Respect Your Elders: 1980 BMW 528i

By Nathan Avots-Smith

I’m a little indignant on behalf of this poor 1980 BMW 528i. It’s been thrown to the craigslist wolves because “it’s just not an M car.” As the bumper stickers (usually on not-that-old 3-series) say, respect your elders, sir or madam. There would never have been an M5 without the basic 5er to build on, or the money to build it if the 528i and its ilk hadn’t been successful in their own right. For those of us who can see past its non-M-itude, what we have here is in fact a very nice, low-mileage, first-generation 5-series sedan in Montgomery, Texas for a very reasonable $4,000. Joke’s on you, seller—this is a great car.

Even better for the price is the amount of work that’s already been done to revive it after it spent 23 years in the state you see it above in the original owner’s garage. Since being exhumed in 2015, it’s gotten a refreshed front suspension, new fuel pumps, filters, and hoses, new tires, a new clutch, a new master cylinder, and more. The long slumber means that mileage sits at just under 74,000, but a recent drive from Texas to South Carolina and back seems like proof enough that this 5er is more than ready to hit the road.

It’ll do so under the power of a fuel-injected 2.8-liter version of BMW’s legendary M30 inline six, backed up by a five-speed manual as God intended. The first U.S. market 5-series, the 530i, put out a little more power from its slightly larger six, but its thermal reactor emissions system choked throttle response and greatly reduced fuel economy; the 528i, introduced in 1979, is a rare case where drivability in a ’70s car was improved by the addition of a catalytic converter. The 3-liter cars are also notorious for cracked cylinder heads, so the 2.8 is all around a better bet. This one is also backed by a full maintenance history and repair manuals, and the very solid shock towers and inner fenders uphold the seller’s claim that this is a rust-free car.

The interior might be the weakest link on this car, but even it looks pretty solid. There’s a bit of the usual dash cracking, and the Houston heat and humidity have taken their toll on the once-white headliner, the wood trim on the doors, and the leather under those seat covers. Still, it’s very usable overall, and the neat toolkit in the trunk appears largely complete.

M-car or no, this is a great capsule of BMW history, and a great reminder of the solid foundations upon which the M mystique was built. I can sure respect that—how about you?

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  1. BiggYinn

    Another grear car ruined by us spec bumpers…. tidy it up and put euro spec bumpers on both ends!


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