While Claus Luthe’s design of BMW’s E28 models has always been a favorite here at Curbside, we’ve covered many of them with a few notable exceptions as far as I can tell. So while I was initially pleased to see what I figured would be yet another although increasingly harder to find 528e, I was even more pleased once I crept up on it and realized it was instead a 533i, a model that we seem to have missed so far.
The 528e was, and is, a desirable car on its own merits, however driving excitement isn’t really atop the list of those merits. While still a straight six, BMW’s “eta” engines of the early 80’s era were limited in the revs department and as such were perhaps better suited for crawling along Sunset Boulevard and being valet parked than heading up into the Rocky Mountains. But for 1983, BMW finally saw fit to once again bless the “Fünfer” in the North American market with one of their “Big Six” M30 engines, starting with the 3.2liter version producing the power of 181 fine Bavarian horses, thus forming the basis of the 533i such as this example.
Only available for 1983 and 1984 and in manual or automatic form, this vehicle was later replaced in the lineup for 1985 by the 535i and of course later by the even rarer 535is and M5 models. This particular one is perhaps either a recent import to this state or a recent addition to the owner’s stable based on the new-ish license plate sequence. It certainly looks to be a very well-kept example and in its element here on the open freeway heading towards the mountains.
While 181hp isn’t anything particularly special today, 37 years ago it made for a formidable car; matched with a relatively light chassis and set up with a fine ride and handling balance, these were cars for connoisseurs that could appreciate the difference, there being next to no outward difference between it and the lesser 528e.
As I passed it, I craned my neck to see the front of it in my mirror and wasn’t surprised at all to see it carry on that grand tradition of 1980’s BMW’s, at least in the US, that being the lit fog lights at seemingly any hour of day or night, no matter how clear the weather. I swear it seems like the fog light switch is hardwired to the ignition switch on every single 1980’s BMW with no other way of controlling the illumination. No matter, either way it was a welcome and refreshing sight on the afternoon of a long day and I hope the driver enjoys his car at least as much as I enjoyed looking at it.
Curbside Classic: 1984 BMW 528e – The Low Rev Modest Driving Machine by PN
Curbside Classic: 1985 BMW 535i – Whitewalls? On An E28? Where’s The Vinyl Roof? by PN
CC Twofer: 1985 BMW 524td and 1986 BMW 520i (E28) – The Eighties In Black And White by Tatra87
During these 533i/535i years, I really lusted after one, especially when someone I knew got a new 535i. This was the car for me!
When I was finally ready to get a new (company) car in 1985, the E28 just looked so dated compared to the new W124. I knew the BMW was more of a genuine sports sedan, but its basic body design went back to 1972. It was very much from another era, whereas the W124 clearly heralded a new one.
But their boxy design soon became a classic one, and they still catch my attention.
Yes Paul the Merc is a beautiful car, but to me I still prefer the old-school.
At about age 12, this was the first car I ever went really fast in. My dad’s friend, a part-time mechanic, was working on one for a client and took me along on a high speed parts run, trying to make it to the parts store before they closed. That old 5er made it with time to spare. That car started my love affair with BMW. It was identical to the one in these photos, but had maroon leather. I’d love to land one of these now!
A 533i was the first car in which I drove over 100mph. Had stopped by a dealer upon seeing the then-new 318i on display. An eager (and very kind) sales guy asked if I wanted to test drive the 318; I replied I was just looking. He insisted (and had someone watch my dog) and guided me on a 30 mile (!) test loop. When done, I told him I liked the car but was underwhelmed. Walking past a 533i, I commented that it was the car I’d love to own… he said “I’ll get the keys.”
I explained that I couldn’t even joke about affording the car, but he said we’d go anyway. So, another 30 mile drive, and I was babying this car that seemed so pricy. He made me pull over on a long straight stretch to allow other cars to get well ahead, admonished me for taking it easy, and told me to nail it. Needless to say, I laid rubber on takeoff, put down a nice patch on the shift to 2nd, chirped the tire hitting 3rd, and upshifted to 4th at 105mph. That’s when he protested… “you need to hold 3rd until 115!”
What a guy!
What an experience!
My kind of dealer! I’m loving that you took your dog to the car dealership to look at a car.
I took my first driving test in this car and failed. The jerk of a test administrator took me through a school zone. The engine screamed in first so I up-shifted but could not go under 25 in second.
