COAL: 1983 BMW 633csi, Beginner’s Luck


In 1998, I was bitten by the bug of old BMWs fairly hard, and decided to add a 1983 633csi, black over tan interior, with 97,000 miles to my 1974 BMW 2002 and my daily driver 1997 Nissan Maxima 5-speed.  I was in the process of restoring my 2002 with the help of a buddy who had two 2002’s and a 1968 2800cs, and he encouraged my interest in buying another BMW.  I was married but had no kids, and had a good job and some cash to spend and so when I found the right car, a 633csi, I decided to make a low offer.

2002 with Bert

Only remaining picture of my 633csi sitting behind the 2800cs behind the 2002

 The 633csi was in pretty good shape, with one area of rust over the passenger side rear wheel well, and non-working air conditioning.  The engine seemed good, the transmission, all systems were go.  The driver’s side front suspension seemed a bit worn, but very drive-able.  The woman who sold me the car was the second owner.  She had originally bought the car when she was single, but now had a family, and a crowded driveway, and in-laws coming for thanksgiving the following week.  She was asking $4,500, and I offered $3,000.  She said no thanks, so I drove home.  She called me later that night and said if you can get it out of here tomorrow, I’ll take the $3,000.  She was even willing to take a personal check.

633 interior beige

Ultimate 80s Cockpit

So I picked up the car, and started loving it right away.  It was amazing to me how much more modern a 1983 BMW was than a 1974.  The car was also very familiar, as my father had owned a 1984 533i, which shared engine, transmission, front suspension and interior design (including the three spoke steering wheel with thumb operated horn buttons) with the 633!  I was already used to the feel of the 5-speed, to the semi-uselessness of the “trip computer”, to the perfect placement of the horn buttons mentioned above and also of the mirror adjustment that fell readily to hand.

633 torque curve

1976 Euro 633csi bhp & torque curve

This time I quickly mastered using the correct gear to get maximum power and flexibility out of the engine, something that had eluded me in high school.  When I drove Dad’s BMW in high school, I tended to shift into a higher gear far too soon, as for some reason I didn’t understand holding a lower gear except when accelerating.  This BMW inline six, however, needed 3000 rpm to enter its sweet spot of torque and horsepower, so around town, third gear would provide smooth cruising but also instant response.  Fourth gear, on the other hand would cruise smoothly but provide significant lag upon attempting to accelerate.

633 back seat

633 rear windows

At the time, the 533i remained my favorite BMW of all time, as it was lighter than the 633csi, and therefore faster, and yet with room for 5 people.  The 633csi back seat was a fairly comfortable place to be, however, with 2 nicely developed bucket seats and power operated rear windows.

633 sunroof

As I had bought my 633 in November and Washington DC’s winter weather was mild that year, I took to driving the 633 to work fairly often.  Everything except the air conditioning worked at first, but there was a repeated small hesitation in the engine in the middle of acceleration, as well as the worn driver’s side front suspension and the rust over the rear wheel well.  By June of 1999, the sunroof got stuck open briefly, and the passenger window switch stopped working.  So I took a trip to the dealer to check out the price of the window switch part relay (if I remember correctly) and it was something like $100.  While I was there I had them estimate some of the other work I wanted to do, and it was $5,000 not including the body work or paint.  I decided to stick with the car as it was.

Then, I got the 1999 Saab 9-3!  It was my new toy and so fast and fun to drive, that it over-shadowed my BMW’s.  Plus, at this point I had $7,500 invested in my BMW’s, and I had no property insurance on either car, and I figured I’d better see if I could recover my money.

BMW 2002

Before Craigslist

So the For Sale signs went in the windows, and the classified ads went in the Washington Post.  Craigslist didn’t expand to cities outside of San Francisco until 2000, so the classic car market was owned by local papers and Hemmings Motor News.  Hemmings create a national market for classic cars, but for average folks who wanted a cheap classic, the main option was the local market.  I also advertised both cars in the classifieds of, the web site of the BMW Car Club of America, but the enthusiast audience didn’t seem to want either car, as they were neither resto-modded, nor perfect restorations.


Next thing you knew, I sold the 2002 for a $250 profit to an attorney who saw the car with the for sale sign, and I sold the 633 to a gentleman who came to see the car from the Washington Post ad.  He offered me $4,000, and I took the $1,000 profit, counting my blessings and expecting I would soon have another classic with which to do the same thing.  Sixteen years later and counting, I have not yet had the same luck again!