It’s Not Miles That Create Memories, it’s The Stops Along The Way

(an article from 2014)

4y ago

I have had a natural tendency towards automobiles since a young age, probably due to a very hands-on dad who always fixed his own car. His engineering background and skillset have rubbed off on me, and according to my parents my very first word was “car” or in Bulgarian, “kola.”

I have been an active BMW enthusiast for about six years now. My BMW ownership originally started with a red E34 540i with a manual six-speed transmission. I had that car through college and it taught me a lot. I just recently replaced it with an E39 M5. In the meanwhile, I have developed an interest in vintage BMWs by owning an earlier model E28 and later on a gray-market E23 745i Turbo.

The E28 community in Texas is very strong. These cars survive down here as we’re far away from the Rust Belt. I found this M5 on, and arranged to meet the previous owner half way between Grand Junction, CO and Houston, TX. It took a sleepless twenty-eight hour road trip to bring the car home. But as my co-driver and friend Sherman Watters says, “It’s not the miles that create the memories, it’s the stops along the way”. We drove through rain, hail, thunderstorms… and law enforcement. That is how my ownership of a legendary car began.

The first E28 I ever drove was an M5 that my friend Sherman trusted me to take for a spin, and it genuinely captivated me. The feel of being so close to the road, the lightness of the clutch and the raw output, were a great combination. Only a month later, I had my first E28 (533i with a 5 speed). Driving that car or even sitting in traffic reminded me of my childhood and my dad’s trusty VAZ 2101. It did not take long until I sold that car and I found my project E28 M5. This is a car that I plan on keeping for a while.

The car is a 1988 BMW M5 in Schwarz with a Natur interior. Production month and year are July 1987. However, all North-American E28 M5s were sold as 1988 models. I am the seventh owner. I bought it as a tired, 206,000mi E28 about a year-and-a-half ago. It was a completely stock sample that was in need of serious suspension work. It had rust; the interior was torn up and in need of serious clean up. But I had a folder of receipts dating back to January of 1989, when a gentleman in CA purchased the car brand new. I probably spent half a day just going through the car’s history. The S38 engine was in great shape, and extremely clean.

During my ownership, I have sourced out quite a few of the missing stock pieces, such as an original coolant expansion tank, a fresh airbox, and a complete tool kit. Over the past year and a half, I have upgraded the suspension to SPAX shocks and springs, polyurethane bushings all around, big brake kit, Billy Boat exhaust, and a fresh set of 17” BBS RS090 wheels, which I had refinished at home. The interior got returned to its former glory. But yet, my biggest modification was the euro conversion. The conversion was done down to the smallest details. In this process major rust spots were also addressed. The car is nowhere close to being a garage queen, but that’s not my intent. It’s my weekend warrior and the Euro plate is a tribute to my homeland of Bulgaria.

At 217k miles on the clock, I trust the car to take me anywhere I want. The S38, which is a derivation of the legendary M88/1, makes the car really come alive. The fact that the car was hand-built makes it even more special when wrenching on it at home. I do most of my work in my garage by myself, or accompanied by friends and good laughs. Just like any self-respected DIY-home mechanic, I love taking my time and stepping back and just admiring the result, with a beer in one hand.

My immediate BMW community is more than just fellows sharing the same passion. It leans more towards one large family. We have an annual gathering in Texas called Tex-Fest LoneStar Burgers & Fives. This year was its sixth installment and thanks to my BMW passion I have become an inseparable part of one large family. It’s priceless.

I love taking the E28 on twisty roads around the US. So far I have driven on the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Tail of the Dragon, the woods of Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina. The M5 made an appearance at The Vintage at the Vineyards in 2013 in Winston-Salem, NC. It was one of the 18 E28 M5s to attend. Is there a better way to commemorate twenty-five years since the first M5 came to the US? The car even took me all the way to the top of Snowshoe Mountain. I have been in the Texas Hill Country twice so far and have conquered the Three Sisters. A dream would definitely be to drive the car back home where I grew up, but a more realistic goal would be the scenic Route 101.

Despite the fact that there were 1,340 E28 M5s produced for the North American market, of which possibly half are still kicking around, I believe mine is unique. I have added my personal touches, by performing all the modifications to the car, to make it handle and appear just like I envisioned it. I never really minded the US bumper look (the “diving boards”) as they have a certain appeal to them, but the euro-bumper conversion transformed the car and made it era-specific. It does stand out in the crowd, but yet can be very unassuming. My next large project, apart from regular maintenance, is engine work. It’s going to be mostly freshening the wear items on the S38 engine.

It is an absolute honor to own the first M5 on the verge of the thirtieth anniversary since the M5 line was introduced to the automotive world. It is truly living with a legend.

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Comments (7)

  • Great car, great review! You can be really proud of this German legend!

      3 years ago
  • Great piece about keeping a great car going.

      3 years ago
  • Hi congratulations - your post has been selected by DriveTribe Classics Ambassador for promotion on the DriveTribe homepage.

      3 years ago
  • Why do all of the good stories contain the name "Sherman Watters"?

      4 years ago
  • Always a great sight to behold. My euro e28 520i in Platanengrün (including Piniengrün interior) is lovely to drive, even with (or thanks to) the 2-liter engine. Don't think the E28 ever (officially) made its way into America with those colours and this engine, and might even be a rarer sight than the M5 ;) but lovely car mate, and love that you're doing it yourself. Keep up this awesome hobby

      4 years ago