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1984 BMW 533i – From the “Find Another One” Files

1984 533i - 1

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.

My ’84 533i back in the day…

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.

1984 533i - 8

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.

1984 533i - 3

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.

1984 533i - 6

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.

1984 533i - 4

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.

1984 533i - 7

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?

1984 533i - 3

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.

5 thoughts on “1984 BMW 533i – From the “Find Another One” Files Leave a comment

  1. Love the E28 body style. Would love to own one some day. All of my BMWs are smaller (2002, E30 convertible, M2) and while fun, I have hankered for a BMW sedan like an E28 or Bavaria. I briefly considered buying Jonathan’s Bavaria, and I don’t remember why I did not. I think my BMW sedan interest stems from my father, almost, but not quite, pulling the trigger on a new 1985 535is. I do not remember the interior color, but the exterior was red, and that car was quicker than anything else my family had ever owned. Ultimately, my father did not buy the 535is (for reasons I also do not recall), but I have not forgotten the car and whenever I see one, I stop and give it a good look over, and think I should get one someday.

    • Funny – the first BMW I every drove was also an E28 535 – in my case it was an automatic. Jonathan and I were at my parents’ 25th anniversary party and one of the folks that came was driving this car that belonged to my Dad’s company and was more than happy to toss me the keys. At the time I remember not liking it the automatic, as I was totally into the gated shifters of the Mercedes as a distant second to a good manual transmission. My daily driver at the time was also an Alfa Spider, so this was kinda stodgy in comparison. When I first drove the Bav I remember wondering how I’d missed this ultimate driving experience in my first BMW outing. I’ll chalk it up to the stick shift primarily, but also a better understanding of driving, engineering, and maybe a little maturity. You definitely should – but you know that.

  2. I would dearly love one of these now but they are extremely rare in nice condition. Growing up in England in the 70s & 80’s BMWs made Avery big impact on me with the distinctive shark nose grilles, quad headlights and stylish alloy wheels. My earliest car memory s were my grandfather’s Jaguar XJ6 Series 1 then my fathers VW Passat Estates and Toyota Pick Ups. However when I was 11 my uncle swapped his Mercedes 450SLC (I thought was ok but odd) for a 1982 BMW 528i in silver with blue cloth. Well this blew me away and set my internal benchmark for design, style, build quality and dynamics. Just shutting the door was like a bank vault, I can still remember the sound. At any opportunity I’d offer to wash it but in fact spent more time sitting in it touching and feeling all the controls and examining it with forensic detail. What happened to it? In 1988 he suspected a potential head gasket issue so traded it in for a brand new Honda Prelude, then retuning to Audi in his final years. I’ve owned one BMW a 2001 E46 323Ci which was just ok it didn’t have the E28 magic, I now happily drive a Mercedes W204 C Class Estate which at least I feel shared some of the E28 qualities of solid build quality and slightly flat almost austere design.

  3. The Five Fiver Bimmers I have owned include my first… a Bronzit 533i. Loved it but had to have an is, so for a time I actually had two E28s in the late 90’s. The 533i was actually more responsive despite the chip in the is because of the lighter flywheel and they had hotter cams I’m 99% sure. Anyway yup I bought it for $5K when someone hit and totaled my ’88 Jetta 16V that I had bought for $5,500. All these cars have gone through the roof. Here’s me driving my ’88 535is my current ride.

    I can’t wait to read your 142 Volvo story… growing up my friend’s father co-owned Jaguar Volvo BMW BL etc in Cleveland and guess what: We couldn’t afford BMW so we had Volvos, including a very orange ’74 144 and my Uncle had a matching 142 as he and my father had also done in ’67 with the first 140 series in the U.S. Peace and thanks for the read.

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