Having had a half dozen new or late model BMW products over the last 10 years plus the opportunity to test pretty much every new model released this decade, I’ve had my share of experience with modern BMW products. As much as some would argue the lack of dipsticks and the introduction of iDrive has harmed them, they are exceptional automobiles that are faster, safer and more efficient than what came before. To go further I would argue that many represent the best in their respective classes when it comes to what the enthusiast wants and needs. But that doesn’t mean they are more enjoyable than what came before them. In fact as our society has demanded bigger, safer transportation, automobile companies have had to adapt and create cars that cater the whims of customers that don’t reflect our own as enthusiasts. Granted BMW and other car companies have been doing this for decades. However with the increase in sales in the US specifically, I can’t help but feel like some of the intrinsic character in my dad’s ’74 2002 has been lost in a 2009 335i.
It’s that 2002 that has stuck in my head over the years in a way that no modern BMW has. And the ’89 535i that introduced me to German luxury or the ’86 325es that I used to drive (before handing it off to my sister). These cars had character that (for better or worse) made driving them an event.
That’s not to say I don’t love the rough idle of a cold morning with a E92 M3 or even a blast to the grocery store in my E46 ZHP. But neither give you the sense of occasion that these earlier BMWs effortlessly exude.
And that brings me to my point. I am the new owner of an old car. An Alpine White 1988 E28 535is chalk full of European OEM mods, hot cams, hotter headers, no catalytic converter and an interior finished in Pacific Blue leather. It is my new automotive love.
What separates an E28 from an E60? For one form follows function in every detail. The exhaust on the E28 isn’t off to the left or centered out of some marketers ploy to denote “sport”. Instead there’s one exhaust and two pipes coming out from under the car about two inches to the right of center. Why? I can only assume that’s exactly the spot that engineers determined was the most efficient and logical place for it. It makes you wonder how much extra weight and cost come at the expense of a 335i’s dual exhaust system.
For those that don’t know the ’88 was the last year of the E28 and the 535is represented the fastest most sport oriented model you could get in the US outside of the M5. It featured sport suspension, a unique front and rear spoiler along with a host of other small additions. Its also has a real limited slip differential that turns damp roads into an instant skid pad if you should choose to embrace your inner hoon.
Oh and a 3.5 liter inline six. Three point five… one of the largest inline six ever made by BMW. It’s an entire package (especially the engine) that is known for its longevity as much as performance.
Of course the word performance in relative in today’s terms. 0-60 around 7 and a half seconds and a top (theoretical) speed of around 135 mph don’t really hold up to the fastest cars wearing roundels these days. But it’s certainly respectable for a 21 year old car.
Then there’s the shape. The shark nose. The angles. The huge headlights (provided they’re the Euro versions) tucked every so subtly under the hood. The result is not beautiful in any way. But it has an enormous amount of character and presence. Sitting in 16″ Alpina wheels (period correct of course) I can’t help but feel a little smarter behind the wheel.
Of course that smug feeling quickly goes away when I turn on what has to be the worst sound system sold at the time. Then there’s the front and rear US mandated bumpers that could double as picnic tables. Add to that the non-functioning auxiliary power outlet and a clutch that puts your knee precariously close to your chin every time you change gears and there are times when I wonder why I left the 330i in the garage. But you quickly forgive the little niggles of a 21 year old car when you see things like the impossibly confusing seat controls conceived by an old school German engineer when I was still in diapers. I can’t imagine the logic behind them but I’m sure it’s somehow superior to my own.
Then there are the seats. In short they must be the best BMW sport seats of all time. Narrow in a way that modern society won’t allow (thank you American fast-food) and with more bolstering than anything short of fixed racing seat, they easily put to shame anything in a modern M3 or M5.
In short it turns a trip to the grocery store into a little adventure. The mechanical feel, the snug seats and the direct steering allow the car to communicate with little if any filters between the driver and the road. Yes I’m a sucker for the arcane nature of the entire package but it’s simply entertaining in a way that no modern car could ever be. And in case you couldn’t tell, I love it.
Photos courtesy of Matt Adams. Look for new photos with a much cleaner and freshly waxed car in our BimmerFile/MotoringFile flickr stream in the coming weeks.