1984-1988 BMW M5 E28

1984-1988 BMW M5 E28

Let’s be clear about what E28 M5 didn’t do first. The world’s first super saloon? A Dodge Coronet 426, Mk2 Jag 3.8 and many others would line up to set you straight on that point. BMW M’s first four-door? You could probably argue that the South African 530 MLE homologation special of 1976 nabbed that honour. Neither the MLE nor the German-built 1980 E12 M535i that came later had the M1’s 24-valve straight-six, mind, but the M635 CSi coupe did, and it was unveiled almost 18 months before the E28 M5.


But there was something special about the original M5, launched in spring 1985, and it wasn’t only that it was the second car after the M1 to use the two-digit model code and get a proper WBS motorsport prefix on the VIN plate. Almost four decades later, there’s still something magical about the M5, and it remains the car that’s referenced as ground zero when it comes to super saloons.

It was quick, of course. Not by today’s standards, maybe, but the idea of a four-door businessman’s sedan that looked like your grandpa’s 1972 518 but could almost match the acceleration and top speed of a Porsche 911 or Ferrari 308 was fairly radical. There was more to it than that, though. Merc’s 450 SEL 6.9 W116 could waste a sports car from the lights a decade earlier, but it was a giant limo with a side hustle as a supercar. In the M5 the luxury saloon and supercar roles were given even weighting. Unlike the Mercedes, the M5 had a manual transmission, and although definitely not shouty in appearance, was shot through with enough motorsport cues to let you know its sportiness was more than autobahn deep. So there was a three-spoke M Sport steering wheel, sports seats, 16-inch BBS wheels with low-profile rubber and a boot spoiler.

Poseurs could order the ugly bodykit from the cheaper E28 M535i, but the cool kids did without and ticked the Shadowline option to replace the chrome window surrounds with blackout trim to make the M5 look meaner and stealthier.

Drive one of the 2241 cars (just 187 were offered in right-hand drive) today and the relatively soft suspension feels as alien as the incredible visibility afforded by the tall roof and skinny screen pillars. But they’re great fun to hustle along sweeping roads, the conventional H-pattern ’box feeling sweeter and requiring less concentration than the contemporary M3’s dogleg-shift transmission. With six throttle bodies and no turbos, pedal response is instant, and the S38 straight-six yowls cleanly right round to an impressively lofty 6900rpm redline. Make no mistake, a modern M5 would leave it for dead. But that new M5 – and every other modern super saloon, and every performance SUV, come to that – can trace its very existence to the E28 M5.


Supplying crazy engines to F1 teams; dominating touring car racing – BMW has fingers in every pie during the ’80s. On the road-car side the decade starts with the E12 M535i just as the M1 anomaly fades out.

M stuffed CSL E9 engines into 5-series cars on an individual basis in the ’70s, but the E12 M535i formalises the process, becoming the first production M-badged BMW built in Germany. The M1-engined M635 CSi E24 and M5 follow, and the E30 M3.

One other car carries the M badge, though many think it shouldn’t. The E28 M535i is just a spoilered line-built 535i, but it’s every bit as important to the M story because it opens BMW’s eyes to the M brand’s money-making potential.

M cars didn’t always have obese steering wheels


The modern super saloon genome starts here

  • POWERTRAIN 3453cc 24v straight-six, five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • PERFORMANCE 282bhp @ 6500rpm, 251lb ft @ 4500rpm,
  • 6.5sec 0-62mph,
  • MAX SPEED 152mph
  • LEGACY Launched a thousand copycats
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