It might look like a simple air-ride E28, but there’s a lot more to this beautiful, 2.8-swapped example than meets the eye… Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Krisztian Bolgar.
HIDDEN DEPTHS M30-swapped air-ride BMW E28
Some cars love mods. They’re good out of the box but, once you start playing with them, they really start to come into their own. The F8x M3 and M4, for example, are most definitely mod-hungry cars; they look fantastic and perform incredibly well as standard but, the more mods you throw at them, the better they get and they transform from impressive performance machines into absolute beasts. Other cars, though, are the exact opposite and it tends to be the older BMs that are really best left alone. Sure, there’s always room for modding the classics and we’ve got a lot of time for wild retro builds but, at the same time, it’s nice to be able to enjoy them in a near-pure form. The elderly BMs have such timeless styling, a natural grace and elegance, that you don’t want to mess around with them. A little bit of light enhancement is all you need to bring out their best and give them a bit of individuality, just to make them stand out and make them yours. Daniel Petras understands this, and his tastefully-personalised E28 is the end result of his delicate, but involved, tweaking.
“I’ve been interested in BMWs since I was a child. I prefer classics rather than the new ones. I love the design and the driving experience,” Daniel tells us as we chat BMs and E28s with the young Hungarian. Not only is the E28 his first taste of Bavarian motoring, it’s also his first-ever car, and while eschewing the creature comforts and technology of more modern metal takes commitment, it’s the sort of enthusiast decision that we admire and respect. When the time finally came to buy himself a car he knew what he wanted; “I always wanted a car which is not a usual car. At this time (2011) Mike Burroughs’ ‘Rusty’ was my big favourite, so I started to search for old Bimmers,” says Daniel. “I found my E28 on a Hungarian used car website. It was very cheap (~£480) but it was in very bad condition. There was a lot of rust and the paint was worn. The original colour was Achatgrün metallic [Agate green], the interior was green, and it had an M10B18 engine,” and a cursory glance at these pages is all you need to tell you that it looks really rather different now and that Daniel has put a lot of work into his E28. But that wasn’t actually the plan; “I just wanted a car for daily driving. I only had a plan to make the car safe to drive but I had no modification plans,” he says but its clear that things ended up heading in a very different direction.
First things first, Daniel needed to make his rusty, shabby E28 rather more presentable and so began an intensive programme of refurbishment and the end result is stunning. All the rust has been removed, the bodywork has been completely repaired and Agate green has been replaced by Zinnober red, thanks to a full colour-change respray, but that’s far from the end of it. “I always liked the cult, clean and OEM+ styles,” explains Daniel.
“I tried to follow this direction, that’s why there aren’t a lot of modifications on the exterior. I installed an M5 front valance and a rear spoiler, the arches have been rolled and the old antenna hole has been welded-up. I prefer the Shadowline design, so all of the chrome parts have been painted black and the bumpers have been painted red. I built black Hella-style headlights and these got a smoked wrap to make them darker. The US plate is only for shows,” he adds with a smile. The exterior looks fantastic, so fresh and clean and those minor changes have made a big difference to the car’s looks. This E28 is sharp, with the black and red combo working so well and, with the whole car apart, now was also a good time to attend to the interior. “The original interior was green, which matched with the green exterior, but not with the red so I changed the complete interior to grey/ black,” explains Daniel. “I found and fitted a crack-free dashboard, the roof got a new black headlining and the front seats have been changed to E34 manual Sport seats.” The end result is not just smart but also impressive for the level of work that Daniel has put into what might initially appear to be little more than a stock interior. At this point you realise that this E28 is definitely one of those cars that doesn’t give up all of its secrets at first glance and demands that you look a little deeper to really find all the hidden details.
Having fully refurbished his E28 and already added a few personal touches on the outside and inside, Daniel was feeling pretty happy about life. But it was only a matter of time before he really started to mod his classic Five. It began, as most projects do, with suspension, namely a custom setup that Daniel assembled himself. Custom coilovers were constructed, utilising Honda Civic springs, and custom-built 2D camber plates were fitted up front, this little lot allowing the E28 to attain a more suitable ride height. What goes with suspension? Wheels, of course, and for his first set for the E28 Daniel opted for a set of staggered 17” Style 21s, aka BMW M System II “Throwing Stars” except… he bought them without the actual throwing star portions. Running Style 21s naked gives you a unique-looking five-spoke wheel, which Daniel proceeded to powder coat white. In our mind’s eye that’s a pretty good-looking combo and you can see why he ran with that look for almost two years.
With the E28’s styling now on-point, Daniel turned his attention to what sat in its engine bay. “The original engine was an M10B18. I planned to swap to an M50 but then I got an offer for a spare car. It was an E28 528i with the stock M30B28 engine, manual transmission and LSD,” he says and he snapped it up, pulled out the drivetrain, rebuilt the engine and threw the whole lot into his E28. At the same time, Daniel also changed the rear drum brakes for discs, fitted larger E32 7 Series brakes up front and fitted Powerflex bushes everywhere he possibly could and now things were really starting to take shape.
