BMW 5 Series (E12)

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BMW 5-Series (E12)
BMW 528 (E12) – Frontansicht, 22. August 2013, Münster.jpg
Manufacturer BMW
Production 1972–1981
699,094 built[1]
Assembly West Germany
South Africa [2]
Designer Gruppo Bertone (concept)
Paul Bracq (final design)
Claus Luthe (facelift)
Body and chassis
Class Executive car[3]
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 2,636 mm (103.8 in)
Length 4,620 mm (181.9 in)
4,826 mm (190 in) (US bumpers)
Width 1,690 mm (66.5 in)
Height 1,425 mm (56.1 in)
Curb weight 518: 1,240 kg (2,730 lb)
518: 1,250 kg (2,760 lb) (auto)
520: 1,310 kg (2,890 lb)
520: 1,330 kg (2,930 lb) (auto)
525: 1,350 kg (2,980 lb)
525: 1,370 kg (3,020 lb) (auto)
528: 1,385 kg (3,053 lb)
528: 1,405 kg (3,097 lb) (auto)
518i: 1,350 kg (2,980 lb)
520i: 1,350 kg (2,980 lb)
528i: 1,410 kg (3,110 lb)
528i: 1,430 kg (3,150 lb) (auto)
528i: 1,470 kg (3,240 lb) (US)
528i: 1,490 kg (3,280 lb) (US; auto)
M535i: 1,430 kg (3,150 lb)
Predecessor New Class sedans
Successor BMW 5 Series (E28)

The BMW E12 is an automobile which was produced by BMW from 1972 to 1981. It was the first generation of the BMW 5 Series mid-size sedans. The E12 was released as the 520 and 520i 4-cylinder models, to replace the New Class sedans. A year later, the 525 with a straight-six engine was released and this was followed by 528, 530, 533 and 535 models.

The E12 M535i is considered to be the predecessor to the BMW M5.[4][5]

The E12 was replaced by the E28 in 1981, although E12 production continued until 1984 in South Africa.


The 1970 BMW 2200ti Garmisch show car[6] designed by the Bertone Design Centre set the style for the E12 5-series, with the final design created by BMW designer Paul Bracq.[7]

BMW had previously located turn signal stalks on the right hand side of the steering wheels, and the E12 was their first model to have the stalk on the left side.


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 1976−1981
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

Model year changes[edit]


  • 518i model introduced


  • On the 520i model, Kugelfischer injection was replaced by Bosch K Jetronic.[11]
  • 528 model introduced

1976 facelift[edit]

With the introduction of the E23 7 Series, the E12 received facelift in September 1976. The rear-mounted gasoline filler door was relocated to the side of the car and the taillights were widened. The hood was redesigned to a give a 'power bulge' which accentuated the BMW kidney grille, and the dashboard ventilation was repositioned to improve air distribution.

pre-facelift (1972-1976) 
post-facelift (1976−1981) 
post-facelift (1976−1981) 


  • The 528i model (using Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection) replaces the 528 (which used two Solex Zenith 35/40 INAT carburettors)


  • 533i and M535i models introduced


M10 4-cylinder engine

Initially, the E12 used the 1.8 L and 2.0 L M10 four-cylinder engines (from the previous New Class sedans) were used for the 518 and 520 models. The 525, 528, 530, 530i and 533i models 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 Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection system 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 carry the letter i at the end of their model designation.

The 1976 facelift saw the introduction of the 520 model, which used the 2.0 L M20 6-cylinder engine and replaced the 4-cylinder 520 and 520i models. This engine was initially named "M60", but renamed the M20 in mid-1981. The four-cylinder 2.0 continued to be used in South Africa, due to local content laws. Even after the M60 entered local production in 1979, the 2-litre M10 continued to be available with "518" badges in South Africa.[12] The 528 was replaced by the fuel-injected 528i in September 1977. The facelift also resulted in the carburettor on the 525 and 528 being revised to a single four-barrel Solex 4A1 DVG.


The 4-speed manual transmission options consisted of:[13]

  • Getrag 242 4-speed (for M10/M20/M30 engine models)
  • Getrag 262 4-speed (M30 engine)
  • ZF S4-18/3 4-speed (M30 engine)

The 5-speed manual transmission options consisted of:

  • Getrag 235 5-speed (M10 engine)
  • Getrag 245 5-speed (M10/M20 engines)
  • Getrag 265 5-speed (M30 engine)

The automatic transmission options- all 3-speed transmissions- consisted of:

  • ZF 3HP12 (M10 engine)
  • ZF 3HP20 (M30 engine)
  • ZF 3HP22 (M20/M30 engines)
  • BorgWarner BW65 (M30 engine)

Special models[edit]

E12 Interior


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.

530 MLE[edit]

In South Africa, the 530 MLE was produced as a light-weight homologation special for racing (218 made in total).[14][15]

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.

North American-market models[edit]

Initially, only the fuel-injected six-cylinder 530i was sold in the USA. Changes for American-market E12s include lower compression pistons, larger bumpers (designed to withstand a 5 mph (8.0 km/h) collision with no body damage) and fender-mounted front turn signals.[citation needed] 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.[16]

The air-conditioning was not suitable for American temperatures.[citation needed] It is reported that, in an attempt to convince BMW that a more powerful air conditioner was needed, two BMW engineers were subjected to a long trip to Texas in the rear seat of a black BMW 530i with the power windows disabled.[citation needed]

For the 1979 model year, 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. Power dropped marginally, and unlike the 530i, the car could no longer be operated on leaded gasoline.[16] In the later years,[when?] 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.

Critical reception[edit]

While being commended for its acceleration and build-quality, the 1978 528i was criticised for unpredictable handling and excessive body roll.[17] Steering corrections during cornering meant the car´s body "lurches back annoyingly and messily",[18] 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.[18]


The production total for the E12 is 722,435 units,[19] including 23,100 produced in South Africa.


  1. ^ Oswald, Werner (2001). Deutsche Autos 1945-1990, Band 4 (1. ed.). Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-613-02131-5. 
  2. ^ BMW South Africa, Retrieved 10 April 2016
  3. ^ "1980 BMW 528i specifications". 
  4. ^ "Watch BMW look back at the M5's predecessor". 
  5. ^ "Welcome to the official 5 Series Register". 
  6. ^ "BMW - 2200 TI Garmish". 
  7. ^ 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. 
  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.
  11. ^ "5' E12 520i FUEL INJECTION K-JETRONIC". 
  12. ^ Haler, Justin, ed. (July 1979). "BMW's small six 520". SA Motor. Randburg, South Africa: SA Motor (Pty) Ltd. 17 (7): 26. 
  13. ^ "5' E12 Model Selection". 
  14. ^ "530 MLE E12". Retrieved 16 December 2013. 
  15. ^ "BMW 530 MLE". 
  16. ^ a b Road & Track's Road Test Annual & Buyer's Guide 1979, Greenwich, CT: CBS Publications, January–February 1979, p. 83 
  17. ^ Modern Motor- February 1978. 
  18. ^ a b Car Magazine, November 1975, page 60.
  19. ^ "Statistique de Production". 

External links[edit]