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BMW Digest FAQ Version 4.0

Section 1: BMWs, A Brief Introduction

Table of Contents:

1.1: Body Styles

        1.1.1:   Overview
        1.1.2:   Body/Chassis Codes

1.2: Motors

        1.2.1:   Overview
        1.2.2:   Engine Codes

1.3: BMW VINs

1.1: BMW Body Styles
1.1.1: Overview
(by Rick Kjeldsen and

BMW has a long history of making cars, going back well before WWII. Since this FAQ has been built from the contributions to the mailing list, there is little information about the early cars.

Modern BMWs started with the 1500, a boxy practical sedan with a 1.5 liter 4 cylinder. The engine was soon enlarged and the body slightly redesigned to make the 2002. This was a small 4 seater with good handling and a powerful motor. It is the car which really started BMW on the path it is today.

Today BMW has three main lines of cars, 3, 5 and 7. The 3 series is a compact sedan with generous front seats and usable rear seats that are a bit short on leg/head room. The 5 is a mid-size car which seats 5 in reasonable comfort. The 7 is a large luxury car which has occasionally been named one of the best cars in the world. In between have been the 6 series, a luxury coupe built on the 5 series platform, and the 8 series, the follow-on to the 6 but built on a unique platform.

BMW's are named according to their model range, engine size, and other characteristics (i.e. - 325iX). The first digit refers to the model range (3 = 3-series), the following two digits refer to engine displacement (25 = 2.5 liters), and the letters refer to a distinguishing feature, body style, or characteristic of the car or engine. (i = fuel injection, X = four-wheel drive)

However, note that before standardizing on the current 3,5,6,7,8-series designations in the mid-1970's, BMW primarily used engine displacement to name their cars. The most notable example is the 2002.

BMW has used a multitude of numbers and letters over the years, but they have not always been consistent in their application except in the use of the model range as the first number. Thus, there are many exceptions to the designations discussed where the model name may not equate exactly to the characteristics of the car. In addition, the letter 'A'(automatic) or 'C' (convertible) suffix may be appended to the model name; these, however, do not appear as badges except on some older automatic models. The following list has partial explanations of some of the of the letters used.

A = automatic
C = convertible
CS = coupe sport
i = injection; international
e = ETA (high mpg, high torque, low RPM) engine L = long-wheelbase; luxury
M = Motorsport
s = sport; also used to denote coupe body in NA markets t = touring; touring could equate to hatchback, wagon, or

sport versions of early models td = turbodiesel
tds = intercooled turbodiesel
X = four-wheel drive
Z = models developed by BMW Technik; new roadster designation

Exceptions to the standard model designations involve models originating from BMW Motorsport, the racing arm of BMW. Models produced by this division have an 'M' prefix followed by the original model range on which the car is based (M3, M5, M6).

In addition, BMW occasionally makes cars outside these series entirely. These are usually roadsters or specialtity cars. Examples are the Isetta (a small "city car" with three wheels and a motorcycle engine), the M1 (the original M car, an exotic coupe), the Z1 (euro only) and Z3 roadsters, and the E1 electric car.

BMW only imports limited versions of it's cars to the US. In Europe many more variations are possible, including smaller engines (e.g. the 316), Touring models (station wagons, occasionally imported), diesels (occasionally imported) and cars with fewer luxury options. Because of EPA restrictions, Euro engines often have more power.

1.1.2: Body/Chassis Codes

Like many car manufacturers, BMW assigns code names to their models/chassis while they are in development (i.e. - E36/2). The 'E' translates into a German word for 'development'. Each 'E-number' refers to a model series (3,5,6,7,8) with variations such as station wagons, hatchbacks, or convertibles. Models created before the E-system have Type numbers.

Thus, an E36/2 would represent a 1992 or later 3-series coupe, the 2nd variant of the E36 chassis. See the table for further examples.

