Up Close and Personal with Jeremy Whittle’s E28 540i Grid Icons Best of Show Winner

Photography: Mike Burroughs

  • The E28 was the acclaimed second-generation BMW 5-series produced from 1981 to 1988.
  • Jeremy Whittle, a long-time BMW addict and part of the enthusiast community, is well-known for his affinity for the E28 5-series chassis.
  • He considers his latest E28 project his best, touting an M60 V8 swap, H&R coilovers, a full Euro conversion, and BBS E50 magnesium wheels amongst other mods.
  • Jeremy and his E28 “540i” won much-deserved Best of Show honors at Pit+Paddock’s Grid Icons: NA Heroes event in March, which added to his growing collection of accolades.

“What’s next” has almost turned into a knee-jerk inquiry during any conversation with a fellow enthusiast. An appreciation for the slow-burning car journey has fallen out of favor; modding has become a rat race where only the funded or famous can “win”. The shift has created two big problems: 1.) the benchmark has made it difficult for young enthusiasts to get into the game and 2.) “builds” have gone well over the top to capture attention from the masses instead of the tasteful few.

Jeremy Whittle comes from a different era than this fast-fashion charade. After a four-year stint with an E28 525e back in 2008, he came back to this chassis ten years later. It was a US-spec E28 535i that wound up in his garage this time around, and he vowed that it would be the one that stayed there for good. Six years on from that fateful day, the car has evolved into Whittle’s ultimate creation: an indisputably tasteful interpretation of the E28 chassis. No widebody kits, no fuss; just pure class and impeccable attention to detail. It’s arguably a perfect car for people in the know—the real BMW heads—and largely passed over as “just another 5-series” for those who don’t. And that’s a good thing because he gets to avoid the wrong kind of attention.


Obviously, his appearance at our Long Beach Grid Icons: NA Heroes event was mandatory. The car show highlighted the beloved era of naturally aspirated BMW M machinery and, amongst friends and BMW die-hards, was a perfect place for Whittle to showcase his E28. Still, a Best of Show trophy wasn’t anything that Whittle expected. He is, amongst other admirable things, a humble enthusiast. He takes pride in what he’s created, no doubt, but has never been the type to shout about recognition or create a separate Instagram page for his project. Although his grid has plenty of E28 content, it serves as a refreshing complement to the rest of his life rather than something that demands the main stage. That’s an important distinction. Whittle’s E28 was built to suit what he needed. He didn’t need the internet’s input, only what made sense to him, his sense of style, and the goals he wanted to achieve.

But eventually, credit goes where credit is due, and bestowing the Best of Show award to Whittle was a deliberate statement to young enthusiasts who are trying to get into the latest and greatest platforms: you have to do it for you. To put it plainly, Whittle has his choice of cars but is honest enough to admit that out of the vast sea of options, the E28 was (and is) the car that made him excited to buy, modify, and drive time and time again.


After Grid Icons: NA Heroes was over, I had the chance to sit down with Jeremy to chat about the E28 chassis, how it has become part of his identity, the appeal of old-school BMWs, and whether he’d ever sell it (asking for a friend).

“Project” cars have gone the way of fast fashion over the last decade, so it’s great to see someone commit to a car/platform as much as you have. What makes the E28 5-Series so special to you?
The E28 5-Series is by far my favorite car platform and holds a special place in my heart. My first two cars were E36 325s, and my third car was a Black E28 1986 Euro 525e. I consider the 525e the one that really got me into the car community and was the first in-depth build that I did. I was young and broke at the time, so while the car was relatively rough, I did a 1JZ swap, custom airlift suspension, widened vintage HRE 501, and much more. I met many of my current friends through that build driving it to various shows all along the East Coast.

How long have you had it? What was it like when you first bought it?
I ended up selling my 1JZ 525e 12 years ago in 2012, after my 4 years of ownership as I wanted to explore other chassis and felt I had hit a good stopping point on it.

I got this current E28 in December of 2018 which is a US Spec 1986 535i. I wasn’t actively hunting for an E28 at the time, but my friend Riley Stair had just finished his insane tube chassis Trans Am build and reached out to see if I’d be interested in his. I had wanted to revisit the E28 chassis ever since I sold my 525e, and Riley provided an excellent platform to start from, especially being another black car. Riley had completed the M60 V8 swap, as well as a respray and redo of the interior. I got it from him sans any wheels and still wearing US headlights and bumpers.

Talk to us about each of the car’s biggest evolutions. Which “stage” has been your favorite?

I spent my first year with the car going through and getting it visually how I wanted, which was an evolution of the styling I did on my 525e. This time around I wanted the car to be more functional, while still sitting aggressively. I sourced a full chrome bumper Euro conversion for the car—including the headlights—and used new parts in as many places as possible. I think this is a must for an E28; the US-spec on these did them dirty. My wife got me a Nardi Classic for my first E28 that I had held onto, which made its way into this interior alongside a Rennstall shift knob. I think it really complements the brown buffalo leather.

