1988 BMW 535is “M535i” Clone

As I mentioned in the M635CSi post recently, some of the confusion about these “M” branded models came from the nomenclature between the E24 and E28. While the M6 and M5 co-existed in the United States market, they did not in Europe. This left the M635CSi to be the equivalent of the M6. But the same was not true of the M535i. This model was sold as a more affordable alternative to the M5; most of the look of the Motorsports model but without the bigger bills associated with the more exotic double overhead cam 24 valve M88/3. Instead, you got a 3.4 liter M30 under the hood just like the rest of the .35 models. The recipe was a success, selling around 10,000 examples in several different markets – but never in the U.S..

Instead, the U.S. market received the 535iS model. The iS model was specific to the North American market and gave you the look of the U.S.-bound M5, with deeper front and rear spoilers, M-crafted sport suspension and sport seats. It, too, was quite popular – between 1987 and 1988, just over 6,000 examples sold in the United States alone, and of those, a little more than half were the preferred manual variant. One of the nice aspects of the 535iS was that if you enjoyed colors other than black you were able to order the lesser model in any shade you wanted, unlike the M5.

Today’s 535iS is a bit special, as it’s combined the two models into one in an exhaustive recreation of a European market M535i starting with a Zinnoberrot 535iS:

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1987 BMW M535i

While BMW Motorsport GmbH has a lengthy reputation for conceiving and building some of the most legendary icons of the 1980s, since their inception they’ve also had their hand in clever badge-engineered products intended to bring the magic of M to a larger audience. Starting with the E12 in the 1970s and continuing through today, first to hit the market was the “M535i”. Effectively, these were standard 5-series models with M-Technic bits added for a splash of style, but they lacked the higher-performance “S” (or M88/3, in the case of the M5) motors of their more potent siblings. But they certainly looked the part, with hunkered-down exteriors with deep chin spoilers, side skirts and rear valance and spoiler. Special M-Technic wheels were added to the E28 model which channeled aspects of the M1’s Campagnolo design coupled with hints of the original 1972 Turbo concept wheels. Inside a sport interior was met with more M-Tech details. Just as today, though mechanically these cars were appearance packages rather than performance-oriented, they’re nonetheless quite special indeed:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 BMW M535i on eBay

1987 BMW M535i

There’s been a fair amount of talk on these pages about M branding, as BMW has moved towards slapping badges on seemingly every single model regardless of their sporting potential. Can you blame them? Perhaps, but obviously they’ve done their market research and just as Audi and Mercedes-Benz have similarly increased the breadth and scope of their limited run production, BMW has offered the public an ever increasing and diverse range of M badged products. It’s as if these three are cowboys on the range, fearful of each other’s steeds and stoking the fire to brandish their labels on the rear ends of their flock in a futile attempt to establish dominance and feign individuality. But, in all honesty this isn’t a new trend. As far back as the mid 1980s, BMW was offering badge engineering on some of its finest products, and the M535i is the best example of this. Essentially this was a 535i with a M Technic body kit and no real performance changes outside of an optional suspension package. Does that make it less desirable?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 BMW M535i on eBay

1985 BMW M535i

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The M535i is an interesting piece of BMW history in many ways. On the plus side, it came straight from the E12 M535i, which was a direct result of BMW’s motorsports efforts and was hand-built. Unfortunately, the E28 M535i was no longer hand-built nor rare. Mostly a bodykit and ///M badges unless some options boxes were ticked, the M535i acted more as an advertisement for the BMW’s blossoming M Division, getting those tricolored stripes and Ms out in public as the M3, M5, and M6 took charge as the real performance flag bearers. With rose colored lenses we could see it as an instrumental piece of building the extra-performance arm of the Ultimate Driving Machine; cynically, it can be identified as the beginning of BMW’s whoring out of the M cachet as all show and no go. Whatever your viewpoint, they are relatively rare, never-sold-here E28 legends that will attract some attention from those in the know.

This example isn’t pristine but is better than decent and represents a nice opportunity to get in a piece of E28 history for a reasonable price. The exterior appears to be the best part, with nice paint and complete M-Technic bodykit. The interior – though cloth, which I love – has some unfortunate holes, though not much worse than you’d see on leather. I absolutely love the Style 32 wheels in general, and they fit the OEM+ nature of the M535i perfectly – better than most other E28s I’ve seen with them. With a brake upgrade and recent tune-up, 165k miles isn’t much of a concern on the workhorse M30. All of this for $8,500 or less, right in the heart of good E28 money.

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1985 BMW M535i RHD

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I may be in the minority that love the big-bumpered US-spec E28 M5, but I can’t deny how sweet the M535i is. It may be down about 35hp to the US M5 and almost 70 to the European models and lack the hand-built allure, but one look at this outstanding Zinnoberrot example and all that seems to become less important. The bodykit extends down while the small bumpers keep things tight, then beautiful black-centered BBS rims sync up perfectly with the Shadowline trim. We saw another red, right-hand drive M535i from Florida a few months back, but this car definitely has a different VIN and really shows what a clean interior and the right wheels can do for a car. Maybe some wannabe Sultan of Brunei Florida weirdo has just been sitting on a garage full of these? If so, he may want to wait a little longer as these are one of the few M-badged 80s Bimmers that are having a tough time cracking $10k.

