside from the liveries, there are a few other little details that were different on several models.

As mentioned earlier, some models had double-headlight configuration, some single headlight setup, and some double-headlights blocked-off by black or silver covers. Some trunk lids had holes for the fuel filler necks, some did not. Trunk lid and hood underside on the Art Car was painted in flat black, while regular releases were body colour.

Lichtenstein Art Car was also built much nicer in general – better detailing of the cockpit with more decals and some additional details added, wheels were correct shade and had proper markings on the tires, driver door had a neatly woven real-thread net, while other models did not have the net at all. Overall, even the body paint was better on the Art Car.

One of the most interesting variations among the models was the fact that some had different engine details. If you look closer, you can see that some engines had black cam covers with BMW M Power stamped in silver letters, but had different colour plug wires and silver brake ducting. Warsteiner car had bronze-coloured covers with silver print on it, and Fruit of the Loom car had completely different cam covers with photoetched Eidegger badges on it. Talk about attention to detail!

It has been about 15 years since their release, and they are getting rather hard to find these days. However, with the recent resurrection of M1 and E30 M3 moulds, there is always hope that Minichamps will bring these (hopefully with new liveries as well) back. If you want to collect all racing E21s made by Minichamps you will need to buy a total of 7 models.

In my opinion, Art Car would be the most expensive to buy, but not necessarily the hardest to find. From my experience, Unilock-livered car was the toughest to acquire – perhaps due to the fact that it was released the last in the series.

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11 Responses to "History of the BMW Represented in Scale – Part I"

  1. DS Team says:

    The is brilliant and the depth of detail is quite impressive. We love the passion, and thanks again for letting the DS publish this piece. Looking forward to PART II!

    • ALEX says:

      Hey, thank for publishing this! Much appreciated. Working on next part – should be ready soon. Thanks!

      • Kevin F. Murphy says:

        Hi Alex,
        You have provided an absolutely fantastic review! You haven’t missed a thing!

        Might you have insight into if Minichamps will make in the future (or why they never did make) 1:18 scale Gr.5 320i turbo “Citicorp/First National City Travelers Checks” #2 car driven by David Hobbs in 1977/1978 IMSA road racing series? I know Quartzo made a 1:43 scale of this car.

        Much appreciated.
        Warmest regards and cheers!

  2. Terrence says:

    This is a most impressive review of the 3 series. I always regretted not buying the Auto Art version, but I do have the Art Car and it is one of my most cherished die casts. Thanks for the work you have put into this and I look forward to more!

    • ALEX says:

      You bet! AA models are still available, its just a matter of what you are willing to pay for one – they are NOT cheap nowadays.

  3. Wes says:

    Wow this is an awesome idea

  4. jrm says:

    Otto/Ottomodels made pretty cool classic BM’ and Alpina versions too

    • ALEX says:

      They sure do! They never made any E21’s though, but they do have nice E30, E36 and E46 models, among others. I’ll get to them later in the series.

  5. Kevin F. Murphy says:

    Hi Alex,
    You have provided an absolutely fantastic review! You haven’t missed a thing!

    Might you have insight into if Minichamps will make in the future (or why they never did make) 1:18 scale Gr.5 320i turbo “Citicorp/First National City Travelers Checks” #2 car driven by David Hobbs in 1977/1978 IMSA road racing series? I know Quartzo made a 1:43 scale of this car.

    Much appreciated.
    Warmest regards and cheers!

  6. Tammy says:

    While Minichamps’ E21 320’s look great, they overlooked some important engine details – the Unilock livery E21 was actually powered by a turbo engine, not a natually aspirated engine shown by the model.

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