Number/ Year

Variant   (Euro)    Model                   Body Style
- -------   ------    -------------------     ----------

114       1967-74   1502/1602/1802/2002     2d sedan
115       1962-64   1500                    4d sedan
116                 1600                    4d sedan
118       1963-?    1800/1800Ti/1800TiSA    4d sedan
120       1966-?    2000/2000Ti/            4d sedan
121       1965-69   2000C/2000CS            2d coupe
E3                  2500 - 3.3Li            4d sedan
E6                  1600/1800/              2d coupe/3d hatch
                    2000/2000/Tii touring
E9                  2.5CS - 3.0CSL          2d coupe
E10                 2002ti/2002tii          2d coupe
E12       1973-81   5-series                4d sedan
E12/8     1973-81   5-series-see above      4d sedan - South African
E20       1973-74   2002 turbo              2d coupe
E21       1976-82   3-series                2d coupe
E23       1978-86   7-series                4d sedan
E24       1976-89   6-series                2d coupe
E26       1979-80   M1                      2d mid-engine coupe
E28       1982-88   5-series                4d sedan
E30       1983-91   3-series                2d coupe/4d sedan/convertible
E30/5     1987-91   3-series 'Touring'      5d wagon
E30/16    1987-91   3-series iX             2d coupe/4d sedan (4WD)
E31       1990-     8-series                2d coupe
E32       1987-94   7-series                4d sedan
E32/2     1987-94   7-series                4d sedan LWB
E34       1989-94   5-series                4d sedan/5d wagon
E34/2     1989-94   5-series                5d wagon
E36       1992-     Current 3-series        4d sedan
E36/2     1992-     3-series see-above      2d coupe/convertible
E36/3     ?         3-series 'Compact'      5d hatch
E36/5     1994-     3-series 'Compact'      3d hatch
E36/6     1994-     3-series 'Touring'      5d wagon
E36/7     1996-     Z3                      2d roadster - U.S. made
E36/8     1997?     Z3 coupe                3d hatchback - U.S. made
E38       1995-     New 7-series            4d sedan
E38/2     1995-     7-series                4d sedan LWB
E39       1996-     New 5-series            4d sedan

Z/B       1987-91   Z1 roadster             2d convertible

<Show Cars - concept cars that have been displayed at various auto shows>

E1/E2     1992/93   electric prototypes     3d hatch
Z13       1993      hybrid city car         3d hatch

<Rumors/Speculation - not yet (maybe ever) in production; development/testing>

E44       ?         Megaron                 minivan/people carrier
E45       1997?     2-series                sedan/hatch/wagon/offroader
                    (E1 derivative)         FWD/Aluminum spaceframe
E46       1997?     Next 3-series           4d sedan/2d coupe/convertible
E51       1997?     Reborn 6-series         2d coupe/convertible?
                    (based on E39)
E52       1998?     Modern 507 roadster     2d convertible
                    (low volume, high $)
E53       1998?     Sport-Utility !?        SUV/minivan/wagon hybrid

1.2: BMW Motors

1.2.1: Overview

(by Rick Kjeldsen)

BMW's middle name is "motor", and the quality of their engines lives up to it. Long lived, they are just getting broken in around 30k miles, and with care easily last 200k and more. They are overdesigned enough to take major HP modifications in stride. The performance versions, as in the M cars, produce as much or more HP/Liter as any contemporary (normally aspirated) production engine. They run smooth, eagerly pull to redline and can run hard at redline all day without missing a beat. Combine all that with a clean design which makes them a joy to work on.

The early cars (2002, early 3 series, etc) were powered by variations on a well designed 4 cylinder block. This same basic engine has been in use for over 25 years, and forms the basis of the very successful E30 M3 race engines. Rumor has it that blocks for 1000+ HP Formula 1 race cars were simply selected off the manufacturing lines.

Later BMW added a large (3+ liter) in-line 6 for it's larger cars and a small (~2.5 liter) 6 to improve the performance of it's smaller cars. Each of these has gone through several variations over the years.

More recently BMW has built several new engines, including a V12 for it's largest cars, V8s in a couple of sizes and a new aluminium block 2.8 liter in-line 6.

The M engines started with a major modification of the big 6 block for the M1. It included several elements tuned for racing, including o-rings instead of gaskets, one throttle per cylinder, etc. Later the same technology was applied to the 4 cylinder block with a 4 valve/cylinder head to produce the E30 M3 engine.


The small-6 SOHC engine is designated the M20 series. This motor started out in 1978 with the E21 320/6 and 323i models. As the names suggest, the 320/6 was a 2-liter with a 4-barrel carb, and the 323i was a 2.3 liter with K-Jetronic injection.

The ETA engine, at 2.7 liters, is basically a bored and stroked version of the 2.3 liter with Motronics, a special economy camshaft, lighter valve springs, and a special long and small diameter runner intake manifold. The head was basically the same as the 2.3 otherwise, with smaller valves and ports.

