Every year, as the leaves begin to turn and the temperature in Los Angeles begins its long slide from the high 70s to the high 60s, a cluster of aged BMWs swarm into Woodley Park in Van Nuys. It’s time for the annual Southern California Vintage BMW meet, where any pre-1989 Bimmer, four-, six-, eight-cylinders or otherwise, is welcomed into the congregation. We were on-hand this year for the tenth-anniversary edition of the show, and picked out a handful of favorites from the crowd.
BMW E12 M535i
If you dig the unbroken line of BMW M cars, you have the E12 M535i to thank. After the M1 crashed head-on into the world’s collective consciousness, BMW began to experiment with what was possible when its motorsports know-how was distilled even further for regular road use.
The E12 was one of the earliest results of this labor, packing some serious go-fast hardware into a neat and tidy four-door package. Power came from a 3.5-liter M90 inline-six, pushing out a very impressive 215 hp to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. To manage this extra gumption, each M535i was fitted with limited slip differential, bigger brakes, sport seats, BMW M1 steering wheel, sport suspension, and dog-leg shifter.
Just 1,650 of these ur-M5s were made, with none designated for U.S. consumption, making this an extremely rare bird on our shores.
BMW E30 M Technic Cabriolet
Much like the M535i, this bright red (or Brilliantrot) E30 wears an appearance package and suspension upgrade from the then-fledgling “M” division. Along with the special badging and interior stripes, the M Technic also packaged a handful of power features as well, including a power convertible top.
This particular M Technic was in great nick. With an aggressive suspension, contrasted black fixed hard top, and original mesh wheels, it reminded us why we’re so attracted to the E30 in the first place.
It may wear a roundel up front, but underneath this sumptuous Frua-penned body lie the bones of a Glas GT. Following BMW’s acquisition of Glas in 1966, BMW rebadged the existing GT for two final model years in 1967 and 1968.
To bring the GT closer in-line to BMW’s existing model range, the German automaker fitted the coupe with a modern semi-trailing arm rear axle with coil springs, replacing the outgoing solid rear-axle. BMW’s newest 1.6-liter four-cylinder was shoehorned under the front hood, bumping power up to 77 hp.
BMW E28 Group A Tribute “Parts Car”
Built by Mike Burroughs of Stanceworks and Rusty Slammington fame, you’d be forgiven if you mistook this tidy project as a real-deal E28 race car in period livery. Unbeknownst to all but the most dedicated Bimmer zealot, the E28 was raced for a single year in 1982, taking part in the Group A class of the popular touring car circuit. Burroughs E28 “Parts Car” is likely the most comprehensive and well-executed tribute out there.
According to Stanceworks, the “Parts Car” rides on a specialized H&R suspension, center-lock hubs, Nitto tires, and BBS mesh wheels. Inside, a full cage clashes with a semi-complete interior. Power comes from a modified M30 inline-six, just as the short-lived E28 race car used. New for 2017 is the excellent Motul livery, added recently for its appearance at the Motul stand at the 2017 SEMA show.
BMW 2002 Turbo
Before turbochargers were as mainstream as navigation systems, they were highly experimental technology. Looking to capitalize on this developing tech, the 2002 Turbo was the first production Bimmer to pack a forced-induction heart under the front hood.
Power came from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, pushing out a then-impressive 170 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque, routed to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. Despite the flashy backwards “Turbo” script and BMW “M” stripes, the KKK turbocharger pushed out a relatively asthmatic 8 psi, augmented by a low-compression ratio to prevent knocking.
As a reward for overcoming these technological hurdles, performance was impressive for the segment, with 0-60 mph arriving in the low seven-second range, on its way to a top speed just over 125 mph.
Sadly, the 2002 Turbo was introduced right before the oil crisis struck the industry, leading to poor sales and a low 1,600 unit production run.
BMW E30 M3 AC Schnitzer
Among the handful of E30 M3s in attendance, this gunmetal example was our favorite. When the subject of modifying E30 M3s is broached, we like to err on the side of subtle, reversible aesthetic modifications, and it appears this coupe wears only a handful of changes.
Chief among which include the AC Schnitzer front bumper and wheels, both from the eponymous tuning house that specializes in BMWs. Around back, a fatter exhaust tip hints at mechanical changes underneath the skin, but there’s no way of telling what they are or if they were done in period.
This was a shoo-in for our Greatest Hits list. While we have enjoyed BMW’s two-seat, aire libre offerings since the first iteration of the Z3, the Z1 was always that incredibly charismatic and elusive forbidden fruit that lurked just beyond our shores. As the timer on the 25-year importation law continues its inexorable march, cars like the Z1 finally have their time in the U.S. sun.
While the body screams “M Division,” the E30 chassis and powertrain write checks the supercar looks can’t cash. All identiy crises are forgiven the minute you push the door button and see the doors retract into the chassis.
1966 BMW 1600 Neu Klasse
Don’t call it a 2002–this achingly handsome little sedan is similar to the two-door 2002, but wears noticeably different bodywork, larger proportions, and lengthened chassis. Compared to the incredibly popular 2002 series, the Neu Klasse sedans have remained out of the spotlight for quite some time. Now, given their proclivity for road racing, backroad blasts, and role as a usable classic, values are beginning to shoot up.
It wouldn’t be a true vintage Bimmer show without an itty bitty invasion from the Isetta crowd. These microcars were built under license by BMW, offering drivers 94 mpg from its one-cylinder engine. In spite of its goofy appearance and relatively impractical design, it remains one of the best-selling microcars of all time, with over 161,000 units sold.