Thinking out loud on the E28 5-Series

The M5, specifically. Rather swiftly and unexpectedly, our interest in them has heated up— in fact, we’ll be taking a look at one tomorrow. In the metal. If it’s a diamond in the rough, then with a very heavy heart, the beloved (and all too new-to-us) E30 may end up on the selling block. But if it’s a dog, then don’t expect another E28 post for awhile— long live the E30 🙂

Even if we end up walking away though (which we give 50/50 odds), it was fun to dip our toe in the market, however briefly. You may find that it – the market – is surprisingly soft for high-mile drivers (although clean, low-mile examples are rare, and priced accordingly— as tends to be the case).

Now, since we’re not ones to leave well enough alone, let’s take a look at some ideas across the E28 spectrum for wheel, suspension, and body modifications if this thing does come to fruition.

*Great* stance, but we don’t love the M-Contours on these cars— they don’t look quite right on anything other than an E36 M3, in our opinion.

BBS RC— the polished finish is a bit shiny, but overall, not bad. We like them better on the E30 M3, though.

Mud flaps? We could.

Tidy Euro bumpers FTW.

Shame we never got the M5 in this color here in the States. Lovely.


We do love the M-System II Throwing Stars from the E34 M5. Too bad they’re 17″, which we think is one inch larger than ideal. Staggered fitment also discourages rotating tires front-to-rear.

Open-lug Alpinas are also a favorite— but again, staggered.

(Images have been sourced mainly from a Google search, but also from places like and (in case the obvious watermarks didn’t give it away).)

~ by velofinds on June 28, 2011.

47 Responses to “Thinking out loud on the E28 5-Series”

  1. After the E24 6-series, no other model captures that timeless BMW look more than the E28 – at least to my eyes. As much as the E30 is sweet in it’s clean simplicity, many of us need the size and functionality of a 5-series.

    Obviously, the later 5’s can readily out-perform the E28. However, I’m confident the E28 design will age better than any of it’s successors. The E34 (much like it’s larger E32 7-series brother) looked too bloated, and as much as I loved the E39 dynamically, it’s looking dated already. I won’t even comment the E60.

    An E28 M5 – particularly in Euro front and rear trim – would be a beautiful addition to the garage.

  2. The e28 M5 is at the center of a dilemma I have, given my love for fast cars that are actually reasonably priced, as well as fast cars of a bygone era.

    Simply put, it’s not that fast.

    More importantly, it’s not that fast for the increased cost of purchase or ownership versus a juiced 535i (m30s are like German Chevy small blocks, but S88s). Obviously, the M-ness adds value from a collector/prestige standpoint, but if that’s not particularly important to you (it isn’t to me) versus overall driving fun for the dollar…it’s hard not to look elsewhere.

    • i run hot and cold on this. on the one hand, i’m with you— having a slow car sucks, especially if that’s not what you’re accustomed to. on the other hand, i have come to appreciate not having an accidentally fast car— that is to say, looking down and being surprised to find myself nonchalantly cruising at 80 again when i coulda swore i was doing 60. this can be a problem when the majority of the roads around where you live have 25 and 55 mph speed limits for local and highway, respectively.

      in a way, effortless speed has become bourgeois, given that many of today’s wheeled appliances (your camrys, accords, and so on) can now easily outrun the blue chip hot rods of the past like the one shown here. i think there is a certain charm and appeal to wringing out a less faster car and subsequently pushing its limits more than you safely or responsibly could with a more powerful car.

      • Just remember: it’s usually way more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow. We spend almost all our driving time in traffic or weather limited conditions (particularly here in New England). So sure, it’s wicked fun to really open it up on those very rare occasions. But I’d rather buy a car for the other 99% of the time.

      • Man, you guys are just nailing it right now, reading my mind. The E28 is the center of my issues at the moment as well, and your taste in them is impeccable.

        I do think you kind of support Mad Science’s point about the 535is. The affordability factor there with so much of the same parts is so high, and while it’d be a bit slower than the M5 to drive, probably just as fun. Then take advantage of the M30’s robustness and go to town. Looks like an M5, drives like an M5, half the price of an M5.

        While nailing it 99.9% of the time, the one only thing I find myself disagreeing with you guys about is the Alpina wheels: maybe my favorite wheel ever, but I love it with the center caps, which I know you guys detest. They remind me of a sharper 540i Style 32s on that top pic.

        Anyways, look forward to seeing the next stable choice. That E30 was sweet, but nothing makes my jaw drop like an E28 M5 on the street.

