The BMW 5 Series is the benchmark sports sedan. It is the king of the combination people hauler, junior exec transport, and fun-to-drive sports car. Different 5 Series models are available to suit owners, ranging from soccer mom baby hauler to veritable racecar for the street. Many marques have tried, but none have succeeded in dethroning the king. While some 5 Series cars are hot-rods out of the box--M5s and "sport package" E34 and E39 versions spring to mind--like all BMWs, any 5er can be tuned for more serious work. And they have a profound enthusiast following in the BMW Car Club of America (BMW CCA). So when BMW CCA's Tarheel Chapter in North Carolina hosted it's now-annual 5 Series wingding in Banner Elk, N.C., Aug. 8-10, I figured I'd swing by and see what sort of choice 5ers ventured out of their garages for the weekend. You're going to like what I found.

5er Fest 2003 was dedicated to the E12 and E28 body styles so popular among hardcore BMW traditionalists. Held at Sugar Mountain Ski Resort in an area of North Carolina so far off the beaten path that you almost have to be lost to find it, the event attracted some 100 cars from all over the east and from as far away as California. In fact, two drivers road-tripped from the Golden State--one just to attend the event as a spectator with his M5-powered 1984 733i. Any excuse for a drive, you know.

My eyes were immediately drawn to several cars present. The E12 M535i's owned by Phil Zane and Jake Hall were nothing less than mind blowing. Finished in Schwarz black and Henna red, respectively, both cars are prime examples of this spectacular 5 Series special from BMW Motorsport. This was back in the days before BMW "M," when the soft-of-buttock need not apply; M cars were serious cars for serious drivers. The price of admission was always high, but you didn't have to be a plastic surgeon to buy an M535i.

Never officially imported to the U.S., this model appeared at the height of U.S. smog law's best attempt to destroy the automobile as we knew it, the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was motivated by a fire-breathing 218-bhp 10.5:1 compression M30 engine with Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection cranking out 218 bhp at 5200 rpm and 228 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. No catalytic converter was used, and the exhaust system was completely different from anything used in the U.S. Brakes were borrowed from the E23 7 Series. A Getrag five-speed manual was used, but it was a close-ratio unit--not an overdrive gearbox as in the U.S. cars. The M535i ran a 3.07 limited- slip differential for maximum top speed, which was in excess of 140 mph and depended upon the camshaft one used. It ran 6.5x14- or 7x14-in. BBS alloy wheels with 205/70-14 tires. A magnificent front air dam eliminated the front bumper, and a large black plastic rear spoiler augmented high-speed stability by creating downforce. Recaro seats were used inside, and factory striping outside accented colors like Chamonix white, Henna red, Polaris metallic silver and, of course, black.

Another Bimmer that blew us away was Justin Behrends' 1985 Hartge H5S. Hartge, along with Alpina, is a factory-approved tuner, meaning that the modifications performed do not affect the BMW warranty in Germany. The company is legendary for taking BMWs to the next level of performance, and in the 1980s personally imported Hartge cars represented a huge opportunity for American driving enthusiasts. For example, a U.S.-specification 533i with 185 bhp cost about $30,000 and change, and it was certainly no slouch. But a personally imported Hartge H5S would blow the doors off almost anything on the road back then with 240 bhp, for about $35,000. While the H5S package included Recaro seating, special aerodynamics, striping, wheels, and Hartge-tuned coil springs and Bilstein Sport shocks, it essentially carried on where the BMW Motorsport M535i left off, only with improvements in the camshaft, cylinder head, lightening, balancing and exhaust system. It shows the lofty normally aspirated potential of BMW's venerable M30 engine.

The camaraderie shared by BMW enthusiasts is unmatched in the car culture, in my opinion. The only rivalries are friendly, and there is a common sense of shared obsession that bubbles to the surface at events like 5er Fest 2003. One E28 driver somehow lost his Motronic control unit while sitting in the parking lot. Five minutes later, another E28 driver handed him his spare ECU. That's what the car culture should be all about, not killing each other in street races, and that is why BMW CCA endures as one of the great enthusiasts clubs in the world.

Special thanks to David Harrison for allowing me to use his personal tuned black-on-black 1988 M5 for 5er Fest 2003. Harrison's shop is fast becoming a premier Bimmer shop for service and performance work in the Atlanta area, and after driving this M5 I can certainly see why. Anyone who says not to put Schrick cams in an M88 engine is just wrong!

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