1990 BMW M5

1990 BMW M5

From the “Cars that need no introduction” file, witness the M5. So ingrained into the halls of automotive Valhalla is the M5 that it seems as though there was never a time without one. Yet while there were fast sedans that predated the Motorsport 5-series, the reality is that this was the blueprint which all subsequent fast sedans (tried to) emulate.

If you look up “benchmark” in the dictionary, the M5 should appear as an alternate definition.

But enough of the hyperbole, hoopla and heady praise. You know the details of what makes this car great. So what makes this particular one special?

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1991 BMW M5

1991 BMW M5

While I love my W126, I miss the E34 that I sold back in May. Mine was only a lowly 525i, but with its tight suspension and fun-to-use 5-speed manual gearbox, it drove more like a go-kart than I was expecting, when I picked it up on a whim. I hope to own another E34 someday, perhaps one with a bit more grunt than my old car had. So I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the M5 market for a while now. Values on these cars have risen steadily over the last few years, as buyers looking for a bit of old-school, hand-built M GmbH magic have woken up to the charms of this generation 5-series, with its 3.6 liter inline six powerplant. Of course, this means that an E34 M5 will most likely be out of reach before I can afford one. But for those with cash on hand right now, the last year or so has seen a steady supply of neat examples coming to market. Right now, buyers looking for a tidy, daily-driver quality example can expect to pay between $15,000 and $20,000. Grab one while you can.

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1991 BMW M5

1991 BMW M5

The E28 M5 that Carter wrote up the other day was a nice piece of kit. But the E34 remains my favorite version of the M-powered 5-series. Sure, it was heavier than it’s predecessor. But even with the additional heft, the dynamic chassis and dialled-in suspension setup meant it was still a spritely, potent car. It was also subtle, distinguished from lower models only by a few, discreet M-badges, restyled lower valances and unique alloys. That’s no bad thing. Super sedans should be understated, in my view, and the conservatively styled E34 was handsome then and remains so now. That understated exterior conceals a glorious, screaming 3.6 liter inline six, replete with six individual throttle bodies, a motor that was good for just over 300 hp when new.

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1991 BMW M5

1991 BMW M5

On Saturday I wrote up a gorgeous example of a 500E, the 90s-era super sedan from Mercedes commonly referred to as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” As cool as the Benz may be, the first car that comes to mind when you utter the phrase is probably the competitor from BMW, the E34 M5. Produced between 1988 and 1995, these were hand built at the M GmbH facility in Garching. To the pliable, balanced but twitchy-at-the-limits chassis they added a glorious 3.6 liter inline six with six individual throttle bodies. The S38 motor, whose ancestry can be traced to the unit found in the famed M1 supercar, puts out about 310 hp in US-market guise and swiftly propels the car to 60 MPH in under 6 seconds. Like the 500E, the M5 differed little from its regular stablemates in outward appearance. In fact, it’s probably even stealthier than the W124. There are no flared wheel arches here and only the subtle M5 badges fore and aft give the game away. That’s no bad thing in my book. The E34 5-series, even in base specification, is a classically styled car whose unfussy design still looks good on the road today.

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1991 BMW M5

1991 BMW M5

2The other day I posted a 500E, which was Mercedes’ take on the Q-ship formula of stuffing a large, powerful engine and race-tweaked suspension into an ordinary looking mid-size executive sedan. What I didn’t mention was that the 500E was, of course, a response to the original (and some would say best) wolf in sheep’s clothing: the E34 generation M5. While I’ve posted a few E34s lately, I’ve so far avoided writing about the M-variant (though my colleagues have written up some really nice ones: see here and here, for example). This is only because my preference is to find cheap daily drivers to share with our readers and, as enthusiasts begin to seek out more affordable alternatives to the E30 M3, these M5s are increasingly becoming too expensive to count in that category. Still, when this lovely example popped up the other day on Bimmerforums.com, I couldn’t resist the temptation to write it up.

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1991 BMW M5 Euro-Spec with 12,500 Miles

