Rounding out 2019, I’d like to take a look at one of my favorite cars. I came of driving age during the reign of the E31, and I still remember magazines taunting that the ‘M8’ would soon be with us. Of course, it never came – at least, not until today. But we still did get an E31 breathed upon by the Motorsports division in the spectacular 850CSi. The heart of the CSi was a special “S” motor. In this case, BMW Motorsport GmbH took the M70 and beefed it up seriously. Bored out to 5.6 liters and with compression bumped up and revised electronic programing, the resulting S70 took BMW’s V12 from 296 horsepower to 372 with 420 lb.ft of torque on tap. Macht schnell, indeed! But there were a host of other changes; offered only with a manual 6-speed gearbox, the CSi also got a quicker steering rack, Euro M5 brakes, shorter and stiffer springs, and M System II ‘Throwing Star’ 17? staggered wheels. A new body kit made the elegant E31 look much more menacing, too. Europeans even had the option of 18? M Parallels and, amazingly, 4-wheel steering.
In 1994, this car cost almost $110,000. Today that’s nothing, as you can spec a special-order M3 up to that amount. But back then? That was nearly the price of three M3s. These super coupes have never really come down in price, as like their contemporary the 928GTS, they have maintained an aura of unobtainium and sacredness to a generation of motoring enthusiasts. Just 225 made it to the U.S., and this is one of 14 Orient Blue Metallic (317) examples. I think I’m in love…
BMW’s second generation M5 followed the same recipe as the outgoing E28; manual transmission, rear-drive, howling inline-6 under the hood. But the E34 was far from a copy of the car that was really credited with being the first super sedan. BMW upped with power first with the 3.6 liter version of the S38; though the increase in displacement was a scant 82 ccs, the result was impressive. BMW Motorsport GmbH fit a new cam, a higher compression head, and a new engine management system to yield 311 horsepower at a rev-busting 6,900 rpms. They weren’t done.
In 1992 M upped the capacity again, this time to just 5 cc shy of 3.8 liters. Even higher compression, a further revision in electronic management, and a few other odds and ends now netted 340 horsepower and 300 lb.ft of torque. Again, they weren’t done. Perhaps tired of Audi cornering the go-fast-5-door market with their 200 20V Avant, in 1992 BMW launched the M5 Touring. Production began in March 1992 and ran through 1995. All E34 M5 Tourings were left-hand drive 3.8 models, and a total of 891 were produced.
BMW opted not to bring the enlarged motor or the M Touring model to the United States, as the 540i took over the top rungs of North American production. But now legal for importation, these rare Ms have been trickling in:
Although the letter “M” attached to a BMW has generally represented the pinnacle of performance for the brand, the reality is the term “M-Sport” has not always denoted the same characteristics. Take the E82 135i, for example. The M-Sport package for that car consisted of slightly different 18″ wheels than the standard 18″ wheels and a black headliner. That’s it.
But zoom back in time to the beginnings of the title “M-Sport” and it meant a bit more. If you wanted a fast, executive super saloon in 1995, your options were dwindling. 1995 was the last year of the Audi S6, and one year after both the V8 Quattro and 500E were taken away. 1995 would also be the last year of the iconic M5, and hints were that it might be a long time before we’d see another. Why? Well, the reality was that with the 6 speed 540i the performance gap between the “super” M5 and the “normal” V8 engined 540 was so close it just didn’t make a lot of sense to have the premium model anymore. The S38 was by now a quite old motor and was getting harder to pass increasingly strict emissions standards; indeed, shrinking sales and high price had resulted in the M5 being pulled from the U.S. in 1993.
