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Motoring heritage: SA’s exclusive BMW M-cars

2016-10-07 08:13

SPECIAL M-CAR MOMENT: With 40 years between them, two iconic BMWs, the 530 MLE and M5 Pure Metal, represent the brand's rich performance history in SA. Image: Inga Hendricks

Ferdi de Vos

To celebrate 120 years of SA motoring heritage, Ferdi de Vos arranged a meeting of the first ever ‘M-car’, the South African built BMW 530 MLE, and the latest special, SA-specific M5 model, the Pure Metal Edition.

Johannesburg - Bavarian automaker BMW is celebrating its centenary in 2016 and South Africa is commemorating 120 years of motoring heritage this week.

Bringing together these two milestones is an exclusive and very rare 5 Series performance model (conspicuous in its absence from BMW’s world-wide celebrations) and the latest instalment in the local 5 Series M-car tradition - the limited Pure Metal Edition.

In contrast to all the hype surrounding this run-out F10 model (all 20 were sold before they reached local shores) the role of the MLE in establishing the M-brand has been very much downplayed.

Taking into account that this lightweight E12 sedan actually preceded the BMW M1 supercar - universally regarded as the first M-car - by four years, this is a travesty.

Do you own a classic BMW? Share your pictures and stories with us via Email us, or get in touch on Facebook  and Twitter.

History of M-cars

A South African initiative, the MLE also preceded the M535i built from 1980 to 1981 to coincide with BMW’s Formula 1 racing programme, and whilst the race derivative was initially developed in Germany it was subsequently built locally.

Gallery: BMW 530 MLE & M5 Pure Metal Edition

It all started in 1975 when an experimental E12 528 manual was shown to the South African media. It was received with such enthusiasm that BMW entered into negotiations with BMW Motorsport in Germany to develop a modified production racer. 

A concept car based on the 525 was built under the guidance of Jochen Neerpasch and Peter Stark, while the Schnitzer brothers finalised the development work.

The first race car was prepared in Germany, and the second in South Africa - both set to compete in The Stat Modified production car racing series, at the time the top saloon racing formula in the country.

READ: Fitting tribute? We drive BMW's R1.9-million M5 Pure Metal in SA

Image: Inga Hendricks

Homologated road cars

But, in order to be eligible for the series, BMW had to build at least 100 road-going versions of the car, unofficially called the 530 Motorsport Limited Edition.

Even at the princely sum of R10 595 (a lot of money in those days) the homologated road cars proved very popular and from January 1984 through April 1987 a total of 218 were eventually built.

With a deep front air dam and boot lid spoiler made of fibreglass, extended colour coded wheel spats and offered standard with BMW’s iconic blue, purple, and red tricolour stripe motorsport livery, the 530 MLE looked the part.

READ: Heritage Day - SA’s 120 years of motoring history

According to some reports the MLE models’ bodies were fabricated using lighter gage steel, and holes were punched in body panels while the boot lid hinges and clutch pedal were drilled.

Thinner glass was used for the side windows, the battery was moved to the boot, the rear bench base was moulded out of foam, while deep navy coloured Scheel bucket seats, a unique wooden gear knob and a special sport steering wheel rounded off the interior.

The MLE was powered by a breathed-on version of the 3.0-litre straight six in the 3.0L, with wilder cam, twin-choke Zenith carbs, a huge air filter, competition flywheel and an oil cooler.

The mill produced 147kW at 6000rpm and 277Nm at 4300rpm, giving the special Beemer a 0-100km/h time of 9.3 seconds and a top speed of 208km/h.

In race trim the 530 MLE produced an impressive 202kW at 6750rpm and 318Nm peak torque at 5500rpm.With Eddie Keizan and Alain Lavoipierre as initial drivers in 1976 the MLE’s swept all before them.

Fifteen victories from fifteen starts, and three championship titles over a period of two and a half years followed before the competition caught up, but by this time the MLE already established BMW as a sporty brand and a serious motorsport contender – a tradition still very much alive today.

The BMW 530 MLE's gear lever. Image: Inge Hendricks

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Limited edition M5

While the 530 MLE was virtually developed from scratch, the M5 Pure Metal Edition is based on the “30 Jahre” edition released overseas last year (but not made available locally).

The SA-only Pure Metal Edition is the most powerful series production M5 derivative to emerge from BMW M GmbH; its 4.4-litre M TwinPower Turbo V8 engine delivering 441kW (29kW more than the standard M5 and 18kW higher than the Competition Package) and 700Nm (up from 680Nm) of neck-snapping torque.

This allows the Pure Metal Edition to blitz the 0-100km/h sprint in 3.9 seconds and achieve a top speed of 305km/h. Its chassis set-up includes firmer springs and dampers for a 10mm lower ride height, as well as an Active M Differential, M Driver’s package and M carbon ceramic brakes.

READ: First car in SA - Happy 120th anniversary to the horseless carriage!

Only available with Pure Metal silver metallic paint, the special M5 is endowed with 20” M double spoke alloy wheels, while black leather multi-function seats and a ‘Pure Metal M5’ plaque with ‘1/20’ inscription is standard inside.

Standing next to each other the older MLE looks quite diminutive compared to the new Pure Metal Edition, and it weighs only 1233kg, a full 640kg  less than the latest M5. Still, with a power difference of 300kW this is a one horse race…

Image: Inga Hendricks

So, what was the MLE’s contribution compared to other great M-cars? Well, it’s the first production 5 Series with M mechanicals and cosmetics as standard, and its racing success has never been equalled by any other 5 Series. 

Also, with the M emblem prior to the version of what was to become BMW M division’s logo, it bears testimony to the ingenuity of South Africa’s engineers and is revered within our rich motoring heritage.

With only about nine still in existence the MLE is becoming highly collectable, which will not necessarily be the case with the Pure Metal Edition –its collectability diluted by an avalanche of very similarly specified run-out M5 models, like (deep breath) the Competition Pack, the “30 Jahre” edition, the Competition Edition, and now also the US-only Pure Metal Silver Edition…

At least the Pure Metal Edition is a discreet hat-tip towards BMW’s subsidiary at the southernmost tip of Africa, and at least pays some tribute to the MLE – the 5 Series that started it all… 

Do you own a classic BMW? Share your pictures and stories with us via Email us, or get in touch on Facebook  and Twitter.

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