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1981 BMW M535i E12

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1981 BMW M535i E12



The BMW E12 series was the first model to be given the 5-Series label. Built between 1972 and 1981, almost 700,000 were built in total in factories across the globe including locations as far flung as South Africa, Indonesia, and Thailand as well as the firm’s native Germany.

The replacement for the much-loved New Class it was offered with a wide range of engines from the 89bhp 1.8-litre of the BMW 518 through to the 3.2-litre, 197bhp 533i. Inline four and six-cylinders options were on the board, along with a wide variety of both manual and automatic gearboxes.

Suspension was courtesy of McPherson struts at the front and a diagonal link axle at the rear. Most had steel wheels, and all had recirculating ball steering. The basic models even still had drum brakes on the back.

The E12 was not a technologically advanced car.

And yet, for all its humble beginnings, the E12 ushered in a whole new category into the sector, that of the high-performance saloon.

Because the M535i was the first volume production ‘M’ car (the M1 was a whole different kettle of fish, of course…). Launched in 1980, it is powered by a 3.5-litre straight-six M90 engine from the 635CSi that develops 215bhp. The gearbox is a ‘dog-leg’ five-speed Getrag manual, and the rear axle features a limited-slip differential. Performance is strong rather than vivid, with 60mph coming up in just under eight seconds and a top speed of around 140mph.

Of course, the braking system is upgraded, as is the suspension the latter being both lower and stiffer than standard, and damped by specially developed Bilstein dampers. Front and rear spoilers give the car visual flair, while the interior gained fancy, figure-hugging Recaro seats and the M1’s sports steering wheel.

It set the template for every fast saloon to come.

And they were genuinely hand-built: the cars were hauled off the assembly line and transported to BMW Motorsport GmbH in Munich to have the engineers there weave their magic – and whereas some of the firm’s modern cars are little more than an exercise in badge-engineering, the E12 M535i is every inch an ‘M’ car.

It was short-lived, though. Production had only started in the April of 1980 and lasted barely 13 months. Driven by the need to tool up for the forthcoming E28, the M535i was discontinued in May 1981.

Just 1,410 examples were built for the European market, with 960 of them being left-hand-drive, and just 450 being right-hookers.

Which makes our next auction car a very special piece of history indeed.

The Vehicle

Showing just 109,000 miles, this genuine right-hand-drive M535i is believed to have been ordered new by a CEO from the Isle of Wight in January of 1981. Remarkably, he appears to have ticked just about every single option box available, which means it is fully loaded with leather Recaro seats, air-conditioning, electric windows front and rear, and an electric slide-and-tilt sunroof.

It is also finished in the ultra-rare colour of Reseda Green metallic (075) with matching tinted green windows and a black leather interior. Not that his taste is in any doubt, but we should also point out that he went for the badge-delete option and chose not to have the distinctive ‘M’ stripes down the side, creating a hugely appealing and understated ‘Q’ car.

 A ‘matching numbers’ and very unmolested example, it is still completely original bar an aftermarket CD-player and in-car phone.

In the care of the same owner for the past five years and showing just six previous keepers, it was owned by a prominent UK BMW 02 and Neue Klasse saloon enthusiast from 1994 until 2010. It was then exported to Denmark where it joined a collection of BMW E28 5-series before being purchased by its current owner in 2015.

Re-imported into the UK in 2019, it has undergone a meticulous recommissioning. The intention was for him to keep it forever, but a change of job means that he is now reluctantly offering it for sale.

With the values of the left-hand-drive version selling for roughly twice what the RHD cars go for, now is your chance to buy one of the best and most original cars in the country before the right-hand-drive market catches up.

The current owner has written a blog including a final story about the car, this can be found at

On the Outside

As you can see from the £5,000 invoice from Michael Neergaard of Denmark, the bodywork has been comprehensibly restored. The bill included sourcing and fitting a new/old stock nearside rear door, new rear wheel arches, and a new lower rear valence as well as undertaking various minor welding to the floors and front inner arches.

