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1985 M535i

I needed another project like I needed a hole forcefully added to my head.  Having recently gone through the insurance debacle on the E12 M535i, then the hail storm which caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage to my property as well as two of my cars (1987 535is and 1995 525iT), another project was just what I needed.

I had been spending time since the insurance settlement working on stripping down the E12 for bodywork.  I was having lots of fun dealing with rust and all the other surprises a 30-year-old grey-market import can hide.  I was in project mode.  Tunnel vision.  I didn't want to spend any money on anything other than my E12.  A friend of mine, George, whom I met through our local forum ( was searching for an E28.  I offered him help in finding the right car.  Two days before Thanksgiving 2010, around 1pm, he stumbles across this ad on Craigslist.  It is for a 1985 BMW M535i.  The copy in the ad leads one to believe that it's a grey-market car, but is riddled with misspellings and poor grammar.  On top of it, at the end, it's claimed the car is an M5.  It also needs a "moter" due to a blown head-gasket and there was a "quarter-sized" dent in the left rear door.  $1500.  Then, the photos.  Two photos are of the AutoArt 1:43 scale model and the third was of a car in Europe posted on a website.  No photos of the actual car, but it is white (cool!). George said the guy seemed to know what he had.  He had made arrangements to see the car at 5:30pm.  I told George he was nuts.  This guy's phone must be ringing off the hook and he's going to wait nearly 5 hours to see the car.  Craigslist moves faster than that.  He reassured me by saying it was at a Meineke and he couldn't show the car until then since he was working.  I told him it was one of those days, but I'd love to help him look at it - slightly jealous that the time I decide to stop checking Craigslist, I miss this.  Seriously.  Of course, as I told George, it's probably just a US 535i with an M badge.  I also cannot stand the M-technic body kit.  But still!

So, 5pm rolls around and George calls to see if I can go.  Somehow, magically, I could make the time.  Unfortunately, I had to drive all the way to Mesa...with afternoon traffic.  "I'm on my way," I told him.  He sends me a text when I'm about halfway there.  He says it's real.  Seriously?  Wow.  I get there shortly.  Coming up on the car in the lot, I could tell it was real.  An M-tech body kit requires so many modifications to the body to fit properly, you can tell when you're looking at a car that's had one retrofitted.  This one fit nice and tight to the body save for a sagging sideskirt.  Damn.

So, I head over to the car, say hi to George and introduce myself to Imad, the owner.  The car is filthy.  George has done quite a bit of checking already.  He picked up on my tip on checking out an E12 by looking at the rear wheel-housings for rust.  Not that big of a deal on E28s, but they're clean.  Hell, I couldn't find any rust on the car.  I got the story from Imad that he bought the car after his grandfather bought a quickie-lube place out on the west side.  The M535i was on a lift and it belonged to the owner.  They worked out a deal. He loved the car.  He called it his baby.  I then looked at the car, then back at him, trying not to laugh.  
Everything was there, though.  Body kit (sans the tow hook covers and a jack point cover), Euro lights, manual sport seats, M-tech wheel, etc.  It had what I thought was an incorrect spare (a 19-spoke Fuchs TRX wheel from an E24).  It currently sat on some ugly (IMHO) 16x7.5" TSW Imolas with mismatched tires, though the two at the front were new "Fierce UHP" tires - a brand I'd never heard of.  Anyway, the "quarter-sized" dent was really a quarter of the door.  It was serious and had disrupted the structure of the door, too.  Aside from that, a crappy paint repair on the trunk and some weirdness to the hood, the body seemed nice.  One of the tail lamps was replaced with a US chrome unit, then DIY-shadowlined to match. Not sure what to read into it as all of the welds, etc in the rear looked great.  Nothing looked tweaked or otherwise-messed with. There was a lot of trash in the car, the dash was cracked to hell.  It did have a rear sunshade, though no rear headrests.  Weird!  Factory AC, leather, which was decent, though you could tell it had seen better days, just like the M-tech wheel. Under the hood, it was depressing.  It was definitely a DC71 car with the high-compression motor, as the piano-tops were visible on the pistons.  The 061 ECU was also laying on the seat.  The head was removed, and "at the machine shop."     Imad claimed he was having it decked, etc.  There was ATF sitting in the cylinders, and the empty bottle over in the battery tray.  It was an absolute mess under the hood, but being the later 061-driven motor, it would be easy to put back together as everything is standard US 535 for the most part.  I couldn't tell what the transmission was since the shifter was so bad, I couldn't tell what gear was what.  I couldn't even feel the spring detents.  Under the car, all I could see was it had a big case diff - couldn't tell the ratio.  No rear muffler, BTW.  It fell off.  I totally understand.  The car was Imad's baby.  

