As this bagged #E28 goes to show, it’s the little things that can make a big difference when it comes to modifying. Luke Ward’s low-slung #518i is all the proof you need that you don’t need to mire yourself in complexity to build a stand-out ride… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Paddy McGrath.

    Ah, the simple life. It’s what we all crave, isn’t it? If we’re really honest? #2014 is a frighteningly complicated place to live. There’s a device in your pocket that pretends to be a telephone but in fact acts as a gateway to all of mankind’s information, thoughts, opinions and, er, pictures of cats. The TV has a lot more than four channels these days. That other device in your pocket has 22,000 songs on it, and the one in your bag has several thousand books. We’re overwhelmed by choice, decisions, the crushing weight of complexity. The arms race to own the latest natty gizmo. The freshest way of reworking and digitising things that have happily existed in analogue form for generations. Surely it’s time for everybody to slow down for a moment, look up from their phones and remind themselves that there’s a bright blue sky up there?

    Well, possibly. Depends on your outlook on life, really. Some people hanker for simpler times, more hands-on ways of doing things, human interaction, home-grown vegetables, quality pencils, proper cutlery and handkerchiefs. Others are the sort that’ll happily queue all night outside a shop to buy a particular mobile telephone before anyone else, who’ll have four screens on the go at once so they can be constantly refreshing Facebook, Twitter and Instagram while they half-watch an episode of Breaking Bad that’s streaming through a cluster of blinking LEDs in the corner, that think seven quid is a not unreasonable price for a spiced pumpkin latte. It takes all sorts to make a world, and we’re in no position to judge.

    With this in mind, Luke Ward is in the former camp. An old-skool retro revivalist who likes to do things the traditional way. As you can see from his #E28-518i #M10 , the idea here is very much to preserve originality and give it a contemporary twist, rather than muck about with faddy, fashionable notions like swapping in a #VANOS heart or retrimming the seats in Rolls-Royce’s most exclusive hide. This, folks, is a 5 Series survivor – a car that has swallowed whole a decade or two of commuting (or family life, or travelling sales-maning, or whatever characterised its early years), brushed off the dust of the world with casual aplomb, and just kept on keepin’ on. Its reward? The acceptance into the warm embrace of a chap who likes old-skool motors, and likes to sit them on the floor.

    Some might call it patina, and they’d be right to do so. Patina, you see, is a concept that’s become rather jumbled in the public consciousness of late. Pronounced ‘PAT-in-er’ (not ‘per-TEE-na’, as our American cousins often insist), many people today think that it merely signifies rat-look, be it natural weathering or the sort of forced rusting that’s encouraged by stripping the paint off with Nitromors and then urinating on it (you may scoff, but it’s fairly standard practice in forced-rat circles). But there’s far more to it than that. You know the green oxidation that you get on copper, like you see on the Statue of Liberty? That’s patina. It can also just mean a fine layer of something on top of something else – ‘a patina of frost on the pavement’, say. But the definition we’re scratching around for here is the third and most important one: a change in appearance caused by long-standing behaviour, or the sheen on a surface caused by much handling. In short, ‘patina’ denotes the look of something that’s been well-used. And that describes this E28 perfectly.

    “As a kid I’d always loved the shape and style of the E28,” says Luke, with the whimsical smile of nostalgia. “This one came up for sale locally and I just had to have it. When I bought it, it was on cut springs and fake BBS RSs – I loved the patina and had no plans to change it, I was just going to leave it as it was. But, you know, I got the itch to modify…”

    Some of you may have flicked through the photos already and found yourselves scratching your heads in bewilderment at how a magazine such as this, ever priding itself on bringing you the cleanest, freshest, most cunning and aspirational builds, has featured a tatty #1987 518i with peeling lacquer and holes in the seats. But again, that does the car a disservice. You know what we love about this #BMW-E28 ? It’s honest.

    Oh yeah, and it’s badass too. You see, the preservation of originality will only take you so far before something has to give. We may be painting a picture of Luke as some sort of flat cap-wearing traditionalist, but he’s actually waist-deep in the stance scene and proudly so. What he’s done here, then, is to enhance and modernise this originality rather than merely pin it to a butterfly board and lock it away in a glass case. Yes, the engine is still the standard 1.8-litre M10, but its stock 100hp-ish has been slightly beefed up by a custom Pipercross filter and a unique Longlife straight-through stainless steel exhaust system that peeps upward from the rear valance like a toddler playing peekaboo. It won’t set the world on fire, but it’s simple, honest, and it works. And the real badassery comes in the form of the way that it sits. This is the kind of stanced retro aesthetic that we just love, taking the classic form and mercilessly slashing a few inches from the ride height like some manner of scythe-wielding commando. Dumped, you might say. Slammed. Whatever. It’s down there among the weeds, and it looks ace on its belly.

