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Jeff’s New Project: 1987 BMW 535is

1987 BMW 535is

I’ve made plenty of references to the newest project in my garage but hadn’t yet put together an update for the Barn Finds faithful: it’s time to introduce my 1987 BMW 535is. I bought this car sight-unseen from California and had it shipped to Rhode Island. So far, I’ve discovered some things were worse than expected, others were better and that I absolutely love driving this thing (after some much-needed mechanical refurbishment). The 535 joins my almost-finished 3-Series, a 1987 325is. Yes, I wanted a matching pair – they’re even both white!

1987 BMW 535is Dash

How I came into owning this particular car: I knew that as the 325is needed less and less attention, I’d be hunting for a new project. I posted a want ad, mainly just for fun, on a popular 5-Series message board, I thought I’d buy myself some time and be fairly specific in my requirements: a 1987 535is, with the complete sport package components intact (sport seats, rear spoiler, front air dam), no rust and in Alpine White. To my surprise, I had a message three days later from a forum member in San Francisco who said he had my car. When I saw the pictures, it was tired but not rough. It needed some love, and apparently entirely new suspension. Other issues included stuck windows on the passenger side and some “clunks” in the steering.

1987 BMW 535is Interior

Unfortunately for my bank account, I wanted the car. It looked just right. It had the rare Pacific Blue leather interior I’d always wanted in my 325is. I pulled the trigger, marking the third time in as many years that I’ve bought a car before ever sitting in the driver’s seat. When it arrived via transporter, it looked as promised. When driving it home, however, things were a bit worse than expected: zero suspension travel; bumps, clunks, bangs at every turn; and a bad vibration from the rear. I knew the shocks were done, so those were quickly replaced with Bilstein Sport dampers and a set of H&R springs. The steering, however, was more complicated: the motor mounts were destroyed and the excess vibration caused one of the brackets attaching the steering box to the subframe to shatter. Once this was remedied, the steering returned to the heavy, responsive feel I’d come to expect from BMWs of this vintage.

Jeff's '87 BMW 535is

Fast forward a few weeks, and the car rides and drives as it should. The motor, BMW’s proven M30, needed minor fiddling (coolant flush, oil change, plugs and wires). The windows were easily fixed with some junkyard switches. I’ve been sourcing parts left and right, buying some of the rare BMW accessories to personalize it a bit. One of my uglier jobs ahead is replacing the carpet – a leaking clutch master (replaced by the previous owner) soaked the carpet pad with brake fluid. Unfortunately, the only fix is total replacement due to the mess it creates on the floor. Otherwise, I’m excited with the car and hope to have the bodywork tackled soon (replacing a dented fender and respraying the front air dam) before moving onto the next phase: addressing the drivetrain vibration with a replacement driveshaft.

If you have a project you’ve been working on parked in your garage, we would love to see it! Snap a couple photos and send them over to us via email at!


  1. Rich

    Nice find! You might be able to get a replacement carpet from Esty’s (she sells kits for e10’s on the bmw2002faq) or check with Steve at Blunttech. He would know where to source a reasonable kit.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Hey Rich, thanks for the tips. I took a chance on some used carpet from a salvage yard in Tennessee. I know it will need extensive steam cleaning but the price was fair and it looked largely un-messed with. I’m hoping it arrives soon and that it’s an improvement over what’s in there! I replaced the carpet in my E30 and it was one of the most rewarding aspects of the project. I hate funky carpet.

      • Rich

        Happy to help Jeff! There’s 2 BMW specific salvage yards here in GA that I know of, so if you need help searching for parts feel free to email me.

      • Jeff Lavery Staff

        Rich, I’d love to connect with you on this – I am a salvage yard “fiend” and have found lots of quality parts in them. Can you email us via Thanks!

  2. Brian C

    I owned a late 80s 535is AND an 88 M5 at the same time. I was really excited when I got the M5,…..but in the end, I found the 535is to be a more entertaining daily driver. The M5 really shined above 120 mph,….but felt low on torque in daily around town driving. (In spite of that,….I wish I had it today. You never see one anymore). Both great looking cars.

  3. rdc

    Love e28s. Had and 83, treated it poorly and it ran forever. Have a very nice e34 now and treat it like my first born. Need to add the e28 to my list of cars to buy when I get very rich.

  4. Martin

    I think there’s a company in AZ that will sell you a remanufactured driveshaft. It comes in a returnable container with return shipping instructions and shipping labels. I had the same issue with my 87 535i. A shop did the swap and said this company was the only one they dealt with i think they only do european cars. It was a number of years ago, so i dont remember all the details. sorry i cant be more help. Maybe the interweb will help. BTW, love the colour combo. I had a Salmon Silver car with blue CLOTH slip between my fingers once. Still kicking myself for that one.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Ohhh, blue cloth would be something else. It’s funny how when they were new, leather was what people wanted but cloth is now considered the rare trim/spec!