So, here's where the fun starts.  George was looking at the car and flat asked me what it would take to make it nice.  I simply responded it would be expensive, but worth it. $1500 to have the motor running worst-case assuming the bottom is fine.  The shifter needs lots of work, though so who knows about the tranny, driveshaft, etc.  Imad said there was a recent clutch, but how do you know?  Shifter bushings didn't go that quickly and you're stupid to not do them when the tranny is out.  Anyway, it could need shocks, definitely needs exhaust work, brakes need work, and the list goes on.  It's something you could take your time on.  Just get it running and go from there, after all, you have another car to drive.  You'll be over your head on any E28 in this shape, but this one is actually worth it.  It's a white, rust-free M535i.  He wasn't sure and was afraid to convince the wife on it.  He told Imad he had to sleep on it.  I had to say that if George ended up passing, I'd be interested and not to sell it before talking to us.  We talked about it for a while, and he decided to think more.  I told him that he really needs to come up with something because the parts far and away exceeded the purchase price.  Can't lose.  I know I'm not the only person that would see it, either.  He said okay, thanked me for coming and invited me over for dinner, which I couldn't do because I had too much work to do - it was tough enough getting over there.  

By the time George got a couple miles away, he called me and told me to buy the car.  It was too much for him with a wife and kids and he knew it was a project I could handle.  By the time we left, they had closed up the Meineke.  I'd have just gone back, but I figured by then, they'd left.  I told George to call Imad and have him call me.  He left a message and called me back.  I waited.  I waited some more.  Ray calls.  "Hey, did you see the $2500 M535i on CL?"  ANOTHER ONE?  Holy crap!  I search and all I can find is the white one.  I click on the ad.  Still $1500.  Refresh and now it's $2500.  Damnit!  Not worth it at that price.  Finally, I decided to call Imad.  He picked up.  I told him who I was and that George left a message saying he was going to pass, but I wanted the car.  I asked if we were firm on the $1500 (eh?:D).  He said yes and that he had raised the price.  There was a guy coming down to look at it at that time.  I told him that as long as the title was clean, he had a deal and I wanted the car.  "Uhhh..."  Uh-oh.  "Yeah, I was looking at the title and it is clean, but under "Arizona Brands," it says, "REST/SALV."  I explained that it's not a clean title and is in fact a salvage car that has been rebuilt.  He still wouldn't budge on the $1500.  I did a bunch of maths in my head and decided that I could not lose, just as I told George.  We made an appointment for 9:30 am, since the banks don't open until 9.  He said he'd call the other guy and tell him the car sold.  I called George and told him we had a deal, but the car had a salvage title.  He felt better about his decision.  I tell him that if he changes his mind, he can still have the car.  I didn't feel right about the thing, but he assured me that he didn't want a salvage title car and it just needed too much work.  I was excited.  I knew I wasn't going to be sleeping that night.

About 10 minutes later, he sends me an email and was concerned that Imad was pulling something.  He gives me a link to a Bimmerforums thread in the E28 section where this guy was very excited having found the ad (two hours after we looked at the car) and wanted to know if he should buy it.  He called Imad and was going to buy the car with cash.  Imad called him as he told me he would, but instead of saying the car sold, he instead had to go to Tucson for a family emergency and that the car would be available to view after 12 noon the following day.  That's what George was concerned about.  I told him he was making this guy his plan B.  I had a three hour window to get the deal done.  I better not oversleep.  Boy was I excited.

The next morning, I got to the Wells Fargo in Tempe at 8:45am, waiting for them to open.  Right at 9am, I withdrew the cash and headed over to the Meineke.  At this time, I told Imad I was on the way and was in Tempe.  This way, he'd know.  He was on his way to get the title notarized.  He then asked me if he could have the catalytic converter since it meant a lot to him as it was the last thing he and his dad had done together - it wasn't anything special, just a two-way universal, but it meant a lot to him.  I said we'd talk about it.  I wanted the title first.  I show up at 9:30.  He's not there.  I spend time going through the car.  Just checking more stuff I didn't look at the previous night.  He didn't show up until 11am, saying that there was a typo on the title, so he had to get a new one, then have that notarized.  Fine.  Just so long as it works.  We did the deal and he gave me all the remaining parts, like the head (which was never touched since being broken down - it was dirty and was cleaned with a wire brush on the gasket surface - nothing a machine shop would do), radiator, etc.  He didn't have the head gasket and couldn't remember where it blew.  He tossed it since it was no good.  He called a tow truck as he said he could get better rates.  It was just a tow 4 less truck, and it wasn't cheap, either.  Still, the guy seemed to know what he was doing and the car was on it's way to my house.