        • i have to admit, i have a serious weakness for the m5’s s38. that plus the four doors for me is the m5’s raison d’être.

          otherwise, if i really needed the four doors, i’d probably look into an e30 sedan, since i actually prefer the e30’s looks and driving dynamics to the e28’s.

        • by the way, i am told the example i am considering has a conforti chip and dinan cam gears, making > 300 hp. i am not too concerned about it being underpowered 🙂

      • I, too subscribe to the values of driving enjoyment over speed. A V6 AWD Rav4 puts the hurt on a number of our favorite performers of yesteryear, but I have no love for it.

        That said, so does my wife’s daily driver 2006 WRX Wagon…and that’s really the tough part. It’s a blast to drive slow or fast, and while not the pinnacle of styling or RWD sporting pleasure, it’ll still leave almost any classic in the dust of stale cheerios falling out of my kid’s car seat.

        Then again, it’s not like I’m timing my canyon runs or doing a lot of track days in it, so who really cares? Might be nice to drive a sports car that doesn’t have a symbolic vag for a grill 🙂

        …but that’s why I’m pouring money into my ’64 Falcon.

      • Also worth noting that my opinions on 80s BMWs are based largely on a certain inexpensive ‘633csi that races in a certain series with a giant wing and nosecone.

        I know from experience that you can locate, purchase and swap-in a $400 M30 in less than 18 hours with a crew of 4 guys and no sleep

        (Of course, said $400 M30 might just grenade spectacularly after about 12 hours of racing (when it needed to last 14…))

  3. Mm mmm mmmmmm.

    I dig it! I was looking for one of these before I got my e34, I still wish I had held out for one. But as previously noted, they aren’t that fast anymore. If you can live with that, jump! And install euro bumpers.

  4. E34>E28 🙂 Stirring the nest…

  5. As a longtime E28 fanatic (I currently own two, just put an offer on a third, and have had 3 others previously), I hearrtily recommend getting yourself a 535i/535is vs the more expensive M5. While initial purchase prices on the M5s have dropped to reasonable levels, the cost of ownership will drown out some of the magic. A well tuned 535is will give you about 300hp, superior reliability, the same looks, and a hell of a driving experience.

    But whatever you wind up doing, welcome to the addiction!

    • actually, james, thank you for the comments, as i find them interesting. apart from the m5’s s38 motor and SLS (self-leveling suspension), can you let me know what else is a potential money pit in the m5 vis-à-vis the 535is?

      • I think you’ll find that general across the board pricing for any thing “M” is “M”ore expensive. The big spender is going to be the S38 of course, and other things like Brakes and Suspension could always be exchanged for aftermarket upgrades negating pricing differences – but if you were stricly looking at reconditioning and maintaining a stock M5 vs a stock 535is, you’ll see the savings immediately.

        • i see. in that case, assuming the motor has been well-maintained, i’m not terribly concerned given that most of the factory running and stopping gear will be (or will have been) replaced with aftermarket components. if the motorized head rests stop working, well… i am perfectly happy to lose that functionality.

          • Actually the headrests are surprisingly robust, LOL.

            It’s the inclusion of a fuse reset switch on the lower dash that gives the car so much charm,!

  6. The modded 535is vs. M5 argument is a good one, but it’s not just about the engine.

    By the time you’ve upgraded the engine all the other stuff (suspension, etc.) to get your 535is up to par with a stock M5, I suspect you’ve mostly closed the pricing gap between them. I’d even argue that the cost difference in engine rebuild/maintenance is probably not that significant. The M5 still offers the M cachet, slightly nicer appearance (IMO) and added resale value.

    On the other hand, all US-market E28 M5 interiors were beige – not my favorite for an M car – but I can live with that.

    • i, too, can live with “natur” (tan), but i won’t pass up an opportunity to grumble about it. so undesirable!

    • Actually there are a few “Black Barts” out there to be had with Black interior…count on it adding at least 50% to the base price though, as there are very, VERY few.

      • m5? those were for the canadian market, the US market got stuck with “natur” (only).

        • Correct, but they turn up from time to time brought over Gray Market back in the day. I’ve seen 2 that have been federalized myself.

    • Larry, I agree it’s not just about the power, but a nice set of Bilstein HDs will likely outlast the M5’s suspension, comes at fraction of the cost of SLS, and is a phenomenal setup for any E28. And even with a modified and tuned M30, I think costs for running it will be greatly less than a stock S38. The M30 is a workhorse of a motor capable of high power output with minimal hassle and ease of maintaining it oneself – even for an amateur mechanic such as myself.

