Featured: This E28 Group A Tribute Car Represents An Evolution That Looks To The Past

This E28 Group A Tribute Car Represents An Evolution That Looks To The Past

Alex Sobran By Alex Sobran
April 6, 2017
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Photography by Alex Sobran

The concept of your “self” is a pretty hard thing to nail down a single definition for. We certainly struggle to do so using just words—after all, letters can only came one after another, which if you’ve had any experience with thinking you’ll recognize that one-at-a-time pattern as unlike the way our minds/selves really seem to work—and so it forces us to widen our scope of what we allow to define us, at least in part. The idea that objects other than us can represent pieces of us might seem as if you’d have to give up control over those pieces, and it might to an extent, but in exchange it offers an additional way to express yourself that you couldn’t access otherwise.

One person who follows his evolving interests alongside a string of objects that just happen to be some wild cars is Mike Burroughs. The name may be familiar to anyone who’s heard of Stanceworks before, as Mike’s and Andrew Ritter’s company has certainly hosted its share of opinion-inducing cars over the years (a certain Rusty car with a lot of surgeries may come to mind…), which has lent the pair a reputation for showcasing some of the more divisive cars in the world. Any resulting forum funtime is not the intention. The featured modified cars haven’t been built to stir up controversy, that’s never the goal, and it really shouldn’t be, right? If you’re building things aimed at the reactions of others instead of your own feelings toward the product, aren’t you letting other people define who you are while oxymoronically attempting to show off just how “unique” you can be?

Turning to the car at hand though, a brief history lesson is necessary to prime the story of one such build that’s as refreshingly self-serving as you can get. It begins with the advent of the FIA’s Group A regulations in 1982. In response to the new governance, BMW decided to prepare their current 5-series for touring car racing with the help of the Swiss racing team Eggenberger Motorsport to compete in the European Touring Car Championship.

While the cars would ultimately be successful on track, the E28 program proved to be a short-lived one, as the following year saw its replacement by way of the E24 635CSi. Of the 20-odd E28s initially configured for the new rulebook, it is believed that very few, if not just one lone example, remain of the original group.

As a longtime E28 enthusiast looking for the next project to embark on, Mike felt the familiar pull of the 5-series chassis he’s had so many experiences with, and so went about creating something that channels the brief existence of the ultimate factory-backed E28, of course with a few tweaks.

With a reputation initially built on building some BMWs that the word modified is at times inadequate for, the latest, the “Parts Car,” has also taken on a second life: what began and spent most of its time as a humble Alpine white 533i has since reemerged as what is effectively a street-legal touring car, comprehensively and thoughtfully built to pay tribute to BMW’s little known first attempt at a Group A race car. Attempt may be a little bit of a misnomer too though, because in the car’s debut and only season competing as a works car, in the 1982 ETCC, Helmut Kelleners and Umberto Grano secured the championship behind the wheel of their white and green Enny-liveried BMW 528i.

I wouldn’t call this car a replica though, for the simple reason that it’s not, and not supposed to be. For one, no E28 ever wore this livery in the period, as the variations of the “X-ray” scheme were first introduced on the factory team 6-series that replaced the 5s. For Mike’s car, Andrew was tasked with recreating and modifying the iconic design to accurately reflect the sedan’s dimensions and layout, as well as the M powertrain now living inside of it—in place of the souped-up 2.8L M30s that the original cars had in order to stay under 3 liters, this one holds in its bay the more powerful S38B35 of the US-spec E28 M5 (you have to agree with him here: if you’re going to build a Motorsport-inspired car, it may as well earn those tricolor stripes).

There are more incongruities to be seen by the trained eye of course, but that’s not the point, nor should it be seen as a fault. There are no mistakes here. The car represents, like the person who owns it, a culmination of experience funneled and squeezed into a single entity, and in doing that, multiple things are bound to mix and bleed and run to form the final result. So this car is more than just a tribute, it also marks a changing taste and a growing appreciation for vintage racing. It is a piece of a person’s mind that has taken the form of metal and plastic and cloth.

