1985 BMW M535i E28
An E28 M535i is a wonderful machine, but when one has been subjected to the full Kav Bhamra works, it becomes truly sensational.
SETTING THE STANDARD
Super-clean, expertly modded and built with an insane eye for detail, this E28 M535i is sheer classic perfection.
Words: Bob Harper
Photos: Gregory Owain
It’s probably a little unfair to label the E28 M535i as the forgotten M car, but for many years it did suffer by way of comparison to its M-powered stablemate, the E28 M5. Some might go as far as to claim that the M535i isn’t really a bonafide M car, lacking an ‘S’-designated power unit, but that hasn’t stopped the E12 version from achieving cult status, has it?
And we think it’s high time the E28 M535i received its moment under the spotlight – it really is a cracking example of BMW’s ‘Sharknose’ styling and drives as well as it looks. And when you come across an example that looks as fine as this one it’s not hard to see the appeal. It’s owned by Kav Bhamra (@oldskoolzimmers), who has been a serial BMW owner for over 25 years with a bit of a penchant for E28s – he currently owns four: an M5 and a triumvirate of M535is! “I just love the older BMWs, how they’re built and put together, the fine balance of how they handle and let you feel connected to the road – you drive the car, it does not drive you, which is why I love them!” he says with a smile. Kav and his mates at university had run around in E28 M535is back in the day, and he says that while they were teased by their contemporaries for coming to university in their dads’ cars, their teasing usually stopped once they’d experienced the M535i’s performance.
Time moved on, and Kav owned many different BMWs but always had a hankering to get back behind the wheel of an E28 M535i. “When I saw this one for sale, I just had to have it to rekindle that relationship. I took my dad to Norfolk with me, and it was just like old times when we used to drive and fix cars together. I still keep in touch with the owner, who has seen this car blossom. The test drive was ace as it drifted around a couple of roundabouts with my 80-year-old dad in back with a huge grin; this is what I love about these cars – they just bring back so many memories,” Kav tells us.
But perhaps before we delve into just how much work Kav has put into creating his perfect M535i, we should just have a quick recap of where the model sits in BMW’s lineup. Some might see the M535i as the blueprint for so many Sport and M Sport models that followed it, but perhaps there’s a little more to the M535i than that. Originally launched early in 1985, the M535i was mechanically identical to the E28 535i, so for European models, that meant a 3430cc M30 straight-six developing 218hp at 5200rpm and 224lb ft of torque at 4000rpm. Autocar tested one and came away with performance figures of 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds and a top speed of a rather precise 141.6mph.
It was available with three gearbox options – a traditional H-gate five-speed manual, a four-speed ZF automatic with EH control, and, for the serious driver, an optional close-ratio five-speed manual with a ‘dogleg’ shift pattern, and these latter models came with a limited-slip diff, which was an option with the other two transmissions. Underneath, European models (including those for the UK market), came with an M Technic chassis setup, which comprised Bilstein dampers, shorter springs and thicker anti-roll bars, and all M535is came with dished metric alloys measuring 165x390mm and shod with 220/55 VR390 Michelin TRX tyres. In hindsight, the rubber choice was probably a mistake. In the dry, the TRX tyres were okay, but in the wet, their large tread blocks were lacking in grip, and even BMW must have known that there were far better tyre choices available if only it had gone for traditionally sized alloys, as fitted to the later model E28 M5s.
It was the M535i’s styling that really set it apart, though, with an aggressive and attractive M Technic aero kit that really made the car stand out from more run-of-the-mill E28s – there would be no confusing an M535i with a 520i! There were body-coloured front and rear bumper assemblies, along with a deeper front spoiler and a rear diffuser, wheel arch extensions and sill extensions, plus a part-painted rear spoiler.
Inside, it featured sports seats – in cloth or leather – with M striping in discreet flashes, as well as a three-spoke M steering wheel. All-in-all, it was quite the package, and at just under £20k when it was launched, it wasn’t hugely expensive either. As good as the standard car was, there’s always room for some improvement, right? And that’s where Kav’s wealth of experience with E28s camein as he set out to create what, to his eyes, is the perfect E28 M535i. It might not be as it left the factory, but the upgrades have all been carried out with a depth of thought and consideration that can easily get lost when refurbishing, restoring or restomodding a car.
The E28 was already in really good condition when he bought it and had been repainted in its original Arctic blue, while the suspension had also been poly-bushed. Other points in its favour were a moonroof – a glass roof, as opposed to a metal one – and it was also equipped with the desirable dogleg ’box. Kav remembers many members of the BMW community saying that he’d overpaid for the car, but he didn’t care, and when you consider the way that E28 M535is have gone up in value in recent years, he certainly looks to have made the right decision. Perhaps the original plan wasn’t to carry out quite as many modifications and upgrades, but once he’d started, Kav knew he was on the right path, and even now, six years later, he might not have finished!
The first changes were to the chassis, as Kav wanted it to handle as well as it looked, and from his E28 experience, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. “First off was to lower her slightly and fit some alloys. BC coilovers were fitted, and it was also a nice surprise to discover that the anti-roll bars had been replaced with the thicker M5 ones. As far as I’m concerned, BC coilovers, a front strut brace, fatter anti-roll bars, and poly bushes are by far the best setup for the E28 – all my E28s run these modifications, and I think they make a huge difference,” enthuses Kav. As for the wheel setup, Kav really had his heart set on some of AC Schnitzer’s finest:“I sourced a set of ACS Type 1 alloys, which I rebuilt to 8.5x17” up front and 10x17” at the rear with Radinox dishes and gold bolts, and these were wrapped in 225/45 tyres up front and 245/40s at the back.” Stopping power was taken care of by some seriously upgraded brakes, with six-pot F Carbon calipers up front with floating discs, while at the rear, Kav went for four-pot Porsche items thanks to a chap on the E28 page, who was making the brackets for the rear conversion. Braided brake lines were also fitted along with a master cylinder from the 7 Series to give the brake pedal some more feel. Now that Kav was happy with the way it looked externally, it was time to turn his attention to the mechanical side of things, and Kav didn’t scrimp here, either. “I wanted to tidy up the engine bay,” he explains, and he ended up getting a little bit carried away!
