BMW 5 Series (E12)

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BMW 5-Series (E12)
BMW E12, Front View.jpg
Manufacturer BMW
Production 1972–1984
699,094 built[1]
Designer Gruppo Bertone (concept)
Paul Bracq (final design)
Claus Luthe (facelift)
Body and chassis
Class Mid-size luxury car / Executive car
Body style 4-door sedan
Layout FR layout
Engine 1.8-2.0 L M10 4-cyl
2.0-2.5 L M20 6-cyl
2.5-3.4 L M30 6-cyl
Transmission 4-speed manual
5-speed manual
3-speed automatic
Wheelbase 2,600 mm (102 in)
Length 4,620 mm (182 in)
4,826 mm (190 in) (US bumpers)
Width 1,690 mm (67 in)
Height 1,425 mm (56 in)
Predecessor 4-door sedans of BMW New Class
Successor BMW E28

The BMW E12 BMW 5-Series was made between 1972 and 1981. The E12 was the first series to bear the 5 Series name: the '5' denoting BMW's fifth 'New Class' platform. Designed as a replacement for the popular BMW New Class mid-size sedan, the E12 5-Series models were smaller than the large BMW E3 sedan but larger than the two-door 2002 models. The E12 was replaced by the BMW E28 5 Series in 1981, although production continued until 1984 in South Africa. While commending for its acceleration and build-quality, the mid-70s 5-series was criticised for its "untidy" handling, being prone to sudden and sharp oversteer. Steering corrections during cornering meant the car´s body "lurches back annoyingly and messily",[2] in part due to the soft springing and hard damping combination. In comparison to the Jaguar XJ3.6 and Peugeot 604, the car was viewed as narrow and cramped in the rear and prone to wind noise.[3]

Styling and features[edit]

The 1970 BMW 2200ti Garmisch show car designed by the Bertone Design Centre set the style for the E12 5-series,[4] with the final design created by BMW designer Paul Bracq.[5] Designed to compete with the Mercedes-Benz W114 sedans, the E12 models were fitted with a variety of engines. 1.8 L and 2.0 L M10 I4 engines from the older Neue Klasse sedans were used in the 518 and 520, respectively. A six-cylinder version of the 520, built with a 2.0 L M20 belt-driven engine was also available from 1977 on (to coincide with the minor restyling). The 525i, 528i, 530i, and M535i, were fitted with M30 six-cylinder engines as used on the large E3 sedans and E9 coupes. With the exception of the 520i, four-cylinder and 2.0 L six-cylinder engines were fitted with Solex carburetors (although in the UK the four-cylinder 520 was fitted with twin Stromberg 175CDET carburettors). The 520i used the mechanical fuel injection system (Kugelfischer) from the BMW 2000tii and BMW 2002tii. Six-cylinder versions were available with dual Zenith two-barrel carburetors or Bosch L-jetronic fuel injection. Fuel-injected models contain the i letter at the end of their model badge. Although BMW had always located turn signal stalks on the right hand side of its steering wheels, the E12 was their first model to have the stalk on the left side. The E12 was face lifted in September 1976. Bigger rear lights, a relocated fuel filler flap on the rear wing, reprofiled bonnet and grille were the main changes as well as a single four barell Solex 4A1 DVG carburettor on the 525 and 528. Kugelfischer injection on the 520i was replaced by Bosch K Jetronic. A six-cylinder 520 was launched in late 1977 with the new M20 1990 cc six cylinder carburettor (Solex 4A1 DVG) engine, replacing the four cylinder 520 and 520i. This engine was initially coded M60 was recoded M20 in mid 1981 for the new M20. The 528 was replaced by the injection 528i in September 1977.

BMW E12 Before Facelift (1972-1976) 
BMW E12 Facelift (1976−1981) 
BMW E12 Facelift (1976−1981) 

With the introduction of the BMW E23 large sedan in 1977, the E12 received a minor restyling. The rear-mounted gasoline filler door was relocated to the side of the car and the taillights were widened. The hood, originally designed to clear the large air filter assembly for cars fitted with dual Zenith carburetors, was redesigned to a give a 'power bulge', and the dashboard ventilation was repositioned to improve air distribution.

