Saam’s 1988 BMW M5
Saam Gabbay is a creative director who works in New York City and Los Angeles and is a serial car owner. He’s bought, owned, and then sold six cars in the last eight years (around 20 since he started driving) and will likely continue to do so for years to come. One great car that recently had a meaningful place in his life was a 1988 BMW E28 M5.
Q: How did you become interested in cars?
A: My dad. Basically, the first car I went to school in was a BMW 2000CS with its gorgeous front end. My dad was always after a certain aesthetic. Including a 280 SL, his Opel and even an AMC Pacer, the cars he bought were about beauty and shape: he’s an architect.
So I guess that’s why I don’t go after a single marque—I’m curious about so many things and each car has a certain mystery that draws me.
Q: How did you know this M5 was the one for you?
A: Well, you never really know. At the time, there were actually six or seven others on the market simultaneously. This was the right price and it had a couple of tasteful features that I liked.
The previous owner had removed the SLS and added Dinan suspension. It also had European headlights. The American reflectors are all the same size but on this car, the outside reflectors were bigger, tucking them under the hood and creating eyebrows. Everything else on the car was unmodified and original, which I really appreciated. It was worked on by a guy who really understood M5 engines. He was like a caricature of a German mechanic, accent and all.
The M also had heated seats and they worked! Usually in older Bimmers the wires short and burn your butt.
Q: How did it feel to own what in 1985 was the fastest production sedan in the world?
A: What’s interesting is how many people know that fact about the E28 M5. It’s a certain age group of people who would approach me, eyes glazed with nostalgia, and this would happen about three times a week. Like me, these enthusiasts shared a reverence for the car because they remember the significance of its release and its scarcity.
Q: What is unique to the car?
A: The car had a pretty low run—there were only about 1,000 or so that made it to the States, all black with tan except 27 with black leather. They were hand-built around a detuned variant of BMW’s M1 engine. The BBS basket weave wheels along with the blacked-out chrome were a major signature of this car and differentiated it from a standard 5 series. Otherwise it’s identical to a non-M version, body wise. There was something about those BBS’s as a kid that ended up becoming a flag pole in my memory. Looking at them meant I had an M5!
Q: Describe your favorite drive in the M5:
A: In 2011, Highway 1 was blocked for three months due to a rock slide. During my many runs up the coast and to Yosemite, I was diverted through Lake Nacimiento where there is a military base for the National Guard. The area contains the most twisty, winding, beautiful tree-canopied roads I’ve ever been on, with significant ascents and descents. I’m probably lucky I didn’t have a passenger on that drive because they would’ve probably thrown up on the dash! [laughing]. I noticed a tank parked in a grassy field so I pulled over and took my favorite photo of the M5 with it in the background.
Getting down to Big Sur required a ridiculous narrow switchback descent to the ocean. Though it added hours, this detour became one of the favorite drives of my life.
It’s f%$#ing awesome and highlighted the M5’s perfect balance.
Q: If you could choose one passenger to ride along with you in your BMW, who would it be and why?
A: A photographer I met named Magda. She loves adventure, she doesn’t throw up, and she’ll get it. I also might finally end up with a good picture of me with the car.
Q: What do you love about the car?
A: It was the most uncompromising car I’ve ever owned as far as balancing practicality and spirit. It felt small and nimble but could move 5 people. I put 5,000 miles on the car one summer by doing multiple trips to Yosemite and up the coast. It sounded wonderful. It was engaging. It was the perfect car.
I’ve had a passenger in the car with me where after a couple of corners they’ll pause and look over at me and say, “What kind of car is this?!”
The car really is a capable and even a non-enthusiast could tell. It’s an amazing thing. People that don’t like cars love the M5. A friend who wasn’t a car person sitting behind me once said “Wow, this car feels so stable.” Who says that about a 23-year-old car?
It’s a shape that I truly love. It’s a very inspiring shape. When walking towards it, there’s not a bad angle on the car.
I have to say, these questions really make me miss it.
Q: Will you ever settle down with one car?
A: Maybe. If I was going to settle on one or two to own, I would go back and get another air-cooled Porsche 911.
– – –
Thanks, Saam, for letting us spend some time talking with you about your beautiful car!