All of the BMW’s cavities were then sprayed with Mike Sanders Anticorrosion Grease to ward off future problems. The car was then painted in its original colour of Reseda Green metallic by a friend of the vendors here in the UK. He’s done a beautiful job, and the colour really pops. It’s as unusual as it is attractive, and the vendor tells us that he knows of only one other UK car in the same shade.

The chromework is good too, as are the badges, light lenses, and glass. The window surrounds look like they could do with a polish, but that’s only half-a-day and a tin of Autosol.

The rubber seals and trim all look to be good too, and, as you can see from the photos, the car looks utterly sensational with a crispness to its finish we love. It really does look every bit as good in the flesh as it does in the photos and wants for nothing.

The M535i sits on its original 6.5x14-inch Mahle BBS alloy wheels, and the owner even went to the trouble of tracking down five new Pirelli Cinturato CN36 tyres in the correct 205/70 size for them. These alone set him back £900, but that he’s done so tells you all you need to know about his determination to get every little detail right – and boy, do they look terrific.

As we will never tyre of explaining, our experience shows that matching high-quality tyres are an infallible sign of a caring and mechanically sympathetic owner who is prepared to spend the appropriate amount in maintaining their car properly. Their presence does not, of course, preclude the need for a thorough inspection - something the vendor would welcome, by the way – but do give you a shortcut into their attitude towards maintenance.  

Oh, and the fabulous rear factory spoiler? The fact that it retains it in such good condition is quite remarkable as they usually perish – and new ones don't exist. This is why you see so many otherwise excellent examples without them, which is a shame because, as the owner himself puts it, “they are a defining part of the car's character.”

Work to do is limited to tidying a few of the small details like the wonky front bumper trim. It’s a (very) small problem, but does stick out a bit when the rest of the car is so good. Still, very much a #firstworldproblem, eh?

On the Inside

The interior is very original, and the only modifications are the modern headunit and the retro-fitted car-phone. Little was necessary during its restoration, and we’re delighted to see that the owner resisted the urge to restore it to within an inch of its life, a move that’s all too common and robs a car of its character and patina.

So, while the original black leather Recaro seats are still firm and comfortable, they’re gently creased and all the more glorious for being so. There are no rips, tears or other damage, just a gentle easing into their years; that we should all be so lucky as to age so gracefully.

The original three-spoke M1 steering wheel is present and correct too, as is the rare, and much sought after, dog-leg gearbox. With first down and to the left, the Getrag gearbox has become the stuff of legends.

The door cards are good, and still have the blanking plugs where the window winders would be on the poverty-spec cars. It’s a lovely period touch, and takes us straight back to the time when having electric windows in your car was something worth bragging about…

The wooden veneer is in good shape, as are the carpets. The dashboard is unsullied by extraneous instruments, and the top of the dashboard is free of the sort of sun-damage and cracks that can afflict cars of this age. The white headlining is very good bar a small area of damage on the sunroof section.

The boot is pretty good, but the carpet could do with a shampoo and some of the plastic trim could do with cleaning. On the plus side, lifting the carpet shows only rust-free metal bar some light surface corrosion in the spare wheel well. The toolkit is there and largely complete, and the spare wheel is a matching alloy.

Work to do, aside from sorting out the surface rust in the boot, is pretty much limited to finding either a working example of the original radio or, more likely, finding a modern retro design; the car is just too nice to keep the one that’s currently fitted. (That said, we think the period phone is a lovely touch, and we’d leave it for posterity!)

The new owner might like to consider having the seats sympathetically re-coloured, too. We’re torn as to whether we’d leave them or have them titivated, so we’re glad that’s not a decision we’re going to have to make.

Oh, and the driver’s side electric window isn’t working. All the others do, as does the central locking and the digital clock.


The BMW has been fettled mechanically, the seller has sourced a number of bits and bobs over the years and these have been fitted recently to keep all the cogs whirring. As the works are in the bits’n’pieces style, there are no invoices.

What we can tell you is that the owner, who is a long-time enthusiast of the model, reports that “the engine is one of the very sweetest straight-six BMW engines I've ever experienced. They all run a little different from the next one, and this one is an absolute peach!” We’ve driven it briefly and can confirm that the engine does indeed purr, and performance is as good as we’d expect of a car with this pedigree.

