We have not written up an E24 in the past few months.
‘For shame!’ you should be shouting at your screen, and you’d be right. Quintessentially an 80s car (though designed in the 1970s), the BMW 6-series offered performance, elegance, presence and practicality to the 2-door luxury market. While the Mercedes-Benz SEC might have enjoyed a better reputation and the Audi Quattro was technically more exciting, the E24’s resilient staying power has meant that some 28 years after production wrapped these lovely coupes are still eye catching.
This particular car caught my eye because of a unique combination of factors; the Cirrus Blue Metallic exterior mated with the later bumpers is a rare sight, but inside was a 5-speed manual. How rare is this combination? Well, prepare yourself for one of the most exhaustive (and entertaining) listings we’ve seen in a while:
CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1988 BMW 635CSi on eBay
Engine: 3.5 liter inline-6
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 121,657 mi (TMU)
Price: No Reserve Auction
1988 BMW 635CSi
Factory Small European-Style “World Bumpers”
Factory 208 HP M30B35 Motor
Factory 5-Speed (super rare, 1 of 246 in an ’88-’89 world-bumpered car)
Factory Limited Slip Differential
Sport Seats (unobtanium — they’re out of an M6)
Gorgeous BBS RC090 Wheels with Polished Lips
Very Good to Excellent Body
Neither Burns Nor Leaks Oil
Big Ireland Brakes
Bilstein HD Shocks and Struts
Rebuilt Front End
Stainless Steel Cat-Back Exhaust
$10k of Recent Work, $7175 in One Receipt
Runs Well, Needs Light Sorting Out and a Little Love
You Want It. Really.
Hi. My name is Rob Siegel. For 30 years I’ve written the column “The Hack Mechanic” for BMW CCA Roundel Magazine. This is a 1989 BMW 635CSi that I am helping my friend Tom sell. He is crazy busy with a new job and has too many cars. (I, on the other hand, am currently unemployed and have too many cars, so I shouldn’t buy it myself. A marriage made in heaven.) To be truthful, I DO have skin in the game. I’m receiving a flat fee to sell the car for him, not a percentage, so I am in no way incentivized to exaggerate the car’s condition to inflate its value. Tom said “advertise it just like you would one of yours,” and that’s what I’m doing.
I have put a Buy it Now on the auction that reflects the extreme rarity of the world bumper / 208 HP / 5-speed / sport seat configuration (read below). The reserve is so reasonable that I would buy the car myself at that price, and is only there to enable the possibility that someone punches the BiN before the first bid comes in, which causes the BiN to vanish (I don’t like it that eBay is configured this way, but that’s how it works).
The car is pretty and shiny, runs well, has one rust bubble near the right tail light, a lightly bubbled area on the underside of the left fender arch, a patch on the right rocker panel, and some small bubbles on the back panel, and needs some love (airbag and CEL lights are on, odometer isn’t working, missing clear plastic instrument cluster cover, gearshift is stiff, light thunk in the front end over bumps), but these are all minor issues considering the car’s extreme rarity.
In addition to the eBay-hosted photos, scroll down past the description for nearly a hundred photos in the body of the auction. They may take a while to load.
Also, if and when the weather in Boston clears, I hope to amend this auction by posting a video, so be sure to check back for additions to the auction. You’ll need to scroll all the way down past the photos to see any additions to the auction.
Why It’s Beyond Unicorn-Rare
This car has the beyond-unicorn-rare combination of the small “world bumpers,” the 208 horsepower M30B35 engine, a 5-speed factory gearbox, and sport seats. Let me explain why that combination is unobtanium.
635CSis (body code E24) are great cars. They have oodles of presence and look like nothing else on the road. Although E24s were built 1976 through 1989 and look very similar all through that 13 year production run, there are actually two different versions, both of which share the same E24 body code.
The early E24 cars (1976 through 1982) were based on the E12 5 Series (the 530i and 528i). In mid-1982, E24s changed to being based on the then-new E28 5 Series (the 533i and 535i). The early E12-based cars are simpler, but the E28-based cars have Motronic digital engine management, ABS, better climate control, and other goodies. The latest ones like this one have air bags.
But within the E28-based cars, there is an important distinction. Specifically, in 1988, two crucial changes occurred, one to the body and the other to the engine.
Like many European cars of the era, the US-spec 635CSis had “diving board bumpers” that complied with US DOT regulations but increased the overall length of the car by nearly ten inches as compared with their European counterparts which had smaller, tightly integrated bumpers. So enthusiasts cheered when, in 1988, BMW introduced so-called “world bumpers” that are much better integrated with the body and much closer in size to the Euro bumpers. Many people are aware of the introduction of “world bumpers” on the E30 3 Series cars in 1988 but unaware that an analogous change happened on the 635CSi. Only the last two years of the E24’s production run — 1988 and 1989 — have the small world bumpers. This car is an ’88, so it’s got ’em.
The other change was to the engine. From 1985 through 1987, the 635CSi had the same 182 HP M30B34 motor as the 535i, but in ’88 and ’89, the car got the 208 HP M30B35 motor featuring Motronic V1.3. That’s a 26 horsepower boost.
