E12 M535i Price Guide (Spring 2007)

Excellent: $15,000-$25,000 (US)

Car has few original miles, usually under 60k. These cars are in absolute PERFECT condition. It is not a given that recent maintenance has been done because these cars probably sit for long periods. It is wise to check the car out thoroughly even if it looks like it is perfect. These cars are also known as GARAGE QUEENS and now that the latest model E12 M535i's from 1981 are over 25 years old, it is nearly impossible to find a car such as this (save for the under 1K mile blue E12 M535i at Mobile Tradition's headquarters in Germany, which is not for sale!). However, there are some that suddenly appear every few years.

Other factors that typically push cars into this territory are some of the very desirable Motorsport options and interior appointments. At a minimum an M535i in this category should have the original front airdam in excellent shape, original suspension and wheels, a flawless interior (ASS Motorsport seats or leather Recaros would push the value up considerably), and no rear spoiler at all or the original E12 M535i unit (which is no longer available from BMW and extremely rare). A complete and working headlight cleaning system is generally desirable, as is a sunroof and factory a/c (very rare and practically unheard of), or factory Motorsport stripes front, side, and rear.

Cars of this pedigree should also come with full paperwork since the date of first registration along with a clear ownership and maintenance history. ALL chrome on the car should be flawless, the ignition key area should be free of scratches on the steering column, and headliner should be a perfect off-white hue with no stains. All glass in the car should be original, except for possibly the windshield.

Example Car: Around 2004, a late production, white with blue cloth interior M535i was for sale in Italy. The car had power windows, no a/c, a sunroof, Motorsport stripes, original front and rear spoilers, and under 100K original kilometers. The asking price was about 18000 Euros which was about the right price for a car of this caliber.

Very Good: $10,000-$15,000 (US)

Car has between 60k and 125k miles, usually. Paint in "great" shape and preferably original (even if faded) or excellent in the form of a nice respray. Interior is very good (no warped/cracked plastic, leather/cloth is in good condition), original seats, steering wheel, and suspension is still tight (no wandering, shimmy), brakes are excellent (pads good, rotors good). Maintenance recently done. Bumpers/m-tech kit in good condition (especially front spoiler). No drivetrain noises/vibrations. Strong compression in engine. All chrome around windows, door handles, and roof rails should be shiny and very presentable with minimal scratches. Hoses and other underhood rubber in good condition, tires good. No mechanical worries, but may have a dent or two and scratches. These cars would generally be BMW car club member owned, well-maintained and regularly driven examples worth their money.

Nicer, reversible modifications are probably a bit more acceptable on a car like this, or well-done restored bits (recovered seats in matching cloth, BBS or Alpina wheels, an engine rebuild, aftermarket stereo, fitment of Alpina or OEM BMW Motorsport aero accessories that were not on the original build sheet).

Good: $5,000-$10,000 (US)

A good car to buy with the intention of bringing her back. Most of the rare Motorsport bits should still be on the car and the mechanicals need to be in good shape (it should still have good torque and pull strong, indicating that the essentials are there). Top end of engine must be in good-excellent condition. Maybe the car needs some maintenance soon. Interior decent with wear on front seat cloth or slight tears. Main issues are higher miles (closer to 200K), missing some Motorsport items such as the front spoiler (or it is bashed up), chrome scratched and poor paint, and maybe minor-but-manageable rust. The wide range is because these cars might need a lot, not just in maintenance and restoration parts, but also because some cars still have parts worth a lot like Alpina suspensions, rare aero items, or a rare color. These qualities keep the price at an acceptable level since the car is worth money for the parts alone, and the whole package is still a worthy project.

