There is a wonderful South African saying – ‘Boer maak a plan’ – which, translated back into English as ‘Farmer makes a plan’ does not quite capture the true meaning or convey the intent to overcome whatever the circumstances.
So, when BMW South Africa wanted to go racing in the mid-1970s, a time when the country was something of a world pariah and had limited access to much of the then current automotive technology or models, the company made a plan and sought out famous racing driver and Head of BMW Motorsport Jochen Neerpasch.
Shortly thereafter, two of the first generation BMW 5 Series (E12) race cars were prepared to compete in the flagship Modified Production Series in South Africa.
The BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE) rolled up to the starting line in the Modified Production Series in 1976. Fifteen wins from 15 consecutive starts followed and BMW stamped its authority on the racing series with three championship titles in three years. The BMW 530 MLE was the most successful racing BMW 5 Series in history when it was retired in 1985.
To qualify for entry, however, BMW South Africa had to sell 100 road-going versions of this first generation BMW 5 Series, known as the 530 MLE, to the public. Developed by BMW Motorsport as a limited edition ‘homologation’ model for South Africa, 110 units of the Type 1 were produced in 1976, while 117 versions of the Type 2 rolled off the production line at BMW Group Plant Rosslyn in 1977.
The six cylinder engine was a factory tweaked version of the same unit found in the 3.0L, boasting figures such as 147 kW, 277 Nm, a 208 km/h top speed and a 0 – 100 km/h sprint time of 9., seconds. It proved to be an early step of BMW Motorsport’s ventures into track oriented cars for the road.
And now, the restoration of the last SA-only built BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE) is now at an advanced stage. In April this year, the revival process of the legendary classic car began. The car was stripped down from its rusty condition, cleaned and received its first coat of paintwork. A number of new and old parts were neatly laid out waiting to be assembled into various parts of the car.
At the beginning of July 2019, car number 100 was painted to its original Chamonix White metallic paint. Friday, July 12 saw another milestone of the restoration being reached – the body shell mounted onto the suspension of the car. The bare engine was also started for the first time after more than 20 years and will soon be installed into the vehicle.
After years of searching, BMW South Africa acquired one of the only BMW 530 MLEs known to have endured beyond its 70s heyday. Car number 100, which came with a particular pedigree, was owned by race driver and the racing 530 MLE’s team manager Peter Kaye-Eddie and its engine and chassis numbers are a matching set. In December 2018, BMW South Africa embarked on an exciting journey in its classic car expedition to restore this lauded model.
The restoration process included the input of BMW Group South Africa employees who assembled the original vehicles. Unique in the world, the Rosslyn-produced vehicles saw weight-reduction measures that included bodywork and pedals drilled by hand, manual windows with no air-conditioning and Mahle wheels.
South Africa enjoys a long history of rare and storied BMW special editions. In 1973, BMW Group Plant Rosslyn was the very first BMW plant established outside of Germany and several models were specially built for the local market until 1990. A growing list of these have been meticulously restored by BMW South Africa in later years, including the cult classic BMW 333i and BMW 325iS. The restoration of the 1976 BMW 530 MLE, is led by Luis Malhou of Custom Restorations.
The restored BMW 530 MLE is scheduled to be unveiled in the last quarter of this year (2019). Follow #BMW530MLE on social media to see the progress of the restoration.