A BMW cult classic rises from the scrapheap of history

A 530 MLE which ruled the track in the 70s is undergoing restoration in SA

16 July 2019 - 10:55 By Motoring Reporter
William Mokwape, a retired BMW employee who built the BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition behind him in 1976, prepares to refit the motor.
William Mokwape, a retired BMW employee who built the BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition behind him in 1976, prepares to refit the motor.
Image: Supplied

The restoration of the SA-only built BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE) is now at an advanced stage.

In April this year, the revival process of the iconic classic car began when it was stripped down from its rusty condition, cleaned and received its first coat of paint. A number of new and old parts were neatly laid out waiting to be assembled into various parts of the car.

 At the beginning of July 2019, car number 100 was repainted with its original Chamonix White metallic paint. Friday, July 12 saw another milestone of the restoration being reached – the body shell mounted on to the suspension of the car.

The bare engine was started for the first time after more than 20 years by Tim Abbott, CEO of BMW Group South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, and William Mokwape, a retired former employee of BMW Group Plant Rosslyn, who built the car in 1976. The engine will soon be fitted into the vehicle.

The restoration journey

After years of searching, BMW South Africa acquired one of the only BMW 530 MLEs known to have endured beyond its 70s heyday. Car number 100, which came with a particular pedigree, was owned by race driver and the racing 530 MLE’s team manager, Peter Kaye-Eddie, and its engine and chassis numbers are a matching set. In December last year, BMW SA embarked on the journey to restore this lauded model.

The restoration process included the input of BMW Group SA employees who assembled the original vehicles. Unique in the world, the Rosslyn-produced vehicles saw weight-reduction measures that included bodywork and pedals drilled by hand, manual windows with no air conditioning, and Mahle wheels.

This BMW 530 MLE, with a racing pedigree, is being given a second life.
This BMW 530 MLE, with a racing pedigree, is being given a second life.
Image: Supplied

When BMW SA wanted to go racing in the mid-1970s, the company sought out famous racing driver and Head of BMW Motorsport Jochen Neerpasch. Shortly thereafter, two of the first-generation BMW 5 Series (E12) race cars were prepared to compete in the flagship Modified Production Series in SA.

The BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE) rolled up to the starting line in the Modified Production Series in 1976. It took 15 wins from 15 consecutive starts and BMW stamped its authority on the racing series with three championship titles in three years.

The BMW 530 MLE was the most successful racing BMW 5 Series in history when it was retired in 1985.

 To qualify for entry, however, BMW SA had to sell 100 road-going versions of this first- generation BMW 5 Series, known as the 530 MLE, to the public. Developed by BMW Motorsport as a limited edition “homologation” model for SA, 110 units of the Type 1 were produced in 1976, while 117 versions of the Type 2 rolled off the production line at BMW Group Plant Rosslyn in 1977.

The six-cylinder engine was a factory tweaked version of the same motor found in the 3.0l, boasting figures such as 147kW and 277Nm, a 208km/h top speed and a 0–100km/h sprint time of 9.3 seconds. It proved to be an early step in BMW Motorsport’s ventures into track-oriented cars for the road.

A place where legends were born – BMW Group Plant Rosslyn

South Africa enjoys a long history of rare and storied BMW special editions. In 1973, BMW Group Plant Rosslyn was the first BMW plant established outside Germany and several models were specially built for the local market until 1990. A growing list of these has been meticulously restored by BMW SA in later years, including the cult classic BMW 333i and BMW 325iS. The restoration of the 1976 BMW 530 MLE, is led by Luis Malhou of Custom Restorations. 

The restored BMW 530 MLE is scheduled to be unveiled in the last quarter of this year. 

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