Double Take 540i/6: E34 or E39? 1995 BMW 540i Sport v. 2003 BMW 540i M-Sport

My recent M5 v. Alpina B10 post took a look at two exotic versions of the E34. Of course, BMW offered their own alternative to the M5 late in the production cycle, as the introduction of the M60 V8-powered 540i produced nearly as much usable power as the more expensive M variant. Such was the success of the 540i that BMW initially judged the M5 dead in this market; it was removed from the U.S. in 1993 after slow sales and wouldn’t return until the new millennium.

As a result, the 540i flew the 5-series performance flag for two generations and still is very popular today. Especially in Sport versions, the E34 and E39 540is offered power, refinement and outstanding chassis dynamics in a package that was attainable for more people. So which is the better buy today – the first or second generation?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 BMW 540i M-Sport on eBay

1992 BMW M5 Euro 3.8

It really does feel as though the market is finally waking up to the E34 M5, as values on nicer examples continue to climb. Bring a Trailer recently sold a U.S. spec ’93 with only 14,000 miles for what seems like a staggering $68,000! As they should have, considering the package. The E34 is a surprisingly great driver’s car, even in non-M guise. But in full blown M5 spec, it’s sublime, a throwback to an era of hand-built sport sedans that offer a satisfying analog driving experience. To make it, BMW sent the regular E34 chassis from the production line at Dingolfing over the geniuses at M GmbH in Garching, who dropped in the screaming, six cylinder S38 motor with six individual throttle bodies. In US-spec form, the 3.6 liter motor put out just over 300 hp, although a larger, 3.8 liter unit became available in Europe from 1991 onwards, which increased power output to 335 hp. The 3.8 never reached US shores by official channels, though these cars are now old enough to be imported without the need for expensive modification

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1992 BMW M5 3.8 on eBay

2000 BMW 740i Sport

Taut, restrained and handsome. These words come to mind when describing the E38 platform 7-series, perhaps one of the most successful BMW designs in recent memory. In short wheelbase form with the M-Sport package, which adds sport seats, firmer suspension, shorter final drive, M-Parallel wheels, sport steering wheel and Shadowline trim, the conservatively styled executive express takes on a slightly more menacing look and feel. Owing to the marvel of depreciation, these cars can be had for a fraction of their original cost. While bargain-basement examples are tempting, they probably hide gremlins that will cost the asking price again to put right. Best to pay up front for a nice one, like this lovely looking example for sale in California.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2000 BMW 740i M-Sport on eBay

2001 BMW 740i Sport

1I don’t think BMW has produced an attractive 7-series since the E38, offered between 1994 and 2001. Sure, later versions of BMW’s flagship sedan are more impressive in other ways: larger, more powerful and more technologically advanced. But they aren’t what I would call classically beautiful. The E38 on the other hand, with its conservative, angular styling, graceful proportions and purposeful stance, is an extraordinarily handsome car. Because of depreciation, you can pick one up for relative pennies these days. For example, I wrote up an early model 740iL a few months ago advertised for just $3,800. But a car that cheap is bound to have expensive repair needs lurking beneath the surface. In truth, if you want a nice E38 that is mechanically sound, you have to spend a bit of money up front to save on potentially exorbitant costs further down the road.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 BMW 740i Sport on Bimmerforums

2003 BMW 540i M-Sport

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Yesterday Paul wrote up a 530i Sport noting that for many, the styling of the E39 5-series is vastly preferable to the E60 that came afterward, burdened as it is with awkward creases and controversial styling courtesy of BMW design guru Chris Bangle. I tend to agree, although I also think the E60, especially in sport specification, will probably become better appreciated as it ages. While yesterday’s 530i with an autobox represents, as Paul put it, the “bread and butter” of the range, this particular car is a bit more special. The standard 540i, powered by a torquey 4.4 liter V8 making nearly 300 hp, is already a very capable sport sedan in its own right. The M-sport package however, which adds M-sport exterior styling, suspension and wheels, brings the car within firing range of the M5.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 BMW 540i M-Sport on Bimmerforums

2003 BMW 540i Touring M-Sport 6-Speed

540iT1Growing up, I never really understood the appeal of wagons, or “estates” as we called them in England. The triumph of sensibleness and practicality over style, they didn’t seem particularly cool or desirable. Instead, they were for posh people in the countryside who owned big dogs. But as I’ve gotten older, and particularly since I moved to America, something has changed. Not only do I find myself needing to carry around a lot more stuff these days, but wagons have become, well, cool. No longer the staple of the staid upper classes, they’re for the person who needs the extra space of an SUV or a minivan but says “f-that, I’m not ready to give up on life just yet.” And there are some seriously cool wagons around these days. On a recent trip home to London, the first sight greeting me in the car park at Heathrow was that of an F11 530d M-Sport, B8 S4 Avant and an E63 AMG estate, all lined up next to each other. It’s as if somebody was trying to make a point.

