BMW beautifully restores the rare 530 MLE from the 1970s (Chris Bruce)

At least in spirit, this was the M5, before the M5 existed.

Because it was exclusive to the South African market, most folks have probably never heard of the BMW 530 Motorsport Limited Edition (MLE, for short). However, the model was a spiritual precursor to the M5, and BMW South Africa recently completed a full restoration of one of these rare machines.

The beginning:

The 530 MLE was a BMW South Africa factory-prepared race car for competing in the country's Modified Production Series in the mid-1970s. In 1976, the machine scored 15 wins in 15 consecutive starts, and the vehicle also tallied three championships in as many years.

As part of the Modified Production Series rules, BMW South Africa had to make at least 100 road-legal versions of the 530 MLE. A team at the factory drilled the pedals and bodywork by hand to reduce weight. The saloons came with manual windows and no air conditioning to save weight. They featured a tuned version of the brand's 3.0-litre inline-six engine now making 197 bhp and 204 lb-ft of torque. The run to 62 miles per hour required 9.3 seconds, and the top speed was 129 mph.

BMW South Africa acquired this 530 MLE in 2018. This one previously belonged to the racing team's manager. It was in very rough shape (see the photos in the gallery, above), but the company intended to bring the machine back to pristine condition.

The 530 MLE wasn't the only performance-focused BMW exclusively for the South African market because the 333i picked up that role in the 1980s. It featured the 3.2-litre inline-six engine from the 733i at the time and slotted it into the E30-generation 3 Series. A close-ratio five-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential made the most of the larger powerplant. The firm made just 204 of them.