Junkyard Find: 1979 BMW 528i

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

I’ve seen quite a few BMW E12s in wrecking yards over the last couple of decades, but they haven’t really quite caught my eye the way Detroit and Japanese cars of the same era tend to do. But what other Middle Malaise Era machine gave you rear-wheel-drive, independent rear suspension, a manual transmission, and a fuel-injected overhead-cam six-cylinder engine making close to 170 horsepower?

There were some flaws with the US-market version of the ’79 E12, starting with the eye-gougingly horrible bumpers.

The four-speed transmission might have been getting a bit old-fashioned by 1979; BMW replaced it with a 5-speed the next year.

This one, which I found in a Denver self-service yard last week, has a little rust, but overall it’s fairly clean and in good shape. With only 163,000 miles on the clock, it probably led a sheltered life (or spent a decade or two in a garage, awaiting expensive repairs).

169 horsepower doesn’t sound like terribly impressive these days, but getting that much power from an engine displacing only 170 cubic inches was pretty impressive at a time when Ford was dropping 159-horsepower 400s in the Lincoln Mark V, and the most powerful Corvette came with 225 horsepower.

Of course, the 528i wasn’t exactly cheap. List price for the ’79 was $15,505, or $48,315 in 2011 dollars. Luxury-minded car shoppers in 1979 could get a Cadillac Sedan DeVille for $11,493 or a Chrysler New Yorker for $8,631; those sedan shoppers who prized speed over luxury could pick up a Datsun 810 for $8,129… and those who wanted both might have found themselves handing over $11,599 to the Toyota dealer for a Cressida. Sure, the E12 was quite comfy and would eat up all those cars in any sort of race… but times were hard in 1979, and only the most successful dentists and lawyers could afford the price of admission to Big BMW Status.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Khamsin Khamsin on Jan 11, 2012

    Unusual request here. Murilee, if you happen to return to this junkyard, would it be possible for you to buy the A/C compressor with its mounting bracket and the corresponding pulley on the engine for me? I could send the required funds by Paypal or wire. The reason is I own an E9 coupe with A/C (my avatar) which has a leaky and inefficient York piston compressor. This E12 should normally have a far better Bosch rotary unit plus a mounting bracket that can be used for truly modern rotary compressors. My problem is that they are almost impossible to source where I live (Switzerland). Thanks and regards

  • Miklo1968 Miklo1968 on Dec 11, 2013

    I had a buddy who owned one with the automatic transmission. It was always breaking down on him, mostly overheating. The block finally cracked and I finally convinced him to junk the damn thing rather than throw more money at it trying to save it. My friend is very status conscious and to him driving a BMW no matter how old and unreliable, made him feel like a big shot. I was with him when he signed the BMW over to the wrecker. My friend thought he would make a decent amount of money from the sale because it was a BMW. Of course, I thought differently but didn't say anything to change his mind about getting rid of it. When all was said and done the junkyard paid him a whopping sum of $6.00. "Six bucks. That's it!" he shouted "six bucks, American"? I tried to smooth things over by telling him that the tow service from his house to the junkyard was included for free. The look he gave me told me that I wasn't helping the situation and it would be in my best interest to stop talking all together. The ride home was disturbingly long and quiet for a trip of less than 2 miles.

  • AMcA My theory is that that when the Big 3 gave away the store to the UAW in the last contract, there was a side deal in which the UAW promised to go after the non-organized transplant plants. Even the UAW understands that if the wage differential gets too high it's gonna kill the golden goose.
  • MKizzy Why else does range matter? Because in the EV advocate's dream scenario of a post-ICE future, the average multi-car household will find itself with more EVs in their garages and driveways than places to plug them in or the capacity to charge then all at once without significant electrical upgrades. Unless each vehicle has enough range to allow for multiple days without plugging in, fighting over charging access in multi-EV households will be right up there with finances for causes of domestic strife.
  • 28-Cars-Later WSJ blurb in Think or Swim:Workers at Volkswagen's Tennessee factory voted to join the United Auto Workers, marking a historic win for the 89- year-old union that is seeking to expand where it has struggled before, with foreign-owned factories in the South.The vote is a breakthrough for the UAW, whose membership has shrunk by about three-quarters since the 1970s, to less than 400,000 workers last year.UAW leaders have hitched their growth ambitions to organizing nonunion auto factories, many of which are in southern states where the Detroit-based labor group has failed several times and antiunion sentiment abounds."People are ready for change," said Kelcey Smith, 48, who has worked in the VW plant's paint shop for about a year, after leaving his job at an Amazon.com warehouse in town. "We look forward to making history and bringing change throughout the entire South."   ...Start the clock on a Chattanooga shutdown.
  • 1995 SC Didn't Chrysler actually offer something with a rearward facing seat and a desk with a typewriter back in the 60s?
  • The Oracle Happy Trails Tadge