I had a lot of cleaning to do.  This car was filthy.  Greasy, grimy hands had been pushing the car in and out of the shop for months.  I washed the car three times with Simple Green before I felt I could wash the car with a car wash soap.  The interior just flat wasn't cared for.  I spent several hours on that.  I've seen worse, but it needed some real attention.  I felt sorry seeing the car like this.  You know it was loved at one time.  I had been all over the car from above and couldn't for the life of me figure out what got this car a salvage title aside from some minor damage up front.  The hood had been repaired, there was a bend in the center of the grille support and the front bumper cover/airdam was slightly warped.  Everything looked good from there back.  All the shut lines were right and nothing appeared to be played with.  No damaged screws from adjustments, etc.  the trunk was clean and tidy under the carpet, too.

I discovered that the car had an S3.07 diff, which immediately said dogleg to me.  After I felt comfortable enough to sit in the car, I spent more time trying to figure it out.  I could tell it was an overdrive 265 after a while.  Bummer.  Of course, once I got the build sheet, I found out it didn't come with a dogleg, so I felt better.  It was optioned for high speed apparently with the overdrive and the tall gear ratio.

I spent some time getting my ducks in a row to get the car to Alex's shop so we could put the motor together.  I was pretty excited as I had a set of SuperSprint headers I could never use on my 535 due to how they'd affect the powerband.  They were perfect for the 10:1 motor.  Alex had the car for over a month.  It wasn't a big priority as it wasn't my daily driver.  He is a one-man shop and people need their cars.  I understand that, but I was still anxious.  
The block.  Cleaned it up and it was apparent the car had been sitting without anything in the cylinders for months.  Also, when the head was pulled, the oil and coolant were not drained.  YAY!
Excited really.  Hard to be rational.  He sent the head to the machine shop.  It was warped pretty good.  They straightened the head, which is better than just decking it. This ensures the valvetrain isn't under any extra stress, like it could be if it was just decked. Unfortunately, that wasn't it.  the exhaust valve seat and the valve on #4 were trouble, so we had to replace the valve and repair the seat.  Looked as good as new when finished, along with all new guides and guide seals.  The head was going to be nice and tight.  Unfortunately, the bottom
of the motor was a problem.  It was seized.  The ATF was obviously just there to make you think it was fine.  Turns out that when the head was pulled, neither the coolant nor the oil were drained.  Of course, the two mixed and it was a mess.  Worse yet, there was a bunch of water in the cylinders.  When the motor was finally turned over, it just came gushing out.  The cylinder walls l
ooked a right mess.  #6 was great, but they progressively got worse until #1, which was a real worry.  On top of the missing cross-hatching and overall rough appearance, there was some damage to the edge of the #1 piston.  It didn't seem to be down to the ring.  I didn't know what to do.  Ugh.  I could get my hands on a motor easily, as there was one "available" and it had the right mileage.  But, it wouldn't be the original motor.  I decided to take the gamble.  We'll put the head on it and hope it cleans up some and the rings seal.  the odd thing to me is that this motor has 92.05mm pistons, rather than the 91.97mm usually fitted to the 3430cc M30.  The ETK shows them as a #00 oversize, which lends itself to thinking that the motor had been gone through.  After conferring with several people intimately familiar with Euro M30s, this was a common occurrence.  