If any single point in time can be attributed to the genesis of this car, it occurred during Stanceworks’ attendance at the Motorsport Reunion at Laguna Seca for the first time almost a decade ago. It was here that a longtime interest and appreciation for vintage racing took on a more meaningful and formative role in Mike’s future. With a history of getting cars more closely acquainted with the pavement underneath them, this build would take a decidedly different direction.

At this point I can’t blame you for wanting some details on the build itself, and I’m happy to oblige. Where to start though on a car like this? With a Willans harness draped over the insular Momo fixed-back seat floating in a blinding expanse of white, it’s certainly not the practical sedan that it began life as. With the appropriate 1982 FIA rulebook in hand (or more accurately, on screen in hand), Mike set off to build his perfect Group A-inspired E28. Soon after the purchase of the car, it was time to get to the gutting: the entire drivetrain was removed in favor of the aforementioned M5 setup, which sends power through a five-speed Getrag 280 before the stout M3-sourced 4.10 LSD divvies up the ponies to the drive wheels. The fully rebuilt motor also gains a set of European headers to free up a bit more of the sonorous power from the German power plant as it blasts used-up air out through the just plain mean dual side-exit exhaust that lets out right under the rear door that may have once been used for ingress and egress of the family dog.

To keep up with the appetite demanded by a big motor powering a car that sees track time, a full 120-liter ATL fuel cell has been wedged into the formerly spacious trunk space. Astute engineers will likely notice that recessing the cell lower would make for better weight distribution, but like I said, there are no mistakes, that’s just how Eggenberger put them in way back when. Sure, lowering the center of gravity a little bit would help the car’s handling (in likely undetectable ways), but it’s not like this car’s desperately in need of a handling upgrade. There’s a handful—the good kind that overflows through your fingers—of components bolted and welded on for that.

Continuing with the aspects that do fall into the faithful replica portion is the full FIA-compliant weld-in cage that tethers the important zones of the body into a more rigid form. You’ll notice that the rear shock towers are part of this bright white diagram of tubing as well, within which lives a set of custom-made-for-the-car H&R coilovers that were developed by the company to infuse this thing with the kind of planted handling characteristics rarely displayed by the E28 chassis. When paired with a set of robust H&R sway bars underneath, the combination makes for an extremely competent platform that allows the car to be pushed at the track without shaking itself apart on the drive home. Of course, the Pirelli R-compound tires also lend their sticky hands to the E28’s poise in the turns.

Detailing the rest of the underside’s upgrades quickly turns into the type of overlong list that accompanies any thorough build (literally every component underneath the car has been replaced, and often with a beefier or higher performance variant), but there are still some pieces that must be addressed. Namely, four of them. 

Snuggled up into the four arches are a set of beautiful magnesium Ronal Racing center-locks. With BBS Motorsport wheel halves sandwiched underneath the top-mounted faces, the perfectly period look is complete. These Group A-correct wheels were sourced from an original race car, and the slight patina in the finish calls forth the presence of the original cars that’s been suffused into this modern build.

Cars like this are the ones that I think we should look to whenever the question of “the next generation” of car enthusiasts inevitably arises. It’s easy to be a grump and point to the college student who’s driving an oil pan-scraper as evidence that something’s gone to shit and people don’t have an appreciation for “real” cars anymore. Of course it’s easy to say that—it’s not entirely unwarranted in certain cases. The thing is though, Mike has seen his share of negativity mixed in with the support aimed at his cars in the past, and now he’s built something that any purist can’t help but think is cool (and if you really would rather this car still be the 533, that’s interesting, please don’t tell me more). 

The original Group A E28s were the type of beautiful racing cars that modernity and the future’s general chug forward will never produce again, but thankfully we still have people whose work keeps their existence in the minds of enthusiasts both jaded and budding, old or young. This is a project that reaches into an obscure corner of vintage racing and yanks it into the modern day for everyone to enjoy, and is that not the best reason for it’s existence?

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