The year was 1985—if I had to guess it was probably around the month of January—and I was spending another cold winter in West Germany. At age 23, my consulting job took me around the world, but with instability in the region and a dwindling travel budget, lately it was mostly as far as my CosmosBlau-Metallic E28 535i could take me on a tank of petrol. It was parked for the night, snug in an underground garage near the room I was renting for the month. I was at my favorite bar in Garching, just outside of Munich; or Munchen as the Germans called it. Munich was a fantastic town, full of a vibrancy and vigor that I hoped would spread to the rest of the country. Little did I know we were only 4 years from the wall coming down but it was in this little beer hall that I got an inside tip about a car that would both fulfill, and haunt, the rest of my life.
I was on pint number six. Could have been nine, it’s hard to recall. It was some local German brew, all of which were a product of the Reinheitsgebot or “purity decree” that dates back several ages and enacts strict brewing guidelines. I didn’t really give a shit, it was cheap and the bartender responded well to generous American tips. I was watching a couple of crap Bundesliga teams play on TV and then I met him. Claus sat down next to me in a slump, not even mindful that his coat fell next to his stool onto the dirty bar floor. He obviously knew the man behind the bar, quickly ordering a pilsner, but I didn’t recall seeing him in there before. I nodded and gave him a beer salute, he gave a sincere but curt nod in return.
My German was complete scheisse, but I could tell that he wasn’t in a good mood. Whoever the “ingenieurs” were that Claus worked with weren’t his favorite people in the world. He heard me order another bier in English and said only “American?” in my direction. I nodded and introduced myself and he started speaking my native language, claimed that he liked to practice. I obliged and after some small talk, he asked me if I was into cars; said that he was “in the business” and worked for a local automobile manufacturer doing design work. I took some time to brag about my pride and joy, the 535i that I had poured several years’ worth of bonus money into. The car that got me into cars.
Claus nodded and said “I am familiar with your car William”. He continued “In fact, I designed it”. I put down my beer and gazed at the 50-something German sitting next to me. Claus went into his life story, he grew up in Wuppertal, Germany and after an apprenticeship with a coach builder, joined the local German Fiat subsidiary. This son of a bitch actually told me that he worked on the original Fiat 500, at this point I looked at my watch, and my wallet, and wondered, almost aloud, how much have I had to drink? I asked him why he was so worked up about the engineers and he said I would find out next month at the Amsterdam Motor Show. He said that they had overworked and overdone his creation. At least that’s what I think he said, I was pretty drunk at this point. I bought his last round, collected my coat and hat and left; I never saw Claus again.
But one month later I took a road trip to Amsterdam; that’s when I saw it; and it changed my life forever. The God damn M5.
I had spent my savings on my 535i which had the same 6-cylinder drivetrain as the E12 M535i and would do 140 mph and hit 100 kilometers per hour in just 7.9 seconds. I was hot shit, or so I thought. The good marketing people at the Amsterdam Motor Show informed me that that it was not. There was something much better now. The said that the E28 M5’s M88/3 engine was derived from the engine used in the might BMW M1. “In a sedan, are you fucking kidding me”? It was now the fastest production sedan in the world and it consumed my brain. Aside from the M1, it still remains one of the rarest M-cars ever made. Because of that rarity, I never got a chance to swap my 535i for my new obsession.
Instead, I made the best of my trip to Amsterdam. At least I am fairly certain I did. I’d love to spin a tale of partying, hookers and illicit substances. But honestly, after I left the Amsterdam RAI, which is their convention center, I made the 1.8 KM walk to the red light district and that’s about where my memories end. I do recall stumbling out to get breakfast the next morning, I had at least made it back to my hotel which was a win, and it was then that I noted that the talent in the windows was exceptional at 10am. Apparently they do a brisk morning business, I suppose I could think of worse ways to kick-start my day.
Up next: Part Two: Ercole and the E34
E28 M5 photos courtesy drive-my.com. Also, this is fiction if you couldn’t tell.