1980 M535i

Post-bodywork: Reassembly

Where does this bolt go? A parts car is a smart move.

August, 2016

Over a year since the last update, figured I’d update on the saga. This won’t be exciting as Chris’s M535i restoration, but my objective with the car is a bit different. Along the way a few things happened, I turned 40, we went on some fantastic family vacations like Moab, bought a yellow M3 convertible, my daughter started kindergarten and son finished elementary school, and I crashed on my mountain bike fracturing vertebra and ending up in the hospital. Ok, let’s get started with this update!

Last summer after the car returned from the bodyshop I decided to take the rear end completely apart and powder coat the subframe, trailing arms, and other misc. That turned into a long, drawn-out saga with the small amount of time I have to work on things given family commitments, work, etc. The subframe and trailing arms were pretty ugly from the overspray at the bodyshop, and as I took things apart the original rear wheel bearings put up a fight to come out. Talk about in my opinion one of the worst jobs to do on a car, I f’ing hate wheel bearings. Out they came and I bashed the threads of the stub axles rendering them unusable to go back in. Wonderful.

Along the way I plunked down a chunk of change for the Wilwood brake setup from ireland engineering. You would trust that this thing fits right since they advertise it for the E12? The rotors don’t fit at all, and I haven’t even tried the caliper carriers. See that lip on the inside of the rotor? Much bigger than the stock rotors and would rub against the hub. Worthless. Ireland told me on the phone maybe I can find someone local that can machine off the lip for me. So I guess these don’t fit an E12?


I can’t deal with that right now though, and my main priority was getting the rear suspension powder coated and put back together with all new bushings (more Ireland engineering stuff). With a lot of help and coaching from Chris I got the rear stub axles back together, installed new brake dust shields with the edges trimmed to clear the Wilwood rotors that don’t fit, and thankfully the new bearings went in ok. All bearings and misc parts came from Blunt tech including new rear stub axles.

At the same time I was doing this, I decided to throw more money at unnecessary items and get the BBS RS refinished to silver centers. Alex the Wheel Guy here in MN does lots of wheel restorations and is a BBS expert, and also likes taking pics of the wheels in the snow. Another stop/start project during this time was last summer I had a local guy reupholster the back seat using OEM BMW black corduroy cloth. It turned out amazing but the only thing holding me back is the $1500 to do the front Recaros. I have plenty more black cloth and the correct black vinyl from world upholstery, I just need to get the seats over to the guy and come up with $1500.


I finally got the car back together as a roller in March 2016 and this is where it gets good. I knew at this rate it was going to take me 5 years to put the car back together and I wanted someone trustworthy to just put parts back on the car and get it completed. A local guy was recommended to me but I was cautioned to be very diligent setting expectations with him from the get-go because he could go down a rabbit hole and bill hours. All three of his references (which I talked to) warned me about this. But otherwise his references said his work was high quality and knew his stuff. He and I agreed on a game plan whereby the car was not destined for Pebble Beach, but rather I needed someone to put the car back together for me using the boxes of parts I had. He estimated the project at around 100 hours without any changes but it would be time and materials. I agreed on the 100 hours and that I could afford that if I spread it out over a few months.

He came and took the car and he had other projects ahead of mine. I provided an infusion of cash up front per his requirements to start the job. About 6 weeks after getting my car things got started. I received some pics of the car in his shop, but no status on work or project. I requested updates on the work progressing and I got sporadic replies like “sorting out the wiring harness” and “working on the exhaust design”. I also asked for updates on billed hours against the money I provided, and stupidly had some cash available so I sent more before I spent it on something else. The weeks dragged on and I would have to call multiple times and send emails to get a reply. It was always apologetic for not getting back to me, but would tell me they were working on the car. After I heard “sorting out the wiring harness” for the 3rd time in an update, I got upset and demanded an account of activities. This one dim photo and about 4 others of my parts were all I had to show the car was in his shop at this point, and nothing really showing that work was getting done.

