1980 M535i

The Early Years

Yellow headlights, new door panels, small tweaks and attempted fixes, and early signs of rust. RUST. Mostly nibbling around the edges of all the fixes the car will need. If only I knew then what I know now.

Since returning with the car, I have enjoyed it thoroughly. I have also been slowly replacing parts and getting things in the working order that I want the car to be in. This includes working on the radio and power, Hirschman antenna which does not work currently. The motor works, but it is unable to raise the antenna when the radio is turned on. There are many other things that need to be done, such as hardwiring my Valentine One radar detector, to removing the power window switches from the center console and rear doors. The door strips that run underneath the windows on the inside of the doors, have varnish that is cracking and peeling. This is a common problem on E12 BMW’s and one that I dealt with by refinishing the panels on my old 528i. I plan to do the same with this car.


I have a new license plate on the way any day now from the state of Illinois. I will keep that a secret for now, until I can post a picture with it mounted on the car. I have also mounted the rear //M535i badges on the car, but for now, the only pictures I have are with the faded “//M” on the trunk from the previous owner. A BBS spoiler that has never been mounted that I ordered from Germany over a year ago is waiting in my garage to be mounted on this car. I would also like to get another trunk lid to have the //M535i spoiler mounted on there. That way I could swap between them. This is a dream for the future. Currently I have much more that needs attention. At the time I do the rear spoiler, I plan also to mount the front airdam for the //M535i along with the Motorsport stripes. The //M stripes are actually on order from Germany as I type this. Not that they will be mounted for a while, but I figured with rare parts like this, it is best to snag them while you can still get them.

At the same time when I get the body work done for the front airdam, I plan to have the collision rust repaired on the driver’s side rear quarter panel. The previuos owner’s son supposedly backed it into a cement post at a gas station years ago. Unfortunately, since it was not fixed, the rust has started there and will need attention. I am not sure if the panel will be replaced completely, or if it is reparable. At the same time, the rear side marker lights in the fenders will be removed and the holes filled and repainted. Unfortunately, rather than use one hole for the wiring and mounting, when this car was federalized, they drilled three holes! One for the wiring, and two for the screws holding the housing on. That will only make it more expensive to fix I would guess. Also to the right is a picture of a different white E12 //M535i in Germany that is a wonderfully straight example. This is a good shot of how I would like my car to end up, with the addition of //M stripes on it. In this picture you can also see what the correct wheels for the car look like. The wheels on my car are from an E28. I have no idea why someone swapped the wheels on my car but it will be a slight chore I’m sure to locate the correct 14″ basketweave wheels. The other two pictures to the right are of the latest addition! On July 16th, my vanity tag from Illinois finally came in the mail!


Here are some pictures of the parts I scored in mid to late September. The wooden console shelf, and especially the rear headrests, were items I never thought I would find. The door panels were a great deal for all four. The new door panels (if you can get them) are $150 each and you have to die them black. These panels were purchased from a euro 528i parts car and are in nearly flawless shape for $110 for all four panels.


I pieced together the new center console using the parts I got from Maximillion Importing (800-950-2002). The parts included the euro, non-a/c console itself, the section that holds the ashtray, defrost switch, and cigarette lighter, a new ashtray, a new radio mounting piece that goes below the ashtray console, and finally the wooden console tray that I was so happy to locate. The before and after pictures below speak for themselves. When my friend helped me do the shortshifter, he ripped out the rat’s nest of wiring under the shifter console from the power window install attempt. Now that some of these interior issues are starting to work themselves out, the car really is even more beautiful to behold.

November 2003
At last I located a suitable set of M535i replacement wheels. The E12 M535i was available with either 14×6.5″ Mahle/BBS wheels as standard, or the 14×7″ Mahle/BBS wheels as an option. The 14×7″ wheels were standard on South African E12 M535i’s I’m told.

I located a set of the 14×7″ wheels in decent shape and they are now mounted on the car in place of the E28 bottlecaps that my car came with. The car looks much better!


December 2003
I am collecting parts in preparation for getting the car painted and primed as an E12 M535i would have looked from the factory with Motorsport stripes, front airdam, and rear spoiler. Some owner along the line before me decided to remove the weather shield plastic from behind the door panels that protected the insides of the doors from moisture. This, in combination with the side impact beams that were welded in when the car was federalized, mean that my doors are rusting from the inside. Only one of them (the passenger side front) is really starting to exhibit signs that the rust is coming through on the bottom, but as long as the car is being painted, replacing all four doors is the right way to do it.

