Let’s say you want to start a car collection, and for ease of argument’s sake, let’s say you’re really into BMWs. Which is the model you want? You could be a 507 enthusiast, love the classic 3.0 CSL or 2002, envy every E30 or lust over the modern muscle the company produces. But odds are if you’re reading these pages you, like me, gravitate towards BMW’s Motorsport models.
Within the Pantheon of classic models, there then comes the difficult decisions. How do you choose between the E30 M3 and the 1M, for example? Well, Enthusiast Auto Group has a suggestion. Why not have them both? Or, even better, why not assemble all of the greatest hits from BMW’s M division over the past 40 years and put them together into one curated, turn-key package?
We’ve certainly seen our fair share of fake Alpinas come across these pages, but this one makes no claim to be authentic. Instead, it’s inspired by Alpina but takes its own route and character. I originally looked at this car back in 2014 and it’s been on and off the market since. Now showing “8,800” kilometers, the side Alpina decals gone and with a $10,000 increase in asking price since the last time we saw it, will the market appreciate this custom-built E28 this time around?
As ’80s-All-Things-M-Mania’ has continued, getting into a clean E28 M5 is increasingly difficult – and expensive. Decently clean original M5s now start around $30,000 and can head up from there, with really exceptional examples selling for $50,000 or more. Didn’t this used to be the “cheap” M? Those days have passed and don’t show signs of returning soon.
What’s an enthusiast to do? Well, you could build your own. It’s not cheap or easy, but hey – if you’re in it to win it, why not see if you can source all the parts yourself? Or (and this is a much better option…) you buy one that has already been converted to M-specs. To maximize your investment, look for one with a rare set of parts attached, and preferably in European guise. Luckily, today we don’t have to look too far:
Last week’s M5 was a bit of a roll of the dice. While it was claimed to be low mileage and all original, it had undergone some modification and wasn’t in the best condition. Little was disclosed about the running condition of the motor. Worse, there was an undisclosed gaff in the history – it appeared that the odometer had been replaced at some point, and it certainly looked like the car might have more than the mileage claimed when you looked around it.
Here, we have the opposite. While that M5 was all go and less show, the E28 M535i is the appearance package incarnate; all the M-Tech bits are really just for looks here. Still, it’s a very appealing model. This M535i appears to be well documented, fully serviced, and in great shape. I’m also glad to see that it’s a shade other than black. The Arktisblau Metallic paint shines well, mileage is lower, the original and unique TRX wheels are sporting newer Michelins, the M-Tech body kit is all in place, and the interior condition is very good. What’s not to like?
The M5 might not have been the original super sedan. It wasn’t even the first hot 5-series. But just like the GTI is synonymous with the hot-hatch segment, the M5 became the standard by which all other super-sedans were judged the moment it rolled onto the scene in 1985. Power seemed other-worldly; 280 plus horsepower from the race-derived M88/3 hunkered down with beefy suspension upgrades and huge (for the time) alloy wheels linked with a limited-slip differential. At a time when “fast” cars had 180 horsepower, BMW’s first M-offering in the sedan range might as well have been a space ship.
BMW promised limited production for the U.S. market, too – and, indeed, only 1,200 were produced for the U.S. with the slightly de-tuned S38. Unfortunately, that was 700 more than BMW had promised to make, and that led to a lawsuit. It also wasn’t very long before the M5’s power reign was eclipsed; first by its replacement E34 model, then by the whole range of new V8 models emerging on the market, from the 1992 Audi V8 quattro to the 500E. Values quickly fell as these old-looking (even when new) boxy rockets fell out of favor, and they remained there for quite some time.
But recently there’s grown a much greater appreciation for all things 80s M, and though the E30 has grabbed the headlines as the market star, outside of the M1 it is the E28 M5 that was brought here in fewest numbers. Even fewer have survived, and finding clean, lower mile examples can be tough. It can also be very, very expensive – Enthusiast Auto Group currently has four great ones on offer, but the lack of listed prices is an indication of some of the market volatility. Hagerty now values condition 1 cars at $98,000, and even poor examples are quite pricey. So is there room in the budget to improve upon one that’s listed at a bargain rate?
The main problem with yesterday’s 745i is that, while on its own it’s a neat car, you can grab many other more desirable BMWs from the same period for less money. The perfect case in point is today’s 535iS. Effectively, this was the U.S. version of the M535i – a M5 without the M88/3, for all intents and purposes. BMW sold about 10,000 M535i models making it a quite successful recipe. Equivalently, 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.
While M5 prices have gone somewhat crazy, the 535iS remains quite affordable to most enthusiasts. You get superlative handling, great looks, fantastic reliability and build quality at a fraction of the price of the Motorsport version. And when you add a few choice mods, boy do they look the part:
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 easy when considering BMW’s venerable E28 lineup to skip over most of the production and focus in on two models – the M5 and the M535i/535is. In fact, without intention to do so I think that’s what we’ve done over the past few years. They were the sports sedans that established the benchmark by which all others are judged, notoriously long-lived and arguably still very good value in the used classic BMW market.
Despite that, in the 1980s it was not the M30-equipped E28 that was the most popular. The 533 and 535 models combined for a total of about 34,000 sales in the U.S.. Add in the M5 and you’ve just crested 35,000. In comparison, it was the relatively uninspired 528e that was the sales force for the 5 over the model run. Between 1982 and 1988, BMW dealers sold more than double the amount of 3.2- and 3.4-equipped 5s with the 528e. Just shy of 80,000 of the lowest-spec model made it here, all equipped with what BMW hoped would be the most efficient inline-6 they could produced. The 2.7 liter M20 was de-tuned and strangled to produced just 121 horsepower and a diesel-inspired rev-range. This was achieved by making the stroke longer and installing smaller valves.
Coupled with catalytic converters, the result was a car which met CARB requirements but failed to really excite. 0-60 was a lackadaisical 11.2 seconds. The later ‘Super Eta’ engine added a few more horses but only came at the very end of the run. Yet BMW didn’t want this to be a drag racer; they wanted to make an efficient driver. As a result, the Eta-equipped models had good usable torque down low yet still returned over 20 m.p.g. on the highway. It cost about $30,000 for a modestly equipped model. What was interesting was that BMW sold most of them equipped with the ZF 3HP22 automatic, sapping some of the fuel economy the car was intended to produce and even more performance.
Despite being the most popular model when new, the Eta is generally considered to be the least desirable model for enthusiasts and many have died in junkyards. But once in a while a nice one pops up and is worth a look:
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:
Neither the E24 M6 nor the E28 M5 need an introduction on these pages. Legendary even when new, they both captured the imagination of generations of German car enthusiasts and established the benchmarks for sedan and GT performance in period. Both went through a relatively long downturn in value, as well. And today, as each has moved firmly into classic status and the market ///Madness continues, each has increased in value considerably over where they stood a few years ago.
But with so many shared components, which is the one to get? While a lot of that boils down to personal preference, more so than ever it’s also dependent on your budget. We’ve seen asking prices for nice examples of each chassis hovering between $50,000 and $80,000 depending on mileage and condition, and with a hot market there’s no letup of good ones to choose from.
But what I have today is not the best examples of each. Both are higher mileage and neither is pristine. However, the real draw here in both cases is a no reserve auction format, giving us the opportunity to really see what’s what in the M market today.