The E12 that lasted almost forever

Our next Bavarian was an E12 – the original 5-series. Ours was a pretty late model, an ’81 528i 5-speed in Polaris (silver) over blue vinyl. This car was an important part of growing up for many reasons. I finally left the back seat, it was the first BMW I ever drove, and it was also the first manual transmission I ever drove. It taught me much about the differences between FWD and RWD dynamics.It also taught me a great deal about how highly Dad valued responsibility.

With the exception of the clutch, it was a really pleasant car for a teenager to learn on. We were – unfortunately – rarely allowed to drive it. Dad needed a car for his job, and he was strict about keeping the car well-maintained and ready to go. Teenagers are not the best way to accomplish those goals, are they? We typically beat up on Mum’s incredibly-durable SAAB 900 sedan. Our rare outings in the BMW – Proms, Class Days, etc. – were made even more memorable by earning a day out with the BMW. I’m not ashamed to admit that the BMW’s recently-acquired ‘snob value’ was a tangible part of that.

Steering was slow and suspension was soft, and the small-ish motor wasn’t very powerful. If I recall correctly, it had the already-venerable M30 motor equipped with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. Despite a low compression ratio the 2.8 liter version felt livelier than my later M30B32 Motronic. I suspect it’s due to the shorter stroke and a lighter flywheel. It could also be my youthful recollections – this car just felt so far ahead of its time.

Speaking of being ahead of its time, BMW had swapped a red digital clock into the HVAC control to update the interior. This is a pet peeve to many enthusiasts, who tend to install the European analog clock. While I agree that the analog chronometer/timepiece is better looking, I feel that this is a mistake. The red digital display looked futuristic, certainly in sync with the space age.

I didn’t know a lot about the mechanical side of things then, but I did help Dad out in the garage, changing brakes and keeping the car clean. I recall the spoked “turbine” alloy wheels requiring an incredible amount of work to look presentable. This car served us faithfully for almost a decade, until it was hit in the front passenger side. Happily, the damage was largely cosmetic. One of Mum’s cousins bought the newly-totalled car from the insurance company, repaired it himself, and drove it for another decade. It’s possible that I may run across this car again!

I borrowed another picture  for this post – our car was very similar to this one. The car in question is a beautifully restored Sapphire Blue automatic sold by BimmerBrothers a few years back – here’s the post at


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