(first posted 2/5/2017) The all-new E12 5 Series took its time coming to the US. It went into production in 1972 for Europe, as the 520 and 520i, replacing the long-in-tooth “Neue Klasse” 1600/1800/2000 four door sedans. In 1973, a 525 six cylinder version appeared there, followed by the 528 in 1975. And that was the year the new mid-size BMW arrived here, as a US-only version with the larger 3.0 L fuel injected six as well as other standard equipment deemed suitable for upscale American buyers. The only thing lacking was a US-appropriate air conditioning system; more on that later.
But it was worth the wait.
Given that the new 5 Series had almost as much interior room as the considerably more expensive Bavaria, the 5 series was seen as something of a bargain at the time, priced at $9,097 ($42,239 adjusted). The handsome, slightly wedgy shape created by designer Paul Bracq had the requisite low beltline, tall greenhouse and excellent visibility. And as anyone who’s been in one in recent years knows, these are surprisingly small and delicate-sized cars compared to today’s Super-Sized 5 Series, or any cars. Ergonomics were a strong suit and seating comfort was rated “superb”, although my memories of sitting in the back seat would rate “cramped”. But then I’m a wee bit tall.
Fit and finish were also rated “excellent”. And the legendary tool kit in the trunk was a nice touch. They would be utterly useless nowadays.
The highly-refined 3.0 L six was a new version, making 176 hp @5500rpm and 185 ft.lbs of torque @4500rpm. BMW used fuel injection, thermal reactors and air injection to meet the emission regs instead of catalysts. The engine was praised for its excellent driveability, not common praise in 1975, especially with domestic cars. It started instantly, idled smoothly, and there was never a stumble or hesitation. It did lack the high rpm sparkle that this engine was noted for some years earlier before it got increasingly strangled, but for the times, it was praiseworthy. Not so its appetite, which was enhanced by the thermal reactors. R&T got 19 mpg in normal driving, which was a lot better than its dismal EPA ratings of 12/15. BMW would switch to catalysts for the 528i, which replaced the 530i in 1979.
The 0-60 run in 10.2 was about right, given its power and weight. And again, not bad for 1975, when the typical American V8 sedan would be quite happy to equal that.
Raw power may not have been its forte, but ride and handling were. R&T praised it as the best riding BMW ever, and the best handling one except possibly for the E9 coupes. As per BMW tradition of the times, handling was neutral, except in brisk, tight turns, when slight but manageable oversteer made itself noticeable.
The new power steering was praised. And the four wheel disc brakes were strong, but caused some locking of the front wheels.
R&T summed it up this way: “The 530i is everything a luxury-sports sedan should be”.
Postscript: That should read: Except the air conditioning system. It was a German Behr system, and not up to US conditions. A well-known legend is that, in an attempt to convince BMW that a better air conditioner was needed, two BMW engineers were treated to a long trip to Texas in the rear seat of a black BMW 530i with the power windows disabled.
If you missed Richard Swartz’ fab COAL of a 1975 530i he bought when he was 15½ years old, here it is. A great story of a kid’s first car. And no, the one above is not his car; it belongs to CC reader Steve Evans.