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1980 M535i

what is it?

   E12 M535i
VIN   WBA47010004145314
EXTERIOR COLOR (PAINT CODE)   Polaris metallic (060)
INTERIOR COLOR (UPHOLSTERY CODE)   Marine Blue corduroy (0037)
power windows, rear headrests, Motorsport front + rear spoilers

about the E12 M535i
The E12 M535i is the only version of the E12 5-series chassis developed and produced by BMW Motorsport GmbH.  The cars were only produced for the European market.  There were two versions:  One in LHD (4701) and one in RHD (4702).  The total production for these cars is 1,410 units.  960 of which were LHD.  The cars were constructed on the standard Dingolfing assembly line, but finished by BMW Motorsport.  There was also another set of cars assembled in South Africa for their market using kits from Germany.  

The car is powered by a 3.5L (3453cc) version of the M30 inline-six motor.  Also known as the M90, this motor has a large bore (93.4mm) and a short stroke (84mm) when compared to the later 3.5L motors with a 92mm bore and 86mm stroke.  This motor uses the Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection system.  The power plant is mated to a 5-speed Getrag 265/5 sport gearbox.  This gearbox has a dogleg first gear pattern with a 1:1 ratio for 5th gear (equivalent to 4th gear on a standard Getrag 265/6 overdrive gearbox).  The rear end ratio is 3.07:1 and is a limited slip unit.

The suspension uses upgraded Bilstein dampers and special Motorsport springs.  Larger anti-roll bars were also fitted as well as specific front subframe bushings (higher durometer rubber than standard).  The brakes are also different, featuring wider front discs, necessitating a thicker front caliper spacer.  

The M535i differs from standard E12 offerings with a special three-spoke steering wheel (used in the M1) and special Recaro sport seats.  Some models were equipped with rare black ASS (that's the name - they're essentially Scheels) seats with a motorsport stripe down the center.  You could also option your car to have front and rear spoilers, or to leave them off.

There are roughly 190 known vehicles of the original 1410 known in the world.  There are fewer than 20 of these cars in the United States.          

back story

I found this car at the end of March, 2010.  It was listed in a rather cryptic ad on in the classified section.  It was described as non-running.  There was no price and he was even considering parting the car.  I sent a private message to the seller, but received no response.  He responded to the request for pictures with a Craigslist ad in Denver, CO showing a price of $2,000.  The seller knew what the car was and was even a member of the E12 M535i Yahoo group.  I sent an e-mail to the seller through the Craigslist ad, asking some basic information about the title, rust and a couple other bits.  He responded within a day or so.  I asked him to give me a call, as I'd like to discuss the car and would potentially like to purchase it - at the very least have someone check it out for me.  I heard nothing.  A couple days later, when I had figured I'd missed the opportunity, I received a call from the seller on a Friday evening while I was at work.  He said the car was still available, though he had a couple of local folks that wanted to see the car the next morning.  I asked what I needed to do to keep that from happening and he said he needed cash in hand.  I said that could be done.  We talked a bit more about the car, the circumstances surrounding the non-running situation and then about payment.  I paid the asking price via PayPal.  I arranged to have the car shipped to me using a company out of Denver, discovered through a member at  I was able to have the car shipped to me for $350, which is less than it would have cost to rent a trailer to bring it back with, let alone all of the other necessary expenses.

I received the car April 6, 2010.  Here's some photos showing the condition at that time:


I was disappointed to find out that the photos in the Craigslist ad were from 2005, when the PO first got the car.  It had deteriorated quite a bit since then, having been used as a beater.  It was quite dirty and the difference in condition from the ad photos and what I actually had was depressing to say the least.  That said, with so few vehicles remaining, it was still a worthy project.  While the car appeared quite rusty on the surface, I wasn't seeing rust in many of the areas many other E12 owners had been.  For instance, I saw no signs of rot in the rear shock towers, which is a common place.  The car had only one of the Recaro seats.  the driver's seat was lost along the way, and the passenger moved into it's space.  A standard comfort seat was installed in the passenger side.

The no-start issue with the car was explained to me this way: His daughter was driving the car to work (obviously a very important car to the family) when it cut out and died. They towed it home, where he got it to start again, but that was it. It started once and he couldn't get it to start again. He checked for fuel, but that's about it. 

So, when I got the car, I looked in the fuel tank and there was a very small amount of fuel, so I added a couple gallons and charged the battery. After a few attempts at cranking, the car wouldn't start. I figured that it was time to check for spark. I got out a hammer and tapped the handle on the ICM and we had spark. Car started up and sounded pretty good. Fuel was pouring from the #2 fuel injector hose, and oil was coming out of the back of the head (Duck gasket). At least I had a running car. 