As a result, BMW offered a hint at what it could do with the V8 in the form of the M540i in Canada and the 540i M-Sport in the U.S. market. The Canadian model was quite close in spec to the European M5, except that in place of the venerable S38 it ran the M60 V8 out of the normal 540i. If that sounds like a letdown, it wasn’t – mated to the Getrag 6-speed transmission it was a great driver, and with the M5 adjustable suspension, brakes and cosmetic details it was 95% plus of the M5 for most drivers. The 540i M-Sport that the U.S. received differed a bit in not having the trick floating rotors of the M540i, but with nearly everything else out of the M bag of tricks these are cool cars, great drivers, and even more rare than the M5:
Recently on our Facebook page I posted a poll to see what our fans would like us to write-up. The choice in that poll was between two different generations of Grand Tourer; cars with the same purpose but very different execution. The Porsche 928GTS was at the end of its illustrious production run, the ultimate evolution of the V8 transaxle design. On the other hand, the fairly recently introduced 850CSi wasn’t quite the ‘M8’ BMW had teased, but in a post-Recession economy it was still pretty special. The 928GTS clocked in to work with a slightly revised exterior, 17″ Cup wheels, giant Brembo brakes and a stonking 5.4 liter 4-cam V8 capable of 345 horsepower. The 850CSi was, of course, also naturally aspirated, but a 5.6 liter V12 lay under its computer-designed angular bodywork. The E31 was heavily breathed upon by BMW’s Motorsport division, the S70 laughed at Porsche’s V8 by channeling 372 horsepower to the rear wheels solely through a 6-speed manual gearbox. Like the 928, bodywork revisions, M-System II forged wheels and mega brakes along with suspension updates helped justify the lofty price.
In their days, both of these cars could eclipse $100,000 easily with options. The thing is, they’ve never really come down in price. Both were quite limited production; a total of 1,510 850CSis were made with only 225 sent to the U.S., while 2,877 928GTSs were made, with I believe 451 landing in North America.
The Facebook poll came down to a dead heat between the two, each with 44 votes. So, I did my best to come up with two worthy examples priced closely to consider today:
Considering just how rare they are, it’s quite special that we get to look at a second Colorline 850CSi in such short order. And this one is quite a bit more rare to find than the prior Tobago Blue example. Only 13 were ordered in the rarest combination – Calypso Red Metallic with Trinidad Red and Black Nappa leather. This is really about as rare as an E31 gets.
Since I didn’t cover the differences between the EG91/2 (Euro) and EG93 (US) 850CSis, it’s worth taking a look at that. Euro-spec 850CSis got additional oil cooling for the differential and engine, along with 13.6″ floating rotors and different side mirrors. The front end also got special smoked lenses. I covered a bit more about what made all 850CSis special in the last post:
1994 BMW 850CSi Colorline
There are a few reasons to really prefer today’s CSi over the Tobago Blue. Beyond the increased rarity, this one has far fewer miles and the presentation is much better. There’s a lot more information provided, too. And, it’s already on this side of the Atlantic, though you’ll need to wait a few more months until it’s ready to roll into the U.S.. Of course, there is one drawback…and it’s a big one:
Continuing on the theme of defacto M cars started with the South African 745i, today let’s look at the much more famous example of the 850CSi. I came of driving age during the reign of the E31, and I still remember magazines taunting that the ‘M8’ would soon be with us. Of course, it never came – at least, not until today. But we still did get an E31 breathed upon by the Motorsports division in the spectacular 850CSi.
Like the SA 745i, the heart of the CSi was a special “S” motor. In this case, BMW Motorsport GmbH took the M70 and beefed it up seriously. Bored out to 5.6 liters and with compression bumped up and revised electronic programing, the resulting S70 took BMW’s V12 from 296 horsepower to 372 with 420 lb.ft of torque on tap. Macht schnell, indeed! But there were a host of other changes; offered only with a manual 6-speed gearbox, the CSi also got a quicker steering rack, Euro M5 brakes, shorter and stiffer springs, and M System II ‘Throwing Star’ 17″ staggered wheels. A new body kit made the elegant E31 look much more menacing, too. Europeans even had the option of 18″ M Parallels and, amazingly, 4-wheel steering.
In 1994, this car cost almost $110,000. Today that’s nothing, as you can spec a special-order M3 up to that amount. But back then? That was nearly the price of three M3s. These super coupes have never really come down in price, as like their contemporary the 928GTS, they have maintained an aura of unobtainium and sacredness to a generation of motoring enthusiasts. With only 225 brought stateside, perhaps it’s worth considering importing 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?
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?
At first glance, I was sure we’d covered this car before. After all, it’s not often that European specification 3.8 liter M5s come to market in Daytona Violet.
Or, is it?
Believe it or else, this is actually no less than the third Purple Porsche Eater that we’ve covered for sale in the U.S.. Back in September, Craig spotted chassis GD63734for sale. If that wasn’t surprising enough, I was pretty sure when Craig wrote that car up that it was the identical twin of chassis GD63657 – a car I thrice covered with three different sellers. But, no – today’s car is a chassis GD63375, produced before those other two 1993 examples, yet in the same outrageous shade of Daytona Violet Metallic:
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: