BMW is one of the most popular cars in South Africa. Over the years, they have made some of the best cars in the world and let's not forget about the M division. Being so popular, there have been some special cars made by BMW that are unique to South Africa. Be it through filling a void of cars we never got or homologation requirements, here are 8 BMWs unique to South Africa.
BMW E23 745i
To start this list, we are first going to look at a humble family car, the E23 745i. What makes this car special is the engine. Other markets used a turbocharged M102/M106 engine but the turbo was located on the right-hand side, therefore a right-hand drive version wasn't possible as the turbo couldn't be relocated. In order to make the car, another engine was needed and BMW SA didn't disappoint. They slotted in the legendary M88 engine, the same engine that powered the gorgeous M1, M635CSi, and E28 M5. Only 209 examples were made, 192 automatics and 17 manuals in total. Making this car extremely rare and special.
BMW E28 M5
The original M5 is a special car that collectors go crazy for. In South Africa, we also got the E28 M5 but our M5s are very unique compared to the M5s elsewhere. South Africa was the only country other than Germany to produce the M5. They were assembled in Rosslyn using German supplied Complete Knock Down (CKD) kits. Mechanically, SA M5s are the same as the German-produced cars. Cosmetically, they were different. South African cars had M-Technic body panels, Shadowline trim and16" cross-spoke rims. Only 96 examples were made making it a rare and unique M car with prices for them going through the roof.
BMW E30 325is
This is probably the most well-known car on this list. The 325is, commonly known as the Gusheshe, was born into the world of racing. More specifically, Group N racing. After Opel started racing their new Kadett 16V, BMW had to improve their cars to keep up. Hence the 325is was born. BMW replaced the 2.5 litre engine with a 2.7 litre unit that pushed out 145kW. There were also suspension upgrades, LS diff and weight saving. For BMW to race a car, they had to produce 500 road-going examples, this is commonly known as a homologation special. Later on, Opel introduced the Super Boss. This made BMW upgrade their cars again, thus creating the 325is Evo 2. The easiest way to tell them apart is that the Evo 1 cars had aluminium body panels and the Evo 2 didn't. To make up for this, the Evo 2 had better suspension and more power. In total, 508 cars were made. Over the years many of these cars have been crashed or stolen. This means that 325is are rare and valuable. If you in the market for one, be careful as there are many fake examples going around.
BMW E30 333i
The 325is gets most of the attention but the 333i is even more special. This car was created because we never got the E30 M3 in South Africa. So, BMW South Africa took the engine from the 733i and put it in a sleek 2 door E30 body. To get the most out of the new engine, a close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential were used. A total of 204 of these incredible cars were made and paved the way for the 325is.
BMW E12 530 MLE
The BMW 530 MLE (Motorsport Limited Edition) is one of the rarest and interesting cars that BMW has ever made. Most people think the M1 was the first M car to be made, but this car was actually the first. Beating the M1 by 2 years. That is quite an honour to have. Seeing that only 105 to 110 of these cars were ever made, most people don't even know it exists which is a shame. Why were so few made? Well, BMW needed a more competitive car to take racing and need to make at least 100 road-going examples to meet the homologising requirements.
To make the car more race-ready, they needed it to be lighter. So they drilled holes under the seats, through the parcel shelf, inside the bonnet, through the c pillars, behind the rear seats, boot hinges and clutch pedal. All of this was done by hand which means no two cars are the same. There is also no electric windows, power steering and aircon. The engine was a tuned version of the 3L straight-six engine with a better cam, Mahle pistons and twin down draught Zenith INAT carbs. It made an impressive 147kW and 277nm. Suspension, brakes, rims and a whole host of other things were changed for this car. All of this just to go racing. So the big question is, were they successful? Well, they began racing these cars in 1976 and won the first 15 out of 15 races it competed in, won 3 championships in the first 3 years and remained competitive until 1985 when they retired. What a fascinating car.
1991 BMW E34 525i Art Car
We kind of cheated for this one because this isn’t a unique model just for the South African market. Instead, it’s a normal 5 series but it's one of the famous BMW art cars. There are 19 BMW art cars and this is number 12. It's painted by famous South African painter Esther Mahlangu. This is the first art car painted by a woman as well. Her inspiration came from her ethnic tribal Ndebele art. Esther loved the design as it made for a big contrast as the BMW was viewed as a top-end, highly complicated car that was painted in ancient African art.
BMW E92 M3 Frozen Edition
This is another car that was created because South Africa never got a certain car. The car in question is the E92 M3 GTS. There were only a handful of right-hand drive examples, and BMW South Africa couldn’t present a business case for a few allocations as the cars would cost R2 million. So, BMW South Africa had to fill the void, as SA was the 7th biggest M market globally at the time. So, the M3 Frozen Edition was created. Why Frozen Edition? The US market had a Frozen Edition and BMW wanted branding convergence. The US and SA car might share the same name but are very different. So, what's special about this South African only car? For starters, the paint. Only 2 colours were available and were exclusive to this model, frozen black and frozen grey. They look matte and give the car a unique look. The main difference though was the power. It had an increase in power, 21kW and 20Nm over the standard M3 thanks to AC Schnitzer exhaust pipe, intake manifold and a revised engine management system. All this means that it has 330kW and 420Nm. They also had red brake callipers, black leather with red stitching and black 19" rims. Only 25 cars were made so seeing one is extremely rare.
BMW G20 330is
BMW decided to pay tribute to the South African legend, the BMW E30 325is, with their new generation of 3 series. To do this, they decided to make a BMW G20 330is. Based on the regular G20 330i with a few touches to make it special. Only 230 examples are being made which should keep them rare. Performance-wise, it has 190kW and does the 100kph dash in 5.8 seconds. The car is also full of options, it has the M Performance sports pack and aerodynamic package. This makes it stand out compare to the regular 330i. The M Performance suspension also means it's lower and the M Performance exhaust tips give it a more sporty sound. The interior also got a bit of a makeover to feel more sporty. Personally, I love the M Performance rims on it the most.