Ultra-rare BMW 530 MLE for sale

Over the years, some extraordinary BMWs have been created in South Africa. There was the 745i SA, for example, the M1-powered E23 Series 7 (!) that made an epic tourer, plus the impressive 333i, a 3.2-litre E30 developed with Alpina. BMW South Africa is still doing its thing to this day, with a 330iS edition available there and nowhere else. But it is a less special perspective than the previous one.

Before all those cars there was the 530 Motorsport Limited Edition, or MLE, the first of these amazing BMWs unique to South Africa and considered by some to be the first M car (even if it didn’t have the official moniker). The homologation special 5 Series first appeared in 1976, and the M1 would not go on sale until the end of the decade. In 2022, a very special year for fast BMWs, the MLE is a very important sedan.

It was designed for success in the South African Modified Production Series, which it emphatically did, winning every race in its first season. In fact, the MLE was so successful that it campaigned in South African touring cars until 1985. Looking at the specs for the homologated road car (100 were required; it’s believed 110 were made) it’s not hard to see why the 530 did a great runner. Weight was reduced to just over 1,200kg thanks to the use of aluminum and thin-gauge steel for the bodywork (with holes drilled to save more kilos!), lighter wheels, less soundproofing, manual windows, and no air conditioning. The 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder has also been upgraded.

The success and specs make the MLE extremely collectible nearly 50 years later, but that’s assuming one can be found. Even BMW struggled when it came to restoring a 530 MLE in 2019. Before there was the BMW M, the need to keep a rare and daring 5 Series spotless didn’t exist; the desire to smash a 3.0-litre, 1200kg BMW probably was. It took years for BMW with all its resources to find a donor car, and that was obviously in South Africa; having an MLE for sale in Brentford, then, is extraordinary.

Imported from SA in 2020, it’s described as “nothing short of sublime”; there seems little reason to doubt that, given the apparent condition. A lot of love has been lavished on the 5 Series even in its couple of years here, including engine work, a brake overhaul, suspension upgrade and freshened wheels. Any E12 Series 5 will look great today, but a 530 MLE this good, in white with those graphics that have become so iconic, is out of scale. You wouldn’t even have to drive it, surely, to absolutely adore it.

This is helpful because what was once a humble Series 5 is now priced like a classic exotic. Given the history, it makes sense, but any prospective buyer would surely think more of using an old-school BMW (rear semi-trailing arms and all) now worth six figures. Β£114,950, to be exact. Which will cause some tea to be spilled on the keyboards, no doubt, given that this is a car that has never been sold in the UK. On the other hand, the MLE is a staggeringly rare part of M-car history, and it’s hard for any of the early M3s and M5s, let alone the M1, to be what you’d call cheap classics today. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the price of a new M5, the appeal to BMW fans couldn’t be clearer.

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