      I get the whole “M” Cachet thing – and wouldn’t be caught dead in any E34 or E39 Funfer without an M Badge…but the E28 is a beautiful machine from a different time – and I think the question to ask here is if it’s necessary to get spendy on an M5 of this vintage when it’s not REALLY going to be a serious performance contender anyhow. This should be about joy of ownership, joy of driving, and seeing a proper Bavarian Beauty in your driveway every morning.

      • I agree this that last point, James. It should be about the enjoyment of driving it more than anything else. Unfortunately, it’s also about economics. If I spend driver-quality 535 money, I’m not going into it with any expectation of a return – I know that whatever I choose to invest in it will be for my personal enjoyment only.

        The higher upfront and continued investment in an M5 will provide similar driving enjoyment, but I’ll expect to get some of that back later. That, and I get to drive a notable piece of M history for a while – which adds some subjective value as well.

        No doubt, part-for-part, the M replacement components will be more expensive. I’m just not convinced that the net (investment – return) is significantly worse than modding a E28 535.

  7. Larry, that’s a very valid point. I would never expect to get the money I’ve poured into my 535is in terms of performance enhancements back out if I ever sold it…but then again it was my first car – got it when I was 16, and put nearly 150K on it – it is my first love, so It’s never going to get sold anyway!

    So you’re right, a non-M E28 won’t hold value the same way, but that said, prices for even super high mileage (well kept) 535i/535is models HAS gone up over the past few years, so if you keep the tuning reasonable, you might be OK.

  8. I just bought a 1987 535is for my first car and I love it. Personally I would love to own a e28 M5 but that is for another day. I do think what my car would be like with 100 bhp, but mine is basically a M5 with out the expensive engine. I have staggered 16″ BBS RS and am going to get 17″ style 32s. I love the look of the 17″ rim on the car and they will fit. I hope your car turns out to be a diamond in the rough like mine.

  9. Holy replies batman!!!

    The biggest pita I have read associated with the S38 is valve adjustments. Requires a very expensive tool and needs to be done fairly often.

  10. postscript for anybody following this: we went to go see the car yesterday. i hesitate to call it a dog— it was at least as nice as i was expecting. at $5K, i was managing my expectations. but nor was it a diamond in the rough. in fact, it was just… rough. you could see the signs that it led a hard life. an accident history, of which the seller was less than forthright. non-original body panels, including at least the hood and two fenders. an interior badly in need of reupholstering. on the plus side, the motor felt strong, sounded great, and showed no sign of hesitation. for an up-close introduction to the s38 for the very first time, it lived up to its billing.

    but in the end, it was clear this would be a project, and with its questionable history, you could feel the weight of its baggage.

    it was fun while it lasted.

    • Yeah I don’t think I’d want to think of the nightmare named “$5K M5” – but I hope that this venture has excited you enough about one of the most pure Driving Machines to have ever been produced to at some point add one to your stable. Should you ever want to chat in person, Bradley has my number 🙂

      All the best and Happy Motoring!

    • Oh man…$5k?

      Good thing it’s not on the west coast, or I’d have a lot of explaining to do to the Missus.

      • Actually, it seems to have a west-coast twin:

        • I was looking at this one on CL yesterday (live in SF, work in RWC) and going to post it here. Doesn’t seem like too bad a deal for $6500…

      • they pop up from time to time at that pricepoint— decent ones, too. i’ve seen a track-prepared example go for $6k. only issue with that one was that i need a streeted car that has a rear seat, and that one was gutted and basically suitable for track duty only.

        • I’d be a little nervous about a $5K E28 M5 (or even a $5K E28 535is). At that price point, I’m thinking more project car than nice driver. Find another $5K somewhere, and save yourself at least that much in time and hassle.

  11. You could have bought my friend’s awesome E28 1985 Alpina B7 for $10k with 70k original miles. he sold it about a month ago.

    • sounds great but about double my budget. 10k can also buy me a pretty nice m5 😉 (although i agree that an alpina is probably more special)

  12. Yeah 1 of 3 or 4 in the US 🙂

  13. You showed admirable restraint. Only thing I would add in the M5 vs. 535i debate is that down the road any M series car is going to hold value — or increase in value — better than a standard version. If you can afford the buy in and maintenance, you’ll be rewarded down the road. 535i — not so much, I think

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