For all the E12 five-series means to BMW, it’s largely ignored by many car enthusiasts. Outperformed by its E28 successor, and lumbered with big impact bumpers and underdeveloped emissions equipment, it can be developed into a very competent driver by looking to the aftermarket and parts from BMW’s own later cars. So if you take a bigger fuel-injected six and its transmission from a later car, and add some suspension and brake upgrades, you can have a lot of fun for relatively short money, together with the arguably more attractive 1970s styling. But for every conversion, you need a blank canvas, and for that you could look at this 1976 BMW 530i for sale for $4000 in San Luis Obispo, CA.
Sahara isn’t exactly the sexiest color, with the cultural connotations that beige has come to have, but this car is still with its original owner at 40 years and 178,000 miles. Said to be garaged since the day it was brought home from the dealer, it looks excellent, and while the owner doesn’t provide many details of its condition, the photos do say a lot. From the front, we can see the power bulge in the hood and steel wheels with hubcaps which are specific to the pre-facelift E12s. There seems to be slight color variation between the hood and the rest of the car, so it’s worth asking if there was ever any damage to the body.
More pre-facelift details here – note the central fuel filler and smaller tail lights. The car also has California blue plates that are about right for 1976, suggesting the car’s been continuously registered since new. The car looks to be serviced by Rizzoli’s Automotive in its home town, so it might be worth a phone call to see if you can get another perspective on condition. All the chrome, trim, and bumpers look to be excellent, with the bumpers even showing reflections.
Yes, it’s a beige-on-beige car with an automatic transmission – almost the epitome of the survivor car that makes enthusiasts throw up their hands and moan “whyyyy?”. But if you’re really struggling with the colors, it’s amazing what a little (not a lot) of lowering and some contrasting wheels can do to make this car stand out. Of course, that would also be a shame since the number of original spec 530i sedans that haven’t received a set of later turbine wheels is pretty small, plus that’s kind of goofy with the automatic. Or, wait for the engine to start blowing smoke (if it doesn’t already at this mileage) and do a stealthy powertrain upgrade while leaving the outside totally vanilla.
But even the engine compartment is quite tidy – hoses look fresh, as do the radiator reservoir cap and distributor and plug wires. Bonus points for easy access to nearly everything on this car – maintenance looks like it would be a breeze. There’s no word on whether this early car still has its thermal reactor, which, while it was not the best solution, sounds super cool, like something you’d find on Doc’s DeLorean next to the flux capacitor. What would you do with this blank slate?