Wesbank BMW 535i Race Car

Grant V

Member
Messages
229
BMW has a rich racing history in South Africa, always participating (and often winning) the premier production racing car series. The top racing series from 1986 to 1994 was the Wesbank Modified Production Saloons, which was officially supported by all car companies in South Africa and drew crowds only rivalled by Grand Prix events. It was well sponsored and always televised, and saw motor manufacturers throw around serious money to win. An example: in 1989, VWSA imported the first of two Audi 500s to race in Class A, which were nothing more than the TransAm Audi 200 that had just blitzed the opposition in the USA TransAm series the previous year.
In 1986, BMW entered the E23 745i with the M1 engine:



followed a few years later by an E28 M5:



and then in 1989 with a 3-Series special M35, which ran the multivalve M88 engine:



In 1990, BMW SA Motorsport had no entrant in the Wesbank Modifies Saloon Series, rather focusing on the Group N Championship, where they entered 5 works cars and supported the same number of privateers. The weapon was the locally homologated and limited 325iS, which had an aluminium bonnet and doors, and a 2,7 liter motor with Alpina bits inside. However, BMW decided that they still needed to be represented in the Wesbank Modifieds, and commissioned Owen Ashley Racing in Cape Town to build two E34 535is for Class B. Previously BMW had always raced in Class A, but the budgets were becoming stratospheric and BMW opted for Class B. The chosen drivers were South African BMW legend Tony Viana and rising star Deon Joubert. Tony Viana had built and developed all the previous Wesbank BMWs (always raced in Winfield cigarette colours) and it was a break from tradition to get the cars built by an outsider. However, Owen Ashley did a superb job. The cars' party trick was the Ashley designed horizontal cantilever suspensions.



Viana's car debuted at the second last race of the 1990 season in Cape Town in Winfield colours, and Joubert joined him at the next and last race of 1990 in BMW Motorsport colours. Viana couldn't come to terms with the Ashley designed suspension and then changed his car back to traditional struts for the rest of the cars racing life. Both cars appeared in Motorsport colours a race or two after the 1991 season had started and proved to be very competitive, but due to to the late season start, the Class B championship that year went to Johan Coetzee in his Gearmax Nissan Skyline. In 1992, the BMWs were pretty much leading from the start with Viana running ahead of Joubert in the overall championship towards the end of the season. However, Viana would miss the last three races due to his battle with cancer, and Deon Joubert won the 1992 Class B, as well as the overall championship in the 535i. Sadly, Tony Viana passed from cancer just a few months later at 45. These two cars remain the only factory entered modified E34s in the world









I was at the Wesbank Modified race at Zwartkops raceway outside Pretoria in May 1991 and it was the first time I saw the BMWs on the track. I was completely smitten by the cars. Several years ago I started to wonder what had become of these cars, and heard through a friend of mine that they were both being restored by Nick Sheward in Johannesburg. Nick had found the cars in Zimbabwe where they were raced later on, eventually turbo-charged. They were both in a bad way.



I became friendly with Nick about three years ago towards the end of the seven year restoration it had taken to finish these cars, and asked Nick what he intended to do with the car once finished. He wasn't sure, but I asked him that if he ever wanted to sell them, he must please call me because I would be very interested.



Last year in March I received the call and Nick offered me one of the cars, but it was a real head-scratcher about which car to choose: The car raced by the legend, or the championship winning car? Eventually someone asked me: "Would you rather have the championship-winning single seater from 1961, or Sterling Moss' 1961 single seater?" The decision was made to buy Viana's car, although I have subsequently met Dean Joubert and he's a wonderful guy. So I committed to buy the car and there was some time for me to come up with the funds (I have never paid this much for a car in my life!) while Nick finished off the restoration of the BMW.

A few months ago I was going through some old photos looking for something completely different, and I came across some photos I had taken at the Wesbank race in 1991. I had taken phots of the BMWs and I never even knew I had them!!





We did the first track test a week before our major historic racing festival, where it was raced by a friend of mine in a demo event. I was in The Pig. The handling was all over the show, so it's with a professional getting the setup done.
 
Last edited:

Corranga

Member
Messages
1,145
That is beautiful!

From the UK It’s great to see and learn about these wonderful South African race cars, for me the BTCC super tourer era, or more accurately, the late 80s in the mid 90s is probably my finest motorsport memories, and to see what was being raced elsewhere is incredible. It helps that the E34 is such a great looking car in the first place. Appearance wise, who doesn’t want to see essentially a wide bodied M5 coupe race car!

The quality of the restoration looks impeccable in the photos too. Amazing!
 

Oneball

Member
Messages
8,495
That’s a wonderful thing and a great write up. If I could afford it that’s the era of car I’d like to race as you can still do it from your shed. Please put a link to the article when it’s done.

Do put some air filters on it though. You’d be amazed the bore scoring you get just from stuff in the air.
 

Grant V

Member
Messages
229
This is the first time I've ever experienced a purpose-built race car. The Pig, as well as my old Fintail historic racer, are just converted road cars, but the BMW is very, very different. Its got an Xtrack dog box that I had to learn how to use and I have yet to perfect it, but I love the way it whines. The flywheel is so light that the car revs with a mere touch of the pedal. It's a bit too muffled, though - it needs to be louder.

 

Oneball

Member
Messages
8,495
I thought you’d be involved in motorsport for a long time for some reason, great effort with the Pig if not.

Lucky you ive spent a fortune trying to get mine quieter as it’s too loud!