Factory Lightweight Barn Find: 1976 BMW M535i

This is one of the better barn finds I can recall seeing, especially as a long-time BMW fan (well, the old company – not what the modern day brand represents.) The fabulous Late Brake Show on YouTube (please check it out if you haven’t, as the host is one of the only genuine enthusiasts on YouTube not chasing manufactured fame) got a call that the owner of this very special BMW, a one-of-seven factory lightweight, has decided to unearth the car he parked in a garage in the early 90s. Find the full discovery and first-time firing up here on The Late Brake Show’s YouTube channel.

While many of us know about the vehicles manufactured by BMW’s Motorsports group, this has to be one of the more obscure vehicles ever produced by the in-house performance vehicles team. The E12-chassis 5-Series is not necessarily known for high-performance builds like the later E24 and E30 cars were, but the company did begin to dip its toe into building so-called “super saloons” with the E12. The car most BMW fanatics know from this era is the M535i, which was largely a cosmetic kit assembled as a pre-cursor to the E298 M5. This factory lightweight was a totally different beast, using light-weight body panels, a thoroughly revised drivetrain with a dogleg-style manual gearbox, limited slip differential, and upgraded suspension – and it was only offered to the South African market.

The longtime second owner has some fantastic memories of this homologation special he purchased in South Africa. He chats with the host about a weekend blasting down to Cape Town – literally, 1,000 miles in each direction – because he loved driving the car so much. Photos and records are extensive and reveal that this owner truly loved this incredibly rare BMW saloon, even down to official correspondence with the BMW factory confirming the status of his limited-production performance sedan. It seems he didn’t even know at the time that he had purchased factory lightweight but confirmed it with factory documentation and by noting the “tinny” feel of the body panels, which confirms the body was assembled with lighter-gauge steel.

As with most of the barn finds that The Late Brake Show uncovers, they did get this special M535i running under its own power. While it was only running on five of the six cylinders at fist, it soon warmed up and all six were chattering away. The owner has no intention of selling this special car, noting his deep connection with the vehicle and the numerous memories he’s had with it will ensure it stays in his care for a long time to come. Any BMW fan of the 1980s models will note this 5-Series is loaded up with numerous desirable components from the Motorsports catalog, ranging from air dams and rear spoilers to Recaro seats and an elusive early three-spoke Motorsports wheel. This is a incredible fine and a joyful outcome for a car that’s been hidden for close to two decades.


  1. alphasud Member

    That was a great episode. Jonny really knocks it out of the park. A special find I’m sure many BMW enthusiasts were drooling over that one. When I look at newer BMW’s I just shake my head.

    Like 9
  2. kenB

    Couldn’t agree more on your comment: “……….a long-time BMW fan (well, the old company – not what the modern day brand represents.)

    Very insightful. But let’s look at context. Back in the day (early 70s), there were a lot of cars that were fast, but few that could safely be driven fast. The old 2002s stuck out in that regard. And they offered stealth (little innocuous boxy import) and exclusivity…nobody knew what they were. They were driver’s cars and few of us had them.

    But nowadays, hardly anyone makes a genuinely bad car. Wait!: stop and consider that before you hop on my case! I really believe we are living in a golden age: most cars offer a well balanced driving experience with good handling, adequate to crazy acceleration, good brakes, good tires, comfortable seats, grippy steering wheels, power windows that work, etc etc. The bar has been raised, big time, and I appreciate what BMW and others did to show the consumer what they were missing and should expect in a car.

    So many good cars to choose from: BMW is just one of many these days. Still love ’em.

    Like 2
    • alphasud Member

      Your statement is true on all accounts. There are people who want a good appliance and for that just about any car will do and the vast majority of them deliver a good driving experience as well. I know my statement will date me but I still desire a pure analog experience taking the good with the bad. I also choose to be different and driving a modern car delivers anything but a unique experience unless you venture into the exotic territory. So I enjoy driving classics that got it right. A classic where you can really appreciate the design and the designers. Classic German cars, French, Swedish cars deliver a flawed but unique experience. Definitely not the most reliable but I’m willing to work with that.

      Like 1
  3. Mitch

    When it uses the sport gearbox the 1st gear must be left down.
    The oldschool BMW where built to last and only one manufac-
    turer squeezed more and robust power out from their engines:
    They made a version of the e24 with 450hp. 450! Road legal.
    And we remember their most respected and known B7s Turbo
    (e23) with 300hp (ALPINA is the only company being granted
    to use BMW cars and put on their own name and labels. They
    are registered as car manufacturer! not as tuner)

    There was another tuner who made just the same powerful
    BMW cars, HARTGE (1971-2019), but their stroke extension
    with two head gaskets often had problems.

    Like 2
    • Mitch

      Mistake, a few e12 with 450hp. B7/1 330hp. Born to be fast.

  4. Adam Wilson

    I watched this episode a while back and was intrigued because I am fairly knowledgeable about the E12 M535i and own a real one myself. I had never heard of these cars and if you watch the video there is no substantiation for the 1 of 7 claim. The E12/E28 hybrid cars are well known including the M535i version. Again I am unsure of what qualifies it as a lightweight. It isn’t an E12 530MLE which had obvious holes drilled and were well documented.

    To the author, I believe you live near me here in Minnesota. Perhaps I can show you my E12 M535i and correct your statement that this car was mostly a cosmetic kit. You are very mistaken there.

  5. Richard Haner

    had an Alpina E12 in the mid 90’s…..that I was able to buy for $3000 because the owner could not smog it here in Ca….Still one of the best sedans I have owned to this day….

    Like 2
  6. Mitch

    The only part ALPINA left over from the stock engine was the
    form of the engine block. That was technology for the race
    track a.e. they fitted on the rear diff an oil cooler with own
    oil pump to care the diff from breakdown caused from over-
    heating. A turn-key engine was about 25’000 DM what is today
    50’000€ ……
    Today ALPINA cars have about 50-70hp more then stock BMW.
    Could be the result from the harsh (and from tech view use-
    less) euro IV and forward pollution reglements.

    They work like this Japanese engine surgeons as one of
    them increases the engine horsepower by 100hp and he
    gives warrranty for 100’000KM. Honda 2.4L L-4 from 240
    to 340hp – no bare original part left in the engine. Well,
    this advantage costs 35’000$ for a turn-key engine.
    This are real muscle cars. Road and track for the discerned

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