The report I received showed 47 hours billed to the project and the engine wasn’t even in the car, interior wasn’t in, trunk wasn’t completed. In fact not much of anything had been done but they did discover the reason I had a persistent oil leak all these years after my engine rebuild in 2005. The upper timing chain cover had a crack where the distributor mounts. The breakdown of the hours on the project included 4 hours to unload my car and the boxes from the truck and trailer, over 5 hours “designing” a custom exhaust, time spent ordering parts from BMW and looking through realoem, over 12 hours media blasting, painting, and reassembling the front subframe and suspension. I was told this work included the front steering knuckles and strut housings but that was not true. Just media blasting and pressure washing the front subframe was 7 hours.

I called a halt and time out to the project and was extremely angry. 3 months had gone by and despite persistent attempts to communicate and get status updates, I got one update in a big chunk that showed they had been pissing away the money I fronted them with nothing to show for it. I told them I wanted the drivetrain in the car with no further hours billed to me, and then we would re-assess. I was told in no uncertain terms to come get the car and all my parts on my dime or start getting storage fees assessed. I just wanted to get through this uncomfortable fiasco without any further heartburn and he said he’d refund the remaining balance (about $900) in my account when I got the car. A few weeks later when I was able to arrange a Uhaul trailer rental and get my wife’s Sequoia, I drove the hour and a half there early Saturday morning by myself and retrieved the car. I found it filthy and most of my parts stacked in the car and around the shop. The motor was in the car, but no drivetrain as I had asked. Whatever. Fuck this, and fuck you Larry and Jenny.

Here I am on the way back home with my baby safe, trying not to let the anger consume me. The Sequoia is loaded with boxes of parts and misc, I think I got everything, but haven’t gone through it all. The car is full of stuff too, including the trunk. (edit: I didn’t get everything, I didn’t get the original exhaust which while I wasn’t going to re-use it, would have proved very helpful later as you’ll see.)

The car has been in the garage safe now, but no progress especially as I recover from my biking accident. I’m supposed to meet a guy next week that came recommended and he’ll come to the car with his tools and work on it over the winter. He works on a BMW race team as their mechanic and has a very reasonable hourly rate. We’ll see if I get a good feeling about him, but apparently I suck at checking references and trusting people.  The original goal was to have the car done sometime in late 2016 but that ain’t happen’ now. Met the guy who is interested in reassembling the car for me. He stopped by my house to see it and talk through what needs doing. He’ll be much closer to track progress for myself in person and quoted a very reasonable labor rate. This could be workable… he is a mechanic for one of the Continental Tire IMSA teams running a BMW. I’ll post updates when he and I get the car to the garage he’ll be working in over the winter.

I took on some minor stuff to feel satisfaction at making progress. Attached the rear spoiler, trunk lid toolkit (mostly empty unfortunately), trunk interior panels, and Hirschmann antenna mount. I also ordered a bunch of misc parts and shit that totaled to an exhorbitant sum. The hood vents up near the windshield use little clips, 8 of them, that are $5 each. Mine are rusted and cruddy so what the hell. That’s just one example of bmw’s vintage parts gouging, but for some things like new C pillar vents, they are nla so I’m screwed.

November 2016

An interesting update, I just won a gem on ebay last night, a 1980 528i auto in Montana. My wife will be thrilled. I decided that to smooth this process I really needed a complete (running helps too) parts car alongside the M535i to facilitate easier re-assembly.

Now to figure out shipping to St Paul from Montana and get it in the garage next to the M535i where the guy has it now (he’s going to reassemble it over the winter).

Made some time today to drive up and spend some time on the car. Jim got the firewall insulation done two weeks ago which was holding up progress for other jobs. Today he spent focusing on a few things; pedal box, wiring harness, windshield wiper motor and arm assembly, and new engine block coolant pipe.

The coolant pipe that goes between the thermostat housing and the back of the block was pretty corroded on my car. The part is of course NLA :evil: even though it was common to several hundred thousand M30 engined cars like the early E23, early E24, and E12. WTF BMW. I spent some time trying to track one down from sources and the ones I found were all in similar states of corrosion as mine. Out of the blue I was cleaning some boxes of old parts out of the garage a few weeks ago and stumbled upon a small box of E12 junk from a 528i I grabbed parts off of ~15 years ago. I had completely forgotten that I had the stuff, and what did I find inside it but a coolant pipe in decent shape. Only a small amount of corrosion, and I sent it to Jet-Hot and for $35 it looks better than new.

