Alternate Past: Euro 1986 BMW 520i 5-Speed

I love Euro-spec cars. For Americans, it's like seeing a whole new car that never was.

When European cars were imported here in the 1970s and 80s, the U.S. federal government required them to slap on mandated slow-speed crash test bumpers (that even the typically more regulatory European governments felt were useless). They were also hideous, and almost ruined some otherwise amazing designs come out of Germany at that time.

Fortunately, more than a couple Euro-spec cars found their way here through the grey market heyday of the 1980s. And as they turn 25 years and older, they can be imported regularly (but not cheaply).

The seller of this '86 520i bought it while living in Germany in 1994 then privately imported it here before registering and inspecting it for Washington state in 1995.

The E28 was very similar looking to its predecessor, the gorgeous Gandini-penned E12. To help keep costs down for the new model, BMW re-used the cabin section of the E12, and redesigned just the front and rear. The changes are subtle, but noticeable. The front is larger and leans forward more, and the taillights grew too and featured chrome bordering that was never used again on any other model. It was these blink-and-you-miss it differences that actually reinforced the memorable image of the cars in the minds of many.

For the U.S., however, the cars gained bumpers that were at least a foot longer, and the headlights were smaller. We also got a very limited range of engines. Of all the 1970s and 1980s BMW models, the E28 absolutely hands down looked the worst with the 5mph bumpers. And I never liked these cars because of that.

So you can understand the attraction of importing one when you see how great they actually look. In addition, the seller wisely choose to bring over an engine that was never offered here, either: the 520i, for 2.0-litre inline 6-cylinder engine, above the four-banger 518 but below the 535i. It was the smallest six available. In this example, it's mated to a 5-speed manual transmission.

Cosmetically, the seller says the "Polaris Blue" paint is original, and has no fade, oxidation or rust. In fact, they say the entire car is rust-free. On the inside, they say there are no rips, stains or any wear at all in the cloth seats. The wheels are later E32/34 V8 alloys but look very appropriate.

Mechanically, they say it runs, drives, accelerates and shifts great. They say the mileage is 132,000, but state that the odometer is obviously in the miles are either 82k or 132k, it's not clear if they converted it already.

The seller is clearly a responsible and adoring owner and say they changed the oil every 3,000 miles and have all records and receipts to back up their devotion to maintaining the car. They say the only upgrades are the wheels and the stereo system.

If you're looking for a solid Euro-spec Bimmer to use and continue to maintain, this could be the one. It's a rare car with even rarer owner qualities. It's a good color combo, desirable engine and transmission, with no rust, and only one U.S. owner who backs up their ownership. Not bad.

The only thing left is the price: $10,500.

Find it here on in Renton, Washington.

1 comment:

  1. This is a tough one, Sam. It's a real Euro E28, in great condition, in good colors, in the US already - all good things. On one hand, I really like this car.

    On the other hand, the 2L six isn't going to be any definition of quick, the mileage (most likely 132K miles) really isn't that low, and ever since a couple of Euro-ized E28's sold for stupid money earlier this year, everybody with a real Euro E28 thinks they are suddenly worth their weight in gold.

    A quick scan of European listings suggests I could locate, purchase and import a Euro E28 528i or 535i for less than the asking on this one. Yes, that's a HUGE hassle, but shipping a car 3000 miles from WA to MA isn't cheap or easy either, and if I did go through the importation hassle, at least I'd get a bigger inline-six out of it.