I still couldn't drive it, though. When the car showed up, the driver needed my assistance unloading the car. I was more than happy to since I saved a bunch of money on the disabled car fee by having someone at each end. I get in the car and he tells me, "Oh, the brakes don't work and the handbrake is crap." Thanks. Unsure as to how I can help, I'm ready for instructions and we get the car off the truck and into my driveway without a hitch. Unloading the car resulted in quite the brake fluid loss. Because of that, I didn't want to put the car in gear. I did later decide to throw in some fluid I found in the back of my E34 when I bought it. I took the car up and down the street and was pretty happy. Time to start the work. The brake fluid leak was coming from the clutch master cylinder. Just a hunch since the carpet was soaked with fluid. 

I had to leave for a trip, so I decided to drop the car off with my mechanic. A 3-day temporary tag wasn't enough, so I got a 30-day and I gave him a list of things to attend to as well as some parts. Here's what he did for me: 

-New Brake Master 
-Clutch master rebuild 
-New slave and clutch hose 
-Ate Super Blue fluid 
-New Plugs, Cap and Rotor 
-New Belts 
-New Coolant hoses and tank 
-New Fan Clutch and water pump (updated to the later style since it was 1/2 the cost of a new early clutch - consequently, had to replace the pulley, so I went with the B35 pulley) 
-Had the radiator rebuilt (why replace it? It's copper and the only one I can get is for an automatic and is over $700) 
-BMW coolant cocktail 
-New fuel lines 
-New vacuum lines 
-Oil, filter, air filter (interestingly, this car has an OX 68D Mahle filter (M5x) instead of the 51D I thought it would. 
-Rebuilt injectors I sourced from Five-O 
-muffler hangers 

Turns out the duck gasket had been siliconed back together on more than one occasion, which showed to be a failure. We replaced all of that, which was much easier to do on the E12 than E28. While waiting for the radiator to come back from the shop, the car had to come off the lift, so another car could use it. The car wouldn't start. 5 minutes of troubleshooting showed the entire issue to be a loose ground. This car starts up almost immediately. 

I put my set of open-lug Alpina wheels on since the stock wheels had no tread left on the tires. The Alpinas were a temporary solution, as I don't think they belong on an M car.

Now that it was running, I had to figure out how to register it. I talked with a local shop owner who used to Federalize BMWs in the '80s and can get the dirty Euro motors to pass emissions. For about $300 and a cat, he'd do it. I didn't want to put a cat on the car, bastardizing the exhaust, so I took advantage of a recent law in Arizona. If you have a car insured on a collectors/limited use policy, emissions testing is not necessary. So, armed with my collector's policy, I was able to get the car registered! 

I really enjoyed driving the car, but I was also getting ready to fully restore this vehicle.  The whole idea of getting it running right was to see what I had.  I was surprised at how quick the car was.  The suspension was in rather poor shape, even with mis-matched shock absorbers on the rear (I have three originals).  

the project begins

Having planned a full restoration of a 30-year-old Motorsport car, I knew there were going to be several things specific to this car that would be tough to sort.  While I was excited to have a complete car save for a seat, many of the parts were in poor shape, or were too far gone to restore to the level I was shooting for with this car.  I decided I needed to sift through the ETK (parts catalog) and see what I could still get for my E12.  

Thankfully, many of the parts on the E12 M535i are bog-standard E12 parts.  Since my car was fitted with power windows, it would be easy to find a nice set of Marineblau door cards from a US car, as well as a couple of other pieces.  I started compiling an Excel spreadsheet of the parts needed, along with the prices quoted in the catalog.  My local dealer is really depressing to deal with, especially on Euro parts.  I contacted a couple of other sources who said they could be of some help for pricing.  It was at this time that Brian at BMW of Chattanooga resumed the role of "Parts Pimp."  I sent him the list and the prices were staggering.  I put together a larger list and sent it to Brian.  I told him to order whatever was still available.  Several things were NLA, which while a bummer wasn't the end of the world given what I could still get.  I saved more than $200 over the $719 list on the front airdam alone.  The pile of parts started growing for the car.  

