General

M539 restorations are now the best on YouTube

M539 restorations are now the best on YouTube

Daniel Nikodem / @bmwjogge on Instagram

YouTube is a mixed bag for car enthusiasts. At the very top you usually have insufferable influencers who use flashy thumbnails and titles to get views, with content that is often unoriginal and sometimes misleading. At the same time, there are many bright spots, such as the tire melting people at Hooniganthe whiteboard-filling genius of Jason Fenske or Engineering Explained, or our own Matt Farah of the smoking band. Somewhere along that spectrum is a relatively new channel called M539 Restorations.

Created and managed by one person, one Sreten Milisavljevic, M539 Restorations is a channel that publishes lengthy repair videos on older, neglected BMWs, ranging from complex V-10-powered M5s to simple E30-generation 320i coupes. The channel also regularly showcases V-12-powered BMWs from the 1980s and 1990s in various states of disrepair. Despite not having to rely on one of the regular YouTuber car crutches to produce content, it has become one of the most entertaining channels for gearheads on the platform.

I first came across M539 Restorations when the YouTube algorithm gave me a video of the channel in March 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic started. It was a full 45 minute video on the repair of an old manual 8 series just like the one I owned and wrote about on this website. From there I fell into a deep hole, curious to see what other projects covered the canal. I don’t think I’ve missed an upload since then. I needed to know how M539 restorations got here and what made the canal so appealing to people like me.

Like most of us, Milisavljevic, a Serbian citizen, became enamored with cars from an early age.

m539 restoration

Daniel Nicodem

“I’ve always loved cars, even when I was little,” said Milisavljevic Road & Rail over the phone. “My dad used to take me to shows in Belgrade in the 1990s, and they brought all the brand new cars and stuff, and I knew all the brands. When I was driving around town, he could point to a car and I could tell him, “Okay, that’s a Mercedes, BMW, whatever.” And then I grew up, looked Top gear as many of us did, and because of that, the passion only grew more and more.”

Milisavljevic made his way to Santa Barbara during his college days when he was first introduced to the BMW ownership lifestyle.

“In Europe you go everywhere, you just walk, you have good public transport, metros, trams and whatever,” says Milisavljevic. “But [in the U.S.], you need a car. So I always loved BMWs and I bought my first one in LA in Northridge, and it was an E39 530i, 2002. And it was a one owner car, had 120,000 miles on it, and I think the guy asked for four . [thousand] or something. And then I was still pretty smart, so I asked for a pre-purchase inspection, and it turned out it needed some work, some oil leakage here and there, the front shocks were done. And I reduced it to $2700.”

m539 restoration

Daniel Nicodem

Like many of us, Milisavljevic could not justify the maintenance costs that would quickly exceed the price of the car. So he turned to the internet for help. Then he learned to tinker.

“[I] loved the car but couldn’t afford to do the maintenance,” he told us. “I was still getting paid $18 an hour. So you can’t exactly drop $1000 for labor to replace the front shocks. And so I started doing little things, watching YouTube videos. I didn’t even know how to change the oil at the time. So I started with an oil change, rear brakes, valve cover gaskets, belts, pulleys. I joined Bimmerforums and some other forums, I post there, talk to people. Then I met a lot of friends and soaked up the information on how to do things.”

From there, Milisavljevic began buying and selling BMWs as a pastime, refurbishing the cars before putting them back on the market, often yielding solid profits.

m539 restoration

Daniel Nicodem

“I would just do the maintenance, have the car sorted, [get it to] pass through smog, and then sell,” he said. “And I think in the span of six to eight months I had about 20 cars. But I didn’t do the standard flipping that everyone else in the US does. You know, you buy a car, you flip it right away for double, but you didn’t do anything about it, I just wanted the car to be really nice and sorted and then I could sell it to someone else.”

Milisavljevic eventually graduated with a degree in IT and landed a full-time job at the Santa Barbara hotel resort where he had worked while studying. He worked there for two years before the contract expired, and instead of staying and looking for another job, he decided to move to Germany to be with his old girlfriend.

