History of the BMW 5-Series, The E28

This article will tell you everything you need to know about every BMW 5-Series, ever.

This is part 2, featuring the E28 generation of the BMW 5-Series. Part 1 is live, so please head on over to ''New Car News and Reviews'' to read that. Part 3 is coming very soon.

THE E28

The E28. An E12, really, but much improved in every aspect. Image courtesy of Drive.

The E28. An E12, really, but much improved in every aspect. Image courtesy of Drive.

The E28 5-Series replaced the E12 in 1981. It had many innovations during it's time and introduced new things to BMW, things they had not done before.

BMW began development of the E28 in 1975. The design team was headed by Claus Luthe, BMW's chief designer at the time. Here's a fun story about computers. BMW had one. Yep. The entire company had just the one computer that they could use for development. However, it was ordinarily used for payroll management and spare parts logistics. However, Wolfgang Matschinsky (the man responsible for E28 chassis development) and his team were given permission to use the computer in order to perform the calculations neccessary for a good chassis and drivetrain. ABS became an option for the E28 and the BMW boffins had a tricky time implementing it. Matschinsky himself talked about the difficulty of ABS braking in the E28. It wasn't a pleasant experience during development. He said ''we thought that the windows would fly out of the car''. This was due to excessive vibrations which occured under heavy braking. Thus, the need for that computer development.

Amazing tech for a car that came in the 80s. Image courtesy of Brandt Cotherman on Youtube.

Amazing tech for a car that came in the 80s. Image courtesy of Brandt Cotherman on Youtube.

The E28 was also vastly more advanced in terms of technology when compared with it's E12 predecessor. It had many comfort features like cruise control, an on-board computer which displayed things like the time, average fuel consumption, range or average speed. A "check control" panel which helped to warn drivers about wonky fluid levels and lighting failures on the car was also introduced. The glazing around this panel is made out of safety glass. Neat. Unlike any other 5-Series, the E28 had a rear-hinged bonnet. Just like an E-Type! It also had a self-supporting body that was welded to the body of the car. The car had integrated crumple zones, front and back. Safe, then, for the 1980s.

E28 ENGINE OPTIONS

The wonderful M20. Packed the mid-range punch. Both literally and in terms of where it was in the 5-Series' lineup. Image courtesy of Tor635.

The wonderful M20. Packed the mid-range punch. Both literally and in terms of where it was in the 5-Series' lineup. Image courtesy of Tor635.

Like the E12, there were many model designations which had their respective engine. There was, like before, one four-cylinder option. It was a more developed version of the M10 four-cylinder and it was found in cars designated as 518 and 518i models. Here, power ranged from 88HP to 103HP.

There were three six-cylinder options to choose from when it came to the E28. Firstly, there was the M20. The M20 was designed to fill the gap between the M10 four-cylinder and the much more powerful M30 six-cylinder engine. It was still an SOHC (Single Overhead Camshaft) engine however it was fuel injected rather than carburetted like in the E12 generation's 520/6 model. It was belt driven and had a slant angle of 20 degrees. This engine was available on the 520i and 525e models. It produced from 123HP up to 127HP.

Secondly, there was the M30 we know and love. Remember, the M30 was BMW's longest-produced engine of all time (27 years!). It was also an SOHC engine and made out of iron with an aluminium head and two valves per cylinder. Just like the M20. But, unlike the M20, the M30 was chain driven. It was also slanted at 30 degrees instead of the M20s 20 degrees. Might be where they got the engine designation from. Ohh, yeah. That was probably it. The M30 featured on the 525i, 528i and the M535i models. Power ranged from 148HP to 215HP.

Thirdly, and finally, we have the amazing, the robust, the fanatically vocal and super-exclusive M88/3. This is the engine which powered the very first M5 ever created.

AMERICAN MODELS

The American bumper regulations. Doesn't add one bit of aesthetics. 180mm longer overall because of that ugly thing, too. Image courtesy of Google Sites.

The American bumper regulations. Doesn't add one bit of aesthetics. 180mm longer overall because of that ugly thing, too. Image courtesy of Google Sites.