I had spent a considerable amount of time trying to find a car with a nice blue interior.  I needed just about everything save the seats since I wanted to have mine redone and I was in luck to find out that BMW Mobile Tradition (now BMW Classic) had done a run of the Marineblau corduroy material - no other color.  Just blue.  I placed an order for 5 meters of the cloth after talking with Brenda at Jim's Auto Upholstery.  I have had several seats recovered by them and had slated them to do the recovering.  My order was cancelled.  Twice.  I found out that it had to do with BMW NA no longer importing durable goods from Germany.  I decided to call on one of the German sellers with whom I'd done business in the past.  I told him about my dilemma and he was happy to help.  Not only did he order the cloth for me and ship it, but it cost me half of what I was expecting to pay through a US dealer.  It was beautiful.  Another problem solved.  I had found a nice blue interior in a '78 530i in one of our local yards.  Unfortunately, being a '78, it has a different floor pan, so the carpet, while extremely nice, was useless.  I spent another couple of months searching for the right stuff.  Eventually, I stumbled upon another part number in the ETK.  The complete carpet kit was NLA, but I found the main piece.  I asked Brian to check availability.  $300 later, I had a brand new carpet.  It was almost more beautiful than the cloth.

About the same time, my friend Josh, near Atlanta, GA had been in contact with a fellow in Canada who had a brand new, never used rear spoiler in his attic.  We struck a deal on that for a steep $600.  I just told myself I'd never find another, so I had to jump on it.  It literally could be the piece that makes the car.  Just add it to the pile.

I pulled out the seats and took them to San Diego to have recovered at the end of July.  I had Jim's source the vinyl and I provided the cloth.  I had procured another pair of E12 M535i Recaro seats from a member who found a car in a Sacramento, CA yard.  One of the seats had a mounting issue, so we made a good pair out of the three seats.  Unfortunately, the vinyl they sourced was woefully inadequate, as it is much, much lighter than the original.  I was disappointed, but Brenda said they could replace the vinyl and reuse the cloth without a problem, so I promptly sourced the correct Marineblau vinyl, along with a piece of blue wool carpet to recover the rear deck parcel shelf.  I tabled the re-recovering until I could schedule another trip to San Diego.

Having the seats out, I figured there was no better time to get that nasty carpet out of there.  While we fixed the leaking clutch master cylinder, the carpet was still soaked in fluid.  I was afraid of what lurked below.

I removed the aftermarket AC components from inside the car.  The carpet came out without much trouble.  The insulation was a mess.  Ugh.  Thank God for rubber gloves.  This master cylinder must have been leaking the entire time Clay (the PO) owned the car.  Once everything was out, I was pretty happy to see there were no real issues inside the car.  The floor appeared to still be in tact.  Of course, here, you're not looking at the floor, rather a piece of asphalt sound deadening that is more than likely hiding a nightmare.  Won't know until we get under it.
I installed a pair of E21 320is Recaros on a set of adapters I had for one of my E28s.  I figured I could drive the car like this for a while and slowly take things off before really going after the project.  

Around mid-late August, 2010, I continued removing parts from the car, and then decided we were done driving it.  At the end of the month, it was lightly hit in the front while parked in my driveway by a car cutting across lawns in the neighborhood.  A two-month negotiation with the driver's insurance company yielded a settlement that paid for a lot of the new parts I had already purchased and the parts damaged on the car were slated for replacement anyway, so it worked out well.

Once the insurance settlement was reached at the end of October, I resumed taking the car apart.  I focused more closely on an assessment of the rust and was on track to getting the car stripped to a bare shell.  I had removed all of the interior, trunk pieces and various components under the hood, documenting everything photographically for it's reinstallation.  

Dismantling progress 11-19-10I had researched various methods of stripping the shell in prep for bodywork and paint.  I decided to talk with a local company, Clean Metal Industries, about a chemical removal of the paintwork, fillers, 
etc.  This would be accomplished by dipping the chassis into caustic solutions for roughly two weeks.  This is commonly done with race cars to ensure all foreign materials are removed from the shell, which saves weight.  My main focus was to try to avoid removing the undercoating myself, as I've heard it's a nasty process and if it can be done chemically, that would be great.

Unfortunately, it's not quite that easy.  I brought them the left front fender as a test.  It had paint, bondo, rust and undercoating, so I thought it was the perfect test for this process.  Turns out that their standard process didn't work on any of it, so they had to use a more caustic dip, which is in a tank that cannot hold a whole shell.  I was actually relieved to say the least because I had been reading about some folks having this process done with Porsche 911s that actually saw chemicals leeching from the crimped seams on doors and other panels.  With the effort going into this car, I do not want to see that happen in the future, so it was decided to look into various media blasting solutions.

