The M1 is widely regarded as being the first real M-car from BMW. But there was a model that came before it. In the line of the “build it so we can go racing” M3. It was a South African special, a lightweight, pared-down 5 series. And now BMW is restoring one of the only 227 530 MLE cars ever built.
BMW South Africa wanted to go racing, in the country’s Modified Production Series. So they needed a race-ready car. And because the series required 100 roadgoing cars, they had to build a run of homologation specials.
To start, the 530 MLE, for Motorsport Limited Edition, got extensive weight saving measures. This went beyond the usual efforts of replacing panels with a different alloy.
Not that BMW didn’t do that. BMW South Africa, guided by BMW Motorsport boss Jochen Neerpasch, swapped some panels for aluminum. Others were made of thinner sheets of steel. Of course, creature comforts like the air conditioning were dropped, and the power windows were replaced with crank versions.
Then BMW SA got serious. The steel frames of the rear seats were removed. The front buckets were replaced with a lighter version from Scheel. And many of the panels were drilled, right at the factory, to trim even more grams. Just look at that Swiss cheese rear bulkhead.
Under the hood sat a 3.0L inline six. It was a hotter version, like that used in the quicker 3 series models. 197 hp and 204 lb-ft of torque gave it a 0-100 km/h run of 9.3 seconds.
The plan was to build 110 in 1976, but the car was so popular that another 117 were built for 1977. And while you’ve likely never heard of the model, it ended up as one of the company’s most successful racers. Certainly the most successful racing 5er, and it competed until 1985.
BMW’s Rosslyn plant was the company’s first outside of Germany, which lead to some notable specials like the 530 MLE. Because of the low production, very few remain. BMW says it took years for them to find this one, car number 100. So they’re having it restored, back to as-new condition. This car was owned by the racing team’s manager, Peter Kaye-Eddie, and the engine and chassis numbers match.
The restoration is underway now, with BMW providing updates along the way.