1980 M535i

Pictures and info
December 2005 - February 2006

    Since getting the car back on the road last summer, I've been increasingly disappointed with the look of the original 14" wheels. Also, the handling of the wheels and tires was not up to the level that the chassis was capable of. I've always lusted after a set of vintage, open-lug Alpina 16x7/16x8 wheels but abruptly something in me snapped last Fall. These are admittedly beautiful wheels, but they always trade at a huge price premium that I have never felt was completely justified. Figure $1500 for a nice set. I had always planned on buying a set that needed refinishing because I wanted to powdercoat the centers and do a silver lip. However, I came to the conclusion (very suddenly) that I would rather have BBS wheels on my car, and the ones I wanted were the three-piece RS type.

I can blame Zane Coker and Peter Pratter for this disease. I kept looking long and hard at their BBS RS wheels eventually deciding that I really wanted to do the same thing although not quite as wide. Both of them are running 10" wide rear BBS RS wheels with a 245 stretched over that which required rear-end modifications for fitment. No, I was willing to roll my fenders, but that was about it. I also didn't want the BBS RS sizes more commonly found in the United States, which are 16x7/16x8. After researching through Peter and Zane and learning about the vibrant trade going on over at ebay.de in these wheels, I decided to look for a set. I wanted a set of 16x8 et11 front and 16x9 et24 rear to be a little different from the crowd. These are the same offsets as the Alpina open lug wheels which work perfectly on an E12. I had a feeling that even with the wider widths, these offsets in a BBS RS would work as well. I also wanted a set of these wheels with black centers and a polished lip. I knew finding this exact set on ebay.de would be slim but I was looking anyway. Eventually a set came up on ebay.de that were very close, but with a 20mm front offset which I couldn't use. I emailed the seller and it turns out he can get near anything for you through his connections so I had him "build" me a set to my specs and refinish them with black centers. His name is Markus and he's a regular on the E30 M3 website, s14.net. I can put you in contact with him if you are interested in a set of these wheels for your own.

After waiting for weeks to have Markus locate the right set of wheels, then take them apart and refinish them, reseal the three pieces and rebuild them (torquing to the right specs), they finally arrived Feb 6th. They were so beautiful! I skimped on rubber for now since I didn't want to blow $800 for a set of Bridgestone S03's like I wanted. I bought some used Dunlop SP8000's which will be fine for my current amount of driving (2500 miles a year, usually much less) until I feel the need to replace them. Sizes are 225/50/16 front and 245/45/16 rear. The pictures on the right speak for themselves. I think the car looks stunning although the look isn't for everyone. Most agree that the black centers look good on the white car, but they are very shiny and make a statement. Some feel that this statement is wrong on the car.

A few points of clarification in my defense for this modification. These BBS RS wheels are vintage 1980's and would have represented a typical aftermarket addition by a BMW 5-series owner in that decade. Whenever I have done modifications to my car, I have tried to think "What would an owner in the first few years of ownership have done to the car, particularly in Germany?". That is why my car has Alpina springs and some other items that in my opinion are "period correct modifications". It's a fine line, and my rule has always been that the mods should be reversible. Ah, but you point out, fender rolling is NOT reversible. Very true, and this was a difficult decision to make. However, my E34 M5 has rolled fenders from either the factory or a previous owner in Germany. Done right it is very hard to tell this is done without running your finger inside the fender wells to check. So I decided that I could live with it and it would be an o.k. modification for the car. Fender flares and extreme cutting would not be!

To close, the fender rolling still has to be done. The fitment of the wheels and tires is beautiful, but they are very close to the front strut and the rears are very close to the fender lip. I also need to install the rear camber kit I already have to hopefully "tuck" the tops of the tires in the fenders. Also I'm unhappy with the ride height even with the supposedly "very low" Alpina springs. I need to get the front lowered somehow. Finally, I have the rear subframe mount stiffeners on order from BMP Design (cheap insurance, $35) to keep the rear subframe from shifting and having the tires rub, even with rolled fenders. I'll tackle the fender rolling in the Spring (I need to borrow my friend's 14" wheels and tires from his E12 to drive the car somewhere for the rolling job!).