1991 BMW M5 Euro-Spec with 12,500 Miles

In the 1980s, especially in the early 1980s, if you wanted a hot BMW your best bet was to look for a “gray market” car. Equipped with stronger motors and unequipped with emissions equipment and bumper-car bumpers, they were the more pure versions of the original designs. But as the 80s drew to a close, the flood of Euro-spec cars into the U.S. dried up. It became harder to import and Federalize them, and the differentiation between U.S. and Euro versions became smaller. True, there were cars that still had a pretty big gulf; the E36 M3 is a great example of this. And it’s still not usual to see fans of a specific model from any of the marques interested in what was available in Europe – or rather, what wasn’t available to U.S. customers. Take the E34 M5, for example. There were a number of colors and interiors that U.S. fans didn’t have the chance to partake in, but it’s usually the later run 3.8 motor that raises eyebrows for U.S. fans. That, and of course the Touring model of the M5 that debuted with the E34 and wasn’t brought here. But this particular E34 M5 doesn’t have any of those things. It’s an early run car without the larger motor, so the S38B36 is essentially the same one you’d get in the U.S. model. Interestingly, the HD93 U.S. spec car is much more rare than the HD91 European version – 1,678 produced versus 5,877. Rarity also isn’t on the side of the color, as Jet Black 668 with 0318 / L7SW Black Nappa Leather isn’t an outrageous combination. It is more rare to see the four post seat setup which this car has, but the real kicker is the mileage and condition with a scant 500 miles a year covered:

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Feature Listing: 1991 BMW M5

Feature Listing: 1991 BMW M5

It is always a bit of a treat to look back at some alumni of the GCFSB pages, especially so when it’s a lovely example of a special car that was snapped up by one of our enthusiast readership. For years we’ve banged on about the E34 M5, a conundrum of the M lineup. It’s got all the right DNA to be a classic, yet like the similar 944 Turbo has generally languished in value compared to similar products. That may sound like a broken record on these pages, but it’s a tune which is both catchy and sweet-sounding for BMW fans because it means they’re getting more car for their money. Recent market activity in 2015 has started to remix the tune, though, and E34s have been on the rise. Hagerty currently places top value on 1991 M5s at $42,000 – steep sounding given what they’ve traded for over the last few years, but perhaps more in line with their legendary build quality and performance especially when considering their siblings. But in terms of overall value, let’s consider today’s Jet Black 1991. It is nearly 100% original, fully documented, accident free and has under 100,000 miles on the clock – and currently represents the best value of the original M-car experience:

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Double Take – High Mile Heros: 1991 BMW M5s

Double Take – High Mile Heros: 1991 BMW M5s

Let’s say you want to buy a 1980s BMW M car. Great! You have style, class and enthusiasts everywhere will applaud your discerning taste. You don’t just want to pose, you want race-track bred performance and build quality second only to Mercedes. Great! Now, look at the market. Shit! You missed the bandwagon by about 2 years. Not to worry, though – German Cars For Sale Blog is full of budget advice today! If you want the best affordable 1980s BMW M product, you just are looking in the wrong decade. You need to consider the 1990s E34 M5, and today we’ve got what should be two more affordable versions of the more affordable version of what you want. So, do either of these high mile heros have what it takes to make your 80s M dreams come true? Cue the theme to The A-Team and let’s take a look:

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1991 BMW M5

1991 BMW M5

One could argue, pretty convincingly, that the E36 M3 is the best value if you want an M car right now. Good examples can still be found under $10,000, parts are plentiful, and there’s a huge selection of examples to choose from. But for me, the best value has to be the E34 M5. First off, if you’ve never seen a used advertisement for a second-generation M5, you might have missed that these supreme sedans were the last of the handbuilt M models. If you hate movies, you might have missed that a M5 was also an unsung hero in the cult classic Ronin, even if it couldn’t get away from a Citroen and the S8 was more memorable. If you’ve been living under a rock, you might not know that it’s father – the original M5 – is currently on a fairly steep appreciation curve. Yet the second generation M5, while considered a bit softer than the E28, was a potent sleeper nonetheless. And for me, it’s the ultimate M car; not because it’s the fastest, prettiest or most valuable; but because it expresses the ethos of what made BMW great. A Spartan warrior wolf in taxi-cab clothes, the M5 combined literal race-bred technology into an easily digestible package; it was a pleasure to drive fast or slow, it was reasonably reliable (and especially so considering the performance envelope), and yet unlike Porsche Turbos, Lotus Esprits, Chevrolet Corvettes or any other “sports” car that offered similar performance, it was a stealthy package – it was the adult choice. In 1991 if the M5 was graduating high school, it would have been Valedictorian and voted “most likely to succeed”, but it would have gotten my vote for “most athletic” and “prom king” as well – it’s that good. Despite these superlative qualities, a reputation second to none in terms of quality and driving experience, the E34 M5 still hasn’t caught on as a market darling:

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Double Take: 1991 and 1992 BMW M5s

Double Take: 1991 and 1992 BMW M5s

There’s been an avid ongoing discussion of E28 values in the 1988 535i Dinan 3.9 post from Tuesday; partially, it centered around the comparison of that car to M5 values. And, like all other M products, values – or at least, perceived values – of M5s are all over the map. We’ve seen asking prices from $10,000 right through $100,000 on E28s, and much of the same carries over to the E28’s replacement, the E34. For most fans, the second generation M5 wasn’t quite the definitive super sedan that the original was, nor is it as desirable as the 400 horsepower V8 model that followed. But that doesn’t stop some from asking high prices for the their examples, and today we’ve got two to that are very similar with different asking prices to consider; which is on target?