      I use Driveshaft Specialists out of Texas. They are fantastic to deal with. Both my ’95 M3 and the ’87 325is have their replacement units with zero issues. I’ve heard of a company out of AZ being a good resource, so I bet we’re thinking of the same place.

      • OKCPhil

        Wow! Sorry Jeff. I was totally not focused there. :-). Needless to say we are 2 happy customers.

    • OKCPhil

      Just add in my .02. I had a 85 635CSi which needed a driveshaft and I used these gus Great service and product. Used a local independent BMW shop who installed it and they liked the product.

      • Jeff Lavery Staff

        I think we’re speaking the same language, Phil – my comment just above yours. ;-)

        They are an excellent resource! Fairly priced, too.

  5. Maestro1 Member

    Well done Jeff, and enjoy!

  6. Jamie Palmer Jamie Palmer Staff

    Congratulations, Jeff! I see you followed one rule of projects that I should follow more often; your project actually ran when you bought it! Can’t wait to see more :-)

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Only in the very loosest sense of the word, Jamie. ;-)

  7. Chris A.

    Never actually saw or sat in the car, no inspection, drove it right off the trailer. Jeff you live right out there on the edge! I too love my German “B” cars; BMW and Borgward:) Nice car and a great find. Vibrations from underneath are really irritating so good luck with the drive shaft. If the car was driven on really rough roads, the broken engine mount might also be a warning that other mounts including the tranny and rear end might be suspect as well. Curious as to what you find.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Chris, the transmission mounts were also shot and we had to replace the front endlinks as well. When we did the shocks/struts, I went ahead and replaced the strut mounts, shock mounts and spring pads. It was aligned and drives straight with no ugly noises, but I noticed a zip-tie in place of a proper exhaust hangar and haven’t inspected the diff mount yet (but it should probably be replaced anyway).

      I know the dogbones are passable but will likely need to be replaced sooner than later, if for no other reason than peace of mind.

  8. jim s

    great car, love the white/blue, i hope you put lots of miles on it. as low as the front air dam is you may end up repairing it more then one time! thanks for sharing..

  9. DRV

    Call me silly, but why would you need a new driveshaft? The joints yes, but the whole driveshaft?
    I think having a theme for your collecting is a great idea Jeff. It helps your brain explain to your brain why we collect things.

    • OKCPhil

      So the reason I remember doing the whole drive shaft was because the center link bearing requires the use of a press to get it off and then back on again. Plus the new one is fully balanced so any vibration wouldn’t be the drive shaft which would then allow you to focus on other possible causes. I’d say it’s really not that expensive but when most of these cars are in the 5 grand range and you will pay about $500 or 10% of the purchase price to replace the drive shaft. Add another $500 for new tires and then another $500 for struts and ………. this is why my wife hated the 635 and one of many reasons I no longer have it. Oh and 22 mm Allen key for the 5 speed fluid. See it never ends. :-) No regrets though. It was a fun car while I owned it.

      • rdc

        I find that all older cars seem to cost more than they are really worth. However, I still like my BMW e34, had it 12 years, and would rather keep it in great condition than buy a newer car. Just me. I am sure this is a common theme with people who post here. :)

      • Jeff Lavery Staff

        Spot-on about the driveshaft, Phil. Just makes senses to do the whole thing, especially when I have zero history on when, if ever, it was replaced.

  10. BMW'er

    Rich. I am a BMW owner residing in GA and would be highly interested in finding the locations of the “BMW specific” salvage yards. I have a few aftermarket sources but sometimes just to go “shopping” in a salvage yard can be a great day spent!
    Any info you could offer up on their location or contact info would be much appreciated.
    Oh, and as for Jeff and his new “project” good luck! While I love my E46 convertible, it’s love for the shop is quite tiring!

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      Thanks! I, too, am interested in learning more about that salvage yard in GA. Hope we can get some details soon!

  11. RickyM

    Nice car Jeff ! Looks a good buy and should give you lots of fun tinkering with it. Get some German bumpers and it will look fab :-) Looking forward to seeing your progress updates in the future.

  12. BMW'er

    Rich, any chance of letting some of us in on the GA BMW salvage yard info? Really really really would appreciate even just a hint of where to look for them! Please! Thank you?

  13. carl

    you may now drool on my 87 535 IS blue / pacific blue guts ….

  14. Tundra/BMW Guy

    Let me get in on the “where are the GA BMW specific” junkyards! I have an 01 E46 convertible that I have been stem to stern on but still would love to peruse some junkyards for some minor things. (and who knows what you might come across that you “didn’t realize you needed”)
    So from one BMW lover to another, GIVE UP THE SCOOP!

  15. James

    I do have a soft spot for the BMW’S of this era.. I’ve lost count on the E30’s ive owned and I also had a few E28’s to join in on the fun.. I bought an M535i also in white.

    nothing beat’s the noise off the M30 it lets you forget about the other niggles..

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