Buy a 1980s 5 Series and you’re faced with a dilemma: Should you give it a full restoration with Original BMW parts, making the car look as stunning as it did when it rolled off the assembly line, or should you transform it into a cool little hot rod, taking advantage of the car’s low buy-in price to indulge your wildest visions?
That’s what Rob Amason of Houston, Texas asked himself after he picked up a 1988 E28 528i three years ago. The car wasn’t in perfect condition, and leaving it as-is wasn’t an option. Ultimately, he decided to mix a full-on restoration with a few individualized touches that would update this timeless classic to suit 21st century taste.
First among those is ride height. E28s left the factory with ample ground clearance, and the first thing most enthusiasts have always done is reduce the ride height for better looks and improved handling. In 1981, that consisted of switching the coil springs for shorter, stiffer versions; today, using a custom air suspension allows hot rodders to not just reduce but almost eliminate the gap between the tire and the fenders.
To modernize the look of the E28 he dubbed “Mr. Farnsworth,” Amason went with a custom setup from AirLift and Accuair, installed by Dorbritz Designs in Plano, Texas. The system consists of AirLift’s universal double-bellow air struts up front and universal sleeve bags at the rear, filled from dual polished tanks in the trunk pressurized by a pair of Viar silent compressors. The whole thing is controlled by an Accuair eLevel air management system that allows Amason to control the ride height with the flick of a switch. That lets the car sit low when it’s striking a pose or rise up again when it’s time to clear speed bumps, steep driveways or anything else that might damage the undercarriage or bodywork.
The car’s fenders frame a pristine set of HRE 506 wheels that are supposedly the only set in the United States. Measuring 8.5 × 17 inches up front and 9.5 × 17 inches at the rear, the staggered setup gives the 5 Series the extra visual pop it needs to stand apart from everything else on the road.
The rear brakes were upgraded with E32 750iL parts, a common modification back in the day. Up front, Amason took a more modern approach, fitting a custom-made Futura Design big brake kit that fills out the three-piece HRE wheels beautifully. The six-piston calipers were powdercoated in Alpine White with blue logos, while the large drilled and slotted rotors are mounted to aluminum hats anodized in blue.
The hats are the perfect accent for the car’s Royal Blue metallic paint, which looks like it’s been freshly sprayed. In fact, it’s the original paint, the same stuff applied 26 years and 160,000 miles ago in Bavaria. To restore its lustre, Amason had a trusted detailer “correct” or machine polish the car’s finish. The effect is probably better than new thanks to the removal of any imperfections.