The American versions of the E28 used the same engines as the European cars. However, they were always slightly different. The M20 was used and featured on the 528e model. The letter e was also used in Europe as the 525e. It's the same model. But, America has to have a bigger number. It makes more sense in America, too, because the M20 was stretched to a displacement of 2.7l of which the 528e is closer to than the 525e. Anyway, badging aside, same engine. Same model, too. The 'e' stood for 'eta' and came from the Greek word for economy. As in, fuel economy. This is due to the fact that the fuel crisis of the 70s still had an impact on the world, meaning buyers wouldn't normally be as keen on such a large engine displacement. Thus, BMW engineered the M20 to be more economical. How? Well, they decreased the peak power to a much lower point in the rev range and increased low-end torque. This meant the car performed very well at more manageable speeds and had that diesel-like driving style. It was uncharacterful for BMW to sell an engine that didn't want to rev high but, as with all things, that was the way of the world in the gas crisis.

The M30 came in three models. The 533i, 535i and the 535is. The 535is was BMW North-America's answer to the M535i. It was based on a 535i however it had front and rear spoilers coupled to sports suspension and seats. This was a performance-ish model that was made due to the fact that the E28 M535i was not sold in North America.

Finally, there was the S38B35 which was used in the American M5. It was a detuned version of the M88 engine used in the Euro M5. It had 30HP less. More on the M5 later. As a side note, all American models got ABS as standard after 1985.

DIESEL ENGINES

The M21. BMW's first diesel engine. If not for this, I wouldn't have my N57 530d in the family. Photo courtesy of Johannes Maximillian.

The M21. BMW's first diesel engine. If not for this, I wouldn't have my N57 530d in the family. Photo courtesy of Johannes Maximillian.

When the oil crisis of the 70s hit, BMW had to rethink what they were doing. Originally, they had no interest in diesel as they believe it didn't represent what the brand stood for - High revving engines and sheer driving pleasure. But, it appeared that the 525e and 528e weren't good enough, meaning something else had to be produced. The aforementioned e's had 2.7l engines, meaning they were big and, despite the fact that they were more economical than a 520i, they were still too thirsty. Thus, BMW took the M20 petrol engine as a basis and began developing the M21 diesel. BMW wanted to have good fuel economy but also wanted some of their values to shine through, namely power. The Steyr engine plant was to be the sole manufacturer of the M21 and, while three blokes started the works in 1978, BMW took over in '82.

The perfect body for a diesel E28 - A Touring! Image courtesy of Pinterest.

The perfect body for a diesel E28 - A Touring! Image courtesy of Pinterest.

In 1983, the first car was shown. It was the E28 524td. It was a 2.4 straight-six turbocharged unit with 115HP and 210NM of torque. The engine was of course based on a petrol, but shared a few similarities. It was cooled by water, had an iron block and a SOHC valvetrain. It was belt-driven rather than chain-driven like the bigger M30 petrol. But, unlike the M20, many components like the cylinder heads and valves were reinforced. It had swirl-chamber fuel injection and an intelligent 'instant start' glowplug system which helped to get the M21 up to operating temperatures much faster than other diesels. The thing redlined at 5350rpm. That's a lot by today's standards. Makes sense why the straight-six BMW diesels rev as high as they do today.

The idea of diesel became so sensible in the 80s that Ford decided to buy nearly 200,000 M21s from BMW. America's diesel market went uphill due to the oil crisis and people were looking for frugal machines. Thus, the purchase was made. However, the diesel market in America quickly collapsed and Ford only built a small number of Lincoln's equipped with the M21 diesel. For two model years, in fact. But, despite this, the economy was good. For those of you in Europe reading, the 524td had a fuel economy of 7.1 L/100 km while for those of you in the UK, that means 40mpg. In America, that would be 33mpg. Very economical, then. That's decent by today's standards, to be fair. And probably a more reliable powertrain, too.

E28 TRANSMISSION OPTIONS

There were four transmission options in the E28 and which you got (or could have) depeneded on the engine.

There was a four-speed manual which could be had with the low-powered M10 and M20 engines as well as one for the low-powered M30 engine. These were the Getrag 242 and 262 respectively. There was a five-speed manual option, too, which came with the M10, M20, M21, M30, M88/3 and S38 engines. These five-speed gearboxes were the Getrag 240, 245, 260, 265 and 280. One ZF transmission (The ZF S5-16) was available for certain M20 engines, too.

There were two automatic options. Either a three-speed or a four-speed. The three-speed automatic came with the M20 and M30 engines and was the ZF 3HP22, but this was a US-only gearbox. In Europe, the ZF 4HP22 came for the M10, M20 and M21 engines and became an option for the American market in 1983.

