Restoring a South African Classic.

Published: March 2020
Video/Photos: Supplied

The story of the BMW 530 MLE could only be told in South Africa. After all, this ultra-rare classic car was built here, raced here, retired here…  and now it’s being restored here.      

 

The restoration of the BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (to give its full name) started in April 2019, but its story really began more than four decades before that. Back in the mid-1970s, BMW South Africa wanted to go racing, but in order to compete in the country’s flagship Modified Production Series events, the company had to produce a racing car and it had to sell at least 100 road-going production models to the general public. So in 1976, 110 units of the first-generation BMW 5 Series (the E12, or 530 MLE) came off the production line at BMW Plant Rosslyn, followed a year later by 117 second-generation versions.     

 

The 530 MLE was an instant success on the racetrack, scoring 15 wins from 15 consecutive starts, and taking home three championship titles in three years. By the time it retired in 1985, the BMW 530 MLE was the most successful racing BMW 5 Series in history. 

 
While the restoration of the 1976 BMW 530 MLE is being led by Luis Malhou of Custom Restorations, a number of Plant Rosslyn employees who worked on the original 530 MLE assembly line have also been brought in to help with the restoration.

During mid-July 2019, the body shell was mounted onto the suspension, and the bare engine was started for the first time in more than 20 years.
Stripped down from its rusty state, the BMW 530 MLE was cleaned and repainted in its original Chamonix White.

Stripped down

And that’s where the story ended, until more than 30 years later when BMW South Africa tracked down one of the last surviving BMW 530 MLEs: car number 100, owned by former racing driver Peter Kaye-Eddie. 

 

The car was stripped down from its rusty state, cleaned and repainted in its original Chamonix White. In mid-July the body shell was mounted onto the suspension, and the bare engine was started for the first time in more than 20 years by BMW Group South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa CEO Tim Abbott and William Mokwape, a retired BMW Group Plant Rosslyn employee who’d built the car back in ’76.  

 

While the restoration of the 1976 BMW 530 MLE is being led by Luis Malhou of Custom Restorations, a number of Plant Rosslyn employees who had worked on the original 530 MLE assembly line have been brought in to help with the restoration. Their experience was essential, because the original vehicles had all sorts of forgotten weight-reduction tricks, from hand-drilled bodywork and pedals to manual windows and rare old Mahle wheels. 

 

Plant Rosslyn expertise 

Plant Rosslyn was the very first BMW plant to be built outside Germany (in 1973), and until 1990 several unique BMW models were built here specially for the South African market. 

 

A few of them have been meticulously restored by BMW South Africa in the years since then, including the cult classic BMW 333i and BMW 325iS. The fabled BMW 530 MLE will soon add its name to that proud list. 

 

Follow #BMW530MLE on social media to see how the restoration project is progressing.