Hey I recognize that road! The E28 is what every sedan since has aspired to be and one look at it next to modern sedans shows why sedans lost the plot and are on the decline. Agile, medium sized, excellent visibility, mechanical ecstasy, no nonsense but imposing styling. I love how BMW used those center mounted exhaust tips in this period.
The fog lamps comment is so true!
Wow — quite likely my favorite 5-series… due to its rarity, probably more enticing to me than even the 535i. I had driven a 528e several times, and really longed to experience one with a beefier engine. Definitely one of my favorite sedans.
I agree about the fog light switch on these!
Incidentally, one detail that I’ve struggled with on these since they were new is the slightly off-center exhaust. Seems it should either be in the center, or clearly off to one side. I guess the OCD part of me is bothered by this, king of like how the first-floor and second-floor windows of my house don’t exactly line up. On one hand, it’s charmingly odd, on the other hand, it just seems wrong.
Anyway, I thought I’d attach an ’83 533i ad here for folks to enjoy. Thanks for the pictures!
We briefly owned an E12 528i and while I prefer the E12 styling to the E28’s, I certainly remember thinking the 533 was a hot rod compared to the Eta 528e. 181 horsepower was a lot in those days! Our 528 was the last BMW I’ll ever own … the nagging issues just turned me off the marque. But I don’t mind looking at them, and my brief drives in a couple of 1st (4 cyl) and 2nd gen M3’s we’re very entertaining.
Say what you want about ‘German engineering’, but a US-spec 3.2/3.4 L engine producing 180 bhp, without the use of an air pump or EGR, was no mean feat in the mid 80’s.
In the 1990’s I had a 1986 model E28 525e for a few years. I assume it had even less power than the 528e, but it was still fine to drive around as the family car when even a little more than sedate driving elicited complaints from the crew.
The general build quality was well above that of the 1988 Range Rover we had at the same time. But my 525e had a persistent and annoying vibration through the steering wheel that I couldn’t get rid of. I was told that the driveshaft universal joints were stuck, so they were replaced. It helped a bit but didn’t solve the problem. I also replaced the tyres, which helped a bit more but didn’t solve the problem either. I tried one or two other things I can’t remember – same outcome.
The only thing that finally and fully resolved the vibration was to replace the entire car with a 1993 Lexus LS400. Problem solved. I’ve not owned another BMW since – although I have owned several other unwise wallet-lightening vehicles!
When I think of BMW, it’s this body style I usually picture. They still look good. There was a guy here in town who had one and I was always happy to see it parked in the Fred Meyer parking lot, which is where I usually saw it. Haven’t seen it for a while, though.
I guess I’m in the minority here, but I’ve never like the E28 styling, although I find it looks worse in the metal than in photos. I just find it ungainly with dodgy proportions, the front end leaning too far forward, the rear end leaning too far back, and the glasshouse is too tall. Its saving grace is that it’s an improvement over the seriously awkward E12 styling. Nice interior though.
when the 530i came out in 76… no car in history drove or handled like it. it was a generation ahead of it’s time. but by 1984 the body style was dated… it was still a car ahead in terms of engine and suspension and quality build. today… i lust after them again.
My client had an ’86 528e from new and after years of telling him I would buy it off him, he remembered and sold it to me for $3500 3 years ago. I drove it for two Canadian winters and it was solid and reliable. I loved the sound the door made when being shut. I loved the firm feel of the steering and suspension and everything analog. Power was lacking but it kept me out of trouble. I only had minor issue with noise which the local BMW dealer couldn’t fix (they had no idea what to do with a 35 year old BMW). I sold it for the same price to a friend but would buy it back again. Like an old love that came and went, good memories will last forever.
Jim – not much traffic for I-70 WB at Havana. Getting through Denver is easier than it has been in a decade or more.
You aren’t kidding, it’s maybe half of normal which makes all the difference and the 270 connector has been a breeze too. Of course I-25 is a comparative mess with the widening going on up around here but at least they are able to progress far ahead of schedule and likely to finish before the money runs out…
I own that 533i. I bought it for my dad in June 2019 for his 80th birthday. He owned an 82 528e from 82-88. My dad is driving it in those photos. So cool to see. Unfortunately, my dad passed away in September 2020 due to cancer but I still have the car. He loved it, as do I, and I regularly drive it in his honor.
Hey, very sorry to hear about your dad, but I’m now even more glad I saw and posted the car almost a year ago now. It looked great and it’s wonderful to hear that you hung on to it and drive it now, thank you for commenting – as we like to say “Every car has a story”…