Fair: $2,000-$4,000 (US)

These would be tattered examples in need of TLC, but they still have the authenticity and perhaps some of their Motorsport parts still attached in o.k. condition. These can also be cars which have been stored and forgotten about for some time. They need new tires, brakes, major engine maintenance up to and possibly including a full rebuild, possible drivetrain work (even new driveshaft), front end work, the interior is torn or major items are missing like the Recaro seats or M1/M535i steering wheel, and probably some obvious rust. Nothing an experienced Do It Yourselfer can't fix over the winter months. However, if the car has rust starting on it in the usual E12 areas, be advised that this can be expensive to repair properly and where you see rust, you will always find more in other areas.

Poor: up to $2,000 (US)

These are really bad. Extremely ratty examples that are non-running. Depending on the severity of the engine's deterioration, figure $5-7K US for a nice, fairly stock rebuild and replacement of key components "while you are in there". Cars that might need to be retired for parts, in other words. Bumpers are HARD to find unless you want to buy them new, the front airdam is available from BMW for about $650 in parts although the brackets must be fabricated as they are no longer available. Other parts that are expensive include standard E12 items like trim pieces, euro-spec items like the rear tail lights with rear-foglight, close-ratio transmission which can cost nearly $2000 for a replacement or half that for a rebuild, and other items such as this will probably be needed on these. Would need a LOT of time, effort, and money to turn these around. Rust will be prevalent in the usual areas (front cowl, transmission tunnel, front fenders, rear shock towers, front shock towers, rear fenders, rear doglegs, bottoms of doors).

The reality is that these cars are getting extremely rare (with about 18-20 known in the United States as of 2007) so it would take a lot (like a wrecked car) to part one of these out. It's not like shopping for an E36 M3 where you can pick and choose from dozens of cars in the various classified ad websites. Nice E12 M535i's might come up for sale once every 2-3 years, and most ratty cars have already been parted out and junked before their status and rarity in the BMW collector market was ever established. Even in Germany the junk cars are commanding prices of a few thousand Euros, and prices have risen quickly from a soft market in the late 1990's and early 2000-2003 time period. If you are looking for one of these cars and even reading this description, chances are you know what the E12 M535i and its history represents, and you are willing to pay top dollar for a nice car or spend what it takes to bring back a restoration project!

(Comments from Chris Graff)

I left a lot of room to move around in these criteria because you never know what type of car you may find. Most daily drivers are in the Good to Very Good condition. Certain parts for these cars are $$expensive$$ so budget any repairs or restoration work. E12 M535i's are "generally" more desirable (Adam says: although the market for E12's is a much smaller niche than the E28 market), and thus the really good examples cost more than the E28 versions. Remember, the E12 M535i's are the first M5's. So they will always be on par, to slightly more than the E28 versions, even though they're older. Also they're MUCH rarer and more desireable because they were not a tarted up consumer version of the real M5 (much like the E28 was). And What you're ACTUALLY going to pay will depend on where and from whom you get the car of course.

It isn't that common, but the E12 M535i could have been heavily modified. Some modifications add value (such as Alpina aerodynamics). Others do not (like badly wired in CD changers). If the modification has been made so that it can be removed and the car returned to stock with no major work, and the stock pieces come with the car, then the modification adds value accordingly. For example, if the car comes with Alpina 16x7 and 16x8 wheels, ALONG with the original 14x6.5 wheels, and are all in excellent condition, then the modification adds a value.

(Comments from Adam Wilson)

When I'm evaluating the authenticity of an E12 M535i, there are a few things that I look for to spot fakes or cars that have had a lot of parts swapped out over their hard lives.

