Clean Euro-Spec Sedan: 1980 BMW 520

This 1980 BMW 520 is a desirable gray-market example, meaning it was originally intended for European audiences before somehow making its way to the United States with its desirable features intended for overseas consumers still intact. This 5-Series is an example of the company’s E28 platform, which is one of the better generations ever made of the mid-range sedan. The 520 seen here also comes with an engine not typically seen in U.S. models, as it is a carbureted 2.0-liter inline six, the same engine that powers my gray-market barn find 1980 BMW 320, which has been profiled here on Barn Finds in the past. You can find this unique 5-Series here on eBay where bidding is just over $3,000 with no reserve.

There are many features about Euro-spec cars that make them desired by enthusiasts, including the lack of heavy crash bars in the doors. Usually, when a car like this comes to the states, it enters into a federalization process where the vehicle in question is crudely outfitted with the components necessary to bring it into compliance with federal guidelines. This is a fairly haphazard process, especially in the 1980s, as some cars would get slapped with the full assortment of safety and emissions tweaks, ranging from safety bumpers to catalytic converters. Some cars would escape with just safety-related changes, while others would somehow skip the process entirely. This 520 doesn’t have any of the tell-tale signs of fun-sapping federalization fixes.

I get that safety is important, but U.S. guidelines robbed cars like this 5-Series and the E21 3-Series of so much potential solely because of the grotesque bumpers they were required to wear. Weight was increased dramatically as a result of those changes and the heavy crash beams inserted into the doors. Additional emissions equipment was layered in, strangling performance. The listing notes that the owners of this unusual 5-Series have owned it since 2014, but no other details are provided as to how it got there or how long it has been stateside. The seller notes that like most European models, the interior features cloth seating surfaces rather than vinyl or leather, and that it’s beginning to come undone. The door panels with manual crank widows look to be in fine shape.

The 520 has been repainted at some point, with the description noting that while it is a factory color known as Ozeanblau, it is not the original color the BMW left the factory in. Still, it’s a beautiful shade of paint and looks quite nice from this side of the monitor. Wheels and tires are from a later model 7-Series, as the seller notes it previously wore TRX tires on metric wheels, which are quite pricey to replace. The listing is short on details regarding the 520’s mechanical status, which is likely why bidding is so low at the moment. The engine this car features is a bit tepid at first, but really wakes up if you convert it to sidedrafts, as I did with my barn find 320. No matter what route you go, owning a gray-market car puts you in a fairly exclusive owner’s group that appreciates these obscure models.


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  1. Mark

    Great looking car, I’ve always liked the gray market models especially in BMW. When I was working in Germany I always had a BMW but never got around to bringing one back with me.

    It’s too bad the car doesn’t have the TRX tires and wheels on it, they really are great handling and are kind of cultish. Obviously they are very expensive to replace but I would still like to have them.

    Like 1
  2. Martin

    This is actually the second generation e12, the e28 was the generation after this car. Cool car none the less!

    Like 2
  3. cg

    A 2.0 litre inline 6?

    • Pat Gill

      M20 engine, single OHC 12 valves, rubber timing belt, prone to cracking the head under the camshaft, silky smooth, revy, same family as the 323i and 325i, and yes an E12, same floor pan, roof, door skins and glass as an E28,

  4. kiteflier

    Back when these were new, two 19 year old guys came up with an add on board for a certain “home computer” and struck it rich then promptly got two of these from Germany. They rented space in an incubator that was part of an old factory still run by the founder and parked their BMWs in the executive garage. Of course the old man had a fit and called them into his office and told them they can’t park there. The boys protested, “but we have BMWs, we can’t park outside!”.
    The old man leaned back in his chair, took a long draw on his pipe and said,”I recommend you boys buy a Dodge”. They never did get to park in the garage.

    Like 1
  5. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    This listing was ended by the seller because the item is no longer available.

  6. Russell Casey

    Cars like this are really great for an enthusiast who can turn a wrench and has another car. :) They do require more care than an old Toyota. Some repair parts are a little harder to find and soft parts and some trim parts are NLA. I have an old 1995 e34 that is beginning to fall in the same situation

  7. Michael

    Platform is E12

    Like 1

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