Junkyard Find: 1979 BMW 528i

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1979 bmw 528i

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.

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2 of 16 comments
  • 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.

  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.
  • Inside Looking Out Scandinavian design costs only $600? I mean the furniture.
  • Akear Lets be honest, Lucid will not be around in five years. It does not matter that it is probably the world's best EV sedan. Lucid's manufacturing and marketing is a complete mess. The truth is most EV companies are going under within the decade.