Daniel’s E28 looked good and it had a silky-smooth straight-six under the bonnet, the whole car now having undergone quite the transformation, but he was far from finished. Those Style 21s were nice but nice wasn’t going to cut it any more…
“I always wanted a set of three-piece wheels,” he says, “and the OZ Futura was my big favourite so I bought a set when I had the opportunity. They are 8.5x17” ET13 front and 10x17” ET19 at the back and I had them fully-rebuilt, with polished bolts and lips, grey painted centres, caps, and barrels,” and they look stunning. The Futura is a classic design that works so well on the E28 and they manage to be both understated yet make a big impact at the same time and really were the perfect choice for this build. With his perfect wheels on the car, Daniel decided now was the time to fit his perfect suspension to go with them. “The car wasn’t low enough on the coilovers and my dream was a bagged car, so I decided to build a custom air suspension setup,” he says. “It was my first air project but it works fi ne. I used the old camber plates, VW Polo 6N coilovers, Rubena bags, 5/3 type two-way valves and a Viair 444C compressor.” This custom arrangement works perfectly and allows this E28 to get lower than ever and it looks fantastic with it, the OZ Futuras tucking perfectly into the rolled arches.
Now, at last, Daniel was ready to move the E28 into its final stage and add the finishing touches. “In the winter of 2016/17 the engine came out so that I could do the shaved bay,” he smiles. “Everything that I didn’t want has been cut off, every hole has been welded up. I deleted the heating hoses. All of the wires are hidden. I did the wiring and I moved the fuse box under the head unit. I installed a new E36 radiator so I could remove the old expansion tank. I changed the big old air-box for a performance air filter and shaved the intake manifold and the battery has been relocated under the rear seat. After the welding, the next step was to paint the engine bay. The brake booster, the brake master cylinder and the brake fluid tank have been painted red while all of the engine parts have been painted black and all of the bolts have been galvanized in yellow,” he says. The end result is one of the cleanest bays we’ve seen in a long time and it really is magnificent. It’s so utterly spotless and immaculate and the M30 itself looks like it’s more of a display piece than an actual functioning engine, with Daniel really impressing with the attention to detail on the finishing. Of course, with an immaculate engine bay up front, he had to ensure that he had a suitably slick boot build to match. “The boot’s old carpets were in bad condition and I really liked the custom boot builds I’d seen so I decided to build my own one. I made the two sides and the back panels, these got black carpet. I changed the floor too, it became laminated parquet. The air tank is located here, at the back of the rear seat, and it’s been painted Zinnober red to match the body.” It’s very simple but there’s beauty in that simplicity and it matches the empty elegance of the shaved bay up front, complementing it perfectly. The finishing touches, however, are in the cabin; “I built a custom armrest console covered with black leather and carpet on the top to match the front seats and I placed the air tank gauge and the compressor switch inside it. There is a Viair gauge where the heating temperature switch was, which shows the pressure of the bags.” Tucking the air-ride controls away beneath his custom armrest keeps the interior looking suitable original while the analogue gauge is pleasingly old-school and fits perfectly with the analogue nature of the E28 itself. At first glance, this might look like just another air-ride E28 but this is a car with a story and Daniel has put a lot more time and work into than you might ever expect.
It’s a delightful mix of the decidedly retro and the modern, the OEM and the aftermarket, a perfect blend of infinitely pleasing aesthetics and old-school straight-six grunt. It combines everything we love about classics, everything we love about BMs with everything we love about modding them and embodies Daniel’s perfect build. “I love every piece of the car because everything looks how I wanted it,” he smiles. “If you love your car, you will always want to change something on it,” muses Daniel, sagely. “For example, I could change the engine, exhaust, interior, though I could never change the wheels, but honesty I like it like this. It is perfect for me,” he smiles and that’s the ultimate accolade you could ever bestow upon a car. This E28 isn’t just nice, for Daniel it’s perfect; that’s all any of us could ever ask for from a car and happy is the owner who achieves that.
DATA FILE Air-ride 2.8 E28
ENGINE AND GEARBOX 2.8-litre straight-six M30B28, rebuilt, shaved intake manifold, all parts painted black, all bolts galvanised yellow, E36 radiator, shaved engine bay with all wires, fuse-box and brake lines hidden, all holes welded-up, all brackets cut off, deleted heating, screen-wash reservoir and old expansion tank. Getrag five-speed manual gearbox, LSD
CHASSIS 8.5x17” ET13 (front) and 10x17” ET19 (rear) OZ Futura wheels with polished lips and grey centres, 205/40 (front) and 215/40 (rear) tyres, custombuilt air-ride suspension with Polo 6N coilovers, Rubena bags, Viair 444C compressor and 5/3 two-way valves, Powerflex bushes, E32 7 Series brakes (front), disc brakes (rear)
EXTERIOR Full respray in Zinnober red, M5 front valance and rear spoiler, rolled arches, antenna delete, chrome window trim painted black, bumpers painted red, custom Hella-style headlights with smoked wrap, towing eye delete
INTERIOR Grey/black interior, E34 Sport front seats, black headlining, custom armrest, hidden air tank gauge and compressor switch, Viair pressure gauge, battery under rear seat, custom boot build with black carpet and laminated parquet floor, body-coloured air tank
E36 radiator has been fitted Custom-built camber plates Brake booster and master cylinder have been painted red. Engine bay is ridiculously clean. Viair gauge shows bag pressure E34 Sport seats up front. Simple boot build with carpeted panels and parquet floor.
“The exterior looks fantastic, so fresh and clean and those minor changes have made a big difference to the car’s looks. This E28 is sharp, with the black and red combo working so well”