    This is all thanks to that perennial chum of the modern altitude-adjuster – air-ride. “I bagged it because I knew how low these cars were capable of going, but still wanted to be able to comfortably drive it daily,” Luke explains. “Air was an easy choice – drive low, park lower.” Amen to that. Specifically, we’re looking at a two-way setup involving custom Gaz struts and Air Lift bags that allows the timeworn chassis to de-stilt itself at the flick of a switch, the simple construct meaning that each axle’s bags run from the same air supply line – the fronts go up and down together, as do the rears. Some aficionados prefer the infinite adjustability of a four-way setup but hey, there are less bits to break or leak in a simpler two-way, right? And again, simplicity is key to this project.

    The wheels, however, are one area in which we can allow a little concession from the game plan. We reckon Luke’s okay to deviate from the simplicity pursuit here, as the pernickety detailing of these BBS rims really is a joy to behold. They’re a set of RC090 Style 5s – a much-underrated rim in #BMW circles, we think, and equally as imposing to behold as the fabled RS – and they’re rocking mirror-polished rims, white centres and gold bolts, like a quartet of delicious cakes you’d find on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (this is meant wholeheartedly as a compliment…). The wheel choice acts as a glorious aesthetic counterpoint to the patinated originality of that 27-year-old metallic black paintwork, with its peels, scuffs and stonechips – the rims are flawless, and they look bang on tucked deep inside those (again, original) arches. It’s old vs new, father vs son, A New Hope vs The Phantom Menace.

    “RC090s keep things classic and classy,” is Luke’s justification for the choice. “The dishes were refinished by Pureklas, who I’ve always trusted with my wheels; Split Rim Refurbishments (SRR) supplied me with all new gold hardware, and I rebuilt them myself at home the way I wanted them.

    “Reactions have been surprising,” he continues. “After all, all I’ve really done is enhance the car’s looks, but the positive comments have been overwhelming. Even from the older folk, they love it!”

    Perhaps our favourite area of the car, though, is the interior. It’s got to be, hasn’t it? There are few things more evocative in life than beaded seat covers. Much-derided in recent times, and cast into the gallery of regret along with a million Nissan Bluebird minicabs that shamelessly wore them, they’re now being recognised as something of a guilty pleasure. Feeling those polished wooden beads gently kneading your backside, you’re transported back to childhood. You’d forgotten that your dad had these in his car, hadn’t you? But he did, juxtaposed with his Feu Orange air freshener and his yellowing, dog-eared, nineyear- old road atlas. We get so caught up in the excitement of people shoehorning the latest carbon fibre-shelled Recaros, rollcages and flocked dashes into their old-skool rides, we forget just how lovely it is to feel the quality design of the original, to sink gently into crumbling foam that’s nearly three decades old. That, above all, heralds the idea that’s been humming within this E28 all along: it’s not in-your-face, it’s not bullish or boisterous, it just is what it is. Simple. Timeless. And really rather refreshing.

    ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: #M10B18 1.8-litre straight-four, custom Longlife straightthrough stainless steel exhaust with upswept tail, custom Pipercross foam panel filter.

    CHASSIS: 8x17” (front & rear) custom #BBS RC090 Style 5s with polished lips by Pureklas, gold bolts by SRR and white powdercoated centres, 185/35 Nankang NS-2s, 20mm hubcentric spacers and longer wheel bolts, polybushed, custom Gaz struts with Air Lift bags, two-way air-ride setup, camber-adjustable solid top mounts.

    INTERIOR: Nardi Torini steering wheel, antique walking stick gear-shifter and beaded seat covers.

    EXTERIOR: Original metallic black paint, enhanced with Auto Finesse products.

    THANKS: Decked Metals (follow luke_deckedmetals on Instagram!), and the whole DM family – Laurence Turner, Michael Fogg, Todd Hammond, Abi Clarke, Ross Waterhouse, Chris Good and Will Clarkson for all the help and support.