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Spring 2006 - June 2006

    It's been quite a while since I posted an update on the car. The main news (which is kind of old now) is that I did get the wheels to fit on the car and it is driveable. It was quite an ordeal though. First off, I brought the car to Patrick BMW's body shop in Schaumburg and talked at length with the estimator about the car, it's rarity, and my requirements. I also got to meet the guy who was going to do the fender rolling and does all of the fender rolling jobs at their shop. He had never done an E12 though, mostly E36 and E46 M3 racecars. Still I liked both guys a lot and they were very respectful of me and the car. Unfortunately, due to no fault of their own, the fender rolling didn't go that well at first. The passenger side rear fender had paint chips nearly all the way around. Fine, I guess I sort of expected that. But the driver side rear fender had hidden rust and bondo!! More dirty little secrets of my poor car. What happens in this case is when they attach the fender rolling tool to the hub of the car and it starts bending the metal, good metal bends well with the proper coaxing. Bondi/filler is rigid and doesn't bend, so you get a crunched up fender like mine. Again, the guys at Patrick were awesome and this was not their fault. More joyful things to find out about my car from her previous history.

Unfortunately I'm not at the point to fix this properly so I told the guy at the body shop to use filler (it was already there before anyway and I never knew) and paint it and make it right. This required painting of the quarter panels on each of the rear sides of the car. The paint looks good but doesn't quite match due to age and fading. Again, the car needs a full repaint and resto at some point but I got my main goal accomplished, the big wheels and tires do fit!

So how does she drive? Well.... on smooth roads the ride is very firm and taut. On bad roads ......... she rides like a truck!! But wow, wow, wow, the car sure gets some stares now at traffic lights. Cool stuff. Also the handling is a bit better, but at the expense of heavy steering of course. I'll be the first to admit that this mod is overkill, and at the expense of some of the old character of the car, but wow the massive footprint and gorgeous 16" BBS wheels make it worth it. The car got lots of attention at this year's 5er Fest Event and it was 90% because of the wheels. They drew quite a crowd.

As prep for 5er Fest, I did a few other things including new front wheel bearings (because of the big wheels and tires), cleaned up the trunk finally and put all the panels back there since I had never put them back (the rear seatback panel's vinyl, the shock tower covers, etc). I also did some liberal POR-15 rust repair back there before putting it all back and also did some in a few other areas that I knew needed a dose (under the doors for one). These are areas I'm not concerned about since they will get fixed with either welding or new panels eventually, and I don't drive the car in anything except perfect weather anyway. Still, it helps to have POR-15 on there keeping the rust at bay for a while.

Yes, in the night picture of the car, those are sucky US-DOT headlights in there. I haven't replaced my yellow Cibies yet that used to be in there. It's coming at some point when I get the cash to do what I really want. Also this summer I might try sealing up and painting the fuel tank as a "dunright" disease item on my list. Until next time!

Fender Rolling Damage 1

Fender Rolling Damage 2

Fender Rolling Damage 3

Wheel bearing job pic 1

Wheel bearing job pic 2

Wheel bearing job pic 3

Beauty Shot 1

Beauty Shot 2

Beauty Shot 3

August 2006

    I've decided to give firstfives (the E12 enthusiast group) a long break. I'm unhappy with the direction (or lack thereof) the site has been taking for the past 6-9 months and rather than continually feel stressed out and powerless to do anything, I decided to walk away from it. I still love my E12 M535i and have no plans to sell however. I have enough friends within the BMW Car Club and other BMW enthusiast groups that I can go it alone with my car. After 6 years on firstfives, it's time to move on.

Removal of firstfives grille badge 1

Removal of firstfives grille badge 2

Fall 2006

    This update is a bit old, but I've been meaning to add it. Several months ago I upgraded the lowbeam lights on the M535i to real Cibie, flat-faced e-code lights. The stock, (original I think??) Hellas are still in the highbeam sockets for now to cut costs, but the $5, sealed beam Pep Boys US DOT lights and their dim nighttime glow, were bugging the crap out of me. Also considering the general look of the car with the BBS wheels, spoilers, and euro front plate, it did not work with leaving these cheapo headlights in there. So I opted to get the Cibie lights again because of the quality and reputation for older euro-car lighting. Eventually I'll change out the highbeams as well.

The reason for choosing the flat-faced lamps was of course for the addition (in the future at some time) of the original, headlight cleaning system with the washers and wipers. The flat-faced lights are required for this.

Passenger side profile

Passenger side face

Driver side face


April 2007

    Well, Spring is here in Chicago ($@#$%!@, FINALLY!!) and before 5er Fest 2007, I had quite a few things on the to-do list that had to get taken care of. First of all, I needed to put the fuel tank back in the car after cleaning it up, sealing it, and painting it according to instructions found on Keith Kreeger's website, my2002tii.com. Here is the quick synopsis of what I did.

