In May of 2019 we found ourselves excitedly driving to a barn in Gloucestershire. It’s not that barns excite us all that much, this isn’t Grand Designs. We’re more motivated by what can be found within them, which as we all know, is more often than not, a classic car or two. Steve Curtis of Classic Bahnstormers didn’t have a barn find though. He had nine. And every one of them was a BMW E28, arguably the most iconic and most handsome 5 Series of them all.
You can read the full article on the nine cars here. All the same, yet they were also different. There were some M535s in there, a 528i and a couple of 520i models, too. And it was one of the 520i cars that caught our eye. Thick with dust, it seemed like the one that would spring back onto the road first. Steve explained that while there was indeed work to be done, this particular car wasn’t suffering from any terminal rot, and while the mechanicals would indeed need a complete inspection and overhaul, there was no obvious reason they shouldn’t bark back into life.
In a savvy move, Steve elected to sell the cars at an affordable price, so long as he and his business could be involved in the restoration process. This was a good move from a business point of view, but more than that, it serves to unite these cars (or at least, the ones that can) as they go back on the road. As Steve explained to us, the nine cars came without any history, so he’s made it a point to re-start their respective journeys with Classic Bahnstormers. Each car, this black one included, wears a ‘Bahnstormer 9’ sticker. These cars are part of the same journey up to that point. They were forgotten, and would have surely returned to the earth had Steve and his team not stepped in.
Anyway, back to the car pictured here. As we said, the rot wasn’t terminal and the mechanicals had promise. Steve just needed a buyer. Enter stage left, Jon Horne. Jon is a BMW man through and through. His current steed is an F30 330d Series, he’s had E30s, 5 GTs and many other BMWs in the past, and while he’s keen to admit his love for them, so too is he keen to point out that the new ones don’t quite have the same… soul as the classics. When he saw the 520i here, he knew there was an opportunity to once again have that soul in his life.
Jon’s brief was simple. He wanted to replace his F30 with the E28. Okay, so that’s not quite so simple, as that meant the E28 had to be tip-top if it was going to take on the role of Jon’s modern Beemer. Still, the E28 is a capable car if looked after, so Steve and the guys at Classic Bahnstormers saw nothing to be worried about.
The first thing they tackled was the mechanical side of things. The six-cylinder M20B20 engine hadn’t run since 2007, as such, chucking a battery on it and hoping for the best probably wasn’t a wise move. Instead, they checked the engine could still be turned over by hand, and it could. Good news. Then the cam cover was removed and the cam inspected for wear to the lobes. The old fuel was drained out, a new fuel pump fitted, a new cam belt went on as did a water pump. However, it still wouldn’t run. In the end, the problem was spark related, so after raiding his stash of spares, a new coil was fitted, a different ECU went on too. Finally, six new injectors we fitted, and with a turn of a key, the long slumbering E28 barked into life.
Of course, they didn’t stop there with the mechanical stuff. As such, all the service items were changed; oil, plugs, leads, complete coolant flush, the transmission was flushed and a new filter fitted. A new viscous fan went on, new auxiliary belts, new vacuum lines, new thermostat, rad cap and pretty much everything else was renewed.
Then it was the turn of the other mechanicals. So, the calipers were rebuilt all round, and new disks and pads were fitted. The shocks were replaced, as were all the suspension bushes, meaning this car now rides as good as it did when new. All the solid fuel and brake lines were replaced front to back, as were all the flexible brake hoses. It truly is like a new car under there.
Of course, to be truly like a new car, the rust would need to be addressed. The E28, handsome though it is, can be a hotbed for rust, as is evidenced by a couple of the barn find nine that are now only suitable as parts cars. Happily, Jon’s 520i was the best of the bunch, but work still needed to be done. The doors, sunroof and bonnet were all good – rare for an old E28. However, the front corners of the floors, the rear inner ‘triangles’ (the area where the inner sill meets the bottom of the rear wheel tub) and a whole host of smaller, localised areas needed some attention from the MIG. To get better access at the rear, the subframe was removed (which made it easier to fit all the new bushes mentioned earlier, plus it meant the subframe itself could be cleaned and protected) and the new metal was added in. Body wise, the offside front wing needed to be replaced, and the nearside rear quarter needed a dent repair.
The next step was the car’s tired looks. Having not seen a wet sponge for well over a decade, something needed to be done. Amazingly, the paint was and still is in excellent order. There was no significant damage nor corrosion. Steve brought in a paintless dent repair specialist to sort out the few knocks and dings that were there before sending the car off to paint. While largely in excellent condition, the roof and boot lid were showing their age, and the new wing and offside rear repair needed to be painted. Once back from the bodyshop, the car was cleaned and buffed and now presents as you see it here. A lush, deep black, no swirl marks, no defects, it’s astonishing.
That wasn’t the end of the car’s time with Steve at Classic Bahnstormers though. Knowing that Jon wanted to press the E28 into daily use, Steve took it upon himself to give the car the shakedown of all shakedowns, which meant over 1,000 miles of use. During this time, Steve and his team were able to iron out any kinks or issues that arose. As such, the heater blower motor was serviced, all the electric window and door central locking mechanisms were refurbished, as was the sunroof mechanism and any damaged or broken trim was replaced. Only then was Steve satisfied that the car was ready. The mechanicals had been renewed or refurbished from top to bottom, the welding was done, the paint was done and the pleasingly immaculate interior was cleaned and detailed. The car was done. With new plates and that all-important ‘Bahnstormer 9’ rear decal, it was time to give the car back to Jon, which takes us to the day of this shoot.
As we worked around the car to get these shots, we couldn’t help but be swept up in Jon’s enthusiasm for it. There’s a hint, as he talks about it, that he can’t quite believe it’s his. Certainly, the work done by Steve and his team has exceeded Jon’s expectations. He’s a man smitten with his new car. It is exactly what he wanted. It’s immaculate, but not over restored. It’s not a car that leaves him cautious of driving. Instead, it’s been restored in such a way that it encourages being used. It’s a car to show off, one to be proud of and use as BMW had intended. And Jon can because of the work Steve has done.
There are many out there who would throw some parts and paint at a car and call it done, but not Steve and Classic Bahnstormers. He listened to the brief, he spoke to Jon, he built an understanding of what needed to be done and he ensured he delivered that. That’s a rare thing to find. And now Jon has a car he can get in and enjoy. A car that he truly can replace his F30 with. Is the E28 as fast, or as laden with tech? No. But man, it’s got soul.