Because it was exclusive to the South African market, most folks have probably never heard of the BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE, for short). However, the model was a spiritual precursor to the M5, and BMW South Africa recently completed a full restoration of one of these rare machines.
The 530 MLE was a BMW South Africa factory-prepared race car for competing in the country's Modified Production Series in the mid-1970s. In 1976, the machine scored 15 wins in 15 consecutive starts, and the vehicle also tallied three championships in as many years.
As part of the Modified Production Series rules, BMW South Africa had to make at least 100 road-legal versions of the 530 MLE. A team at the factory drilled the pedals and bodywork by hand to reduce weight. The saloons came with manual windows and no air conditioning to save weight. They featured a tuned version of the brand's 3.0-litre inline-six engine now making 197 bhp and 204 lb-ft of torque. The run to 62 miles per hour required 9.3 seconds, and the top speed was 129 mph.
Gallery: BMW 530 MLE
BMW South Africa acquired this 530 MLE in 2018. This one previously belonged to the racing team's manager. It was in very rough shape (see the photos in the gallery, above), but the company intended to bring the machine back to pristine condition.
The 530 MLE wasn't the only performance-focused BMW exclusively for the South African market because the 333i picked up that role in the 1980s. It featured the 3.2-litre inline-six engine from the 733i at the time and slotted it into the E30-generation 3 Series. A close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential made the most of the larger powerplant. The firm made just 204 of them.
The restored BMW 530 MLE returns home – True legends live forever.
Covers come off BMW's restored 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE) at BMW Group Plant Rosslyn after a year of restoration.
Rosslyn, Pretoria – After a year of painstaking restoration, BMW South Africa unveiled its latest restoration project – the track-inspired BMW 530 MLE – at the “Home of BMW Legends”, BMW Group Plant Rosslyn on Tuesday, 8 October.
Just after a year of restoration, BMW South Africa revealed its latest classic project car as a limited edition “homologation” special developed especially by BMW Motorsport for South Africa.
Now, the meticulously prepared BMW 530 MLE has enjoyed its first showing at BMW Group Plant Rosslyn in the company of four BMW Group South Africa employees who were on hand to built the original more than four decades ago. Restored by Luis Malhou of Custom Restorations, William Mokwape, Walter Mahlangu, Jacob Matabane and Cassie Calaca selflessly provided their input during the extraordinary vehicle’s entire restoration process.
“It is not only the 530 MLE that was exclusively produced at this plant,” said Johan Mouton, Director: Technical and Logistics at BMW Group Plant Rosslyn, speaking at the unveiling event. “Legendary cars such as the Gusheshe – the second generation BMW 3 Series (also known as the E30) – in particular the 325iS and the South Africa-only 333i, rolled off the assembly line at this plant more than 30 years ago.
“We are a future oriented company, but we take immense pride in where we come from,” Mouton adds.
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.
“The success of the 530 MLE was a pure example of ‘What wins on Saturday sells on Monday’, 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!”
The long road back to recognition
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.
The BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE) 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. The BMW 530 MLE was the most successful racing BMW 5 Series in history when it was retired in 1985.
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 (MLE), 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.
Car number 100
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.
South Africa enjoys a long history of rare and storied BMW special editions. In 1973, BMW Group Plant Rosslyn was the very first BMW plant established outside of Germany and several models were specially built for the local market until 1990. A growing list of these have been methodically restored by BMW South Africa in later years, including the cult classic BMW 333i.