When BMW South Africa wanted to go racing in the mid-1970s, the company 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.
After their retirement in 1985, one of these cars succumbed to the pressures of high-performance motoring and was written off. The other, owned by Peter Kaye-Eddie, though, became the subject of a full restoration over the past few years by Evolution 2 Motorsport, in Johannesburg.
Now, the race-winning BMW 530 MLE, the only remaining version of this car in the world, and its restored road-going sibling, the BMW 530 MLE, have been reunited at the equally-legendary Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit for a special showing at the 2019 BMW M Festival.
Track to road
No one could have predicted the future success of BMW’s 530 MLE when it 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.
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 Motorsport Limited Edition, 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 motor found in the 3.0L, boasting figures such as 147kW, 277Nm, a 208km/h top speed and a 0 – 100km/h sprint time of 9.3 seconds. It proved to be an early step of BMW’s ventures into track oriented cars for the road. The BMW 530 MLE was the most successful racing BMW 5 Series in history when it was retired in 1985.
After years of searching, BMW South Africa in 2018 acquired one of the only BMW 530 MLEs known to have endured beyond its 70s heyday. Car number 100 came with a particular pedigree – it 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.
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.
After a year of painstaking restoration, BMW South Africa unveiled its latest restoration project – the track-inspired BMW 530 MLE – at BMW Group Plant Rosslyn on Tuesday, 8 October, in the company of four BMW Group South Africa employees who originally built the original more than four decades ago.
Markus Flasch, CEO of BMW M GmbH says: “I am thrilled to be in Johannesburg for the second BMW M Festival to be held in this country and I am impressed with South Africa’s appetite for high-performance products. Our brand is defined by its heritage. When I see the most successful racing 5 Series in the history of the company, I can understand where South Africans’ love of M stems from.”
Tim Abbott, CEO of BMW Group South Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, adds: “The BMW 530 MLE at the time demonstrated how competitive sporting events were the ideal setting to impress the motoring public with the performance of new vehicles, and it paved the way for BMW South Africa as a sporty brand and a serious motorsport contender in the country. To this day, M remains the most powerful letter in the world!”