The E30 325i motor is another derivation of this series of motors. For this one, BMW shortened the stroke of the ETA engine, and used a cylinder head with bigger ports and valves, along with a more radical cam and stiffer valve springs (over the ETA). A larger throttle body was also included in the package with the 323i style manifold.

The M50 engine (92-on 325i, 525i) is pretty much more or less a new design. It is, however, based on the M20 engines.

The E30 M3 engine used the same basic block as the '84-'85 318i, and all the other M10 4-cylinders that came before it. ('63 1500 through the 2002 through the 320i through the early 318i) The single cam version had a 23+ year run. The M3 version has siamesed cylinders and a longer stroke crank, along with the 16-valve head.

The M40 engines found in the '91-on 318i's are not related to the earlier motors in anyway.

Hope this helps, and there may be errors in the above information.


1.2.2: Engine Codes

As with the E-chassis designations, BMW uses internal code names to refer to its engines (i.e - M50/B25). The first combination (M50) refers to the engine family while the second combination refers to engine displacement (B25 = 2.5 liters). Engines developed by BMW Motorsport are prefixed with an 'S' (i.e. - S14/B23). An engine family generally consists of a particular engine type with several different displacements.

Number/                      Valvetrain/
Variant     Disp.            cylinders                Body range
- -------     -----            -----------------        ---------------

M10         1.8              SOHC-8v/L4               E21
M12/6       2.0              DOHC-16v/L4              Formula 2
M12/7       2.0              DOHC-16v/L4              F2/320i Group 5
M12/9       2.0              DOHC-16v/L4 Turbo        320i Group 5
M13         1.5              DOHC-16v/L4 Turbo        Formula 1
M20/B27     2.7              SOHC-8v/L6 ETA           E28/E30/E34
M20/B25     2.5              SOHC-8v/L6               E28(?)/E30/E34
M21         2.4              SOHC-8v/L6 Diesel        E28/E30/E34/E36
M30         3.0/3.2/3.3/3.5  SOHC-8v/L6               E23/E24/E28/E32
M40         1.6/1.8          SOHC-8v/L4               E30/E36
M42         1.8              DOHC-16v/L4              E30/E34/E36
       ?--> 1.9              + Al block/VANOS
M43         1.8              SOHC-8v/L4               E36
M50         2.0/2.5          DOHC-24v/L6              E34/E36
M50TU       2.0/2.5          DOHC-24v/L6 w/VANOS      E34/E36
M52         2.0/2.5/2.8      DOHC-24v/L6 w/VANOS      E36/E39
                             (Al block)
M60 (old)   2.0/2.3          SOHC-12v/L6              E12/E21
M60         3.0/4.0          DOHC-48v/V8              E31/E32/E34/E38
M70         5.0/5.4/5.6      SOHC-24v/V12             E31/E32/E38
M80         ???              ???/V6                   ???
M88         3.5              DOHC-24v/L6              E26-M1
M88/1       3.5              DOHC-24v/L6              Group 4 (470hp)
M88/2       3.5              DOHC-24v/L6              Group 4 (850hp)
M88/3       3.5              DOHC-24v/L6              E24-early M6
M102        3.2/3.5          SOHC-12v/L6 Turbo        E23-745i Turbo
S14         2.3/2.5          DOHC-16v/L4              E30-M3
S38         3.5              DOHC-24v/L6              E28-M5/E24-M6
S50         3.0              DOHC-24v/L6 (VANOS)      E36-M3
S50US       3.0              DOHC-24v/L6 (VANOS)      E36-M3 U.S. vers.
S70/2       6.1              DOHC-48v/V12 (VANOS)     McLaren F1
S80         3.6/3.8          DOHC-24v/L6              E34-M5

Mxx/Byy (xx=engine family; yy=displacement)

1.3: BMW VINs

(by Jim Newman

Decoding Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)

I extracted the following from the BMW mosaic server. It MOSTLY works for the 3 series I've looked at.

