Liebhaberstück, schönwetter fahrzeug BMW E28
Story of the BMW 518i
Gotcha! I was just kidding. Of course, it was worth every moment and every cent. At first I had second thoughts about whether I should restore my newly wrecked four-cylinder E28 518i, with a collector's value of zero point zero, and if so, to what degree? Should I stop at making it roadworthy? Or get it registered as an oldtimer? Perhaps turn it into an automotive sculpture?
I got sucked down into the vortex of classic cars and I can't kick myself free from this. Being the general manager of a market leading online automotive publication I am surrounded by loveable fools smitten by the car virus, who, in turn, are surrounded by tried and trusted professionals. My car, somewhat rusty and rather banged up, was trusted to a man who has brought back quite a few cars to life from heaps of unrecognizable moldy bits.
After my mechanic and I disassembled the BMW we made the unpleasant discovery that the entire body was a heap of decaying rust, except for the roof. We gutted the car, removed all the chrome bling, the trim, the mouldings... At the end there was nothing left inside except for a single seat with its seat belt, the steering wheel and the pedals. Outside – nothing. Thus reduced to its bare essentials and barely fit for public roads, I took my car for the long ride, as the Master happens to reside in the other corner of the country. I could feel the wind tickling my leg through the floor panel. I moved my foot and got a clear sight of the road. Right through the floor.
The Master got down to work. He rang me daily, reporting his progress and requesting more components beyond that vast heap I collected over the course of a full year. I picked them up at forums and garage sales –wherever –, and finally handed them all over to him together with the car itself. He merely had to ask, and I got it for him – doors, air intakes, what have you.
And then one day the body welder called: he's passed the car along to the painter guy. I could come along and take a look the following weekend if I wanted to. He did ask me to bring along a factory brochure so they could see how far up the sides they'd have to rough the paint over the rocker panel, and also to provide some info about the cavities and the application of the anti-corrosion fat. You bet, I was there the next weekend and I could not believe my eyes.
Both guys did a perfect job. They worked fast and took a reasonable fee. I got the car home, parked it in my garage, knowing that this was the moment my car geekdom would really take off. If I were telling you about this over a pint of lager in a pub I'd tell you how I spent €500 on a handful of gizmos that could easily fit into a midsize bag and you won't even see them once the car is assembled. Not a single one of them.
I could probably also tell you how I found the website E12e28.de where I could finally locate the green upholstery and carpet set I wanted, for another €500, plus the cost of picking it up near Hamburg, a mere 1200 km from home. And then I'd tell you how I found an even better kit for less, in Dingolfing, the birthplace of my car, the Bavarian bovine nirvana. The shed it came from was full of other Beemer necessities that are not to be found anywhere – a hand crank for the sunroof, a rear shelf, and factory tweeters that fit the base of the A-pillar.
After the third lager I might tell you how I cleaned up the interior with a full day's work, just me and a brush and a high pressure washer, and some heavy duty chemicals. I'd show off my blisters and bruises I picked up during that day but then I would decide to brush it off because boys don't cry.
You would have to bear with me as I tell you what a royal pain in the derrière it is to clean up the lights if you are too cheap to buy new ones, like I was. Then I'd continue with how I took a steel cloth to all the chrome on the E28 – and there is plenty I tell you – to make them all shiny and new, and how I finished that torturous but beautiful weekend cleaning up the green vinyl door trim and the rest of the interior gadgetry.
The car now looks just how I always hoped it would. Inbound German tourists will wave and stop and ask questions. The man on the street loves it, kids smile and point their fingers at it. And I am happy to tell my story to whoever asks, because it is all new and exciting. Also, this is my first old car that looks like a proper classic one. Except of course it isn't. And when I do get my first proper classic car it sure won't be this 518i. I'd much rather carry the M535i or the 528i to that distinction. And since this E28 has cost me a lot more than it's worth I don't really drive it anyway.
Well, I do, actually. Ever since it has been reborn I have driven it to a whole bunch of meetings, such as the large scale old timer extravaganza we organized where we had some five hundred vehicles. And also to the open air movie showings we set up during the season. It will take me to those movies again this year because we are opening the theatre again and this time we have some films with original English audio.
But this is no work day vehicle. We also prefer to drive the little Merc over the weekends because the weather is just not nice enough just yet. Which is a shame because it has turned out really nice and it's mechanically also sound. It is what Germans would call a Liebhaberstück, schönwetter Fahrzeug. I hope someone will appreciate it one day.