Journal: This Is How You Revitalize A Lovely, Aging BMW Sedan

This Is How You Revitalize A Lovely, Aging BMW Sedan

By Andrey Smazhilo
February 26, 2016

Photography by Andrey Smazhilo

“Hello! Boris told me that you might still have a pair of E28 rear lights for sale. You do, don’t you?” the guy on the phone asked.
“Hi there! Yes, I still have them,” I answered.
“Do you mind if I come by in the evening to check and pick them up?”
“Yes, no problem. I’ll text you the address.”

This story started a year and a half ago with the dialogue above. It was summer, and I just returned from my amazing trip to Germany where I visited several automotive museums, including the BMW one in Olympiapark.

Shortly after my return, I got a call from my friend Boris, who was serving in the army back then. He asked me to help him sell his 1982 BMW 520i. The car came with lots of extra parts, almost all of which I managed to sell very quickly—but the car simply did not want to go away, and at some point, I thought about buying it out from Boris for myself. However, despite the fact that the body was in a good condition, the drivetrain and brakes were in urgent need of replacement, so it did not take long for me to realize that this car was simply a good rolling chassis and nothing more.

It was back then when I received a phone call from Victor who was in desperate need of rear lights since his were in a very poor condition. When he came to pick up the lights, I still had the car. He checked the lights that were for sale, then checked the car, and said that he liked the ones that were on the car more. After several minutes of bargaining and wrenching, he left with a pair of almost perfect rear lights and a promise to show me his car and tell its story once it has been rebuilt.

Classic BMWs are vehicles that sometimes don’t come easy in your life. You can’t just go and buy any BMW that’s up for sale. Well, you could but in many cases, it would be a simple waste of money and a further waste of time spent on repairing something that in the end is simply not worth it. Victor understood this from the very beginning, and decided to buy the car only when he knew that it was the best possible option. As a result, it took some time to check almost all cars, including different generations of 3, 5 and 7 series that were up for sale at that moment but none of them fit him.

Time went by, and one day this Arctic Blue example came up for sale. It looked good in the photographs but it was a long drive from Moscow and the price was quite high—though affordable—so Victor decided to go and check it with a friend of his. The weather was awful that day, and the owner seemed strange on the phone, which had its effect on the guys’ expectations.

However, after seeing the car and checking it thoroughly, Victor understood that it was the one that he had been looking for. The body was straight except for a little amount of rust here and there, old paint has tarnished, though was not falling into chips, the gearbox was junk, and its suspension later turned out to be all-original from the factory despite the mileage of more than 100,000 miles. After a little bit of bargaining and having done the paperwork, Victor drove away, understanding that he has achieved one goal but there were now lots of others lying ahead.

He had enjoyed the car for about a year when he realized that some steps were necessary to preserve it because harsh climate and bad roads were continuing to destroy it. Thus, on one autumn day he put the car in the garage and started disassembling it. When the body was free from all parts, he sent it to a body shop nearby to remove those horrible rust spots that have grown bigger and renew the old and dull paint. Putting everything back together, Victor replaced some parts of the interior, including the old ship-like steering wheel with a smaller M-Tech one.

We met about a month after this light rebuild, and I got a chance to drive the car. It felt so different from what I have driven before and much, much better than Boris’ old junky car that was simply terminally ill! The ride was smooth, the brakes worked perfectly, the torquey 2.7-liter straight-six engine made it easy to move around the city, and the car seemed feather-like compared to its modern counterparts.

It was just a ride of joy, which made me realize that I should go and buy a classic BMW for myself. And the sooner, the better. However, that is a story for another time…

Join the Conversation
0 0 votes
Article Rating
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Aaron Saxton
Aaron Saxton(@aaron_saxton)
2 years ago

I looked for about 7-8 months before i finally found the right E28 to turn into a daily. Ive still got lots that I want to do to her, but that’s the fun part.

PJ Struiving
PJ Struiving(@raygen)
5 years ago

Props to Victor for bringing this old Fünfer back to life, and keeping the original look. Lovely colour and lovely car. Do tell him that he’s missing a fog light (even if it was by choice) and that the old ship-like steering wheel is part of the experience. 😉

5 years ago

looking for my BMW now, hoping to have it by the end of summer

Jessy Yeh
Jessy Yeh(@jessy)
5 years ago

My current daily driver is a 1987 E28 520i. It was an one owner car before it came to me. After acquiring it in 2013, I spent quite some effort restoring it back to its former glory. The M20B20 baby six engine is not powerful but runs smoothly. I just enjoy every moment we are on the road together. Echoing Bryan’s opinion, it is really the quintessential BMW design, by one of my favorite designers Claus Luthe.

PJ Struiving
PJ Struiving(@raygen)
5 years ago
Reply to  Jessy Yeh

I feel you. I share a 1985 E28 520i (Platanengrün, lovely 80s colour) with a good friend and we have it just for fun and relaxed touring. Other E28 owners I know of complain about the M20B20’s lack of torque, which might be true beneath 2000 rpm. But the way that this engine runs is completely addicting. So smooth, all the way up to 6250 rpm. I feel the best way to drive it is to get the gas pedal halfway and cruise up to 3000 rpm and then shift. Cruising along back roads with that six cylinder engine humming in the background is simply the greatest driving experience I’ve had so far.

Carlos Ferreira
Carlos Ferreira(@sketchtank)
5 years ago

I would never drive a new or current model BMW because I don’t want to be lumped in with the vast majority of people that drive one, but I would trip over myself to own and drive an older one that’s not longer a status badge an din this condition. Lovely car.

5 years ago

One of my favorites, the E28. I recently sold an ’87 535i, (for much less than I really cared to, but life happens, right?) and it was so much fun to drive. Even after almost 30 years, that straight six had ample torque to divert through the 5-speed manual gearbox. One day, when I’m older, wealthier, and better looking, I’ll try to track down an E28 M5. One can dream, right? 🙂

Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson(@pdxbryan)
5 years ago

These, to me, are the ultimate BMW looks wise. Especially with the European bumpers. What a great color too.

michael kent
michael kent(@trojan1)
5 years ago

Great story on iconic 80’s BMW E28i