  1. The vin ends in either 4145xxx or 4148xxx: Do not just check for the vin under the hood by the passenger side front shock tower. Also confirm at least on the driver door jamb. You can verify whether the car has an original engine (and the vin again) by looking on the engine block on a small, flat section right above the starter motor (viewed from the driver side of the car). The last seven digits of the vin should be stamped there. Since the 3453cc M90 engine blocks in these cars were a bit rare to begin with, failure to verify the vin on the engine throws much into doubt about an E12 M535i's authenticity.
  2. black mirrors: All E12 M535i's had flat black, plastic mirrors regardless of paint color. Anything else probably indicates a repaint.
  3. M1/M535i steering wheel: Check for the 3-spoke M535i steering wheel that is nearly identical to that of an M1. The older-style BMW Motorsport symbol should be in the center, in grey/white coloring. The steering wheel is very rare and expensive to locate.
  4. Close-ratio transmission: A car without a close-ratio transmission is pretty much unheard of in an E12 M535i, however BMW Motorsport would do things for special customers in rare instances. If there is an original build sheet noting the change, this is the only means of verification I would accept as proof that this was original.
  5. M535i front airdam: Pay close attention to the fitment of the front airdam. Many have been removed and/or refitted on these cars and not all are done with a high degree of skill and authenticity. Look for a uniform "shelf" created by the airdam sticking out 2-3 inches from the fenders and front grille support. Check for the bar under the center of the airdam that keeps it from bending inward with age (and air resistance).
  6. A/C & a sunroof??: A car with A/C AND a sunroof is very rare, and it is generally accepted that these cars were not available with both. As with the transmission warning, only a factory build sheet can confirm this. The more likely history of the car is that it came from the factory with a sunroof and the BMW dealer installed a Behr a/c unit before customer delivery. Not quite original, but it is acceptable.
  7. Front seats: The front Recaro seats should have stickers on each seat frame with "e12" written on them and "Recaro", along with some other information. These stickers should be on the outside of the seats closest to the car doors. They do peel off with age, but their absence could indicate seat replacement at some point.
  8. Tachometer: LHD cars should have a green band around the tachometer. I have never seen a RHD car with a green-band tachometer.
  9. Speedometer range: 1980 build cars usually have 220kph speedometers, and 1981 build cars have 240kph speedometers. The exact cutoff for this switchover is not known specifically.
  10. Vin plate model: 1981 build cars usually say "M5" by the model on the passenger side shock tower vin plate under the hood. 1980 cars say "M535i". Click below to see differences in vin plaques:
    1980 vin # plaque
    1981 vin # plaque

Regarding federalized cars in the United States (Adam Wilson)

Unfortunately in the United States, those of us who own an E12 M535i that was brought in during the heyday of the greymarket movement, may face minor or major issues depending how badly the car was hacked up. The primary consequences of this work are wiring glitches, poor performance, rust, and aesthetic compromises.

Most E12 M535i's that were federalized retained their euro bumpers and if so-equipped, front airdam. However, occasionally an oddball will turn up that had US bumpers installed. Disregarding opinions on which route looks best on the car, the primary thing to evaluate is how well or poorly the installation was done and any rust and bodywork consequences as a result. In addition, most M535i's had rear sidemarkers put in the quarter panels on the sides of the body near the rear fenders and tail lights. This was the minimum, but some cars have side markers installed in the front fenders as well. Drilling these holes creates an expensive thing to fix to return to originality, potential wiring kludges to be checked, and opportunities for rust to start. Check these items carefully.

The wiring on these cars can suffer as a result of work done for US-DOT seatbelt warning buzzers or headlight changes. There is no exact roadmap for what to check, but some cars came throught he process o.k., others have strange headlight and highbeam behavior or obvious wiring splices under the steering column. It's best to check all the lights on a car for normal operation and if possible, remove the kick panel under the steering column to look for obvious signs of tampering.

To pass emissions, some of these cars were fitted with catalytic converters which strangle these engines and can result in poor performance, or in extreme cases, possible damage. Check the exhaust system of the car and determine if the car has a catalytic converter. If your municipality still has emissions testing, be advised that these cars usually will not pass without extensive detuning by a qualified mechanic and a bit of luck.

The final area for rust to start and very ugly conversion work is in the doors. The US DOT required side impact beams which were welded inside the doors of these cars during the federalization process. These welds usually burned paint and created zones for rust to start where it was hidden (behind the door panels) and it could work its way outward. The best way to evaluate this is to remove a door panel and check inside the door for obvious rust that has started, or in an extreme case, it might be visible from outside the door.

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