I’ll admit – I am biased on this one. My first BMW was a 1984 533i in Alpine White over Natur Leather just like this car has. Perusing this listing is in many ways like visiting with an old friend I haven’t seen in decades. We shared some great times, some heartache, and there were time I could’ve killed him – but I still love him like a brother. This car’s Burgundy Red Metallic is arguably more attractive than my old white car, and when you add the clean interior (with no dash cracks!), new (!) TRX tires, and relatively low 105K miles, the $11,950 asking price starts to seem a little less far-fetched.
I bought my 1984 533i in about 1998, on the tail-end of a trip to California, Monterey Historics, and BMW E3 Senior Six Registry “West Fest” where I’d gotten some good wheel time in TTS partner Jonathan’s 1972 BMW Bavaria driving up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. I’d always been a fan of the way that classic BMW’s looked, and I found that the driving experience was every bit as good as I’d read for years – firm suspension, communicative steering, and that smooth inline-six motor. Despite having always considered myself a Mercedes guy, I didn’t take a lot of convincing.
Returning to the East Coast I started looking for an E3 of my own, but all I could find were rusty piles. Besides, I was really looking for a daily driver, and the prospect of driving any 30 year-old car on a 50 mile round trip into Washington, D.C. every day was daunting at best, so I started to look at E23 7-series and E28 5-series cars – more modern, better equipped, arguably more comfortable, and newer. A few more rusty piles later I came across Klaus, the 1984 533i. It had just a tiny bit of rust, but was super clean and well-maintained. And it looked every bit as “classic BMW” as a Bavaria or a 2002.
In it’s day, the BMW E28 5-series 533i was billed as the “fastest production car in the the U.S.” – delivering sixty miles per hour from a standstill in just 7.7 seconds. Sure, by today’s standards that’s pretty benign and your neighbor’s Kia is faster, but the 3.2 liter M30 “big six” gives the car a great sound and the 184hp/195 lb-ft of torque give it a satisfying pull – especially through the positive action of the Getrag 5-speed manual gearbox.
I sold my 533i after about three years of ownership – and about 60,000 miles. It had been a great car, but thanks to an overheat it burned-up the valve guide seals and started consuming oil like nobody’s business. At the time I wasn’t really in the financial position to properly fix it, so I let it go. Hindsight being 20/20 I wished I’d scraped the cash together to deal with it, because despite looking I never again found one in the right condition at the right time for me to click the “buy” button. Which leads me to our subject car.
As nice as it is, this car isn’t perfect. The seats, although not showing any tears, have a little patina to them. The trim around the front and rear windshields is (typically) faded to black, and the wheels have an “interesting” gold accent to them. But really, based on the photos provided, there’s little else to fault. The seller indicates working AC (what?? It doesn’t “just need a charge”???) and brand new TRX tires – a $1,320 value even if the technology is, well, dated. If it’s a weekend driver keep it on the TRXs, but if you’re going to daily it then invest in some used BMW 15″ or 16″ wheels – BBS-style cross-spokes maybe – and put modern rubber on it.
I generally prefer when ads show an engine picture, and this one disappoints in that regard. If I were serious about this one, I’d want to know a lot more about the mechanical condition – any service history available, any leaks, what major services has it had recently – you, know, the usual questions. Generally speaking E28s are remarkably reliable, not completely unlike the contemporary Mercedes-Benz W123. Still, you want to be sure that all the electrical stuff works and that the car has been cared for. The M30 motor is a powerhorse, and this version has the benefit of over 15 years development with the first M30s hitting the street in 1968. Apart from the aforementioned overheating (my fault), the only other issue I had with my 533i was a bad brake hydraulic accumulator “bomb”. Seriously.
You can buy a lot of interesting cars for twelve grand. Heck, I paid almost $2K less for a 2001 Mercedes E55 AMG which nearly halves this car’s age and 0-60 time and can even keep my posterior toasty warm on cold winter days. Off the top of my head, for the same money you could get two of just about any 80s-90s Jaguar, an E30 convertible, any Alfa Spider, a middling W123 diesel, or, well, you get the idea. So is this car a good buy?
I paid just $3,200 for my 533i in 1998 – or about $5,100 in today’s money. It had half again as many miles as our subject car, needed tires, had that little bit of rust, but was otherwise in pretty good order. But let’s face it: 1) there were more of them still around 22 years ago than there are now; 2) this one not only has about 50% less miles, but is also about 50% nicer; and 3) thanks to folks like me (70s-80s kids) having a little more disposable cash than we used to, the “RAD” movement has pushed prices north. So back to the question of whether this car is worth the $11,950 asking price? If you want a 533i, I’d argue yes. As the title suggests: find another one like it.