Photos by Ben Bertucci, ©2020 Courtesy of Gooding & Company

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1988 BMW 535i
Years Produced:1985–88
Number Produced:10,252 (U.S. market 535i)
Original List Price:$36,900
SCM Valuation:$38,080 (this car)
Chassis Number Location:On left-hand side of dash near windshield
Engine Number Location:On block next to left-hand engine mount
Club Info:BMW Car Club of America
Alternatives:1986–87 Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16, 1983–86 Audi Quattro, 1985–89 Merkur XR4TI
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 6, sold for $38,080, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island, FL, auction on March 6, 2020.

I have felt incredibly curmudgeonly during the past 10 months or so. I have repeatedly griped about cars from the “Youngtimer Collection” that have recently fetched astronomical sums. I have used words such as “demoralizing” and “dreary” to describe them.

Honestly, my own crass outlook has weighed heavy on my psyche. With the realization that I was teetering on becoming a full-time collector-car sourpuss, I determined to find some positivity in my next assignment.

Then Executive Editor Chester Allen sent me the auction results from Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island Auction. There, a beige 84,773-mile 1988 BMW 535i fetched $38,080.

After seeing that number, I began to vibrate with negativity. But I clenched my fist and jaw — and tamped it down.

“It’s fine. It’s fine. You got this,” I told myself.

So, here goes.

A little 535i history

The BMW E28 was the second gen of the 5 Series cars, and it started in 1981. However, the BMW 535i didn’t make its U.S. debut until 1984.

The E28 was designed during the 1970s. Although the E28 closely resembled its predecessor, the E12, it included many upgrades and improvements underneath its steel skin.

While the E28 engineering team was hard at work developing the car, BMW owned one computer. One, uno, ein — a single computer. I’m not being hyperbolic, it’s true.

In the 1970s, BMW’s sole computer was used for spare-parts logistics — and sometimes payroll. The E28 design team had to ask for permission to use it to finish engineering part of the car’s drivetrain.

Although it is often overshadowed by the M1-powered E28 M5, the 535i was no slouch.

The inline 6-cylinder M30 engine under the hood of the E28 535i cranked out 182 horsepower and 214 foot-pounds of torque. Even with a restrictive catalytic converter in its exhaust system, the engine propelled the 535i to 60 mph from a standstill in just under eight seconds — not bad for a 3,500-pound family sedan in the 1980s.

In addition to a new drivetrain, one of the biggest upgrades the E28 received was an optional anti-lock brake system.

In early development, the ABS system caused the suspension geometry to go haywire. When activated, the ABS system shook the wheels so hard that the windows nearly shattered. So engineers reworked the front track arm and connecting-rod design to create a single pivot point centered behind the brake disc.

A reliable runner

The E28 chassis is well regarded both inside and outside the Bimmer-enthusiast world. It was impressively taut for its day, which allowed BMW to fit E28s with a forgiving suspension — one that didn’t sacrifice handling or ride quality.

Despite the car’s low-tech beginnings, the E28 has proved itself a reliable runner during the past 39 years. The inline-6 engines can run hot and are tightly wedged into the chassis. These cramped and high-heat quarters can wreak havoc on electrical systems.

Nevertheless, parts are still widely available through BMW and some aftermarket companies, so the cars remain reasonably affordable to maintain.

With that baseline established, let’s inspect the Bronze Beige Metallic ’88 535i that fetched $38,080 on Amelia Island.

The right touch of evil

It is said to be a heavily documented multiple-concours award winner featured in Bimmer magazine. It is also reported to have lived in California until 2014. Since then, it’s lived in both Ohio and Georgia, where it was owned by a pair of BMW CCA members.

Four-door cars have never been quite as collectible as coupes, which I never quite understood. So I am glad to see that a 4-door anything piqued the interest of enthusiasts.

It’s clearly a nice example with an M steering wheel, European bumpers that incorporate the M5 front valence and chin spoiler, and European headlights complete with headlight wipers — an option of which I am especially fond.

I’ve compelled myself to conclude that even the car of choice of mean stepfathers (the kind of guy I have always pictured owning an E28) in the 1980s can become a desirable collector car.

Even in beige, this 535i looks a bit wicked, in a cool and calculating way. It’s not as diabolic as, say, a Lamborghini. But the E28 definitely has a touch of evil. I can respect it for that.

But is it worth $38,080? Despite its lackluster color, I am forced to say yes. I’m making myself say yes. ♦

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