1975: the first generation - premiere as a two-door sedan with high-output four-cylinder engines

The presentation of the first BMW 3-Series in July 1975 saw BMW write a new chapter into the automotive history books. The two-door sedan wasted no time in leaving its own distinctive stamp on the mid-size segment, with its compact dimensions and sporting character. The front end was dominated by the kidney grille and, at 4,355 millimetres long, 1,610 millimetres wide and 1,380 millimetres tall, the new arrival looked at once compact and grown up. Track widths of 1,364 millimetres at the front and 1,377 millimetres at the rear lent the car a powerful stance. All of which was very much in keeping with the state-of-the-art, sporty suspension - a MacPherson construction at the front and independent suspension with semi-trailing arms and spring struts at the rear.

Power was provided by four-cylinder engines with 1,573, 1,766 and 1,990 cc displacement, and the model variants would be christened 316, 318, 320 and 320i. With the exception of the fuel-injected engine, all the units were designed to run on standard petrol. In a dramatic break from convention, the design of the new model's interior was centred around a concept that was to become a hallmark of BMW cars for many years - a driver-focused cockpit. A year later, readers of German motoring magazine "auto, motor und sport" voted the BMW 320 the world's best sedan with up to two-litre displacement. In 1977 the BMW 3-Series welcomed the arrival of the first six-cylinder engine in the segment, the 320 and 323i models gaining disc brakes all round in preparation. The BMW 323i, in particular, quickly earned itself a reputation as a consummate athlete, using its 105 kW/143 hp to power effortlessly to a top speed of 190 km/h (118 mph). Performance, agility and sporty looks as the key reasons for buying a BMW 3-Series, and four out of five customers would purchase one again. The one-millionth BMW 3-Series rolled off the assembly line in 1981, after just six years in production.

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