Based on the E12 5 Series generation, the 528 GT Coupe is a largely unknown prototype that appeared in 1976 and 1977 and was entirely designed and built by renowned Italian coachbuilder and car designer Pietro Frua.

Frua is widely known for his projects and limited editions based on BMW models, such as the 1600 GT Coupe (developed on the basis of former Glas models, a brand acquired by the Bavarians in the late ’60s), the 2002 GT4 Coupe, the 2800 GTS Coupe and the 3000 V8 Fastbackcoupe.

The One-Off 528 GT Coupe

The 528 GT Coupe is less familiar to public, because it came out in a difficult period – the mid 70s. Resources were limited and the appetite for such ambitious, one-off coachbuilding projects was at a minimum. According to relevant historical details of the project, BMW initially did not deliver the approval for the project.

Minutes of the BMW AG board dated February 3rd, 1976 explicitly show: “Frua intends to build a coupé based on the E12 and present it in Geneva. The Board of Directors opposes this for reasons of product policy and instructs E. to inform Mr. Frua of this in the planned discussion on 16.2.1976.”

A change of plans occurred 2 weeks after, as following a call with Pietro Frua, BMW marginally agreed to greenlight the project. I say marginally because the Board of Directors was still reluctant, having previously delivered an E12 chassis in 1975, intended for small series production of a large-sized coupe.

BMW M535i E12 51 750x500
E12 M535i

As per BMW Board of Directors minutes, Frua was allowed to build a prototype of a coupe based on the E12 BMW 520i. The board will after decide whether Frua will get the support to build a small series production.

Built With Parts From Other Italian Brands

After this setback, it was pretty clear for Pietro Frua that the car won’t make it to Geneva that year, due to the limited amount of time needed to finish the prototypes. Also, as BMW refused to supply additional parts for the car, the 528 GT Coupe was mainly built using parts from Italian brand such as Alfa Romeo (e.g. the front blinkers come from the 1750 GT models) and Maserati (e.g. the taillights come from Maserati Bora).

The front end of the 528 GT Coupe is genuinely recognizable as a BMW, thanks to the four-eyed fascia with circular headlamps and the thin, unmistakable kidneys typical to Bavarian models from that era. Even the bonnet is slightly angled forwards as to create the hallmark shark face effect.

The design of the body was also inspired by former BMW projects carried out by Frua, but also got a powerful inspiration from the iconic Italian cars of the period, characterized by the typical fastback shape and 2+2 seating architecture. Eventually, the large-sized 528 GT fastback coupe was officially presented to public in November 1976, at the 56th edition of the Turin Motor Show. Karlheinz Radermacher (BoM member responsible for R&D at BMW AG) and Claus Luthe (Chief Designer of BMW AG) also participated at the ceremony.

Featured The M10 BMW Engine

bmw m10 engine 00 528x830
Image BMW AG

The 528 GT Coupe was, at first, powered by the M10 4-cylinder gasoline powerplant also powering the standard 5 Series models of the time. In 1977, Pietro Frua equipped the E12 520i-based prototype with the M30 6-cylinder petrol injection engine. To be precise, there was a single prototype that Frua made in 1976-1977, initially powered by the 4-cylinder unit and afterwards, converted to the 6-cylinder powerplant, but using the same chassis.

The color choice was red, similar in shade to Phoenix Red paintwork available on the E12 5 Series, whereas the interior was covered in plush beige leather upholstery and velour fabric. It is interesting to see that the 528 GT Coupe was equipped with 14-inch tires bearing typical, 20-spoke ALPINA alloys.

The left front apron is adorned with a discrete, engraved silver badge display the word CREAZIONE (Italian for creation) and the signature of Pietro Frua. The BMW roundel is present on the B pillars of the car, while a set of air breathers (like shark gills) are placed behind the rear side windows.

Revealed in 1978 in Geneva

The project car was again revealed publicly in 1978 at the Geneva and Turin motor shows and it also took part at the Concours d’Elégance in Nice, France. Afterwards, the car was bought by BMW AG, but in March 1979, the Bavarian company decided to sell it to an interested Mexican client. On the selling proposal, the 528 GT Coupe was designated “Automovil BMW Type 52028 Alpina” chassis and engine number 3868245 (outside the range corresponding to E12 5 Series).

Currently, the car is owned by another Mexican citizen from the capital city of Ciudad de Mexico and has less than 30,000 km on the clock. Sadly, the 528 GT Coupe has been modified quite substantially, as the red paintwork is slightly different now. The interior is covered in black leather and the original seats were replaced with RECARO ones.

Nonetheless, it is good to know that the 528 GT Coupe still exists and didn’t end up in a scrapyard. This car is inherently an interesting piece of history and a testimony of passion from Pietro Frua, bringing together the lively German and Italian spirits into a single coachbuilding dream automobile.

More resources and details on the rare 528 GT Coupe and other projects carried out by Pietro Frua are accessible at the following web address. Including images of the car.