The first M5. Or not.
Much has been made, debated, and questioned about the E12 M535i’s place in BMW lore. One thing we do know: it’s the first production BMW developed with the help of its Motorsport division. Keyword: production. The M1 and 3.0 CSL don’t count because those are homologation specials—developed primarily to enter races and produced as road cars solely to meet racing qualifications—whereas the 5er was (and still is) an integral part of BMW’s consumer-oriented lineup.
So, on the one hand, the M535i is technically the grandfather of one of the most successful and acclaimed performance divisions in the automotive industry.
On the other hand, the M535i’s M-designed upgrades are limited to its suspension, brakes, body panels, and a handful of supplementary accessories. It wasn’t blessed with a special engine like later M-cars were—the M535i borrows one from the upscale 6- and 7-series. But…but…it does get the same steering wheel as the legendary M1. Poor thing, right?
Does it really matter though? Is 215 horsepower and zero-to-sixty in 7.5 seconds not fast enough for a 1980s version of you? If I handed you the keys to one of these, would you turn me down because the badge on the rear decklid spoiler doesn’t say “M5”?
Of course not, and especially not when it looks as fine as this one right here, sitting on racy Mahle wheels and wearing the bright colors of BMW Motorsport GmbH’s racing stripes—a la the “Batmobile” 3.0 CSL!
Constructed with a metal shell but lacking opening features—not even steerable wheels—Norev’s E12 M535i falls somewhere in between the territories occupied by resin models and old-fashioned diecast ones. Minichamps has also adopted a similar philosophy with most of their recent products and, at one point, Kyosho did the same with their now-defunct Ousia series. The benefit for the consumer: a lower price point.
That makes this a budget model that looks the part of a high-end model, for the collector who is willing to compromise on the finer details such as photoetch badging, decorated interiors, and—yes—mesh grilles. Unlike mass-market Maistos and Bburagos, these aren’t toy-like. The paint is nicer, the lines are sharper, and there’s no slop in the quality. I personally think these are especially great for collection fillers—you know, cars that you want to have but don’t necessarily love enough to spend the big bucks on.
My two cents: I’m a fan of this one. Norev whiffed big-time with the E28-generation M535i, but they corrected the ride height and proportion issues for the E12. Available in a few other colorways, I recommend the versions (white and silver) with the tricolor stripes, which are actually on markdown at many hobby retailers at the time of this writing. It’s a stunner, and it’s insanely photogenic. Haven’t you noticed?