I located four brand new doors from Bavarian Autosport who were selling BMW OEM doors in BMW factory primer for super cheap to get them out of their warehouse. The only non-perfect one is the driver door which I am confident will be fixable before painting. I also have plans to get a new hood as there are some rust spots on my hood (and it is slightly bent when viewed from the front) and just before Thanksgiving, the M535i front airdam arrived after five weeks of waiting for it to come from Germany. I already have the Motorsport stripes so the only thing left is the rear spoiler. I plan to keep the rear trunklid as a new one from BMW is $520!!

February/March 2004

   I have pictures now of some more body parts for the car and other things I’ve acquired, as well as some pictures of bad news: rust. After putting in the rear headrests a few months ago, I had to remove the rear plastic wheel well/shock tower covers in the trunk to get to the head rest mounts. When I had them off, I saw some troubling signs of rust. In the third weekend of February, the weather was quite nice and I felt like tinkering. I reinstalled the Hirschmann antenna I fixed in the trunk and decided to literally poke at the rust a bit more. I used the screwdriver trick, i.e., a screwdriver shouldn’t be able to go through nice solid metal when prodded. What I found was pretty awful. There are (now that I know what to look for) obvious signs of a failed rust repair in the shock tower/ wheel well area of the car but the repair didn’t entail fixing the rust. Someone appears to have used spray foam over the rust and painted it white, but in other places it looks like they maybe tried to use some kind of metal substance to cover it up? In any event, the rust just kept on eating away underneath. The car is structurally o.k. and I plan to drive it for another summer or two, but after that I will strip it down and begin a full restoration process (wallet permitting). The good news is that I have already found out that the rear shock tower/wheel well pieces are still available as original primer stampings from BMW in Germany. They are not cheap, but not outrageous either. I hope to procure these in the next few months and set them aside for the day when the car is completely finished at a body shop. I plan to strip the car myself, and then take the rolling chassis to a shop and have it gone through completely. The rust in the rear shock towers can be completely cut out, along with the towers themselves, and the new panels will be able to be welded in and painted. No need to custom fab any metal back there (hopefully). I really do hope I don’t find any other surprises.

   Other news is that I have pictures here of the new hood I bought a few months back from Ben Thongsai in Chicago. I had paid for it but had no way to bring it to my house. Finally on the first of March I arranged for transport as I had the day off and brought it home. There is one small blemish/dent but hopefully it can be repaired. It is an original BMW replacement part in BMW primer. Now I will have new doors, a new hood, the new front M535i airdam, and hopefully in a few weeks, the new/used rear E12 M535i spoiler will arrive. I sold the BBS spoiler I was saving so I could get the M535i spoiler.

   Finally, even though I’ve had them since last summer, here are some pictures of the stripes I bought from Germany for the car. The original Motorsport stripe kit! The other picture is of a cool model I received for Christmas of, what else, a white E12 M535i with Motorsport stripes applied! It is on the shelf in our den proudly displayed. Now I need to have the real thing sitting in the garage.


Jan – ongoing: 2004
My latest obsession has been the assembly of a records book with all of my receipts, pictures of the car’s progress, and other odds and ends. I had just kept receipts in a folder, but after seeing the excellent binder that Mitch Brookhyser (a fellow E12 fan who owns a rare Alpina E12 B7 Turbo) has, I had to get my info a bit more organized and into a better viewing format.

The images to the right show the progress I have achieved so far, including the prized EPA/DOT paperwork that I was able to get for the car. Also the maintenance receipts from the previous owner’s mechanic were great to get, but left me with even more questions and concerns about the car’s history.

I will soon be adding to this file the car’s birth certificate from BMW Mobile Tradition in Munich.

April 2004
Here are some pictures shortly after the car emerged for Spring. This is the day after the oil pump was replaced (and new con rod bearings as they were shot) and of course pan gasket, oil change. The work was performed by Ben Thongsai in Chicago.

I also acquired the birth certificate for my car from BMW Mobile Traditions in Munich. It lists the original dealer the car was sold to, the options the car came with, and the build date and color. It is a very cool piece of literature to add to my collection. Along with this I received the original E12 M535i rear spoiler which I sold the BBS spoiler I used to have to acquire. It was a huge cost savings over what a new one would cost and this one is in good shape. It isn’t pictured because it’s wrapped in bubble wrap in my basement.

Finally, I also ordered the replacement Recaro seat webbing bands (courtesy of Aardvark Racing that specializes in E12-era BMW parts) that go underneath the seat cushions as mine were in a sorry state. The fabric was decayed and stretched, and the seats had become uncomfortable as you were sinking into the seat. The kit was only $30 but the labor took me about four hours to complete. I am not an upholsterer, but I think I did a good job. The seats are now much more firm, sit up higher (but the bolsters still hug you) and they don’t have the nasty fabric straps underneath them that needed to be ripped out. I did this on the driver’s and passenger seat, but the underside of the passenger seat is pictured.