The E12 535i is not an M5. But its fair to say that without this car the M5 would not exist. The E12 M535i is without doubt an incredibly important part of BMW M’s history – some would argue the history of the saloon car in general – and its astounding that only in recent years has this car come to be seen for what it really is. Many an M535i ended up backwards through hedges due to the power and ferocity available at the push of a foot, compared to most other cars on the road at that time, and low values for the remaining models meant that way too many of these fabulous cars just disappeared into dust, their owners unwilling to invest money in a car that nobody seemed to want.
So, finding one of the original 450 RHD E12 M535i is rare enough (ignoring those made from kits in South Africa). Finding one you’d want to own is altogether another challenge. Released in 1980 to capitalise on what was planned to be the success of the M1 – BMW’s first official M creation – the M535i was meant to embody the company’s burning ambition in a road car – with more than a whiff of Motorsport – by creating a true driving enthusiasts dream.
By kitting this top of the range E12 out with specialist equipment like a limited slip differential and dogleg sports gearbox, as well as a host of visual cues, BMW were giving more than a nod to the company’s track sucesses, having spent a decade building a formidable reputation with ‘those who knew’ by thrashing the likes of Mercedes and Ford on the world’s touring car circuits. They created a saloon car that looked, drove and felt like nothing else on the road.
Whilst the M1 would effectively prove a step too far, too soon, the unexpected success of the E12 M535i both with the critics and the public would show BMW the way forward like a beacon. The M brand had come of age.
BMW fitted the M535i with the little known M90 – a sort of love child of the M88 and M30 engines – really a variation of the M30 – which had propelled the E9 CSLs to victory for a decade – rather than the full blown M88 chosen for the E28 M5. This meant the M535i was reliable and sturdy, with plenty of instant power available from the newly expanded 3453 cc power plant, mated to its M tuned chassis and assisted by its slipper and dog leg sports box.
Visually the E12 carried on where the 2002 turbo had left off – before the world oil crisis cruelly curtailed its reign – with low spoilers, sports alloy wheels, sports Recarro seats and other funky embellishments, making sure nobody would be in any doubt what this car was all about. In 1981 – especially compared to the general multitude of dull Austin Maxis and Ford Cortinas on the road at the time – the E12 M535i looked more like the driver had taken a wrong turn after Druids only to find himself on the A22 near Croyden.
Today the E12 535i still feels as fresh and dramatic as it did in 1980. Lively and challenging, but equally rewarding and exciting, this first M saloon has all the key ingredients needed to make a truly inspiring modern classic. Some drivers even prefer the E12 M535i to the E28 M5, its yobbish bad manners and raw power giving the driver so much feedback, and the feeling of driving so close to the edge producing a grin as wide as those 6.5 x 14 inch BBS cross spoke alloys. Be in no doubt, this car is not for the feint hearted.
If you are hoping to bag a fantastic piece of BMW’s Motorsport heritage before rising prices put it out of reach – as they are beginning to – then look no further. This fabulous modern classic is raring to go, and those winding country roads beckon. Remember, whilst the E12 M535i may not be for the more gentle driving souls, there is really no better way to celebrate the birth of BMW M than behind the wheel of this brilliant sports saloon.
Our technical team have carried out a full and detailed inspection of this cracking car, and the few items on the hitlist will be taken care of by the time the new owner takes delivery. Viewing is highly recommended, and those who have been searching for one of these cars for any period of time will appreciate just how rare this particular car is. We were certainly suitably impressed.
For more information or to book a viewing (by appointment only please) call our showroom team on 01825 740456 or email us on email@example.com