1980 M535i

On The Road Again

After nearly 7 years, time to drive finally.

May, 2020

Well I’m very happy that the car is back on the road, but I wish it were under happier circumstances in our country.  Also May is the car’s original build month so it celebrated its 40th birthday this month, again I wish it were under happier times.  I was lucky that Motorwerks BMW was still open and willing to take on the car, and their excellent lead tech Tony who works on older BMW’s knew exactly how to tackle this project.  I was extremely happy with all the great communication on how to get the car on the road and remaining work to get accomplished.

The non-running issue that had started while it was at the bodyshop was a very simple connection to the ignition resistor pack by the passenger side headlight.  I must have bumped it when I was messing with the headlight cleaning system over the winter.  I was worried it was something worse.

The exhaust fitment was a bit trickier but Tony got it done.  One of the downpipes on the brand new, factory exhaust wasn’t lining up to the center resonator so they had to heat it up and bend the end of it to match.  I also had to order the correct exhaust clamp which took nearly 3 weeks to come from Germany and was a specific compression fitting clamp.  They also hung the rear muffler and got everything fitted nice and neat.

To tackle the oil leaks, we decided to put on a new valve cover gasket because there was a leak there coming down the front and rear of the block, and while in there, adjust the valves (which were out of spec).  More significantly, the transmission really needed to be resealed so I decided to bite the bullet and have Tony tackle that job.  What he found wasn’t good.  Two of the three bolts holding in the cover by the input shaft had been messed with before and had timesert thread fixes done, and a third bolt was held in with some kind of sealant only because the threads were stripped.  They did another timesert on that bad bolt, and resealed the transmission.  At least now it is finally not leaking Redline MTL for the first time since I’ve had the car. 

While the trans was out they also did a new rear main seal, but unfortunately BMW had cheaped out on the part and no longer makes the original one with an embedded spring that squeezes the crank.  Cheap ass BMW saving a buck and substituting inferior parts for the vintage cars!  It’s just awful and a further hit to keeping old BMW’s like this on the road.

Lastly, they also installed new tie rods because the ones installed had torn boots on the endlink ball joints.  I had them look into replacing the K-mac camber plates with original upper shock mounts, but setting them side by side on the bench showed how much higher the stock mounts would make the front end.  I didn’t want to raise the front of the car at all so I decided to keep the k-macs in place and have them set the alignment with camber/caster accounted for.  They replaced the spacer washers holding them into the shock towers with wider, higher quality washers but that changed the extension of the k-mac stud so that it poked up too far and interfered with the strut tower brace.  I decided to leave the strut tower brace off for now.

So all that is done, I got a ride over to the dealer from my wife, and picked up my “new” E12 M535i to drive home for the first time in nearly 7 years!  It is surreal, a bit eerie, and definitely nerve racking!  Watching other drivers, listening for every little noise or potential issue, all the while trying to enjoy it.  How does it drive?  Amazingly well, super tight and composed, tracks straight with zero play in the steering, and a very taut and composed suspension.  It is firm but doesn’t crash over bumps, and the car feels extremely solid like a new car.  I was nervous about what it would be like after such extensive bodywork but the car is VERY strong and solid for a 40 year old car.  I guess it should feel good, after all this time and care in the bodywork journey, but you never know!

Unfortunately I still have an oil leak from the head/block/timing chain cover junction.  We think the head will have to come off to diagnose further.  The car runs fantastic and is fast and fun, but the oil leak is maddening.  Also my power locks are not always working as I learned almost locking myself out of the car and unable to get the driver door key to turn and completely unlock it!  I think the internal mechanism needs an adjustment.  Also one of the BBS RS wheel bolts came loose on the driver side front wheel so I need to replace the nut that fell off the back of the wheel and get that torqued down and thread locked.

Finally, one of the wheel bolts on the BBS RS’s came loose and the nut must have been lost somewhere on the road.  I ordered new hardware plus a few extras from Black Forest Industries.  I followed their instructions for properly thread locking the nut and torquing the bolt to 25 Nm.  Also, the car is still riding on 2002 date code S03 Pole Position tires but I have new tires ready to go for it and need to get them mounted asap.  The stripes are going on soon, so more to come!


June, 2020

Time for new tires, and the stripe kit that I’ve been waiting so long for!  In early June I finally had the chance to get the wheels and tires dismounted from the car to haul them over to my trusted place (Samaritan Tire in Richfield, MN).  I decided to dismount them myself and leave the car on jack stands for a few hours rather than risk having them put the car on their lift and swap them out.  Obsessive I know, but I’m not taking any chances.  I had brand new 225/50/16 and 245/45/16 Bridgestone RE-11’s ready to mount that I bought a few years ago and carefully stored in the garage in black garbage bags to keep them fresh.  Goodbye Bridgestone S03’s with 2002 date codes!  (scary, I know)  I think the new tires look even chunkier and really fill out the car’s stance nicely.

Then on June 5th, it was finally time for the stripes.  At the recommendation of Joey who does mobile auto detailing (Joey’s Washbus comes to you!) I took the car to Auto Trimmers in Shoreview, MN where they do automotive wraps.  Lee was fantastic and a huge fan of 80’s cars and very excited to work on the M535i.  He did a masterful job getting the stripes lined up perfectly and heating them so they would adhere under the door handles and onto the rubber rear spoiler.  The results are incredible, and as I first envisioned in my mind when I bought this car in 2003, the M stripes are beautifully accentuated on a white car!  The silver center BBS RS are the perfect width and depth of lip in my opinion.  Many years ago I saw a beautiful white E9 CSL with M stripes and similar BBS RS wheels and thought to myself, my E12 M535i will be the four-door version of that car’s tasteful white w/stripes presentation.  And today is finally that day!


June 8th, 2020

Decided to do some glamor shots of the E12, E28, and E93.  Check out the respective sections for the pictures.  Thanks to Josh at Dynamic Photowerks for all the time and patience with doing the long shoot of 3 cars!

July 2020

For many years it’s bugged me that the E12 M535i’s close ratio transmission only has one transmission mount to the body.  The transmission case has two mounting “ears” so why did BMW use only one mount?  I asked Chris Kohler if he thought there was an E28 part that would work and he suggested I try part # 23711175731 which has two transmission mounts.  I ordered one which was a bit of a gamble given the cost, but it fit perfectly on the E12 and now my car has symmetrical transmission mounts.  Seems sort of like a silly upgrade, but the M90 puts out some decent torque and I just feel better having this setup on mine.

April 2021

Well after all the years since I rebuilt the engine, a persistent oil leak has bothered me coming from the timing chain covers and the intersection of the head and the block.  Whether I didn’t seal it correctly when I put the head back on, or if there was slight misalignment between the head gasket and flat surface of the lower cover, every effort I’ve made over the years has not been able to fix the leak.  I took it to my new trusted source, Tony, the head mechanic at Motorwerks in Bloomington, MN to tackle this job to reseal the engine and get the oil leak fixed.  I didn’t feel too bad about doing the big project because it’s hard to believe it has been 15 years since I rebuilt the engine and it spent a lot of time sitting during the car’s restoration.  During the process they replaced all gaskets and seals, some hardware like new head bolts, some repairs to the wiring harness and plugs, and a new oversized head gasket.  I hope there are no leaks now!  It should be done in about a week.