The next headache came with my headers.  "I love aftermarket parts."  Problem is that the headers were made for a 528i, an early one.  The right side motor mount arm and the AC lines were different on early cars than the late ones.  These headers were made for those clearances.  The one time there isn't a 533 or 633 in the yard, I need a specific part.  Bought the last new one in the US instead.  it was quicker and only $40.  The AC lines were a problem, so they came out.  Custom lines were to come.  533 lines couldn't work because of the connections being different.  Before the head could go on, my Hartge heat shield needed to be installed, as two of the fasteners can only be reached with the head off.  This protects the ABS lines from the heat radiating from the headers.  Unfortunately, this needed to be modified due to one of the AC lines.  I just can't win.  I had found a Stebro exhaust from Canada on for short money, so I had that sent down here.  Unfortunately, the headers didn't bolt up, so some custom work was needed.  Finally, the first week of January, 2011, the car roared to life.  With no exhaust, it was something.  It ran smoothly despite the issues on the bottom.  Alex hung the Stebro and got the car over to the performance exhaust shop and they finished it up.  My car was ready.  Maybe.  It only cost $1500.  Hahahahahahaha :(

It sounded great until it was moving.  It was a mess.  The bushings were destroyed.  The sway bar bushings were made out of garden hose (red, for race).  The subframe bushings were so bad, the diff mount was the only thing keeping the rear axle located.  The subframe rubbed on the driveshaft.  The front struts were frozen solid and the wheel bearings were barking and howling.  The brakes were horrid!  What a mess.  Still, I took the car for a couple weeks while I ordered some more parts.  I took it to a local meet despite the current condition, but it was scary.  The strut mounts were my front suspension.  That wasn't comforting.  I had a set of Suspension Techniques 25/19 bars, some Dinan springs and new matched Bilstein sports.  I bought new wheel bearings, and every bushing and rubber mount for the bottom of the car from Lemförder.  The brake booster was also leaking.  I had recently gotten a deal on a brand new one, along with the pressure accumulator and the proportioning valve, so an entire new assembly went in - $1200 in parts right there.  Once this round of work was done, there was nothing like it.  One helluva car.  It was fast, it handled great and it was very predictable.  Just a joy to drive, actually.  It was even reasonably clean by this time.

Since getting all of the work done mechanically, I've removed the window tint, as it was ugly and no tint is a cleaner look, particularly on an E28.  I had the interior recovered in OE pearl beige leather, along with a leather-covered dashboard and door caps to match.  I've replaced the missing covers and damaged door trim thanks to Jim in Denver (5280 JB) on  He's been a big help and a big source of inspiration with this car, as he has one made just a few cars before it.  I've restored the instrument cluster to the correct Euro speedo and have reset the odometer to reflect the correct mileage in kilometers.  I wired in a brand new E28 M5 maplight mirror and installed an '80s Blaupunkt cassette deck using the stock wiring, after undoing the ridiculous mess made by someone who doesn't understand common-ground wiring.  The AC is working well after changing the compressor and having the custom lines made.  I also replenished the tool kit with the correct tools for the production date (green-handled screwdrivers), added a first-aid kit using the correct installation bracket along with removed all of the aftermarket wiring used when federalizing the car.  The one incorrect tail lamp was replaced with a proper Euro shadowline unit, the left rear door has been replaced, along with the trunk lid and hood.  I changed the fogs and high beams to French-spec lamps, though I'm considering returning the high beams to stock.  It's too busy.  The Euro lights have been completely gone through with new bushings and clips.  I've sold the Imolas and had refinished a set of 17x8.5 ET13 BBS RZ412s.  I later picked up a set with gold centers that I thought were in nice original shape.  After a UPS claim was paid and multiple bends repaired, I sold the silver ones and put the gold ones on.  I don't like 17" wheels on E28s from a handling and aesthetics standpoint, but the M-tech kit changes the game.  The car still has a few cosmetic issues, but it's nice enough to get noticed, usually as a 1977 M3, but not nice enough to make it nerve-wracking to drive.  Unfortunately, oil consumption is up there.  Depending on how hard it's driven, you'll use a fair amount.  It leaves a bunch of it on the back of the car, but it also shoots flames out the exhaust on occasion, so that's kinda fun.  It pulls very hard - especially for an M30.  Now that it's got some miles under it's belt, I'm thinking about doing the compression/leakdown test, but I'm leaning towards it's better just not knowing.  It's part of the car's character.  It's got a salvage title and it's a ton of fun to drive.  It's gone to Oregon and back once, two trips to California and the British Euro Auto Tour (BEAT) twice - it was even a runner-up in the exhaust competition for 2011 (they didn't do it in 2012).  I've wanted to change the exhaust, but it's half the fun of the car.  Put all four windows down and open the sunroof and it's just too much fun.  In a tunnel, it almost sounds like an F1 car.  It's intoxicating.