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My recent coverage of the 5-series BMWs seems timely. Just last week, I looked at a 1982 BMW 528e. Since it’s been so short a time, I won’t reiterate the major highlights of the model again – click HERE if you’d like to read those details. So why look at what many consider the least excited E28 so quickly again?
Well, in part it’s because of what occurred this past weekend. If you weren’t paying attention, a stellar 1988 BMW 535i came up on Bring a Trailer. It was probably the most impressive older 5-series I’ve seen in a long time. So it was expected to bring pretty big numbers when the auction closed, and like looking through the picture gallery, it didn’t fail to disappoint. The final bid was $50,000 – unfathomable to this point for most of the E28 lineup.
Admittedly, the example I have today isn’t as nice. But it shares many things in common. First, it’s not a top-flight model, though again the Eta motor isn’t what many would prefer. So what does it have going for it?
It’s funny how priorities change. A decade ago, I would not have given a second look to a 528e. Growing up with a E28 M5 in the garage created both an appreciation for the E28 and the dichotomous dismissal of lower range vehicles. Sure, the M5-look 535is was cool, and alongside the M5 we even had a very nice ’85 535i that was a pretty good driver. But below that? No, I seldom gave the 533i, 528e or even 524td a second look on the road. Today, though? Even if it’s not a performance car by most standards, a survivor 528e is certainly worth a second look:
The 528e is a bit of an odd duck. The product of the oil crisis of the late 70s and early 80s, this was essentially a gasoline engined car that attempted to mimic the frugality of a diesel, at a time when BMW was yet to bring a diesel engine to the US market (the e stands for “efficiency”). Powered by a 2.7 liter, de-tuned version of the inline-six cylinder M20 motor, what you got was a car that offered all the good looks of the E28 5-series, but with none of the performance to back it up. In other words, you bought this car to drive cheaply and slowly with a bit of German style and sophistication.
This beautiful Burgundy 528e is one of the nicer non-M E28s we’ve seen in a while. The red and brown tones come together to underscore what this model is all about. The eta-engined Bimmers of the late 80s were value judgments from the get-go – are you ok with going a little slower in exchange for torque and fuel mileage? If so, you’ll still get the handling and killer good looks of the E28 while being primed to crush long miles without heading to the gas station every few minutes like in my M5. There are some compromises to be made with this particular example as well, like accepting that the real mileage is unknown due to a replaced cluster and knowing there are a couple small spots of surface rust hiding in the Burgundy next to seams. The flip side is extremely conservative bidding on the no-reserve auction for this nice daily-driver quality E28.