Do not adjust your screen. This is not a test. Yes, a BMW X1 is appearing on these pages. But, please stick with me because I’ll explain why.
When the X1 arrived, I – probably like you – considered it a bit of an affront to the brand. Following in the footsteps of the mission-drift but popular X5 and X3 models, the X1 made a fair amount of sense from a marketing standpoint. For about the same money as a loaded Subaru Outback, you could get an (arguably) better looking and performing BMW, after all. So the X1 opened BMW up to a whole new market as the least expensive option in their catalog.
I’ll admit, when they arrived I even went and drove one with my wife. We were considering replacing her…yup, Subaru Outback, and since the Outback’s build quality had proven so abysmal it was hard to get on board with throwing $30,000 at one. But for about two grand more, you could get into a basic X1 xDrive28i, and it really was a nicer car in just about every way.
We didn’t go down that route, as it turned out, for better or worse. And four years on, I’m not sure that the first generation X1 aged all that well. It received an update in the 2012 model year which made it slightly more slick-looking, but the proportions are still fairly awkward. So why is it here? Because it was also one of the best BMWs you could buy.
Underneath the rather upright body was the chassis borrowed more or less straight from the E91 Sport Wagon. But the E84 X1 had a few trumps over the 328i. Like the E91, you had two engine choices. “28i” models got the N20 turbo four rated at a pretty amazing 241 horsepower with 258 lb.ft of torque, or you could get what you see here. In the “35i” there was a N55 turbocharged inline-6 with 300 horsepower and 300 lb.ft of torque at the same time that engine choice wasn’t an option for the wagon fans. So if you wanted a fast BMW wagon, here it is:
Update 7/29/18: After listing in May at $875,000, the seller has dropped the price to $725,000 – still high for the model, but not as far out of line. Will it sell this time around?
I give Audi a lot of credit for bringing the R8 to market. It took a fair amount of gall for a company best known for mid-range all-wheel drive luxury sedans to up and produce a supercar-beating mid-engine road car capable of being used year-round and every day. It’s a feat nearly without precedent. Of course, I said “nearly”.
That’s because BMW pulled off a similar trick the best part of thirty years before Audi did it. And arguably the development of what would become BMW’s fledgling Motorsports division was even more impressive than what Ingolstadt pulled off. The M1 burst onto the scene at a time of economic austerity, global oil crises and came from a company who not only didn’t have a history of producing such cars, but didn’t have connections to others who did (unlike Audi’s corporate Lamborghini partnership).
Speaking of Lamborghini, because of BMW’s lack of expertise in supercar design it was the Sant’Agata firm that was employed to produce the M1. But because of Lamborghini’s lack of expertise at being…well, a company capable of producing something on a schedule, BMW engineers had to first liberate the early molds from Italy and then find someone who could produce the car. Ultimately, it was a combination of ItalDesign in Turin, Marchesi metal working in Modena to build the frames and Karosserie Baur in Stuttgart that stuck the M1 together. Though it doesn’t exactly sound like a match made in heaven, and indeed the M1 was a relative sales flop, it has nonetheless grown to cult status as one of the most user-friendly supercars of the late 1970s:
So, you have to drop $40,000 for a unique M Roadster? Hardly. If you’re willing to forgo the additional grunt of the S54, S52-powered Roadsters are still very affordable. And, they can be plenty unique in their own right. Take today’s ’98 for example. Evergreen is probably a bit polarizing in tone, but it’s also quite distinctive. The total pool of Evergreen examples represents only 2% of overall production of M Roadsters, though. Out of the 10,501 produced, 201 were shipped in the bright green shade – and out of those, 176 were equipped with the equally distinctive two-tone Nappa leather interior color matched to the outside. I’ve looked at a few of these examples previously:
Evergreen Forest, Part II: 1998 BMW M Roadster
So you get an unusual color, a more unusual interior, and still quite a potent convertible in the early M Roadster. What is the price delta, though?
Newer cars are, in general, not the subject of this page. I can walk down to any dealership just like anyone else, and provided I have a pulse, probably walk out with financing for most mid-range cars regardless of whether or not I could actually afford them. Indeed, easy credit has led to the proliferation of many of our favorite brands and cars to the point where most don’t feel all that special anymore. That $2,500 Jetta, for example, is much more rare to see today in that condition – or, at all, truthfully – compared to a new M car.
So all modern cars aren’t really all that exciting? That’s far from the truth, too, as there are many special examples that float by our feed. So while the F10 M5 isn’t a model often featured, it’s probably our loss for not doing so. It’s also easy to forget that even though it feels pretty new, the F10 has been out of production for 2 years and the earliest examples are now 7 years old. Plus, as most M5s do, the entry price point on the antiquated models has dropped considerably compared to their original MSRP, while their performance is still contemporaneous to today’s cars.
