The BMW M5 may claim to be the first super saloon, but it wasn’t the first 5-Series to be reworked in the name of going extremely fast. No, that honour falls to the ultra-rare BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition.
Back in the mid-Seventies, BMW’s South African arm decided it wanted to go racing, targeting the hugely popular Modified Production Series. The 5-Series saloon was chosen as the slightly unlikely base for the racer.
BMW Motorsport in Germany got involved in the project, building two race cars for the 1976 season. But the rules for the series stipulated that 100 road-going versions of the race car had to be sold. And so the 530 MLE went into limited production.
Mods included a tuned, 3.0-litre straight six engine producing 197hp and 204lb/ft of torque, honed suspension and lots of weight saving – electric windows and aircon were deleted, and much of the bodywork had holes drilled out where it wouldn’t affect strength. Wide ‘arches, front and rear spoilers, BBS wheels and a BMW Motorsport livery marked the MLE out.
A five-speed Getrag gearbox sent power to the rear wheels. Performance was modest by modern standards but pretty scintillating at the time, with a 0-62mph time of 9.3secs and top speed of 129mph.
In three years, the race cars won 15 races and three championship titles. Of the road cars, 110 ‘Type 1’ cars were built during 1976 and 117 ‘Type 2’ machines were completed during ’77.
Which brings us to the rusting wreck pictured here.
It is one of the last Type 1 cars to survive, the hundredth built. It was previously owned by Peter Kaye-Eddie, a racing driver whose team ran 530 MLEs in period.
It’s in a bit of a sorry state, but is currently being restored for BMW South Africa. Work is going apace and the finished article will be shown off with much fanfare once it’s complete.
Back in Europe, BMW Motorsport itself also offered a racing package for the 5-Series. The Group 1-spec 530i was extremely successful in touring car racing, winning the Spa 24 Hours in 1977.
But it wasn’t until 1979 that BMW finally got around to offering a series production 5-Series worked over by the Motorsport department, in the shape of the M535i.
By Graham King