From there it was time to source the perfect wheels for the car, and I hit up BBS Motorsport to help build a custom set of BBS E50 wheels. BBS still casts the e50 centers in magnesium from their old molds and was super helpful in sourcing the perfect center that allowed for maximum lip, while still clearing the brakes. This resulted in a square 17×10” square setup, wearing Michelin PS4S in 245/40/17 all around. A slew of other supporting mods and details were also completed, and the car ended up visually very similar to how it is to this day. I debuted the new look at SoCal Vintage in 2019 where it took home a Best in Show, which was a proud moment.

In the years since, almost all of my effort has gone into getting the car to drive as good as it looks. This included a complete suspension overhaul replacing every single ball joint, control arm and bushing, and the subframes. I also switched to H&R Coilovers which were such an improvement in every metric, and have made the car an absolute joy to drive, especially in the SoCal Canyons. A/C was also installed to extend the usable months for the car, alongside a slew of other smaller items.

Talk to us about the 1JZ stage and how it differs from your current power plant.
When I did the 1JZ well over a decade ago, alternate-brand motor swaps were still somewhat rare, and that was a good part of the fun. I was of course inspired by my close friend Mike from Stanceworks who had done the same to Rusty, his iconic E28. He helped me with the swap and the twin-turbo inline-six was a great fit for the chassis; the associated turbo noises were a hoot.

The M60B40 in my current E28 by comparison feels like a factory option that should have existed. I think it really suits the personality of the E28, especially with the direction I went with the styling. The torque and V8 symphony out of the side exit exhaust is addicting. Off the record, it put a healthy gap on an E28 M5 with a hopped-up S38, so while it’s not fast compared to modern vehicles, it’s definitely sporty. I love the German Muscle feel this gives the car, and I’m super happy with the pairing.

For as long as you’ve had it, how integral has the E28 become to your “identity”? Do you think there may ever be a day when you sell or outgrow it?

I definitely think an E28 has become a part of my automotive identity, and while I never like to say something is a “forever car” this example is as close to one as I can imagine. It’s an ideal E28 for what I want out of one, and I’m super content with the condition and love all of the modifications. Imagining having to rebuild something similar in today’s current market is an extremely daunting task and not one I would want to undertake. I still get excited every time I drive it, and have absolutely zero plans of selling it or moving on.

Talk to us about some of the more frustrating parts of the build. How’d you overcome those challenges and how long did that take you?
The parts sourcing on the Euro conversion is a huge hassle, and only getting harder all the time. Even when you purchase a “complete” set, there was tons of additional sourcing of hardware, brackets, and other small bits to get it all to come together. I had to lean on my friends at IND to place an import order for some small tidbits that BMW USA won’t sell you here.

Getting the suspension and wheel fitment dialed in has been a long process as well. Riley had the car significantly lower than it is now and had done custom subframes front and rear and custom ground control coilovers to accommodate that. That created some less-than-ideal geometry and characteristics when I raised it. In the end, I reverted to a full OEM setup paired with H&R coilovers which made the car a joy to drive.

Talk to us about the appeal of classic BMWs. What are some things you’ve done to modernize it for today’s world?
At the risk of sounding cliche, they just don’t make them like they used to. From the build quality, to the styling, to the steering feel, and the feel and sound of the doors closing, there is just something special about the older BMWs. It’s a unique driving experience behind the wheel and one that remains exciting and rewarding even after 15+ years of the same chassis.

The biggest modernization done to the car is the newer power plant—although it’s only a single generation forward—and in my opinion doesn’t feel out of place. Beyond that, I’ve got a Bluetooth adapter fitted to the factory head unit, and that’s it.

For as much as you’ve put into this car—between time, money, and heart—do you finally consider this car “done”? If not, what could possibly be next?
I’m of the mindset that cars aren’t ever truly done, although I am at a place with this where I am very content with where it is at. There is always more I’d like to do, from smaller items like patching some holes on the rear valence, different mirrors, or redoing the exhaust (while keeping the side exit of course). Dreaming bigger, if something ever happened to the M60, I’ve always thought an S62 would be a fun upgrade. I’d also like to try a different set of wheels at some point, although the E50s were my dream set for this, so I haven’t felt super motivated there. Currently, I’m just trying to drive it as often as I can, and enjoying all the hard work that went into it.

Taking home the Pit and Paddock x BMW CCA Best of Show was another proud moment with this car, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share a bit more of the story of this car, and my E28 history here!

Pit+Paddock x GarageWelt skate decks from our NA Heroes lifestyle collection are still available on our store in limited quantities. Pop in and grab yours to celebrate an important part of BMW’s history (and Jeremy’s story) today.