So, ’88 and ’89 are the only years that the 635CSi has both the desirable world bumpers AND the desirable 208 HP engine. This car’s got both of ’em.
Next, let’s talk about the 5-speed. Standard transmissions (first 4-speeds and then 5-speeds) were initially quite common in both the E12 and E28-based E24s. 1457 5-speeds were imported in 1985. But then the numbers began dropping, to 1037 in 1986 and 278 in 1987. Of the world bumpered cars, only 185 ’88s and 61 ’89s were 5-speeds, for a total of 246.
Let me say that again. Only 246 cars had world bumpers, the 208 HP engine, and a factory 5-speed. 246. That’s it. People retrofit 5-speeds into automatic-equipped cars, because that’s usually what you need to do to get a stick in a world-bumpered big engine’d shark.
This car has that factory combination — world bumpers, the 208 HP M30B35 engine, and the five-speed. That makes it is unicorn rare.
Plus, for extra credit, VIN Decoder says the car has a 25% locking limited slip differential. As soon as it stops snowing, I’ll verify that that differential is actually in the car.
Next, sport seats. To the best of my knowledge, there simply weren’t any factory-installed sport seats in world-bumpered 635CSis. None. Zero. Zip Nada. Here’s why. Sport seats were a popular option in the 635CSi up until BMW came out with the M6 in 1987, at which point BMW made sport seats standard in the M6 and deleted them as a factory option in the 635CSi. So if you want sport seats in a world-bumpered 635CSi and you can’t afford an M6, you need to retrofit them. You can install the manual sport seats from an E12-based car, or the power seats from a later car.
This one has a set of sport seats from an M6. They match the color of the back seats very well so they look like they belong. They’re power. The power controls all work except for the power headrest height adjustment on the driver’s seat.
Together, the world bumpers, the 208 HP engine, the factory 5-speed, and the M6 sport seats aren’t unicorn rare — they’re unicorn mated with a cyclops and gave birth to a baby unicorn with an eyeball on the tip of its horn rare. (Seriously. Go try find another one.) And this car has them.
The body is in very good condition, but the car is a driver, not a concours candidate. The paint is Cirrisblau metallic, an absolutely lovely color that looks blue or gray depending on the light. There are some small rust areas.
There is one area near the bottom of the inside surface of the left rear fender arch where there is some rust bubbling through the paint.
The same is true of the right rear fender arch, with a bubble forming just forward of the lip.
The back of the right rocker panel appears to have been patched.
There is a rust bubble at the corner of the right tail light.
There is some small small rust bubbling near the right tail light.
In addition, there is one visible ding/chip on the hood, and there is some peeling of the clear coat on the rear bumper. There are a few other tiny chips in the paint. All of these are photographed. But that appears to be pretty much it. I have not found any other rust on the car.
With winter weather having moved into Boston, I have not had the chance to put the car up on a lift and photograph the undercarriage, but, really, who goes to that level of detail selling an E24?
The interior is in good condition. Tom used this car as a daily driver, so, despite my giving it a quick wiping with Armor All cleaning cloths, the interior definitely does show a bit of dirt and wear. I have no doubt that a good professional cleaning would do it wonders.
The door cards have no holes, rips, or tears, but they do show some dirt.
The original color according to the BMW VIN Decoder is lotos-weiss (lotus white), but it looks closer to tan. When an original lotos-weiss shift boot was procured to replace the one that was missing, it was so much lighter than the rest of the interior that it clearly looks wrong (or perhaps it’s not an original BMW lotus white shift boot after all). In any case, I’ve ordered a black shift boot.
The M6 sport seats show a little wear, but have no rips, tears, or seam splits. The left bolster of the driver’s side seat is, of course, the most worn, but it is still quite presentable. The rear seats, like every set of rear 635 seats that have never been sat in, are nearly perfect. The plastic pieces on the rear deck behind the rear seats are warped from sun exposure, as they are on most cars.
The dashboard has several cracks.
The plastic cover on the right side of the driver’s seat (covering the hinge mechanism) is present but unsecured.
The original rugs are in very good condition. There are some recent black floor mats as well.
Overall Mechanical Condition
Tom says that the car neither leaks nor burns oil. I can attest that the car runs, accelerates, drives, and stops well. All lights work. The wipers work. The defroster fan works. The heat supplies thermonuclear levels of warmth. The sunroof opens and closes fine.
Recent Mechanical Work
There is a folder of receipts not only for the work Tom has had done, but also for the two owners before him.
All work described below was performed within the past two years. Some of it was done by Tom, some by Mario Langston’s excellent shop VSR1 Racing in Bow NH. There is a recent receipt from VSR1 Racing for $7175 of work (scan included in the photographs below). Tom estimates he’s spent $10k on the car the past two years. Some of the high points are:
The main bearings and rod bearings were replaced.
A full cooling system replacement was done.
The braking system was upgraded last year, using Ireland Engineering big brakes.
Bilstein HD shocks and struts were installed. H&R Sport springs were installed, replacing the rear self-leveling suspension.