To start, I removed the fuel tank from the car and I was able to see that the BMW part # sticker was still visible by the filler neck. Although heavily soiled and degraded, I could make out the last few numbers of the part # and verified them on the parts CD. The reason? Because the E12 M535i, as a euro car, had a 70 liter fuel tank. US-spec E12's had a 63 liter tank. The previous owner of my car was not always diligent about replacment parts with the correct oem versions, and he had told me about replacing the fuel tank in the car before I bought it. So I assumed that he had taken the easy route and put in a US-spec E12 fuel tank. This is, thankfully, not the case.

The fuel tank was actually in pretty good shape which also confirmed it had replaced the original one in the car. But this project was about making it even better. The first thing I did after draining all the gas was to clean it up and apply a coating of POR-15 to the outside of the tank. I used the clear variety. The reason for this is not just rust-proofing, but also for the added strength that POR-15 provides. The fuel filler neck on these tanks can break or split open and the POR-15 should help prevent that from occuring. After this I found a competent radiator shop to boil out the tank to remove any impurities inside. Again, this is all following advice given on Keith's 2002 tii restoration web page. The radiator shop's process did remove some of the POR-15 from the outside, so I put on another coat. The more the better I suppose.

The next step was using the POR-15 tanksealer that I bought which involves dumping it in the tank, sloshing it around many, many times, and then trying to drain the excess out. It's a lot of work. It took several days for this to dry inside the tank, but it left a nice, silver finish inside the tank that should be free of any rust starting. Then I purchased a can of 3M Rubberized Undercoating paint and applied this to the underside half of the fuel tank. The top half got some 3M black paint to make it more presentable. The results are shown in the pictures.

After the fuel tank was put back in the car (with a few things replaced as long as we're in there, including a new fuel pump, new exhaust shield by the fuel tank and rear muffler, new gas cap, and new rubber filler neck surround piece inside the fuel door), I got going on a few other items. I installed the 220kph speedometer that I had redone by Palo Alto Speedometer. It was set to the kph equivalent of the mileage the car had on the odometer it came with. The 220kph version was used since the 1980 E12's had this, and the 1981's had a 240kph speedo for some reason.

I also installed a new transmission mount that I'd been meaning to do, new plug wires from BMP Design, and installation of an I-cut-it-to-fit new hood pad also by BMP Design. Finally, I changed the oil for the first time since the engine rebuild (I changed it 250 miles or so after the rebuild, but I had not done it since then, about 2K miles worth).

There are still a few items on the list. The car needs an alignment because the inside front tires are already worn out and I'm not running *that* much negative camber. Also, before the alignment, I need to finish cutting the last 1/4 coil off my Racing Dynamics front springs. I cut 3/4 of a coil off and then with help from Dave Rutkowski, realized that the suspension geometry was off because of the spring perch. So I still need to get around to doing this, but the car rides great already!

I'm so glad I ditched the Alpina springs. The handling in the front of the car sucked; it was floaty, underdamped, and sat way too high. Right now with the Racing Dynamics springs I sourced after selling the Alpina springs, the ride is very taught and the car is LOW. Once I get the last part of the springs cut in the front, I'll re-attach the front sway bar links (yeah, I've been running without it), and then get some new tires for the front and rear of the car prior to an alignment to get it all straightened out.

I absolutely have to take care of the oil leak from the engine rebuild by the timing chain covers. I am SO SICK of the car leaking oil from there and I need to bite the bullet to take this apart and get it fixed. It's tough to get motivated also because the car is fast and a blast to drive, but then has this damn oil leak.

Today, the 15th of April, I had the car out quite a bit and took my son Declan for a ride in it (in his child seat of course). Before our ride, while he was napping, I polished the wheels to remove oxidation and grime from sitting in the garage all winter. I also fixed a fuel leak from the top of the tank inside the trunk where the sending unit wasn't tight against the fuel tank body. The picture of the can of polish is to show people what I use to polish my BBS RS wheels. It was recommended by Zane Coker (turbo E12 friend of mine, famous in the older BMW circles) as the best stuff for polishing wheels. And he's right. It's a huge PITA to polish them, but this stuff works wonders.

Finally, besides the lowered ride height in the front, some may notice that the outside mirrors are now black. I had received a new-old-stock passenger side mirror (so it was black, as they came from the factory) and I needed a driver side one to match. The problem was the new-old-stock one was perfect and a used driver side mirror was usually faded from the sun. So I had to get a new mirror to match but the result is worth it since the mirrors for all E12 M535i's should be black. Mine were white since they were painted at one point in the car's life during a repaint.

Fuel tank as removed from car

No fuel tank in car

After POR-15 and some painting

Spring 2007 picture

Spring 2007 picture

Spring 2007 picture

Spring 2007 picture

KPH speedo installed

Polish that I use for my BBS wheels

Freshly polished wheel, close-up

Fuel tank with black 3M undercoating

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