E12 Junior – 1988 BMW 535iS

I spend a lot of effort writing about all kinds of Italian sedans, and some of the earlier BMW 2002s and Bavarias, but have never been excited enough about the accessible price range of 1980s BMW sedans. They still qualify as pure sports sedans, since they are from the time before BMW decided it was also a luxury car maker. So while there are some nice touches like high quality leather seats, a full set of gauges, and a high-performance chassis and drivetrain, there’s still a certain simplicity to them that appeals to me. Since the E28 5-series from the 1980s is really more of an evolution of its 1970s older brother, the appeal is even greater.

Sure enough, there are plenty of affordable E28s on the market. But seriously, even BMW suffered a bit under the new smog rules of that time – when did anybody get excited about pinnacles of automotive excitement like an automatic 528e or the 524td? The 533i was a step in the right direction, but the car to have was the 535iS – its engine was formerly seen in the E12 M535i (BMW nerds will correct me if I’m wrong, no doubt!). Most 535iS are priced out of our range, but if you’re willing to go a bit higher on the mileage, you might find a well maintained example at a reasonable cost, like this car in Milwaukie, OR (who knew? it’s near Portland), with 240K miles at a very reasonable $3200. I’ve seen these cars listed with much higher mileage, so with some care this car should have a lot of life left in it.

1988 BMW 535iS rear

Pretty nice, huh? Grey is not the most exciting color, but it does look good on the car, and the M3 wheels work pretty well, if they are a little large. The paint looks to have pretty good luster for the age, especially since many 80s cars suffer from clearcoat problems. I wouldn’t trust the pictures, but the rest of the car is a pretty good indication.

1988 BMW 535iS engine

The engine looks remarkably clean for the mileage too. While a driver, this is definitely a car someone cares about. Seller doesn’t mention any recent work, but at 240K you’d have to count on it having had a rebuild or burning a bit of oil (or both!), so ask about the consumption. Thinking of my Alfa spider with about 215K, it should still be a pretty tight car to drive if all the bits have been properly maintained.

1988 BMW 535iS interior

And here’s the most surprising part to me – look at those seats. On most high-mileage cars with sports seats, the leather bolsters are all torn and faded. These have a bit of creasing, but they show their age gracefully, as does the rest of the interior. It also has a cool factory sports steering wheel (sans airbag!), and finally, a seller who actually bothers to vacuum out the interior before trying to sell the car!

1988 BMW 535iS front

Finally, a shot of the nose. The spoiler/bumper might be a little crooked, so there’s something to check out. The deep spoiler and wider tires the 535iS got made it look significantly tougher than its brothers. They’re actually M5 features, and some drivers say this car is the one to get, even beyond the M5, since it offers most of the performance at a fraction of the cost. This one definitely looks like a good option – it’s been on the market for nearly a week now, so the seller might be flexible on price. Go on, do it – here’s a gallery to get you inspired.


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