VIN number:

                                         WBA AA13 1 - L A E57862
Mfg. Code                                  ^  ^   ^ ^ ^ ^   ^
 WBA -- BMW-AG, Munich                     |  |   | | | |   |
 WBS -- BMW Motorsport Gmbh, Munich  ------+  |   | | | |   |
                                              |   | | | |   |
                                              |   | | | |   |
Vehicle Description Section                   |   | | | |   |
 Model Code (see below)      -----------------+   | | | |   |
                                                  | | | |   |
                                                  | | | |   |
Restraint System                                  | | | |   |
 0--Manual Seat Belts                             | | | |   |
 1--Manual Seat Belts with Supplemental-----------+ | | |   |
       Restrant System                              | | |   |
 2--Manual Seat Belts w/ Dual SRS Airbags           | | |   |
                                                    | | |   |
Check Digit  ---------------------------------------+ | |   |
                                                      | |   |
Model Year                                            | |   |
 A--1980  D--1983  G--1986  K--1989                   | |   |
 B--1981  E--1984  H--1987  L--1990                   | |   |
 C--1982  F--1985  J--1988  M--1991  -----------------+ |   |
 N--1992  O--European Model                             |   |
 P--1993  R--1994  S--1995                              |   |
                                                        |   |
Plant of Manufacture                                    |   |
 A--Munich                                              |   |
 B,D--Dinofing       -----------------------------------+   |
 E,F--Regensburg                                            |

Serial Number (6 Digits) -----------------------------------+

(by Jim Conforti <>)

After the WMI (either WBA or WBS) in your 17 DIGIT VIN comes the VDS ..

The first 4 characters of the VDS tell you what type of car you have ..

Here's the table I've come up with ...

Feel free to fill in the question marks ;)

If you have a car that either is not IN the table, or doesn't match, especially a Grey-Market car ... email me with pertinent info!!