So that’s the pipe that Jim put in today (took like 15 minutes, pretty simple.

I spent all my time on door panels, and only got the driver side installed which is 1/4 of what I expected to accomplish today. Frustrating but the next time I’m there, the other doors should go much faster now that I have a better plan. Part of it was fighting the contact paper to use as a vapor barrier (the paper backing is a pain in the ass) and part was because I installed the passenger door wiring harness in the driver door accidentally and had to take it apart and do it over. :laugh:

It is sooo freakin’ nice to have a parts car. I spent a lot of time walking over there to eyeball things and check, and I made use of a few parts that were nicer than what my car had. It also helped with the windshield wiper motor assembly when Jim realized one of my M535i’s wiper pivots that the wiper arms mount on was cracked in half at the base. Not sure how in the hell that happened, but parts car to the rescue. edit: driver side was broken, and realoem says it’s NLA. The passenger side pivot is still available…. for $198!

Here are some pics of the shop.

I was getting into a groove working on it so it was a shame I had to pack up and leave to drive home (in -15 degree weather). I’m looking forward to getting up there again after New Years to get those doors done, and hopefully transfer over the nice trunk trim bits from the black 1980 528i.

December 2016

I shared this with Chris Kohler a few weeks ago, but thought I’d include here as well. I love finding this kind of information.

Shortly after I got the car, someone on firstfives mentioned that the build sheet (if it was still there) was typically tucked inside the back seat lower cushion. When I checked mine, a thin strip of yellowed paper was still there (see below). The upside down picture is from when I originally bought the car in Georgia in 2003 and the seller sent me those in the mail (before digital pictures).

I searched on google trying to determine what the numbers meant and codes but other than the Mobile Tradition birth certificate info I bought a few years ago, I didn’t have much to go on. I emailed BMW’s archives and a week or two later received a friendly reply to my picture above.  The codes at the bottom of the “Laufzettel” are options codes showing what special options the car came with. Here’s what we still can decode today:

  • Colour 146 – Alpine White
  • Polster 0038 – Black cloth (upholstery)
  • 44.2 – automatic radio antenna
  • 48.6 – radio BMW Bavaria Cassettte Stereo Reverse VF
  • 53.3 – electric centra-locking system
  • 54.2 – electric sliding/vent roof
  • 55.3 – green heat-insulating glass
  • 59.2 – Recaro seats with headrests
  • 65.6 – electrically adjustable passenger mirror
  • 69.5 – without model designation

I didn’t have this level of detail, including that my car originally came without a model designation. I would like to see the report-out for an E12 M535i that came with the front and rear spoilers to understand what codes those are. It would confirm what I’m thinking, that I’m assuming my car came pretty plain when it was new; front and rear bumpers with no spoilers, no model badge, and no Motorsport stripes. When I’m finished it’ll be the total opposite. 

January 2017

I drove up yesterday so Jim and I could work on the car and keep going on the doors. He finished installing the drivetrain over the Christmas break so I was pleased with that progress.

I worked on the driver side rear door while Jim focused on the brakes. I didn’t take any pictures unfortunately but the wiring harness rubber shroud between the body and the door was split and shredded on my car so I spent considerable time pulling the nice piece out of the parts car and installing it. Since my car doesn’t have power windows the wiring is much simpler. Interestingly the arm rests on the rear doors of my car are smaller than the parts car rear units. Maybe a US spec vs euro spec thing? Unfortunately it looks like the top mount of my car’s arm rest requires some grommet to screw into that isn’t on the parts diagrams and probably is long gone still in my old doors. Also annoying, my new doors have two thin holes on each back door outside the area covered by the door panels. The black parts car has these holes filled in from the factory (metal is filled in). Again pictures would really help. Since I installed US spec doors on the M535i when I did this bodywork I can’t understand how the black car, also a 1980, could have something different.

I spent some time installing the door molding on the passenger side which is a dicey prospect to have to pound on the door to get the clips attached.

