Before The BMW M5, There Was The 530 MLE
11 October 2019 - Carbuzz
BMW has painstakingly restored the original M car to its full glory!.
Everybody knows that BMW's M cars are their range-topping performance machines, taking already impressive foundations and turning them into track-eating weapons of mass destruction. Of course, enthusiasts will also know that the origins of the BMW M division lie in motorsport. Heck, when it was first formed in 1972, the M stood for 'motorsport' - a far cry from the modern jibe that it now represents 'marketing' instead.
The first official M-badged road car was the mid-engined M1, revealed in 1978, and its first official project was the 3.0 CSL racer. But few know that before the M1, the first road-going homologation car to bear M nomenclature actually hailed from the southernmost tip of Africa. In fact, the roots of the BMW M5 we've all come to know and love can be traced back to the BMW 530 MLE.
The Origins Of M
The 530 MLE was a special project developed by BMW South Africa during a time when motorsport was at its pinnacle in the country. The spirit of "win on Sunday, sell on Monday" was alive and well, with many manufacturers, including Ford and Alfa Romeo, fielding racing versions of roadgoing cars, and building special models with which they could go racing.
In 1976, BMW wanted to compete in the Modified Production Series class, but in order to qualify, BMW had to sell 100 road-going versions for homologation purposes. The result was the BMW 530 MLE - based on the first generation, E12 5 Series - and specially developed by BMW Motorsport. A total of 110 Type 1 units were produced in 1976, while a further 117 Type 2 versions were produced in 1977.
The 530 MLE - which stood for Motorsport Limited Edition - used a factory-tweaked version of the 3.0-liter inline-six motor from the 530i. It was tuned to develop 197 horsepower and 204 lb-ft of torque, up from the US-spec 530i's 176 hp and 185 lb-ft. It was also stripped down to be lighter than the regular 530i, with hand-drilled pedals, manual windows, Mahle wheels, and sections of the bodywork with holes purposefully cut without reducing structural rigidity. All in, the efforts resulted in a 0-60 mph sprint of under 9.3 seconds before reaching a top speed of 129 mph.
The 530 MLE won 15 races from 15 consecutive starts, picking up three championships in successive years. When it retired from motorsport in 1985, it was the most successful racing BMW 5 Series in history, and the road-going version was unofficially the very first BMW M5, predating even the M535i.
Restoring An Icon
Recently, however, BMW South Africa began the process of restoring one of the original Type 1 models to its original glory. After years of searching the South African arm of the German brand purchased car number 100, a car with special pedigree as it was owned by race driver and the 530 MLE's team manager, Peter Kaye-Eddie. It was also fortunate enough to still have matching engine and chassis numbers.
BMW began the restoration process, tasking Luis Malhou of Custom Restorations with the project. But to ensure that everything was returned to the original specification, William Mokwape, Walter Mahlangu, Jacob Matabane, and Cassie Calaca - four of the BMW Group Plant Rosslyn's employees originally tasked with building the 530 MLE - were involved with the restoration.
After more than a year, BMW South Africa unveiled the fully restored 530 MLE at Plant Rosslyn, bringing this one-of-a-kind motorsport icon back to its full former glory. The Rosslyn plant, just outside of Pretoria, was the first BMW plant established outside of Germany, and a plant which produced the 3 Series for more than four decades, as well as numerous special edition vehicles along the way.