Jim Conforti

VDS Car Body Engine FI MY range

? 540iA E34 M60/B40 M3.3 1993-
? 540i E34 M60/B40 M3.3 1995-
AA13 325is E30 M20/B25 M1.1 1987-88
AA13 325is E30 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-91
AA23 325isA E30 M20/B25 M1.1 1987-88 AA23 325isA E30 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-91 AB03 325iXA E30/16 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-91 AB54 325 E30 M20/B27 M1.1 1988
AB54 325e(s) E30 M20/B27 Basic 1984-7 AB64 325A E30 M20/B27 M1.1 1988
AB64 325e(s)A E30 M20/B27 Basic 1984-7 AB93 325iX E30/16 M20/B25 M1.1 1988
AB93 325iX E30/16 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-91 AC74 318i/4 E30 M10/B18 L-Jetronic 1985 AC84 318iA/4 E30 M10/B18 L-Jetronic 1985 AD13 325i/4 E30 M20/B25 M1.1 1987-88 AD13 325i/4 E30 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-91 AD23 325iA/4 E30 M20/B25 M1.1 1987-88 AD23 325iA/4 E30 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-91 AE03 325iXA/4 E30/16 M20/B25 M1.1 1988 AE03 325iXA/4 E30/16 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-91 AE54 325/4 E30 M20/B27 M1.1 1988
AE54 325e/4 E30 M20/B27 Basic 1984-7 AE64 325A/4 E30 M20/B27 M1.1 1988
AE64 325eA/4 E30 M20/B27 Basic 1984-7 AE93 325iX/4 E30/16 M20/B25 M1.1 1988 AE93 325iX/4 E30/16 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-91 AF93 318is E30 M42/B18 M1.7 1990-1
AG33 320i(s) E21 M10/B20 K-Lambda 1980-3 AG43 320iA E21 M10/B20 K-Lambda 1980-3 AH31 323i EURO E21 ? ? ?
AH41 323iA EURO E21 ? ? ?
AJ93 318i/4 E30 M42/B18 M1.7 1990-1 AK03 M3 E30 S14/B23 Motorsport 1988-91 AK74 318i E30 M10/B18 L-Jetronic 1984-5 AK84 318iA E30 M10/B18 L-Jetronic 1984-5 BA73 318iC E30 M42/B18 M1.7 1991-2
BB13 325iC E30 M20/B25 M1.1 1987-88 BB13 325iC E30 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-93 BB23 325iCA E30 M20/B25 M1.1 1987-88 BB23 325iCA E30 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-92 BE53 318is E36 M42/B18 M1.7 1992-3
BE53 318is E36 M42/B18 M1.7.2 1994- BE63 318isA E36 M42/B18 M1.7 1993
BE63 318isA E36 M42/B18 M1.7.2 1994- BF33 325is E36 M50/B25 M3.1 1992
BF33 325is E36 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1993- BF43 325isA E36 M50/B25 M3.1 1992
BF43 325isA E36 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1993- BF93 M3 E36 S50US/B30 M3.3.1 1995-
BJ53 325iC E36 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1994- BJ63 325iCA E36 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1994- CA53 318i E36 M42/B18 M1.7 1992-3
CA53 318i E36 M42/B18 M1.7.2 1994-
CA63 318iA E36 M42/B18 M1.7 1993
CA63 318iA E36 M42/B18 M1.7.2 1994- CB33 325i E36 M50/B25 M3.1 1992
CB33 325i E36 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1993- CB43 325iA E36 M50/B25 M3.1 1992
CB43 325iA E36 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1993- CJ95 528i E12 ? L-Jetronic 1980-1
CJ97 528iA E12 ? L-Jetronic 1980-1
DB24 524tdA E28 ? DDE 1985-6
DB74 533i E28 M30/B32 Basic 1983-4
DB84 533iA E28 M30/B32 Basic 1983-4
DC71 M535i EURO E28 ? ? ?
DC74 535i(s) E28 M30/B34 Adaptive 1985-8 DC81 M535iA EURO E28 ? ? ?
DC84 535i(s)A E28 M30/B34 Adaptive 1985-8 DC93 M5 E28 S38/B35 Motorsport 1988
DK73 528e E28 M20/B27 M1.1 1988
DK73 528e E28 M20/B27 Basic 1982-7
DK83 528eA E28 M20/B27 M1.1 1988
DK83 528eA E28 M20/B27 Basic 1982-7
EB35 633CSi E24 M30/B32 L-Jetronic 1980-1 EB36 633CSi E24 M30/B32 Basic 1982
EB45 633CSiA E24 M30/B32 L-Jetronic 1980-1 EB46 633CSiA E24 M30/B32 Basic 1982
EB74 633CSi E24 M30/B32 Basic 1983-4 EB84 633CSiA E24 M30/B32 Basic 1983-4 EC74 635CSi E24 M30/B35 M1.1 1988
EC74 635CSi E24 M30/B35 M1.3 1989
EC74 635CSi E24 M30/B34 Adaptive 1985-7 EC84 L6 E24 M30/B34 Adaptive 1987
EC84 635CSiA E24 M30/B35 M1.1 1988
EC84 635CSiA E24 M30/B35 M1.3 1989
EC84 635CSiA E24 M30/B34 Adaptive 1985-7 EE14 M6 E24 S38/B35 Motorsport 1987-8 EE81 M635 EURO E24 ? ? ?
EG13 850i E31 M70/B50 M1.7 1991-2
EG13 850Ci E31 M70/B50 M1.7 1993-
EG23 850iA E31 M70/B50 M1.7 1991-2
EG23 850CiA E31 M70/B50 M1.7 1993-
FF33 733i E23 M30/B32 L-Jetronic 1980-1 FF34 733i E23 M30/B32 Basic 1982
FF43 733iA E23 M30/B32 L-Jetronic 1980-1 FF44 733iA E23 M30/B32 Basic 1982
FF74 733i E23 M30/B32 Basic 1983-4
FF84 733iA E23 M30/B32 Basic 1983-4
FG24 L7 E23 M30/B34 Adaptive 1986-7
FH74 735i E23 M30/B34 Adaptive 1985-6 FH84 735iA E23 M30/B34 Adaptive 1985-7 GB33 735i E32 M30/B35 M1.1 1988
GB33 735i E32 M30/B35 M1.3 1989
GB43 735iA E32 M30/B35 M1.1 1988
GB43 735iA E32 M30/B35 M1.3 1989-92
GC43 735iLA E32/2 M30/B35 M1.1 1988
GC43 735iLA E32/2 M30/B35 M1.3 1989-92 GC83 750iLA E32/2 M70/B50 M1.2 1988-90 GC83 750iLA E32/2 M70/B50 M1.7 1991-94 GD43 740iA E32 M60/B40 M3.3 1993-4
GD83 740iLA E32/2 M60/B40 M3.3 1993-4 HC13 525i E34 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-90
HC23 525iA E34 M20/B25 M1.3 1989-90
HD13 535i E34 M30/B35 M1.3 1989-93
HD23 535iA E34 M30/B35 M1.3 1989-93
HD53 525i E34 M50/B25 M3.1 1991
HD53 525i E34 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1992-
HD63 525iA E34 M50/B25 M3.1 1991
HD63 525iA E34 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1992- HD93 M5 E34 S38/B36 M1.2 1991-3
HE13 530i E34 M60/B30 M3.3 1993-
HE23 530iA E34 M60/B30 M3.3 1993-
HJ63 525iTA E34/2 M50TU/B25 M3.3.1 1992- HK23 530iTA E34/2 M60/B30 M3.3 1993-

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