Jim got the brakes attached even though Ireland Engineering provides no instructions of any kind. They sent extra brake pads for stock e12 brakes and stock e12 front hubs without bearings. Wtf? Lots more sorting to do on the brakes including lines, pad wear sensors (if I use them), and figuring out a master cylinder.

While I was there Jim showed me an email from Steve Dinan to him about upcoming work to do on the team race car he supports. Steve Dinan is now consulting on their engine, so it’s pretty cool that I have Jim working on my e12. Jim works faster than I do so I’m glad he’s plugging away at this and will start tackling the cabin wiring and dashboard soon (which seems overwhelming to me).


August/September 2017

There’s been some progress over the summer, still crossing items off the list. The interior is getting close to finished (dashboard and seats are in) and today the car took a ride over to the upholster (Mark’s Auto Upholstery in South St Paul, MN) for the headliner. I have a new headliner from World Upholstery and some other pieces for the sunroof part of the headliner.

Still on the to-do list are to finalize the brakes and exhaust. It’ll be a miracle if I drive it before the snow falls, but we’ll see.

Looks good pushed out into the sun! The last picture is at the upholstery shop.

Well that was an ordeal! After I posted that the car was at the shop, they called and informed me that the glass had to come out to do the headliner. That’s something Mr. Kohler told me back in 2014 when I had the bodyshop put it in, but I had inconveniently forgotten. What transpired was a complete panic shit show of me contacting friends and car-related acquaintances trying to locate a glass person that could work on this car. Oh and I put in the very last DC91 E28 M5 windshield into this car so I was pretty worried about removing and replacing it intact.

Through the bodyshop that did the work on the car I found some guys with experience doing 1980’s BMWs and they came to my house (had to flatbed the car back to my house since I couldn’t leave it for weeks at the upholstery shop). All went well removing front and rear glass, and after more scheduling and coordination, we got the car back to the upholstery shop last week for the headliner. It looks great, and now I just have to get the sunroof panel in and finish up the center console so the interior will be pretty much done (leaving brakes and exhaust and some other misc).

Again I have to give a huge recommendation to Denny at Mark’s Auto Upholstery in South St. Paul. A patient, thorough professional. And to Rob and Tony at Tecnaglass in Brooklyn Park, MN for the care and attention to keeping the front and rear glass perfect and making the trip twice to do the work!

Final assembly: Sept 2018

The E12 is going for a ride down to Chicago tomorrow to stay the winter with Uncle Ben Thongsai to complete final reassembly. There is a dead short somewhere that I can't figure out and I don't have time for the dozen or so other punch list items it needs.

November 11th, 2019

The E12 came home via enclosed trailer Saturday the 9th from Ben’s in Chicago. It runs and drives but is as loud as a sprint car since it is only running open downpipes. Exhaust pieces were on order and didn’t get installed in time, but should get to me soon.

I spent some time Sunday cleaning the car up from all the dust it accumulated sitting at the shop the last year. And making a list of other loose ends to tie up over the winter and inventorying parts I still have for it.

It is a good thing I didn’t drive it even if it had an exhaust and the roads hadn’t been salted. The Bridgestone S03 pole positions are 2006 date codes… and are hard as rocks. And it needs an alignment.

You can see a picture of it on Instagram under my flipwils11 account and click below for a startup video without the exhaust attached.

There are still some items to do over the winter and this Spring including new tires, exhaust fitment, finishing the radio/speakers, sunroof button install in the headliner, steering tie rods and upper shock mounts, bodyshop final tweaks to align panels better and install lower rocker trim piece, and the oil leak at the timing chain cover is back.

December, 2019

I’ve been working on some small projects for the car, crossing things off of a to-do list.  First I finished wiring in the upgraded (brighter) tail lights from Andrew with “Mo Betta Brighta”.  He advertises on mye28 and I plan to have him do a set of upgraded tail lights for that car as well.  He increased the brake lights that light up and also made the rear fog dual side vs stock which is left side only.  I’m happy with the result.