THE E28 M5

The first BMW M5 was born in October 1984 and lived on to June 1988, even though E28 production had generally shut down by then. It was revealed to the world at the Amsterdam Motor Show in February 1985. It was based on the E28 535i chassis with various mechanical changes, most notably the M88/3 engine (shared with the E24 M635CSi grand tourer coupe) which was (generally speaking) the engine from the M1 supercar. At its launch, the E28 M5 was the fastest production saloon in the world and even had more pwer than a Ferrari 328! The official markets for the E28 M5 were Europe, Great Britain, the United States, Canada, and South Africa. The European and South African cars used the M88/3 engine which had 282HP and 340NM of torque. 0-62mph in 6.2 seconds. But, despite how much of a powerhouse it was, nobody really cared. ''It only got two pages in Car, and although Autocar managed four, a Daihatsu Domino got seven pages in the same issue. Everyone liked and admired the M5, but just didn’t see it as a watershed in automotive history.'' Even the unique, slightly off-centre exhaust didn't excite people.

''It only got two pages in Car, and although Autocar managed four, a Daihatsu Domino got seven pages in the same issue. Everyone liked and admired the M5, but just didn’t see it as a watershed in automotive history.''

Henry catchpole

Cars sold in the United States and Canada used a detuned version of the M88/3 called the S38. The drop in power was mainly due to American emission regulations requiring a catalytic converter, meaning it only had 256HP. Due to an extended production run that exceeded BMW's expectation, a class action lawsuit was launched by owners in the United States. The results of this class action was that owners were basically given a discount of $4,000 on their next car. And, that was it.

96 cars were assembled in South Africa at BMW's Rosslyn plant (Remember the 530 MLE from Part 1?) but most of production took place in Germany, where the M5 was built by hand. Munich was the home of M5 production prior to the summer vacation that the factory had in '86. Then, production was moved to Garching where the rest of the M5s were built. The E28 is actually very rare, amongst the rarest M cars ever in fact.

While it was indeed a powerhouse, the rest of the car had to comply too. So, the guys at M made some changes, big changes over standard cars. The anti-roll bars were upgraded, Bilstein springs and dampers were used and an LSD was implemented to control all of that extra oomph. The M5 handled greatly, but if you drove one today (If you can't, I recommend Chris Harris' video with his E28 M5 Touring) you'd know it is still very soft and not that sporty compared to modern machines.

The M5 was the big daddy of BMW performance saloons. It put BMW on the map as a supercar destroyer, as the creators of machines which could do not just one, or two, but many things at once. It was an epic all-rounder. Church on a Sunday, shopping and school-trips in the week and the best of track days on the weekend. The M5 truly is amazing, and this E28 will always be remembered as the very first one. Bravo BMW. Bravo.

ALPINA B9 3.5

So, Alpina wanted to play with the E28 too. And, they did.

So, Alpina wanted to play with the E28 too. And, they did.

Naturally, Alpina wanted a crack at making an M5 of sorts and they did just that. Forget the funky decals you see above. No. Remove the badges, decals, and only have the wheels show-off what you're packing. In a black colour where the bumpers don't reveal themselves so much and the spoilers don't cut through the air as visibly, the Alpina is a true definition of 'sleeper'. I guess the E28 M5 is too because, it isn't really as different to other E28s. It's not like an E39 M5 was hugely different to a standard E39 SE. It's sort of, E28 to E28. Nothing much in it. Anyway, back to the Alpina.

The car was based on a 528i meaning it used the M30B28 engine. Normally, power sat at around 180HP but not in the Alpina. Ohh no. They worked their magic and cranked out 245HP and 320NM of torque which allowed for a 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds. That's pretty bonkers if you ask me. And, yes, it is down on power to the M5. However, Alpina cars were always the even more capable models. They could travel down the Autobahn at a zillion miles per hour while carrying you in a much comfier, more softly sprung vehicle. It was an even better daily than an M5. Top speed? 149mph. 2 down on the M5.

PRODUCTION

E28 production started in July 1981 and ended in December 1987. Just over 722,000 cars were built. The E28 was an '88 model year car in the States when the E34 was being introduced, but besides that, the E28 was dead and opened the curtains for the E34.

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