I worked an hour or two a day on the car through November, mostly on wiring and removing sound deadening material from the floor pan, which isn't the most-fun job, but needs to be done.  It was at about this point in the project where I was distracted.  A friend had called me to look at an E28 with him.  The ad listed the car as an M535i, but we all know it could simply be a US 535i with an M-badge.  It wasn't.  It wasn't running and turned out to be too much for my friend to handle at this time (right car, wrong time), so he gave me the opportunity to buy it, which I did.  Since the purchase, nothing has been done with the E12, as I appropriated some of the money for that car to the E28, as I thought it would be a quick project.  Wrong again, but it's been fun overall.  I'm eagerly awaiting restarting the E12 M535i project.  It's something I want to do correctly, so I'm going to wait for the right time.  It was preempted once again for an E28 Alpina B7 Turbo.  Both cars need paint and body work.  Both are the same color.  With the Alpina needing less than the E12 (because it's not an E12), it made sense to do it first.

Fast forward (slowly) to November, 2013.  After a few years of sitting with no progress, work resumed on the car.  Interestingly, it resumed once the car that interrupted the project (the 1985 M535i) was sold.  I was sorry to see the E28 go, but I decided I had to make progress on the E12.  I was sick of seeing it sit and sit, doing nothing.  Since the B7 Turbo came out so well, I talked with my body guy, Mike, about doing this car.  I wasn't worried about it taking a while and that was fine as he was going to be taking some time off of work, but the car could sit there at the shop and it will likely see some progress.

With this plan in place, I attacked getting the drivetrain out of the car.  Everything went smoothly on that front:

First, I removed the hood.  Removing the hood made it possible to remove the motor when the time came.  What I didn't realize was just how heavy the hood was.  I put the front wheels up on ramps and the rear up with jack stands.  This way, I could still rotate the rear wheels and remove the driveshaft without having to keep getting out from under the car in order to release the brake or take the car out of gear to rotate the shaft to access all of the fasteners.  

I was very lucky in that the original exhaust came out without a hitch.  I sprayed all of the fasteners with PB Blaster a couple days before the project began, but I was still pleasantly surprised.  Next, came the driveshaft, followed by the transmission.  These transmissions are nice because they have a removable bell housing.  This way, you undo 4 19mm nuts to separate the transmission from the bell housing, remove it, then you have easier access to all of the bell housing fasteners, which you need because after nearly 35 years of existing, the firewall insulation starts to sag and several of the fasteners are obscured.

In later cars, BMW went to an external torx bolt, which are much maligned in enthusiast circles for a reason I haven't quite understood.  If you have the right tools, they work great.  Also, the heads of the fasteners have a smaller footprint, allowing you to more easily get the tool on by feel, or even on the end of a couple of wobble extensions with a u-joint.  Perhaps I'm fortunate living in an area that doesn't have to deal with rusty fasteners on a regular basis, but I've dealt with my share of these on cars that weren't from around here.  Anyway, this car pre-dated the use of the e-torx bolts, and I had a rather difficult time with keeping a socket on the bolts.  I sure was glad the transmission was out of the way.  With the bell housing off, I removed the clutch hydraulics from under the car and we were nearing the time to pull the motor.

I had learned the hard way about pulling the motor in the garage with the car backed in, so that meant it had to come off of the stands and the ramps.  Of course, while it was up, I decided to pull the fuel tank.  I left the differential for now since I wasn't sure how to remove the vapor canister from the side of it (it obscures the right side bolts).  

With the car on the ground, I moved it outside under the light, and put my hoist together.  With the load-leveller, it came out quite easily, which left us with this:

 I removed the Brake Booster and hydraulics from the left side of the 
engine compartment.  I decided to leave the powersteering pump and reservoir connected for now, just moving it to the non-existent battery tray.  Since I'm going to have the car checked on a frame rack, I wanted to leave the subframes in.  Once it's declared straight, they'll come out.  It also helps to have it mobile.

I then decided that since the differential had a leak, likely from the pinion seal, it was smart to take it out now.  So, back up in the air with the rear of the car.  I undid the axles from the flanges, leaving them attached to the diff.  In the lower right, you can see the M90 and the trans sitting on furniture dollies.  The diff stayed on the jack for a few days since I didn't know where to put it.   

Now with the car pretty much apart. Doors are removed too, as is the front and rear windows, here's some shots of what we have:

After a good pressure wash of the engine compartment and removal of the cowl insulation.  There's some rust there, but nothing I wasn't expecting.

Then came time for it to head to the shop!

Here's some photos of it in it's new temporary home:

It pretty much has to go down to bare metal due to the various issues that every panel has.  It's also had at least two paint jobs on it.  Looking forward to more progress.  There hasn't been any since December, really.