“The first month [in Germany] was a living hell,” said Milisavljevic. “I had no job, no car. I just really regretted it. And I had actually just bought a 330Ci ZHP in the US, a 6-speed manual silver car, nice, sorted, all the trimmings. And I wanted to bring it to Germany, but it was really very expensive to do that. And I thought, “I don’t have a job, I don’t really want to do that.” So I sold it quickly. And then, in IT you can easily find a job anywhere, even if you don’t speak German. So I got a job in Berlin.”

m539 restoration

Daniel Nicodem

Milisavljevic picked up where he left off, buying BMWs, fixing little things and knocking them over for a profit. After working in IT for three years and working on cars as a side business, his plan to break into YouTube began.

“I always liked watching YouTube and every time I watched videos or something I thought, ‘Maybe I can do that a little bit better. How would I do this or that?” And then I bought an E38 750iL from Dubai for the sole purpose of starting the YouTube channel.”

Milisavljevic quickly learned that not everyone can turn on the youtube voice and instantly becomes entertaining.

m539 restoration

Daniel Nicodem

“I tried out some concepts and realized at the beginning that I was super uncomfortable in front of the camera,” he told us. “As soon as you hit the record button, I would instantly forget what I was going to say or how to talk or do this. It just looked very unnatural. So I was like, “Okay, let’s cut that out. I’m just going to do what I’m doing, fix the car, and then I’m going to explain in the voiceover what I’m doing.”

The channel was not an immediate success. Milisavljevic’s first few videos were viewed no more than a few hundred times, with some subscribers floating in the single digits. But a combination of hard work and a lucky algorithm break eventually pushed him into the limelight.

This content was imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in a different format, or you can find more information on their website.

“Just before New Years [2019]I think it was December 31st, I changed the thumbnail of a video and within two days the video exploded. It was picked up by the YouTube algorithm and in two days it was viewed half a million times. It was just incredible to see something like that. I had 10,000 subscribers, people asking for more videos. “We like what you do.” It was like, wow, this is crazy.”

And so even more videos Milisavljevic made. He started buying more old BMWs and taking on bigger and bigger repair jobs. He eventually switched to newer cars like E46 Touring, E60 M5sand E92 M3s. He even bought an X5 to repair on the canal. He has gone from renewing brake components to doing complete engine overhauls, despite never having formal training as a mechanic.

“I just like to do things right,” Milisavljevic told us. “Do it once, do it right. I don’t like to do things twice. I hate doing things twice. So where I can, I just try to do it right. I’m always researching what to do because I don’t know anything. I have no mechanical knowledge. I have never worked in a workshop.”

m539 restoration

Daniel Nicodem

“So, if it’s necessary, say replace the alternator on the X5, I’ll google it first and maybe watch a YouTube video as well,” Milisavljevic continued. “But then I’m also going to open a BMW repair manual and follow that step by step and do it right like a mechanic would, just clean this, tighten that bolt to that spec and just do that way. So when I make videos, I try to capture that as best I can. And then I digress too, because I realize that you also have to entertain the audience. You can’t always be serious and just be a robot. You have to fuck yourself.”

Perhaps those are the reasons why M539 restorations get so many views. It’s not that he works on particularly rare exotics, does half-hearted jobs in weird ways, or insists on how much all the parts cost him. A vast majority of the shooting takes place in a relatively small garage crammed into an industrial part of Frankfurt – not exactly the most glamorous of locations. Explaining why M539 Restorations is so entertaining to someone who doesn’t like cars may seem almost impossible. But if you’ve ever tightened a wrench on your own car, you’ll find it hard to turn away. He does the work he wants to do with pinpoint accuracy without being painfully boring. And when he finally pulls up the Autobahn with the car you’ve just seen repaired for the past hour, the payoff is immense.

This content was imported from YouTube. You may be able to find the same content in a different format, or you can find more information on their website.

The success of M539 Restorations is proof that you don’t need a huge budget, insanely exotic cars or highly specialized skills to create meaningful, entertaining content that can help and inspire people.

“I want to help people maintain their own cars,” Milisavljevic told us. “I’m constantly getting emails and messages, people telling me, ‘Thank you. You have been a huge source of inspiration. I bought an E46 thanks to you. Now I use those videos to fix it myself.” That’s good to hear.”

Brian Silvestro
Road & Track employee with a penchant for miles of rusted projects and amateur endurance racing.