1981 528i: Jeff Caplan
1981 E12 528i #4786767
Custom-built M106 inline six-cylinder
Crystal Claret Red (originally Kashmir)
Jeff Caplan (since 2013)
Newport News, Virginia
In stock form, the 5 Series sedan is sensible, discreet, inoffensive. But inside every 5 Series, there’s a high-performance BMW waiting to burst forth. It just takes the right enthusiast to open the door.
In the case of the wildly modified E12 5 Series you see here, the enthusiast is Jeff Caplan, founder of Odometer Gears, Ltd. A photographer by profession, Caplan got into E12s after trading photography work for a non-running 1980 E12 528i. Caplan got it on the road again with help from Peter Florance, president of FirstFives.org, and it didn’t remain stock for long after that. Caplan replaced its 169-hp M30 six with a turbocharged M106 that put out 252 hp, and he upgraded its suspension accordingly. (The 528i’s brakes, which it shares with the E28 M5, were already sufficient.) “It was an attention-getter for my business, but then the frame rusted through,” Caplan says.
He found a 1981 528i in San Luis Obispo, but even that California car was afflicted by rust, as discovered by Rob Bauer at German Auto in SLO. As a result, the restoration took longer than expected, but once it was done Caplan had a totally original resto-mod E12.
“I think of Homer Simpson designing the Homer, and making it the way he wanted it,” Caplan says. “I wanted a one-off, unique car.”
Caplan sent his 1980 E12 from Virginia to German Auto, where all of its best parts would be installed in the restored 1981 chassis. The M106 was rebuilt to 3.6 liters with an S38B38 90mm stroker crank, a B34 cylinder head and an S38 intake with six individual throttle bodies, plus a custom exhaust manifold by Otis and Motec engine management programmed by Atlanta’s Ed Senf. In “plaid mode,” the M106 delivers 445 rear-wheel hp and 445 lb-ft of torque.
“In a 3,200-lb. car!” Caplan laughs. “You don’t need any more than that. If you’re spinning the wheels, more power is worthless.”
The car rides on Ireland Engineering coil-overs with custom-valved Bilstein shocks, and it stops via oversized Wilwood brakes, also by Ireland. Lacking room for a brake booster, Ireland reconfigured the pedal box to give Caplan as much leverage as possible. “They’re strong, but it’s completely different. There’s no ABS any more, either. It’s scary as hell, actually!”
A gorgeous set of 17-inch forged Fikse wheels weigh just 19 lbs. each and provide a striking contrast to the car’s metallic paint, Chevy’s Crystal Claret Red. It’s far more exuberant than the original Kashmir beige, but so is this E12’s performance.
“The car is pretty much insane,” Caplan says. “It really is!”