I also spent some time working on the headlight cleaning system.  I have all the wiring I think but when I hooked it into the harness on the passenger side, it caused the fuse to blow.  Also I routed the windshield washer fluid hoses through the hood for the windshield but they are so hard and brittle I plan to re-do the job with new ones.  I also installed the headlight wipers and nozzles in the grille but ultimately left the harness unplugged from the main headlight harness.  The relay is in there now though and the harness (unplugged) is laying in there.  I can’t decide how hard I want to pursue having this thing work or if it will be just for show.  More than 3/4 of the parts are NLA from BMW.

The last project that I’m kicking around is getting these Cibie foglights in.  The car has stock connectors tied off to the side by the fuse box.  I didn’t realize that was what these connectors were (see picture below, along the inner fender wall next to the battery) until I saw them in use for a US-spec car with factory front foglights (my black parts car from 2 years ago).  I had to guess on which connectors under the instrument panel to plug the front foglight switch into so hopefully I’m not setting myself up for more blown fuses.  Besides completing the wiring, the biggest challenge I have is getting some custom foglight brackets made that will poke through the E12 M535i airdam.

Finally, I did work on the driver side kick panel getting the new piece installed and mocking up the dead pedal.  Unfortunately I didn’t plan right for the stud in the floor that the bodyshop welded in 3 years ago because with carpet and padding, it just won’t line up.  I’ve been making a list of things for the bodyshop to tackle when they get the car back in the spring to finalize it and this was added to that list (along with paint runs I’ve found, the lower rocker trim, aligning the doors /hood/ and trunk, and other attention items).  In the picture it is only attached by the top screw that holds the kick panel lower part in, not on the bottom by the floorboard stud.

I also fitted the strut tower brace even though it will have to come off again in order to take out the K-Macs in the spring and put stock upper shock mounts in which is my plan.

I was curious on the stripes so I finally unrolled them and hung them on the car with blue painters tape just to see how it will look when done.  I can’t wait.

I also need to order floor mats…. Motorsport striping would be ideal.

March/April 2020

Well, the car is back at the body shop as of March to finalize some loose ends.  They tried to fit the exhaust which should go together like Legos, but there are some slight fitment issues with the down pipes and also where the center/large resonator muffler joins the rear muffler.  So that was a bust apparently and I’ll still need to take it to an exhaust shop.

The main things the body shop is working on is fitting the lower rocker trim, painting the lower rockers black, painting the C pillar vent trim silver, painting the front grille mounting tabs including the kidney grille mount black (so the body color doesn’t show up behind the grilles), adjusting fit of the body panels, wet sanding and buffing the entire car, and adjusting the floor mounted stud for the dead pedal.

The work hasn’t been going that quickly partially do to the covid19 impacts to our society and work/small business.  Also the car itself has been intermittently non-running due to we think a bad ground so that makes it difficult to move around the body shop.  And finally and most significantly, they had to remove the trunk lid and sand it bare metal and repaint it.  Something happened in the paint prep a few years ago and there was spiderweb cracking under the paint that started to show through.  So that’s currently where the work sits, the trunk lid removed, and getting prepped for paint (again with the single stage Glasurit paint code 146).

We are finally done with body and paintwork!  The guys at Sears Autobody in Plymouth, MN did a fantastic job buffing and polishing the paint, painting the rockers and grille tabs black, painting the c-pillar grille trim silver, getting the rocker trim mounted, the Alpina dead pedal mounted, and some other touch-ups along with body panel alignment (like the hood and trunk).  The car looks too perfect to drive!

Then it was put on a flatbed and driven over (last time on a flatbed?) to Motorwerks BMW in Bloomington, MN where their master tech Tony who specializes in old BMW’s is working through the final issues.  The car was not running again but it turned out to be a simple fix with the resistor connections for the L-jet injection down by the passenger headlight.  Next he will be getting the exhaust mounted once and for all, taking care of oil leaks, and installing new tie rods and front upper shock mounts.  The oil leak source seems to be the valve cover so that will get replaced (and they’ll adjust the valves while in there) and hopefully I’m good to go for now.  The transmission needs to be resealed as does the diff, but I just want to drive it and deal with those later.