1981 BMW M535i

E12 Saloon 3.5 L

Vehicle values by condition

Condition 4
#4 cars are daily drivers, with flaws visible to the naked eye. The chrome might have pitting or scratches, the windshield might be chipped.
Condition 3
#3 cars could possess some, but not all of the issues of a #4 car, but they will be balanced by other factors such as a fresh paint job or a new, correct interior.
Condition 2
#2 cars could win a local or regional show. They can be former #1 cars that have been driven or have aged. Seasoned observers will have to look closely for flaws.
Condition 1
#1 vehicles are the best in the world. The visual image is of the best car, unmodified, in the right colours, driving onto the lawn at the finest concours.
Insurance premium for a
1981 BMW M535i E12 Saloon 3453
valued at £16,300
£195.51 / year*

History of the 1980 - 1981 BMW M535i

1980 - 1981 BMW M535i
1980 - 1981 BMW M535i
BMW E12 M535i (Saloon), 1980-1981

The BMW E12 M535i was in production from 1980 until 1981. Styled in house by Paul Bracq, it is a front-engine, rear wheel drive saloon seating five adults.

The first official M car following the success of the M1 supercar, the M535i was produced for a single year as the top model in the BMW 5-series range before its replacement with the new E28 series. Powered by a 215bhp variant of the M90 engine also seen in the 635CSi coupe, the M535i was solely available with a close ration five speed manual gearbox using a dog-leg shift pattern instead of the conventional H pattern. Front and rear spoilers and striping were optional, in the manner of the cars already being produced by Alpina, though Recaro front seats, sports suspension, and the steering wheel from the M1 were standard fitment. Larger brakes and a limited slip differential completed the package – and 1650 were produced, including 240 knocked-down kits for South Africa. Unlike its successor it was handbuilt by the M division.

If you’re used to more modern performance BMWs you’ll be surprised by this, the very first M saloon. Unlike its successors there’s a real sense of rawness and immediacy to it – like an old school sports car, you need to take it by the scruff of its neck to get the best form it. But it’s all hidden by a veneer of respectability. Form outside it could be almost any other E12 were it not for a discreet pair of spoilers and some BBS wheels, and it’s only the optional 2002 Turbo-aping stripes that give the game away on cars so equipped.

Rot’s the biggest concern you’ll face, and while panel availability is good it’s worth checking the common spots to make sure nothing’s being hidden that would affect the value. The sills, boot floor, bottom of the C pillar and floorpan are all known rust sports, while we’d also take care to inspect the suspension mountings as these are safety critical parts of the car. BMW Classic can supply panels for E12s still, but you may find interior trim difficult to source so check it’s all present and in good condition. Noisy camshafts might signal an impending engine rebuild, but with maintenance they’re fairly hardy. Likewise the gearboxes are tough, and can be noisy at idle so this needn’t be of too much concern.

Of the 408 right hand drive cars built, it’s unlikely that more than 100 remain so you can’t really afford to be too choosy when you’re looking for a prospective purchase. With that in mind, we’d discount any suggestion of colour and focus solely on condition when buying. There’s little to scare a potential buyer already familiar with BMW, but if it’s your first it might make sense to take someone with a little more experience to help you view. The benefit to the rarity is that any E12 M535i in decent condition will be easy to resell should you ever tire of it.

The Rover SD1 3500 and BMW’s in house 635CSi were both close rivals in concept, though an AMG tuned Mercedes-Benz 280E or an Alpina B7 might also have been on the contemporary shopping list. Today, we’d also include cars like the subsequent M535i and possible even the Jaguar XJ12 as alternatives, depending upon whether performance in a straight line or handling prowess was the greater goal. The Audi Quattro would be a similar car in the sense that it was an extreme performance derivative, though the way it achieved its aims was very different.

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