The E39 Touring, already a fairly handsome car, looks especially good when specified with the M-sport package, as here. This particular 540i represents the top of the range and not only has it been blessed with M exterior styling and sport suspension, as an added bonus the current owner has gone to the trouble of retrofitting a 6-speed manual transmission from an M5, turning this into a quick, capable and seriously cool longroof.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2003 BMW 540iT on BMW Car Club of America

2001 BMW 740i M-Sport

Earlier this week, our reader Craig altered us to a great condition, nice color and eye-catching 2001 740i M-Sport. Unfortunately, that example sold but I was able to source a replacement to remind us of why the E38 BMW is so great. Truth be told, in 2001 BMW faced some pretty stiff competition from Audi’s new kid on the block, as the 360 horsepower all-wheel drive S8 finally was delivered to the U.S. market. Low, mean, luxurious, capable and quick, the S8 is a package which few large sedans are able to match in terms of desirability. In fact, in my mind there’s only one potential match; the E38 BMW 7 series. A good looking sedan to start with, the rakish profile is accented by the fender bulges, but the thing I’ve always really loved is the headlight treatment. The continuation of the body lines past the intersection of the headlights leaves partially eclipsed beams reminiscent of the E28 European headlight treatment. Equipped with the M-Sport package, the E38 gets even more down to business with blacked out detail work and the awesome M-Parallel wheels really filling out the package:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 2001 BMW 740i M-Sport on eBay

1991 BMW M5

I still remember trips with my father to the track in the early 1990s. We were on a mission; he wanted to look at every single E28 M5 and was dead-set on getting one. 1993 would be the year he finally would; to me, the amount of money he forked over seemed to be pretty astonishing for a used car, but at that time it was the newest car the family owned. Still, it seemed dated already; hard to consider seemed that at that time it was only 5 years old! But this was the time when ever successive generation of car made huge leaps in terms of innovation; frankly, exterior design and interior design haven’t become nearly as revolutionary as they once were. If you step out of a E28 into an E34, certainly you can recognize the DNA; but one feels very surely designed in the late 1970s, and the other is much more modern. The same can be said outside; clearly the E28 is a great looking design, but by 1988 it was quite dated and the last of the German holdouts for non-integrated bumpers to my knowledge. Even Volkswagen did a better job of hiding and integrated the 5 m.p.h. bumpers! The E34 was really a modern revolution to the 5 series; aerodynamic, refined, luxurious and handsome, it once again reset the bar for the mid-sized luxury sedan. And as it had before, the M5 also set the bar for performance sedans, with the same S38 inline-6 under the hood. It was magical still, even if it felt a little less raw compared to the earlier editions. While the E28 long languished as the unappreciated M product from the 1980s, slowly but surely it has gained more appreciation. Today, it seems the of the original pre-E36 cars, the one remaining value is the E34 – ironically, the upscale replacement for the aging dinosaur E28:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 BMW M5 on eBay

1993 BMW M5 3.8 Euro-spec

An interesting discussion developed around Andrew’s E39 540i post and my subsequent E12 520i post; what’s the best looking 5-series? One of our readers, William, suggested that it was the E34 – certainly a sentiment that I can appreciate. As his evidence, he submitted this car, probably the best example of how good a E34 can look – a European market M5 with the potent 3.8 liter S38. Whether or not you agree or contend that this was the best BMW, best E34, best M5 or best looking sedan ever, nearly everyone passing through these pages can appreciate that this is one great looking Teutonic piece of engineering; a driver’s car in true sleeper form. It might not be the definitive M5 for everyone, but it’s a pretty darn good example of how wonderful those two letters can be:

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1993 BMW M5 3.8 Euro-spec on Craigslist

Wednesday Wheels Roundup

While to me the E39 isn’t the prettiest 5 series BMW produced, what they did manage to accumulate was perhaps one of the best wheel lineups they ever fitted. Most ended up on the sport models, but from the Style 5 to Style 66, all of them looked great. I especially love the relatively unloved two-piece BBS made Style 19s that were fitted to early 540i sports, but the Style 5, 66 and 32 wheels that made it to other sport models are equally good. Of course, I had to throw in a set of Style 37 “M-Parallels” even though they’re most often associated with other models – and truth told, the Style 32 wheels here are actually optional E38 wheels. Nevertheless, they’re all awesome – which are your favorite?

CLICK FOR DETAILS: BMW Style 42 17×8,5×120 Wheels on eBay