Sometimes the resurrection of a car or the start of a collection can be attributed to a single individual or two. This was also the case with BMW South Africa's restored 530 MLE.
Diederick Reitsma, head of BMW South Africa’s local communications team, told us: “A part of my role is to understand the brand’s heritage and these special cars play such a key role in how we look to the future”.
It is no secret that South Africa has delivered some unique performance cars through the years. This is particularly true of BMW South Africa, and includes the "special" E30 models, the 333i, 325is Evo 1 and 2.
Reitsma continues: “The SA-spec E30s are part of the reason why BMW is so popular in South Africa and the 530 MLE is a very significant model in the global timeline of BMW Motorsport. It was during my first year in South Africa that I saw one of these road cars in a private collection in Johannesburg. Following talks with the local BMW clubs, and after a visit to the Franschhoek Motor Museum outside Cape Town, I realised that we as BMW South Africa needed to establish a heritage collection. With these cars in hand, we can keep them for a generation of enthusiasts to come”.
The seed was planted and Reitsma quickly learned about the existence of the locally-developed E12 530 MLE (Motorsport Limited Edition). The 530 MLE enjoyed a stunningly successful racing career on South African tracks in the late '70s, but before it could race a limited run of road-spec cars (110 Type 1 models in 1976 and 117 of Type 2 in 1977) had to be created for homologation purposes – though fewer than ten of these are rumoured to have survived!
An established relationship with respected BMW owner and restorer Luis Malhou of Custom Restorations in Vereeniging (an hour’s drive from Johannesburg) led to the discovery of the 100th car of the MLE Series 1. Malhou explains; “I chased car number 100 for a number of years and, fortuitously, just prior to BMW SA making enquiries, the car’s owner allowed me to come and collect it.
“I knew of the car, but honestly only thought of it as being useful as a donor car. It stood outside for close to 20 years. The previous owner always wanted the car restored, but he has several cars and this just wasn't at the top of his list. When he started to scale down, he contacted me as he knew we’d do a proper job.”
Keeping in mind that only 110 of the Series 1 cars were ever produced, one quickly realises that this was quite a find. As a homologation special (only one race car remains and, fortunately, it’s still in South Africa), these road cars were made lighter for improved performance.
Various panels such as the C-pillars, parcel shelf and even the clutch pedal were drilled to lower overall mass. In fact, so many panels were drilled that a naked 530 MLE looks like a slice of Swiss cheese... Combined with other weight-saving measures such as manual windows, lighter hinges and seat cushions, marginally thinner glass, pedals and the deletion of air-conditioning, up to 50 kg was saved.
Reitsma recalls with a smile the day Luis informed him of car number 100 (chassis number 770100). “I remember the day very well. He explained that it was a numbers-matching car and that the owner was Peter Kaye Eddie, an ex-racer who played a vital role in the brand’s local motor sport history. Once BMW stopped managing the racing team, Peter had taken it over. This, of course, added to the significance of MLE number 100.”
“When I finally got the car in my workshop I actually didn’t know if it was restorable, it was really disastrous. Of the interior there was not much left,” explains Malhou. “Money and time, however, can fix a lot of things and fortunately BMW Group South Africa set aside a decent budget for this project.”
Himself the owner of MLE numbers 21 and 13 (Series 1 cars), Malhou was also grateful for the assistance of BMW Classic during the restoration of number 100. It is at this point that we should mention that apart from owning two 530 MLEs, Luis has restored two more of these cars and has also sourced more than five of them over the years. He is undoubtedly the "go-to-guy" when it comes to these rare sedans. One of his own cars is also totally original, so could be used as reference for the restoration project.
After less than a year, the car was completed and made its appearance at BMW South Africa’s M Festival. Today it forms part of the company’s heritage fleet and is proudly parked at the welcome centre at BMW’s plant in Rosslyn, outside Pretoria.