The body shell is now smoothed out and ready for a shiny coat of paint at a workshop in Vereeniging. Picture: SUPPLIED
The body shell is now smoothed out and ready for a shiny coat of paint at a workshop in Vereeniging. Picture: SUPPLIED

Work has started on the BMW SA project 530i MLE that was announced back in December.

The revival of car number 100 of the rare 1976 E12 BMW 530 MLE, the latest in a series of rebuilds that include the fabled BMW M1 from the late 1970s and the pair of 80s’ E30 BMW 333i and 325iS, is in full swing.

After years of searching, BMW SA recently acquired one of the only BMW 530 MLEs known to have endured beyond its 1970s’ heydays. Car number 100 comes with a particular pedigree — it was owned by race driver and racing 530 MLE’s team manager Peter Kaye-Eddie, and its engine and chassis numbers are a matching set.

The undertaking is part of the BMW Group’s centenary commemorations and BMW SA has committed itself to awaken a few classics, some of which boast a uniquely SA history like this 530 MLE of which only 217 were made. 

The story goes that some 42 years ago BMW SA was itching to enter the flagship Modified Production Series locally. The solution at the time was to weaponise the type 1 BMW 5 Series (E12) of which two race cars were cobbled together at BMW’s Rosslyn plant.

Most of the bits and bolts have arrived. More will be ordered as the restoration proceeds. Picture: SUPPLIED
Most of the bits and bolts have arrived. More will be ordered as the restoration proceeds. Picture: SUPPLIED

The BMW 530i Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE) was born and it collected 15 wins and three championship titles in three years. The MLE remains the most successful racing BMW 5 Series in history and was retired in 1985.

As a requisite to qualify for entry into racing, BMW SA had to sell 100 road-going versions of the MLE and thus 110 civilian units of the Type 1 were produced in 1976 and a further 117 versions of the Type 2 were made in 1977.

The 3.0l six-cylinder engine was a factory tweaked variety of the same racing motor and produced 147kW and 277Nm.  The zero-to-100km/h sprint time is claimed to have been a cracking (for the time) 9.3 seconds and it was fit enough to reach a top speed of 208km/h.

BMW has been storming race tracks as early as 1937 and by the mid-70s its arsenal of championship winning cars included the “enfant terrible” BMW 2002 Turbo of 1974 and the renowned E9 BMW 3.0 CSL of 1972 affectionately known as the Batmobile.

The 530 MLE as it looked when BMW SA acquired it. Picture: SUPPLIED
The 530 MLE as it looked when BMW SA acquired it. Picture: SUPPLIED

The lustre of the MLE is its uniqueness to SA and it went on to represent BMW’s now famous motorsports credentials long before the wedge-shaped BMW M1, the car that officially introduced the chapter of BMW race cars for the road.

The bare shell earmarked for the MLE resto-project exhibits period orthodox weight reduction measures of bodywork and pedals drilled by hand, manual windows, zero air conditioning, and lightweight Mahle wheels.

Impressively, BMW Classic, the official restoration wing of BMW, still has in stock new and recreated parts of many an ancient BMW and this restoration has been boosted by the sourcing of entirely new replacement parts, some of which still brandish parts numbers from 1976.

Luis Malhou of Custom Restorations in the Midvaal area of Gauteng has been tasked with the revival of this legend. No time frame has been given for how long the rebuild will take.