Towards the end of last year we borrowed a BMW 323i Cabriolet from Frank Sytner, who was offering these Bauer conversions on registered 3-series saloons. Although the Cabriolet was available new as a model in its own right on the Continent, it could not be brought into Britain as a new car because of the lack of Type Approval. Now BMW have obtained Type Approval, and will be importing 120 of these Cabriolets this year through their impressive new Bracknell HQ, the official opening of which we attended at thread of March.
The Bauer Cabriolet is available in both 320 and 323i forms, which cost £9,014 and £10,094 respectively.
Like the old 2002 Cabriolet, a firm favourite of ours, the 3-series Cabriolet has a detachable, Targa-style, steel roof section, provision for which is made in the boot without impeding luggage space too much. The soft, rear section of the roof, behind the roll-over bar, folds down fairly neatly under a hood cover. The Targa-top can be removed on its own, to give the effect of a large sunroof, or in conjunction with the rear hood, and with the side windows wound down as well, the effect is of being in a slightly caged in open sports car.
Sytner’s 323i Cabriolet, with some 16,000 miles on the clock, was draught-free, water-proof and with not all that much more wind-noise than the fixed-head, though wind-noise suppression is not the best attribute of the standard 3-series. The only snag of any real note was drumming of the large plastic rear window at highly illegal speeds, and consequent deterioration in mirror vision.
With so much of the heavy steel and glass “top-hat” removed from the 323i, the handling felt a shade better than normal. It was also the first 323i we had driven that actually performed as well as we thought it ought to — and that in spite of a weeping head gasket. The engine had the familiar, diesel-like clatter at low revs, but was generally rather smoother and less noisy than other 323is we have experienced, which have been something of a disappointment in terms of engine refinement.
New Cabriolets are available through BMW dealers, which includes Sytners, who are also continuing their conversion service on second-hand 3-series at a cost of £3,000-£4,000 for both models, including return transport (for the car, not the owner!) to Bauer in Germany. Frank Sytner Ltd. are at 165 Huntingdon Street, Nottingham NG1 3NH. — C.R.