1985 BMW M5 E28 with factory body kit
How could an E28 M5 with a factory-option body kit possibly be made more desirable? As you can see here, the answer lies within some period tuning magic.
Words: Daniel Bevis
Photos: Gregory Owain
ACE OF HARTGE
SUBLIME BMW M5 E28 STUNNING CLASSIC
With a selection of Hartge additions, this immaculate E28 M5 showcases the classic M machine at its best.
So much of the performance car lifestyle depends on which side of the cat-and-mouse scenario you find yourself settling into. Arguably, there’s only one way to win the game, and that’s not to be the mouse – although Jerry and the Warner Brothers could tell you a few things about reframing perceptions. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with being reserved and mouse-like, driving sedately and carefully, obsessively monitoring gauges and avoiding excessive revs and whatnot. These are the people who never have stress-induced meltdowns…
but the flipside, being the cat is a much more exciting way to live. After all, you only live once – no one ever lies on their deathbed thinking ‘Ooh, I’m really glad I bought that Qashqai, that was so economical’. Cat-like mischief, then, is ultimately rewarding – but not without its risks. And this is the very essence of the original gentleman’s express, the E28 M5. Unleashed upon an unsuspecting world in 1984, it created a fresh new niche which has been a thing ever since: the super saloon. To the average passer-by on the street, this was just a well-specced but ultimately sensible executive four-door saloon. Those who recognised the M5 badge, however (or, indeed, anyone who tried their luck on the motorway and found themselves gazing at a pair of rapidly shrinking 5 Series tail lights in the distance) knew that this was something special.
Interestingly enough, it wasn’t just BMW’s own in-house boffins working to extract more verve and spunk from the E28 platform. Chief among the alternatives came from Hartge, with its intriguing H5S model. This legendary aftermarket tuner (which, incidentally, was approved as a manufacturer in its own right in 1985) started out with a 535i as a base, raising the 3.4-litre M30’s power output from 218hp to 240hp, then tweaked various elements of the car to suit. The suspension was uprated and necessarily lowered, some spangly wheels appeared; front and rear spoilers were bolted on – naturally, it was the ’80s – and a lesser H5 variant was offered based on the 528i powertrain. Most importantly of all, it had in-your-face side stripes. Again, ’80s.
It’s fair to say that this colourful decade celebrated a certain enthusiasm for this sort of tuning, and the lines between factory-tuned and aftermarket-tuned cars were often artfully blurred. It’s this excess-all-areas approach that’s led to the creation of the Alpine white creation you’re looking at here: a genuine M5, wearing its factory-option body kit, and tastefully augmented with pukka period Hartge goodies. It belongs to Kavaljeet Singh Bhamra (@oldskoolzimmers), and that will most likely be a name familiar to more than a few regular readers, as he’s a man with a keen eye for a quality BMW. His current stable features three E28 M535i models (one of which sports an M88 engine) and an E60 Alpina B5S (one of only two ever built in a black-on-black colour scheme) alongside the Hartge-flavoured M5.
“I’ve been owning BMWs for over 25 years, many of which have been featured in Performance BMW,” he explains. “I just love the older BMWs, how they were put together and the fine balance of how they handle and let you feel connected to the road… you drive the cars, they do not drive you, which is why I love them!”
The genesis of this period-upgraded makeover stemmed from the fact that Kav fortuitously found himself in possession of two E28 M5s – one with the OEM-option body kit and one without. “The other one is completely original with no kit from the factory, and we decided to leave that alone,” he reasons. “And this one, which was kitted from new – we decided to follow an OEM+ route using an approved BMW tuner, specifically Hartge. The E28 M5… well, just saying the name is enough to provoke goosebumps with real petrolheads (or, in my case, petrol-turban). The first-generation M5, the original BMW super saloon; just as fast as a Ferrari back in the day, but it could also carry four people and their luggage. The M88 engine it was equipped with was used in the M1 supercar, the only differences being wet sump vs dry sump. And there were only 187 UK M5s, so owning a piece of BMW’s history is a privilege.
The spec on these cars was just great – electric seats, air-con, rear blind, rear headrests… all of this back in the 1980s!” It’s evident from this gushing enthusiasm that this effervescent fan has a deep-seated and hardwired love for BMWs in general and the E28 M5 in particular, and that passion is borne out by the condition of the car you see before you. Drink it in, it really is a magnificent slice of retro performance heroism. And as is frequently the way with the finest projects, it all stemmed from an excellent base.