The engine bay itself is a work-on-progress, but its solid and just needs a little TLC to bring it to the same condition as the rest of the vehicle.

It’s much the same underneath; it’s solid and neatly undersealed but we can see that the new owner will probably want to refurbish the suspension arms etc., to remove the light surface rust and bring them up to the same condition as the rest of the car. Mind you, done piecemeal over a winter, that would be a lovely job to see off a few cold, dark evenings with a glass of something warming to hand.

History Highlights

The BMW’s MOT certificate expires in May 2021 and the online MOT history shows nothing of concern and confirms the car’s mileage.

The car comes with a number of expired MOT certificates plus a sheaf of invoices and bills to confirm the recent work that has been done to it. 


Please visit the documents section of the gallery of this listing where you will find photos of this and other paperwork to support our claim that this car has been maintained in recent years to the very highest standard.

If you’d like to inspect the car prior to placing a bid – something we would encourage – then please use the Contact Seller button to arrange an appointment.

NB. We know that many of you will be limiting your social exposure over the coming days and weeks, so if you’d rather not come to see the car in person, please give us a call and we can shoot a personal video of the car honing in on any areas you’d like us to concentrate on.

Or, even better, why not contact us with your mobile number and we can set up a WhatsApp video call? You get to direct us in real-time, giving you a virtual personal viewing experience while maintaining the lockdown. We like to call it ‘The Market’s 2020 Vision’…

What We Think

As a friend of the owner put it, the M535i drives like a four-door version of his CSL ‘Batwing’, a description we can’t argue with too much. As the first of the production M cars, it’s a hugely important part of the German car firm’s history - and this example is a very original example and yet has been refurbished with the express intention of keeping it as a usable driver’s car rather than a museum-quality collector’s car you’re afraid to use.

This is good news from a financial perspective as well as a practical one; at a time when the very best cars are selling for what is frankly silly money, the £18,000 to £25,000 we expect this one to sell for is an absolute bargain – and we defy you to find a better driver’s car from the same era for this kind of budget.

Viewing is always encouraged, and this particular car is located with us at The Market HQ near Abingdon; to arrange an appointment please use the Contact Seller button at the top of the listing. Feel free to ask any questions or make observations in the comments section below, or try our ‘Frequently Asked Questions’.

If needed, please remember we have a network of trusted suppliers we work with regularly and can recommend: Classic & Sportscar Finance for purchase-financing, Footman James for classic car insurance Thames Valley Car Storage for storing your car and an array of regional providers for transporting it.

BORING, but IMPORTANT: Please note that whilst we at The Market always aim to offer the most descriptive and transparent auction listings available, we cannot claim they are perfect analyses of any of the vehicles for sale. We offer far greater opportunity for bidders to view, or arrange inspections for each vehicle thoroughly prior to bidding than traditional auctions, and we never stop encouraging bidders to take advantage of this. We do take a good look at the vehicles delivered to our premises for sale, but this only results in our unbiased personal observations, not those of a qualified inspector or other professional, or the result of a long test drive.

Also, localised paint repairs are common with collectable and classic cars and if they have been professionally carried out then they may be impossible to detect, even if we see the car in person. So, unless we state otherwise, please assume that any vehicle could have had remedial bodywork at some point in its life.

Additionally, please note that most of the videos on our site have been recorded using simple cameras which often result in 'average' sound quality; in particular, engines and exhausts notes can sound a little different to how they are in reality.

Please note that this is sold as seen and that, as is normal for used goods bought at auction, the Sale of Goods Act 1979 does not apply. See our FAQs for more info, and feel free to inspect any vehicle as much as you wish.

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  • Location: Abingdon
  • Odometer Reading: 109200
  • Chassis Number: WBADG0206B4148155
  • Engine: 3453
  • Gearbox: 5-speed manual dogleg
  • Color: Reseda Green Metallic (075)
  • Interior: Black Leather (0113)

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