The clutch and flywheel were replaced. A UUC short shift kit was installed.
The front and rear subframe bushings were replaced.
A Billy Boat stainless steel cat-back exhaust was installed.
All belts and fluids were changed.
The transmission seals were replaced.
The power antenna was replaced.
The RC090s have beautiful polished lips. They could use a cleaning around the valve stems. The Continental Extreme 245/45/17 tires were put on last year.
Things That Aren’t Great
The CarFax (scan included at the end of the photographs below) reports that there was accident damage to the right rear of the vehicle on 1/19/2004. I am not a body man, but nothing looks amiss to my eyes.
The CarFax reports a minor mileage discrepancy, with 121,570 miles on 4/24/12 when the car was last inspected while owned by the previous owner, and then 121,036 on 8/19/14 (that’s fewer miles) when Tom registered it. It is possible that the mileage was simply mis-recorded, because CarFax then reports the mileage as 121,657 (what it reads now) on 8/26/14 when Tom first had it inspected. Note that although the CarFax calls out a mileage discrepancy, the current Massachusetts title reads “actual mileage” and does not flag any mileage discrepancy.
In addition to the CarFax mileage discrepancy, the odometer is not currently working. Tom’s recollection is that it never worked during the time he owned it. If you look at the progression of mileage on the CarFax, it is possible that the odometer worked up until near when Tom bought the car, then began dying. Tom gives an absolute most conservative worst case estimate that he’s put 30k miles on the car since he bought it two years ago, but offers that it’s probably more like 20k.
I found a set of replacement odometer gears in the glove box (I assume they’re from the company “Odometer Gears,” but I don’t know that for certain). I was going to install them, but when I was about to remove the instrument cluster, I noticed that the cluster is missing its front clear plastic cover. Thinking I should address the gears and the cover at the same time, I stopped, and never returned to the job. I have since located a used instrument cluster housing with a good clear plastic cover for $75 but have not purchased it. I will supply the seller’s contact information to the winning bidder.
The airbag light is currently lit on the service panel to the left of the steering column. Tom brought it into a shop, which diagnosed the problem as a bad airbag control module. A replacement module was procured but not installed. It will be supplied with the car.
The check engine light came on while I was driving the car. This is a pre-OBDII car, so to find out the code causing the check engine light to be lit, you need a Peake code reader. I have one somewhere, but I can’t find it.
The gearshift is very stiff, requiring a substantial amount of effort to move between gears. The colder it is, the stiffer it is (meow!). Tom says the car has a new short shift kit from UUC with fresh linkage bushings. Whether it’s naturally this stiff (meow a second time!), or something is misaligned, or something simply needs to be lubricated (I’ll stop), I don’t know.
In spite of the front end having been rebuilt, there is an audible thunk coming from the front of the car over bumps. I have not tried to ascertain its origin. Tom says the only things in the front end that weren’t changed were the upper strut tower bushings, and there’s a new set of those in the trunk.
The above issues (the odometer not working, the missing clear plastic cluster cover, the airbag light, the check engine light, the stiff gearshift, the thunk in the front end) are all things I would do either if I bought the car myself or if it were mine to sell. If my garage weren’t full of my own cars, I might have fixed them myself as a favor anyway, but with the winter weather, I can’t. On the one hand, they will almost certainly affect the sale price of the car. But on the other hand, they also present the opportunity to buy this unicorn cyclops for less than it is worth.
Once the car is warmed up, it has a slight hesitation when you come off the clutch and onto the gas, but I haven’t stalled it.
At the trivial level, the passenger side door closes fine, but offers some amount of resistance against the door weatherstripping. New weatherstripping was procured but not installed. It will be supplied with the car.
Tom and I recharged the air conditioning over the summer, and it worked passably. I can’t tell whether or not it’s working now.
There is a vertical crack in the left tail light.
The car is at my house in Newton Massachusetts. I am available to show it to interested buyers. I have Tom’s Massachusetts title to the car.
While there are no guarantees in life, it’s likely that a buyer can fly in and drive the car home. Tom reports that it is basically very reliable. He used it to commute weekly from Boston down to New York City. If you want to ship it, I can be here to meet the truck.
A $300 deposit via eBay is required within 24 hours of close of auction. The balance is required via bank check (which Tom will wait to clear), wire transfer, or cash at pick-up.
Above all else, please understand that a winning bid is not the starting point for a negotiation when you pick up the car. Try this and I guarantee you you’ll go home empty handed.
If there are questions that I haven’t answered, you can contact me through eBay. If you need to call, I can be reached at 617-365-8303.
Still there? Impressive, right? Why didn’t the lister of the RS4 yesterday take the same route, I’m left to wonder.
So now you know why it’s special, what’s nice about it and what needs to be done. What’s left to say? We can sit back and watch the no reserve auction, which with a few days to go sits at $5,100. While really pristine examples of the late 6s have gone for multiples of that number, I’m interested to see where this one ends. Certainly, there are some condition reasons that would hold it back from top-dollar – but a nice, late, end-of-the-era and best of the non-M6 models should bring a pretty penny even with needs.