Five Alive: BMW M535I

The M535i may be semi-skimmed compared to the full-fat M5 but a closer look reveals an 1980s M-car bargain whose investment future is on a stellar trajectory

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hink you’ve missed the 1980s M-car boat? Think again. There’s still one car with that world famous blue and red trapezoid on its grille that won’t require you to re-mortgage your home. The BMW E28 M535i, which can still be found for well under £10,000. Interested? You should be… But first let's get a bit of background.

‘Of the Zealots, by the zealots, for the zealots,’ is how BMW pitched its M Division model line-up to its largest market (America) in ’87. The dictionary defines a zealot as ‘a person who is fanatical and uncompromising in the pursuit of their ideals’. Few at BMW’s M Division in Garching back in those early days would have protested at that definition of their day-to-day work.

The engineers at the Bavarian heart of BMW’s motorsport machine spent every day honing their parent companies’ products into focused race-winning machines. The knock-on result of this on-track success was the creation of some of the most inspiring road cars ever built. Sadly now the M Sport badge has been reduced to a marketing tool that drives sales rather than defines enthusiasts’ desires. 

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This is why, in recent years, we’ve seen such an astonishing price rise for early cars that deserve the M badge. The first M5 commands a high price tag, and good E12 M535is start at around £25,000.  But there is salvation, and it comes in the form of the E28 M535i, which is available for less than £10,000. 

Flicking the ignition key stirs the 3.4-litre six and it has to be said that it lacks a little character at idle. Unlike the M5’s M88 engine, with its powerful induction note from those individual throttle bodies, the M535i uses a standard (M30) ‘big six’ from the 535 and 635. Smooth sophistication was the goal with this engine rather than racing. As we’ll discover soon though, this engine still has a riotous dark side.

Lewis PlumbBMW, M535I, 1980s