“I replaced all the water pipes, vacuum pipes, coolant bottle, washer bottle, brake reservoir bottle, overhauled the cooling system, sonic cleaned the injectors, fitted new rocker arms, HT leads, rotor arm, distributor cap, pulse sensors… basically changing everything I could! The rocker cover and inlet manifold were then painted white with air-brushed M colours by Sanj and Barry at Vara Technik, who had also helped with the suspension work. I also had lots of parts nickel plated, bonnet latches, door latches, bolts, nuts – basically anything I could get off,” Kav says with a smile.
Mechanically, Kav kept things pretty standard, although it does have a Fritz’s Bits manifold and exhaust fitted, and to ensure everything was going to run right, all the fluids were replaced, including the gearboxand diff, while the clutch was also renewed as well as the rear prop doughnut. Under-bonnet insulation was sourced from BMW and fitted, as well as the original dealer registration plates and stickers. To complete the look, the engine bay stickers were also replaced, which were sourced from Pukar Designs.
Now the cosmetics and mechanical side of things were completed to Kav’s satisfaction it was time to turn his attention to the interior… and what a place that is! “Recaro C81 seats were sourced, and these were covered in Lotus white leather, along with the rear bench. I found a set of rear headrests and a fitting kit for them, which were also trimmed in Lotus white leather, as were the door cards, glove box, driver’s underside panel, gear gaiter and armrests, all with blue stitching.
The A-pillars, tops of the door cards and centre console were covered in black leather. I sourced a really rare electric rear blind for an E28 – when did you last see one of those?!” Kav enthuses. All this work was trusted to Dann Moody of Lavish Automotive, who retrims all of Kav’s cars, and Kav was delighted with the results. He also commissioned some wood cappings for the door cards and fitted an E30 rear-view mirror with map reading lights. There’s also a natty voltmeter, which is integrated into the check panel, while an Alpina replica digital vent gauge was fitted (all working and wired in), as well as illuminated door sills, which were custom-made for this car. The pièce de résistance is a super-rare AC Schnitzer wooden steering wheel, which nicely ties the road wheels to the car’s interior. Unsurprisingly, Kav’s delighted with his E28 M535i, and while he can’t think of anything else he’d like to change at the moment, he’s not one to say that one of his cars is ever finished…
“You never know,” he says with a grin, “something might come up!” However, Kav’s recently acquired an E23 7 Series, which is about to receive the Kav treatment – we can’t wait to see how that turns out, and if the M535i is anything to go by it’ll be pretty special. While the E28 M535i might not have the ultimate kudos of the M5 version, it’s still a hugely rare machine and one that’s becoming an increasingly rare sight. One thing’s for sure – you won’t see one that’s been as well looked after and tastefully upgraded as this one!
This E28 M535i is all about pure driving pleasure. An Alpina replica digital vent gauge has been added.
I just love the older BMWs, how they’re built and put together, the fine balance of how they handle and let you feel connected to the road – you drive the car, it does not drive you
Recaro C81 seats were sourced, and these were covered in Lotus white leather… as were the door cards, glove box, driver’s underside panel, gear gaiter and armrests, all with blue stitching
The interior has been treated to a stunning retrim in Lotus white leather. The M30 straight-six has been fitted with a Fritz’s Bits exhaust manifold, exhaust and chip.
TECHICAL DATA BMW 1985 BMW M535i E28
- ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION: 3.4-litre straight-six M30B34, Fritz’s Bits exhaust manifold, exhaust and chip, upgraded HT leads, rocker cover and inlet manifold painted white with air-brushed M colours. Five-speed manual dogleg gearbox, factory LSD
- CHASSIS: 8.5x17” (front) and 10x17” (rear) three-piece AC Schnitzer Type 1 Racing wheels with Radinox dishes and gold hardware, 225/40 (front) and 245/40 (rear) tyres, BC coilovers, thicker E28 M5 anti-roll bars, poly bushed throughout, six-piston F Carbon calipers with floating discs (front), four-piston Porsche calipers (rear), braided brake lines, 7 Series master cylinder
- EXTERIOR: Arctic blue, yellow main beam and fog lights
- INTERIOR: Recaro C81 seats, rear headrests, rear bench, door cards, glove box, driver’s underside panel, gear gaiter and armrests all retrimmed in Lotus white leather with blue stitching, A-pillars, tops of door cards and centre console trimmed in black leather, electric rear blind, wood caps on door cards, E30 rear-view mirror with map reading lights, voltmeter integrated into check panel, Alpina replica digital vent gauge, custom-made illuminated door sills, AC Schnitzer wooden steering wheel
Sitting on BC coilovers over ACS 17s, this E28 looks utterly fantastic Original BMW first aid kit
BC coilovers, a front strut brace, fatter anti-roll bars, and poly bushes are by far the best setup for the E28 – all my E28s run these modifications, and I think they make a huge difference