Vintage Views: BMW E28 M5
Written by David S. Wallens
From the June 2015 issue
Posted in Buyer's Guides
Today’s market is littered with highoutput sedans from nearly everyone, from Hyundai and Buick to the usual suspects from Germany and America. Go back to the late ’80s, though, and there was one standout: the original BMW M5.
While commonplace now, back then a performance-tuned BMW sedan was big news. Remember, at the time BMW was pulling out of a rut dominated by the lowrevving, fuel-saving Eta engines.
BMW Motorsport, the brand’s performance arm, was tasked with adding some of their M-magic to the company’s E28-series chassis. The platform had debuted for the 1981 model year, with American-spec cars showing up the following year. The gardenvariety 5 Series featured the right building blocks for a driver’s car, since standard equipment included four-wheel-independent suspension, bucket front seats and, for at least the American market, anti-lock brakes.
The M5 added the twin-cam, 24-valve inline-six originally fitted to the M1 supercar, giving the family hauler 256 horsepower– a very stout number for the day. Other standard items fitted to the M5 included a five-speed gearbox, limited-slip transmission, and 16x7 1/2-inch BBS wheels. Buyers also received a front air dam, trunk spoiler, blacked-out trim and leather interior.
Starting late in 1984, BMW Motorsport turned bare 5 Series bodies into M5s at their own offsite facility. American-spec cars, however, didn’t come until the 1988 model year. As the line goes, U.S. buyers could choose any color they pleased–so long as it was black. Most cars came with Natur leather–also known as tan–although a few dozen cars were sent to the U.S. sporting black interiors.
That original M5 gave American buyers a capable, practical, stealthy cruiser. The trunk could swallow an entire family’s luggage for a week, while thin roof pillars offered great visibly in all directions. The back seat could easily handle the average-sized American.
The original M5 didn’t stay around for long, though. By the time Americans could purchase one, production of the E28-chassis 5 Series was quickly coming to an end. Its replacement was scheduled for a 1989 model year introduction. According to the BMW M Registry, only 1340 examples came to North America–101 for Canada and the remaining 1239 for the U.S.
Despite the rarity, for years values have been flat. nice cars have been trading for the very low teens–that’s econobox money for a true icon, especially among worshippers at the Church of the Roundel. Those days may be ending, though: According to Hagerty’s guide, prices are on the rise, with good cars approaching the $20,000 mark.
A small footnote to the original M5 story: That same proven mechanical package could also be found in the two-door M6. Production was equally limited–the BMW M Registry counts only 1632 American-bound cars–and they fetch a bit more than the M5.
However, in a day where a brand-new BMW M5 starts a few bucks shy of $100,000, here’s an inexpensive way to be the star at any BMW function–and enjoy a true, pure sporting machine at the same time.
Shopping and Ownership
Redline Performance’s Rennie Bryant has not only been working on these early M5 sedans for a few decades, but he owns one, too.
The M5 is cool because it’s a limited, one-year hotrod. It’s an exotic you can live with because parts are pretty readily available. They’re out there–I have customers that have them.
As with any E28, watch for rust. They can rust around the trunk lid–where the seal goes–and the antenna hole. These leaks can cause the rear fenders to get rusty, too.
With regular maintenance, the engines are bulletproof. I have heard tales of timing chain issues, but haven’t seen any. The transmissions last forever, and the rear ends are really stout. It’s all the heavy-duty stuff.
Some people put on E34 M5 front and rear brakes, which is a bolt-on upgrade.
If you’re a big guy, the seat bolsters can blow out.
The a/c isn’t the greatest thing on earth, either.
Replacement shocks for the rear self-leveling suspension are about $600 per corner, but most cars have been converted to standard parts.
Parts and Service
BMW Car Club of America
BMW M Registry
Yeah, either BMW made an M7 I've never heard of, or that's a typo...
That's my bad. changing it now.
I thought the limited slip transmissions were the automatics . Still regret parting with my e28. Such a nice driving car.
Definitely a car worth owning. Five years as of this month.
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