Curbside Classic: 1986 BMW 535i – Whitewalls? On An E28? Where’s The Vinyl Roof?

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I guess the owner of this nicely-kept 535i really likes white. Well, so do I, but I sure wouldn’t have considered putting whitewalls on my white W124 300E. It’s a free country, and to each their own, but this is a bit jarring. At least it hasn’t been donked. The 535i has some significant meaning to me, as it was the top alternative choice to the 300E when I was getting ready to pull the new-car trigger in 1985.

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After only offering the low-output 528e when the E28 (CC here) arrived in 1979, BMW finally saw the error of its ways and again offered a sporting six starting in 1983, with the 533i. And in 1985, they upped the ante with the 182 hp 535i; finally the 5-Series was back on the track it started out to be with the original E12. (of course, Europe also got four-cylinder 5s, but that’s not another story).

As much as the dynamics of the E28 appealed, it was just too boxy and old-school for me. Which, if you know me, may sound a bit dissonant, but, hey; I was young once too. And in 1985, the very aerodynamic (and also roomier) W124 was simply way too modern and compelling. Its story is coming soon.

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BMW was in a rather odd period of its life during this time, with very conservative design. The E28 was really just a refresh of the E12, which first regaled us with its fine dynamic qualities in 1972. By the mid-eighties, the same basic car was looking mighty out -of date, especially compared to the slick Audi 100/5000, and of course the Mercedes W124.

The 535i had a bigger motor and more torque than the W124, but couldn’t top it for top speed, due to being an aerodynamic brick. But it undoubtedly could out accelerate it. Its semi-trailing arm rear suspension could be, ah, entertaining under all-too common circumstances, but that’s classic old-school BMW behavior.

Now the E28 is a classic period piece, and one that actually has gotten more appealing looking compared to the generally overwrought 5 Series of more recent vintages. And the compact and boxy body offers superb visibility, and a nice interior. And for the most part, these are well-built and reasonably reliable cars, although it always pays to know them well, or know a good mechanic to pay well.

BMW 1961-3200-2a

And the whitewalls: In Europe, they just never caught on in the postwar era like in the states. If one saw them at all, it was most likely on US-brand German cars, like a Ford Taunus or so. But that was pretty rare, and short-lived. There may have been a few other exceptions, but when I think whitewalls, I think American, not BMW. Unless of course it’s one like this 1961 3200 “Barock Engel” above. But even on them, they were the exception, and hardly common.

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