“The car had already been treated to a full repaint in its original factory shade of Alpinweiss I,” Kav explains. “The underside parts had all been taken off and powder coated, and the engine had been rebuilt. However, all was not perfect! On the way to fit the Hartge exhaust system to the car, we got her up on the ramp, and the driveshafts were covered in moly grease. It turned out the driveshaft bolts were only hand-tight, which was worrying as we were not shy driving there. My cousin was behind the wheel, and these cars are not there to be driven like Driving Miss Daisy! So I am very glad nothing fell out,” he says. “The crank seal also started to leak just a bit, and while removing the gearbox, some of the bolts holding the bellhousing were missing, so these were also replaced. I knew the suspension struts required attention as I had been told about this; the actual arms and so on were all OK. However, the shocks were tired, and what I didn’t expect to find were the wrong inserts in the front shocks and three of the springs being one rating while one was another… But this was all rectified with new Bilstein shocks and Hartge springs, along with all new top mounts and dust covers.”
The Hartge theme runs throughout the car, inside and out, and this was something that Kav had mapped out from the very beginning. He had already sourced all the Hartge gear, and, as such, had a clear vision of what this car should look and sound like. Heritage and integrity are very important to him, so as well as all of the mechanicals being thoroughly gone over, he had the rocker cover and assorted other parts refinished in white with M stripes (akin to the E30 M3 Evo) and had various parts perfected in chrome zinc. The dealer stickers were sourced through a company called Pukar Designs which reproduces OEM-style, concours-grade stickers and number plates for older BMWs. And with this solid base to build upon, Kav was able to sprinkle a little ’80s tuner magic across the shimmering white super saloon.
“In terms of the body, this is just as it left the factory, which makes for an interesting talking point as most people seem to prefer the M5 without the kit,” he says. “I wanted to keep to an original Hartge theme. I do love the cassette player and the period-correct Pioneer speakers in the rear shelf, as little touches like this really make the difference, and very few people notice them until you point them out. We fitted a six-branch Fritz’s Bits manifold mated to a Hartge exhaust system, and an induction kit – but I have sourced an OEM M5 airbox, which I plan to fit. The suspension with the Bilstein shocks and Hartge springs is a proven recipe which works well on these cars – my other E28s run BC coilovers, but I wanted to keep the Hartge theme running through this car. I do have a set of three-piece Hartge rims, but I thought on the M5, this may be a bit too bling, so I opted for their one-piece alloy wheels instead, which it carries off really well. And with all of this done, I think the car’s just perfect – OEM+ is definitely the way.” Much like it was back in the age of Walkmans and Filofaxes, these cat-and-mouse super-saloons raise many a smile in the 2020s, bringing joy to all aside from those who unexpectedly have their backsides handed to them when they unsuccessfully challenge a hot little sleeper that they assumed was easy meat. The legend of the M5 endures, and, if anything, it’s only got more potent with the passage of generations.
“I’m planning to use the car a lot more so that others can also appreciate it,” smiles Kav. “People on the road love seeing this, and whenever I’m filling up with petrol people come over and ask: is that a real M5? And when I pop the bonnet, I love seeing the smiles it brings to people’s faces, both young and old. What is interesting to see is how the younger enthusiasts really admire the car, even though it’s older than them. Maybe they just have great taste.” Undoubtedly so – and maybe they’ve realised that in the celestial game of cat-and- mouse, the real winners choose to be both.
Kav is a huge BMW fan, and his M5 never fails to put a smile on his face.
TECHNICAL DATA BMW E28 M5
- ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION: 3.5-litre straight-six M88/3, Ramair induction kit, Fritz’s Bits six-branch manifold, Hartge exhaust system. Five-speed manual gearbox, LSD
- CHASSIS: 7.5x18” (front and rear) Hartge Type A alloy wheels, Bilstein shocks, Hartge springs, new bushes throughout, crossdrilled front discs, E34 3.6 M5 rear discs and calipers
- EXTERIOR: Full repaint in original Alpine white I, factory body kit, BMW moonroof
- INTERIOR: Hartge instrument cluster, steering wheel and gear knob, Pioneer cassette player, CD changer and period rear speakers
I just love the older BMWs, how they were put together and the fine balance of how they handle and let you feel connected to the road… you drive the cars, they do not drive you, which is why I love them!
Hartge exhaust enhances the straight-six soundtrack. The interior is full of period-correct touches, while the Hartge additions give it that extra bit of flair and individuality.
The M88/3 has been given an M tricolour paint job, and it looks fantastic.
People on the road love seeing this, and whenever I’m filling up with petrol people come over and ask: is that a real M5? And when I pop the bonnet, I love seeing the smiles it brings to people’s faces