Fresh Rebuild: 1988 BMW M5

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Generally speaking, if you tell the owner of any BMW that wears the “M” badge that their classic requires an engine rebuild, the reaction will be to hyperventilate and then apply for a mortgage on the family home. That shouldn’t be an issue with this 1988 M5 because the owner treated it to a rebuild less than a year ago. It has a few cosmetic issues that will need to be addressed over time, but it seems to be ready for some seriously fast motoring. Located in Aliso Viejo, California, you will find the BMW listed for sale here on eBay. While bidding has reached $18,600, the reserve hasn’t been met.

With very few exceptions, vehicles that wear the BMW “M” badge tend to be something extraordinary. That is the case with the 1st Generation of the M5, where subtle styling gave little indication of the potential hidden beneath. If you sit the M5 next to a standard production 5-Series from the same year, all you will note is a slightly lower ride height, some subtle stripes, subdued spoilers, and BBS wheels. Otherwise, they don’t look that special. This car retains all of those features, and they generally appear to be in excellent condition. The original Black paint is starting to show its age, and while a cosmetic refresh would make a difference, it is not something that needs urgent attention. The body panels look straight, and the gaps are as tight as we might expect from a BMW. The vehicle has spent most of its life in sunny California, so there are no rust issues to tackle. As well as those elegant BBS wheels, the M5 also features a sunroof. The interior shows no evidence of water damage, which suggests that the seals are in good condition.

The secret behind what makes the M5 so special is hidden away under the skin. The M5 sits lower than a regular 5-Series thanks to different springs, while there are Bilstein shocks on all corners. However, this is merely the entree. We find the glorious 3.5-liter DOHC 6-cylinder engine under the hood, which pumps out a healthy 256hp. This power is fed to the rear end via a Getrag 5-speed manual transmission. Stopping power is supplied by huge 4-wheel disc brakes featuring 4-piston calipers on the front, along with ABS. This combination made for some rapid motoring, with the M5 capable of storming the ¼ mile in 14.6 seconds. Wind it right up, and the speedometer needle will be bouncing around 149mph. There is a world of good news with this M5. Engine rebuilds on these classics can reach stratospheric levels, but that isn’t an issue here. The engine received a full rebuild in 2020, and it is good to go. On top of that, the owner sank a further $13,000 into mechanical work during 2019, which means that there should be nothing for the driver to do but to slip behind the wheel and hit the open road.

If this M5 is let down anywhere, it is by the condition of the interior. The American M5 of 1988 was only available with Tan leather trim, which is what we see here. While the back seat looks quite good, the fronts, especially the driver’s seat, are looking tired. I wouldn’t rule out being able to revive them with a high-quality conditioner, but I also wouldn’t bet the house on it. The dash has a cover over it, so we can’t get a clear picture of its condition. A CD player has been slotted in place of the original radio/cassette player, while the gauges mounted in front of the shifter look pretty rough. It’s worth remembering that we’re talking about a 33-year-old car here, so there will always be some wear-and-tear. This is just more than I expected to see. From a comfort and convenience standpoint, the M5 comes equipped with climate-control air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power seats, and a leather-wrapped wheel.

There is no shortage of new cars today that will provide higher performance levels than this 1988 BMW M5, but few of those will have the cachet that an M-Car does. These older examples can be a money pit if there are any mechanical maladies, but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Whipping the paint into shape will not be any more expensive than for any other classic of this vintage, but the interior could potentially pose a problem or two. One of the factors that is worth considering is the relative rarity of the 1988 M5. Only 1,238 cars found their way onto American roads, and it isn’t clear how many survive today. When you look at the figures overall, that make the 1988 M5 one of the lowest-production models to come from that division. Are the recent mechanical work and the rarity enough to make you consider buying this classic?

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. alphasudMember

    I think a good detail shop could go over the car inside and out and really bring it back. I think the e28 was one of the last true 5 series BMW. I had a 88 535i and the build quality and reliability were excellent. Back then they used leather on the door panels, sides in addition to the seating surface and it was a thick leather. When you closed the doors there was a rewarding thunk. If the engine was rebuilt by a reputable shop this will give someone many years of fun driving. The only thing this car needs is the euro bumpers. I put them on my car. Night and day difference!

    Like 5
    • djjerme

      I dunno, have you spent any time in the seat of the E39 M5? It’s a smile machine on the road and on the track. Just giddy fun with the right foot.

      The E34 M5 was the same motor as the E28 and wasn’t bad, just a little heavier. We actually yanked the S38 out of one to plop in an E30, but it was fun in the larger E34 chassis. Problem is, the E34 is very 90’s build quality: plastic trim that is brittle and fading, headliners that sag if you look at them wrong.

      So while yes, the E28 M5 is amazing – the E39 M5 is the LAST drivers M5. After that, they became fly by wire, bloated road couches.

      Like 1
      • tompdx

        Spot on – E39 M5 = 400hp and a 6 speed. My 2000 was indeed a “smile machine”!

        But I did also love my father-in-law’s ’83 E28 533i 5 speed. Fun drifter if there ever was one!

        Like 0
      • alphasudMember

        Right point taken about your e34 great cars as well but like you can personally attest to the interiors we’re starting to be built cheaper. Plus I like the boxy appearance of the e28. Funny thing was when these were sold in the late 80’s they looked stodgy compared to other euro competitors. I also couldn’t get over how affordable the factory parts were to keep it serviced. Mine was Helios Blue with a cream interior. I miss that car!

        Like 0
  2. Fahrvergnugen FahrvergnugenMember

    My drool cup is standing by. Long-time item on a short bucket list, these are wonderful cars. Much like me, great analog cars in a digital world.

    Like 0
  3. Martin Horrocks

    I really wouldn´t see the interior as a concern! This is for driving long distances, really did define its era.

    Like 0
  4. Steve Haygood

    That’s an e34 S38.. not exactly the same engine, more power than the e28 S38. I believe the HP was up about 50HP… Should be a good buy depending on where it hits reserve. I am accumulating parts for my e28 S38 build and it includes euro headers, e34 cams and sprockets. The timing chain components and oil pump, I did those about 6000 miles back. That expense is done.

    Like 1

    Makes me wanna put more styling gel in my curly mullet…put some Steely Dan in the cassette…and go pick up my party princess in her day-glo miniskirt.
    We’ll cruise the beach.

    Like 1
  6. RacinRob4

    Never owned an M5 but had a 94 540i 6 spd and when I was behind the wheel I was king. Deleted the big factory mufflers and put on some really nice Magnaflow’s with some nice tips, tinted the windows and added a powered Pioneer Subwoofer to the factory system and loved every time I’d pull up to stop light and when that light turned green the sounds it made were just awesome. Always wanted an older M5 like this one or 733i like Chevy Chase’s in Nothin but Trouble. GLWTS

    Like 0

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