Special models[edit]

E12 Interior

Several low-production versions of the E12 were built. Beginning in 1974 the Motorsport 530 or 530i "upgrades" were available strictly on special order for the 525/528 fitted with either the 3-liter 180 PS DIN engine from the BMW 3.0S or the fuel-injected 200 PS DIN engine from the 3.0Si. Other modifications were a rear axle ratio of 3.45:1 (3.25:1 for the 530i), a 25% LSD, vented disc brakes, Bilstein shocks, Scheel or Recaro sports seats, a sports steering wheel, light alloy wheels on lower profile tyres plus optional (often omitted) front-rear air-dams/spoilers. Later, the similar Motorsport 533i and 535i packages were available for the 528i but featuring the 3.2L and 3.5L engines from the 633CSi and 635CSi. Finally the readily available "official" Motorsport version M535i, featuring a 3.5L engine with special styling such as Motorsport front and rear spoilers, Recaro-brand sport seats, a close-ratio transmission and limited-slip differential, larger brakes, and other styling cues such as Motorsport striping down the sides of the car and on the front air-dam plus the BMW M1 steering wheel was available between 1980 and 1981 with 1410 cars produced. In South Africa, the 530 MLE was produced as a light-weight homologation special for racing (218 made in total).[6] These Motorsport E12's are often considered the first production models that the BMW Motorsport division ever produced.[7]

Due to high import duties in South Africa, BMW sent E12 cars as complete knock down (CKD) kits to be assembled in South Africa for its own market. An E12/8 was built in the South Africa market just as the new E28 body replaced the E12 elsewhere. The E12/8 was essentially an E12 body fitted with the E28 suspension, electronics and interior.

On the Belgian and Greek markets, there was a BMW 518 “deluxe” version. Only one thousand of these cars have been sold in 1979-1980. It was a BMW 518 equipped as the 528i top model plus other luxury items such as headrests on the back seats. It was rumored that this special version was produced for the Iranian government, as a car for top officials under the shah’s rule. Due to the Iranian revolution these cars were never delivered. Instead, they have been sold as a special version in Belgium and Greece.

The Portuguese market also received nearly 700 CKD units due to the local regulations that demanded a certain amount of vehicles sold in Portugal to be locally assembled.

For the Swedish market BMW did not offer the complete E12 5 range due to local emissions regulations. The early "first series" E12 consisted of the BMW 518, BMW 520, BMW 520i and BMW 525 - with the BMW 528 missing. The later "second series" range was reduced to three models: BMW 518i, BMW 520i and BMW 528i. The 528i became available as a result of Switzerland having adopted the same emissions rules, making it worthwhile to develop such a version. Unique to the Swedish market were a BMW 518i and a BMW 520i, fitted with the same 2 litre engine, but the BMW 518i had poorer equipment. That was the reason why it got the lesser label used in the 5 Series hierarchy. The BMW 520i was fitted with chromed wheel rings and a locable fuel cap. It was also fitted with headrests in the rear, an armrest in the middle of the rear bench, steering wheel height adjustment, seat height adjustment for the drivers seat, a wooden shift knob, rear heater, and the trunk was covered with grey plastic.

North American-market models[edit]

The North American market E12 differed in several ways from the original German market versions. North American-market E12s in the later years were generally sold as 'upscale' models and as such they were fitted with power windows, wood trim, and usually leather interiors and air conditioning as standard. The E12 5-series used a Behr air conditioner that was notorious for being too weak for American temperatures. A well-known legend is that, in an attempt to convince BMW that a better air conditioner was needed, two BMW engineers were treated to a long trip to Texas in the rear seat of a black BMW 530i with the power windows disabled.[citation needed]