Click for details: 1985 BMW M535i on eBay

RHD 1987 BMW M535i

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RHD cars seem most cool when they are Land Rovers or JDM classics – beyond that it just seems like an inconvenience. Frustration aside, the M535i is hard to come by in the US, so I guess we’ll take them as they come. Today’s is looking clean in Zinnobar Red and just over 100k miles, and while the availability of cloth seats on nice Bimmers in Europe intrigues me, it appears the bolsters are still prone to wear and tear. The biggest upset here is the automatic transmission, which comes with some sort of switching mechanism but still detracts from driving enjoyment. I guess the M535i is more about looks anyways, and small-bumper fetishists can get their rocks off here.

Click for details: 1987 BMW M535i on eBay

1980 BMW M535i

It would be easy to credit the BMW M5 as the first super sedan, and in many ways, it is. With a motorsport-derived twin cam 24V inline-6 under the hood good for over 280 horsepower in Europe, the E28 M535i and M5 were nothing to trifle with. However, well before the Motorsports division of BMW had their way with the E28, they built the prototype for what would become the definitive sports sedan in the E12 M535i. Granted, the E12 didn’t have the super M1 motor under the hood. However, like the later M5 would, the E12 had upgraded brakes, a re-tuned suspension featuring unique springs and Bilstein shocks, a deep front air dam and rear spoiler and BBS mesh wheels. Because this was basically still the 1970s, they also received some spectacular Motorsports stripes outside to help differentiate them as something special. Inside you got special Recaro seats with a unique corduroy fabric and an M1 steering wheel – not a bad touch. All of that was coupled with the uncatalyst M30B34 seen in several other BMWs, good for 218 horsepower. It was in just about every way the stepping stone to creating the M5. They were even produced in similar numbers to the M5, with only around 1,400 made – 450 of them being right drive like this 1980 example for sale today:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1980 BMW M535i on eBay

1987 BMW M535i

Enthusiasts as of late have complained that the “M” brand has been diluted; it’s now possible to get “M” styling bits on just about every variation of BMW, making them both much more common and a little less special to see than the “true” M cars from the 1980s. Well, the reality is that BMW has been doing this all along; one of the best early examples of this is the E28 M535i. Effectively a continuation of the thought behind the E12 M535i, the E28 version was effectively mechanically identical to the normal production 535i. It carried the same either catalyst or un-smogged M30 producing between 180 and 218 horsepower, depending on the version. The brakes, suspension and transmissions were all seen on other models, too. But outside, the M535i got the M-Technic body kit and special TRX wheels that helped to set it apart from the normal E28s. At the end of the day, though, the M535i was mostly an appearance package; a M5-light, if you desired. But, they’ve got “M” associated with them, they’re a 1980s BMW, and they were fairly limited production; in the case of today’s example, it’s one of roughly 1,000 “DC89” Japanese market models that were automatic only. It’s no surprise, then to see strong bidding on a car that isn’t even in the U.S. yet:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1987 BMW M535i on eBay

1986 BMW 535i

I know not everyone agrees, but I think that the U.S. mandated 5 m.p.h. bumpers that were fitted to many of the 1970s and ’80s import cars were just horrible. Some manufacturers had sorted it out by the mid 1980s; Mercedes-Benz and Audi, for example, had managed to integrate the new bumper designs well into their updated large and small sedans so that by 1985 there were only minor differences between the ROW models and U.S. models – and importantly, the bumper covers didn’t look like an afterthought. But BMW seemed to stand in defiance, refusing to update any of its models until nearly the end of the decade. The result of that was that by 1987 BMW’s lineup looked quite dated in comparison to the competition. While switching those BMW models to the ROW bumpers doesn’t necessarily update the look, it certainly refreshes all the models and brings them closer to their original design – something I’m personally a big fan of. While all of the 1980s BMWs benefit from this, one of the most popular to swap European trim onto seems to be the E28 5 series. A classic since new, the great package that was the E28 is lightened and tucked in Euro guise, making an already good looking design sportier and more compact in just the right ways:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1985 BMW 535i on eBay

1981 BMW M535i

It’s been a while since we took a look at the M5’s grandfather; the E12 M535i. Produced for a short time, the M535i was really the M-division’s first attempt at a production road car. It was more than just a prettying up as many of the “M-sport” packages are these days, too – featuring a limited slip differential, a close-ratio 5-speed manual, a host of not-so-discrete aerodynamic upgrades, some great BBS Mahle wheels to dress it up and heavily bolstered Recaros to keep you in place, the M535 looked like a natural racer. Back in the days when 200 horsepower was considered much more than adequate, these were one of the fastest sedans in the world, and one of the best handling, too. Rare to see for sale in North America, this particular model is available in Canada on Ebay today:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1981 BMW M535i