Update 2/18/18 – the Buy It Now option dropped from $28,500 to $18,000. What a deal!
Lucky for us, we get to continue the string of great-to-see Alpina E34s today with this B10 3.5/1. Unlike the BiTurbo from last week, the 3.5/1 made due with a naturally aspirated form of the M30. Still, head and software changes netted over 250 horsepower, and with the suspension and aerodynamic tweaks you’ve come to expect from Buchloe these were anything but pokey. Best of all, because they’re not the more extoic twin-turbo version pricing is a lot more manageable in general.
But several of the last Alpinas I’ve written up have also had major credential problems. So is this one to consider collectable, or is it another clever copy?
Here we are a week after looking at the 1990 Alpina B10 BiTurbo, and by chance, we get to look at a second BiTurbo. Last week’s was seriously suspect; there were alarm bells throughout, as major chassis issues and incongruous details were capped by a seller clearly looking to deceive the market. At first glance, there’s some cause for concern here, too, as we’ll see in a moment. Is this the case of another crestfallen hero, or does this super sedan hold true to its heritage?
So the last few listings for Alpinas have been….well, quite disappointing to say the least. Most recently was the “B12 5.0”, a car which was cleverly listed to avoid the discussion about its actual provenance. It worked, as the ’88 750iL sold for $23,600:
Another Almost Alpina Alumnus: 1988 BMW 750iL “Alpina B12 5.0”
Before that I looked at two E30s, both of which had some questions about their history and authenticity, though they both looked the part:
Tuner Tuesday E30 Showdown: 1986 Alpina C2 2.5 v. 1987 Hartge H26
Then there was the other C2 2.5, which I was able to confirm after a long time was another assembly of parts rather than an original build:
Mystery Solved?: 1987 Alpina C2 2.5
Not a great record, eh? But all of these auctions went to show that it was very important when checking out these cars to make sure that they had a well-documented history confirming their authenticity. So the other day when a B10 BiTurbo – one of the most sought Alpina models out there – was narrowed into my search criteria, I knew it was worth a look. And at first glance, it all seemed to be right. Did a scrutinizing hold up that belief, or is this another case of ‘can’t judge a book’?
Continuing on the wagon theme, today we’re going to take a look at something in a similar vein – but oh, so very different. This 1994 BMW E34 Touring is in many ways the antithesis of yesterday’s S6 clone; it’s an original European model, it’s very bare bones, and it’s a diesel.
The story behind BMW’s foray into diesel power in the U.S. was pretty interesting. BMW had developed the M21 2.4 liter turbocharged inline-6 diesel in the 1970s with fuel prices rising; it finally launched in the early 1980s with the E28 524td. But you probably best know that motor for its appearance in mid-80s American iron; an attempt by Ford to improve the fuel economy of its large executive Lincoln Continental. The marriage didn’t work; although the M21 was a good motor (especially when compared to GM’s diesel!), gas prices were falling and the economy was recovering by the time it finally came to market. But since BMW went through the effort to get the M21 legal for U.S. shores, they brought the 524td over here, too. It was a slow seller in the E28 lineup; equipped only with an automatic, BMW dealers shifted 3,635 of the diesels.
No surprise, then, that when the E34 launched, the diesel didn’t come back with it. Though the U.S. market didn’t see the M21 in the lineup though it soldiered on. The M21 was replaced in 1991 by a new version, the M51. Now displacing 2.5 liters and with an intercooler in “s” version, the 525tds upped the power from the 114 seen in the 524td to 141 and it had 192 lb.ft of torque at only 2,200 rpms. This motor carried BMW’s diesels through the 1990s, and was available in everything from the 3-series to the 7-series.
So it’s a bit of a treat to see the M51 in North America. It’s more of a treat to see it in a Touring, and in great shape, and hooked up to a manual transmission. Yes, the want is strong in this one!
Update 5/28/18 – further price reduction from $14,950 to $12,995.
Update 3/23/18 – The asking price of this 540i has dropped from $15,995 in November to $14,950.
By the early 1990s, even though the S38 was an incredible engine there was no denying that it was from another era. BMW’s new lineup of V8s – all-aluminum, quad-cam units were cheaper and easier to build, run and nearly as powerful – especially so in everyday use. As a result, BMW phased the S38 M5 out of production for the North American market. Yet there were still cadres of M-devotees who wanted to fly the 5-series flag here. The result was two special models for Canada and the U.S..
The more rare of the two was the Canadian market M540i. For all intents and purposes, it was a European-specification M5 without the inline-6 – they even moved production of them from Dingolfing to M’s home base of Garching. In total, they built 32 of them – making them one of the least-frequently seen M products out there. It’s no surprise that it’s been quite a while since we last saw one for sale.
The U.S. market got a slightly de-tuned version of the M540i. Known as the 540i M-Sport, unlike the M540i it was available as either a manual or automatic and didn’t carry quite as much M-content as the Canadian car. But you did get M5 looks, M5 suspension and M5 wheels – in this case, the M-system II “Throwing Stars” found on later U.S. production cars opposed to the M-Parallels found on the M540i. They were also not finished at Garching, but alongside normal E34 production. A reported total of 205 were produced for the U.S. market and we last saw one about a year ago.
So when today’s car popped into my recent searches, I was immediately pretty excited as it appeared at first glance to be one of the elusive examples of the M-Sport. And it was certainly priced like one, as asks are usually in M5-territory. But was it love at first sight?
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?
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?
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.
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.
I recently sold my E34 525i and replaced it with a W126 300SE. I’ll post a write up on my new car next week. I love it, but let’s just say I learned a few valuable lessons about buying cars sight unseen from the whole episode. As potential buyers came to view my BMW, a funny thing happened. The more I explained my ownership experience while they test drove it, the more I began to wonder why I was selling it. In fact, I concluded, if space and money had allowed, I would have preferred to keep it alongside the Benz. In one year of ownership, I put an unusually high number of miles on it while doing a mega commute. During that time, it never once failed to start or gave me any reason to worry. I replaced some suspension parts that were worn out. But other than that, all I did was drive it and feed it fuel and oil. It was remarkably fun to drive, which I credit to the 5-speed manual gearbox and sweet chassis setup. Sure, it wasn’t terribly powerful or fast, but it was certainly fast enough for me. And it made for a good commuter, getting 28 MPG on the highway. In all, I think the E34 525i is an under-appreciated gem. I’m sad I let it go.