The Truth About The First Car Elon Musk Ever Owned

Before Elon Musk was driving Teslas, he was first in an iconic yet archaic car that became quite problematic. The Tesla CEO is known for having an eclectic taste in cars, from vintage classics to modern supercars. His passion for owning exotic sports cars only grew over the years, and now he doesn't just opt for anything that's simply fast. Rather, Musk often has an eye for certain car models that stand out in a big way. This includes celebrated beauties like the Jaguar E-Type and the multimillion-dollar McLaren F1. In fact, Musk even used an old automobile icon as inspiration for his most polarizing Tesla model. So, does that mean every car he's owned was a road spectacle as well?

Sure, if a car is significant enough, Musk is willing to pay top dollar for it even if it's just a movie prop, but he didn't always splurge on cars early in his career. In fact, Musk bought his first car in 1994 for a mere $1,400 (via CNBC). The tech mogul bought an "old BMW" that he had to fix up himself. Of course, this wasn't just any ole' Bimmer; it was a 1978 BMW 320i. Known internally as the E21, it marked the debut of the iconic 3-series. While these cars were certainly lookers, not all of them were made equal.

What was Elon Musk's first car like?

The first BMW 3 series wasn't just historical, it also set standards with its driver-focused angled dashboard that later became the norm in succeeding models (via BMW). However, there were numerous types of E21s produced between 1975 and 1983; base models ranged from the 316 and 318 to the more powerful 320. The entry-level BMW E21 316 featured a four-cylinder engine generating 98 bhp, which was more than enough at the time, considering it only weighed a little over 1,000 kg (via Autoweek). On the other hand, Musk's 1978 E21 was a higher-end 320i variant, which was deemed a "halo model" given its array of upgrades.

Among its various notable improvements included an independent suspension setup, an improved 125 bhp, and a top speed of 112 mph. Its blend of sporty and luxury, not to mention its historical significance, makes the E21 quite desirable even in the modern era. For instance, an older 1977 BMW 320i was sold via Sotheby's for almost $30,000 in 2020. If that's the case, then it certainly sounds like a car that Musk would want to be holding onto for a long time. But, did Musk even keep his first car?

What happened to Elon Musk's first car?

Reliability becomes a major concern for a car that's bought over a decade after its production. The same can be said with Musk's old BMW, as it eventually showed its age within just two years of ownership. In a YouTube video interview, Musk told Forbes his '78 320i had one of its wheels literally fall off while being driven by an intern on an errand run. Although Musk himself wasn't physically involved in the incident, his first car still ended up getting scrapped afterward. For a car that already needed repairs the moment it was bought, that was bound to happen sooner or later. It doesn't help that old BMWs like the E21 are known for showing signs of mechanical failures over time, either.

According to Grassroots Motorsports, the 320i came with a Bosch K-Jetronic Constant Injection System that is not cheap to repair and tends to cause issues over time. Its suspension also has a tendency of being a bit unstable upon reaching speeds of 45 mph. In addition, its engine's head gaskets are prone to warping, while its handbrake is notorious for becoming unresponsive after prolonged usage (via Hemmings). The E21 was a fairly reliable vehicle in its prime, but there's a fine line between owning a dependable classic and a metallic death trap. Unfortunately, Musk's first BMW experience was leaning more toward the latter. One thing is for sure, the E21 definitely won't be showing up in the Tesla head's opulent car collection any time soon.