BMW chose to sell only fuel-injected six-cylinder versions of the E12 in the North American market: the 530i and later the 528i. The American market imposed several restrictions such as bumper regulations, sealed-beam headlights, and emissions requirements. As such, American-market E12s were fitted with lower compression pistons, special larger bumpers designed to withstand a 5 mph (8.0 km/h) collision with no body damage, and fender-mounted front turn signals. Emissions equipment such as EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) and an air pump were used on the 530i, along with modified exhaust manifolds called Thermal Reactors. The latter caused several engine problems including burned exhaust valves and overheating, often resulting in warped or cracked cylinder heads. A separate defect in the 530i cylinder head design prompted a lawsuit against BMW. As a result, in 1980 BMW offered replacement cylinder heads for owners whose cylinder heads had cracked, even if the warranty on the car had expired. In 1979 the 528i replaced the 530i. The new model featured several improvements for the American market: the Thermal Reactor and air pump system were replaced with a 3-way catalytic converter and the car's Bosch L-jetronic fuel injection system was now fitted with an Exhaust Gas Oxygen sensor. For the 1980 model year, a 5-speed manual transmission replaced the previous 4-speed.


The following models were produced in this series:[8][9][10]

Model Engine code Power Torque Years
518 M10 (M118) 90 hp (67 kW) @5500 142 N·m (105 lb·ft) @3500 1974−1981
520 M10 (M17) 115 hp (86 kW) @5800 162 N·m (119 lb·ft) @3700 1972−1977
520i M10 (M64) 125 hp (93 kW) @5800 177 N·m (131 lb·ft) @4500 1972−1975
125 hp (93 kW) @5700 171 N·m (126 lb·ft) @4350 1975−1977
520/6 M20B20 90 kW (120 hp) @6000 160 N·m (120 lb·ft) @4000 1977−1981
525 M30B25 107 kW (143 hp) @6000 211 N·m (156 lb·ft) @4000 1973−1976
110 kW (150 hp) @6000 211 N·m (156 lb·ft) @4000 1976−1981
528 M30B28 125 kW (168 hp) @5800 253 N·m (187 lbf·ft) @4000 1975-1976
130 kW (170 hp) @5800 253 N·m (187 lb·ft) @4000 1976−1978
528i M30B28 129 kW (173 hp) @5800 235 N·m (173 lbf·ft) @4300 1977−1978
(USA only)
126 kW (169 hp) @5600 230 N·m (170 lbf·ft) @4500 1979−1981
USA only
135 kW (181 hp) @5800 235 N·m (173 lbf·ft) @4200 1978−1981
530 M30B30 130 kW (170 hp) @5800 250 N·m (180 lb·ft) @3500 1975-1978
South Africa only
530i 131 kW (176 hp) @5500 251 N·m (185 lb·ft) @4500 1975-1978
USA only
530 MLE 147 kW (197 hp) @5800 251 N·m (185 lb·ft) @3500 1976
South Africa only
533i M30B32 147 kW (197 hp) @5500 290 N·m (210 lb·ft) @4250 1979
M535i M90 160 kW (210 hp) @5200 310 N·m (230 lb·ft) @4000 1979-1981


  1. ^ Oswald, Werner (2001). Deutsche Autos 1945-1990, Band 4 (1. ed.). Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-613-02131-5. 
  2. ^ Car, November 1975, page 60.
  3. ^ Car, November 1975, page 60
  4. ^
  5. ^ Norbye, Jan P. (1984). "Expanding on Excellence: The 5-Series and 3-Series". BMW - Bavaria's Driving Machines. Skokie, IL: Publications International. p. 209. ISBN 0-517-42464-9. Dimensionally, the 5-series differed only slightly from its New Class predecessors, but Paul Bracq's modern, stylish four-door body was far less boxy in appearance. 
  6. ^ "530 MLE E12". Retrieved 16 December 2013.  External link in |work= (help)
  7. ^
  8. ^ Werner Oswald: Deutsche Autos 1945-1990, vol. 4. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 2001, ISBN 3-613-02131-5, p. 226-231
  9. ^ Mike Covello: Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002. Krause Publications, Iola 2002, ISBN 0-87341-605-8, p. 149-151.
  10. ^ Automobil Revue, catalogue edition 1979, p. 210.

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