When it comes to the origins of BMW M, enthusiasts primarily like to talk about the 3.0 CSL E9 and the mid-engined M1. However, the 530 MLE was actually the first BMW road car to get an M-specific VIN plate. A homologation special, the Motorsport Limited Edition was born in South Africa where the company’s regional division wanted to go racing but didn’t have a competitive car.
It’s one of the rarest BMW models ever as only 110 units of the Type 1 were produced in 1976 and another 117 examples of the Type 2 were assembled in 1977 at the Rosslyn factory. One of them was filmed recently in the UK at the Goodwood Motor Circuit. The Duke of London invited YouTuber Seen Through Glass to get behind the wheel of the sports sedan, one of the several special performance-oriented BMWs sold only in South Africa, along with the 333i E30 and 745i E23.
Based on the 525i chassis from the E12 era, the 530 MLE was sold exclusively in white with BMW Motorsport badges and stripes. Modifications were extensive and included a significant diet to reduce weight to a remarkable 1,233 kilograms (2,718 pounds). Powering the sports sedan was an inline-six 3.0-liter engine modified by the factory to develop 197 horsepower (147 kilowatts) and 277 Newton-meters (204 pound-feet) of torque.
This kind of power isn’t impressive by today’s standards as even a 520i offers a roughly similar punch, but for the late 1970s, the 530 MLE had some solid output figures for a sedan. It did 0 to 62 mph (100 km/h) in 9.3 seconds and because it’s so lightweight, it feels agile and even a bit tail-happy around the corners.
There were plenty of other upgrades beyond the weight loss and diet as the engineers installed a dogleg Getrag close-ratio transmission, ventilated front brakes, and Bilstein shocks to stiffen up the suspension. Inside, the BMW 530 MLE had navy blue velour upholstery and Scheel bucket seats. Some parts were made from aluminum and others from lighter steel to reduce weight, which also involved drilling holes. The hand-built special edition had the battery relocated to the trunk battery while the clutch pedal and boot hinges were drilled to save precious grams.
Some 45 years later, the 530 MLE is a blast from the past and a reminder of how things were in the early days of BMW’s M division.
Source: Seen Through Glass / YouTube