With the BMW 5 Series E12, the first generation, BMW starts a six part series about BMW’s successful upper class model. In the seventies the 5 Series was a statement in the upper midrange class.

The E12 was produced between 1972 and 1981, and was a perfect middle child to the larger E3 (6 Series) and the smaller 2002 sedans which later became the 3 Series. This particular model was quite troublesome for BMW when they imported to the US. With different regulations and safety laws BMW replaced and modified many of the parts on this vehicle and because of these mods the car was susceptible to overheating from warped or cracked cylinder heads. The company offered replacement parts one all effected models in and outside of warranty which was a steep price.

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The E12 models were fitted with a variety of engines. 1.8 L and 2.0 L M10 I4 engines from the older Neue Klasse sedans were used in the 518 and 520, respectively. The 520i was also produced with a 2.0 liter M20 engine and used the mechanical fuel injection system (Kugelfischer) from the BMW 2000tii and BMW 2002tii. The six-cylinder 520i made 120 horsepower and 160 Nm (120 lb-ft) of torque. The four-cylinder variant made 125 horsepower and 171 Nm (126 lb-ft) of torque.

American-market E12s in the later years were generally sold as ‘upscale’ models and as such they were fitted with power windows, wood trim, and usually leather interiors and air conditioning as standard. BMW chose to sell only fuel-injected six-cylinder versions of the E12 in the American market: the 530i and later the 528i.


BMW claims it sold “almost 700,000 E12s” between 1972 and 1981, and that’s correct as far as German production goes, which stopped after 699,094 units. Yet in South Africa, BMW’s first foreign factory, another 23,100 were built up until 1984, for the local market only.


As the patriarch of the 5 Series family, the E12 has given rise to a pedigree of automotive evolution forever emulating the Ultimate Driving Machine.