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1991 BMW M5 with 15,000 Miles

1991 BMW M5 with 15,000 Miles

I still remember the magic of my first ride in a M5. Although my father would end up owning one and still does, it was not the E28 like his that started my love affair with the inline-6 equipped super-sedans. Rather, it was a then-new 1991 E34 model that provided me a ride I was not quite fully prepared for. Coming from a background of family Toyotas, you can imagine the difference when full-throttle was applied to the legendary S38B36 motor on an onramp. It felt, quite literally, like we were taking off. The E34 never seemed to gain the traction of the E28’s appeal for many enthusiasts, but for me, it’s the model I love more. That ride remains the only time I’ve been in an E34 M5, but having spent many years getting to drive the family’s subsequent ’95 525i, every time I got behind the wheel I dreamed that awesome twin-cam M50 was its bigger brother. The market still hasn’t awoken to these last-of-the-handbuilt, last of the original M88 derived cars – a shame, considering how superlative they are in many senses. But when one pops up with only 15,500 miles on the clock, you better believe I took notice:

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Double Take Handbuilt Drivers: 1991 and 1993 BMW M5s

Double Take Handbuilt Drivers: 1991 and 1993 BMW M5s

As M prices continue to soar, one of the safe havens if you want something special that isn’t outrageously priced is still the E34 M5. The E34 is often overlooked by enthusiasts because it’s the slightly conservative filling in a legendary bread sandwich. With the bookends of the E28 and E39 M5s, the E34 in comparison seems understated and perhaps even a little boring when you first look at it. It doesn’t visually look much different than the rest of the production line other than two M5 badges (do you read that BMW? You only need TWO badges to make us take note. TWO!). But that understated presence hides driving dynamics that are second to none – this is a Q-Ship in the greatest sense, perhaps even better in its execution of that goal than the E28 was, and certainly less showy than the E39. For those who want a great driver from one of the best periods of BMW history with a legendary engine, excellent build quality and enough luxury to make you and your 3 friends feel very special on your weekend getaway while staying on a reasonable budget, look no further:

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1991 BMW M5

1991 BMW M5

The ascension of the E30 M3 and subsequent increase in value of both the E28 M5 and E24 M6 have underscored the incredible value of the lone early 1990s BMW M survivor, the E34 M5. While purists may complain that the E34 was heavier and a more dulled experience than the E28 M5, I’ve always found the E34 to be an even better representation of the M experience. M cars were all about stealthy performance, and in my mind the E34 is the most stealthy M car produced. Another reason I like the E34 versus the E28 is the introduction of more colors than just black – in this case, this E34 is the same color combination as the first M5 I ever sat in; silver with grey leather:

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1991 BMW M5

1991 BMW M5

$_57 (6)

The E39 M5, for all its amazing performance and quiet aggression, is fairly ubiquitous, especially here in top-of-the-line hungry Silicon Valley. The E34 M5 has its detractors, but it is still a rare, fast, and attractive sports sedan that will hide from those who don’t know and is searched for by those who do. Today’s comes from an owner who clearly knows his stuff and has enjoyed the car for 16 years while making (mostly) tasteful upgrades. The performance pieces all make sense and it’s surely a hoot, giving the singing inline-6 more juice and the chassis greater ability to hang with it. It has covered a lot of miles, but there’s always the chance that this is one of the “extra-special” S38s that can go for 300k+ miles. There’s also the chance that it’s not, meaning it’ll need a rebuild in the next 20k miles, and that’ll set you back nearly its current list price. The price is right though, and the owner is indeed being completely reasonable.

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Double Take: High Mile Handbuilts – 1991 BMW M5

Double Take: High Mile Handbuilts – 1991 BMW M5

Notably absent in last week’s M5 Double Take was the middle model E34. Often overlooked unjustly, the E34 is a great looking car that retains the title “last of the handbuilt M cars” – something that appears in nearly every advertisement. But if it’s cliche, it’s also a testament to the solid nature of the E34. Couple that slightly more luxurious and isolating cabin to the incredible S38 powerplant, and it’s a natural winner. Prices on this middle run super sedans have begun to creep up, but many have remained quite attainable – especially if you’re willing to accept an example with higher miles. Today we have two seemingly clean higher mile examples; which would be your pick?

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