The S63B44T0 found under the hood of this particular example was good for 550 plus horsepower; not much more than the model it replaced with that wicked V10. But torque? That’s another matter. While the S85 cranked out an impressive 380 lb.ft at 6,100 rpms, the two turbos tacked onto the S63 V8 produced 500 lb.ft of torque with a curve as flat as the Salt Lake from 1,500 rpms through over 5,000. That massive power could be channeled through a manual gearbox, and it could also be outfit from BMW’s Individual arm. These are the most fun to see, albeit very rarely do they come up for sale:
Just the other day, I wondered what kind of large wagon you could still buy. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class and recently introduced Volvo V90 seem to be the last two holdouts in what was once a robust market of longroof models. Back up a decade, and you could add the Audi A6 Avant and 5-series Touring/Sport Wagon to the mix, and both are still quite desirable in their last form.
With forced induction and plenty of technology as well as a sport ride, both the Audi and BMW entrants into the marketplace were expensive alternatives to the rest of the now traditional “Sport Utility” lineups. And both sold in very small numbers, giving enthusiasts precious few options to choose from when it comes to the used market. In the case of the BMW, the most desirable models are the M-Sport models offered late in the run, and they’re not frequently seen. So much so, that when this one popped up I was certain it was the same 2010 I looked at recently. The color combination of Tiefseeblau Metallic and Natural Brown Dakota combined with the M-Sport package seemed too unlikely to immediately come across again; yet, here we are, with a VIN only about 100 after the recent example. Is this one a winner?
While BMW Motorsport GmbH has a lengthy reputation for conceiving and building some of the most legendary icons of the 1980s, since their inception they’ve also had their hand in clever badge-engineered products intended to bring the magic of M to a larger audience. Starting with the E12 in the 1970s and continuing through today, first to hit the market was the “M535i”. Effectively, these were standard 5-series models with M-Technic bits added for a splash of style, but they lacked the higher-performance “S” (or M88/3, in the case of the M5) motors of their more potent siblings. But they certainly looked the part, with hunkered-down exteriors with deep chin spoilers, side skirts and rear valance and spoiler. Special M-Technic wheels were added to the E28 model which channeled aspects of the M1’s Campagnolo design coupled with hints of the original 1972 Turbo concept wheels. Inside a sport interior was met with more M-Tech details. Just as today, though mechanically these cars were appearance packages rather than performance-oriented, they’re nonetheless quite special indeed:
Conventional wisdom would have it that North America was robbed of the “real” M3; the undiluted, S50B30/B32, individual throttle body, floating rotor, continuously variable VANOS enthusiasts’ dream. Conventional wisdom, though, is wrong. Exploiting a loophole in importation laws, in 1994 BMW Canada commissioned a run of 45 exclusive European-spec E36 M3s. These were the full-fat BF91 rather than the BF93 which would come slightly later to U.S. shores. That meant the full spectrum of Euro goodies were optional on these cars, but most notably the 286 horsepower engine was the highlight. Each got a numbered plaque to commemorate fooling “The Man”, the only real changes from standard specification were the additions of daytime running lights and a third brake light to meet Canadian road laws. Sure, your E36 M3 is special, but these Canadian Edition cars are more specialerer. And this one isn’t in Canada anymore – it’s in the U.S.. Feel cheated no more, E36 fans!
Nate has been on a run of covering some great classic Alpina models, and it’s very easy to see the appeal of the brand. Their tried and true recipe of taking the motor out of a higher-end model and swapping it into the smaller chassis might have seemed a simple task, but the execution of Alpina was always top notch and the results were undeniable. Coupled with upgraded wheels and suspension and full of lovely details, they always managed to feel like a premium product and today that appreciation is shown in high asking prices. In the same vein as the legendary Alpinas, many enthusiasts have tried to take the motor out of M models and fit them to lesser 3-series and 5-series models with varying success. But if done right, the result can be a very tidy looking and appealing package on a more friendly budget:
EDIT 3/25/16 – Thanks to our reader Mark who alerted us that this car is misrepresented since he actually owns #4. Further detective work by our readers has shown this is actually an M540i number 3/32 but without its original M540i details. Thanks to our knowledgeable readership for scrutinizing!
Here’s a rare slice of BMW M-car, one of the 32 examples of the Canada-only E34 M540i. These were built by BMW Individual at the time, and were a far cry from the badge-happy ///M340iMsportEfficientDynamics, creating the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too of 90s Bimmers by taking the E34 M5’s chosen-one suspension and brakes and mating it with the 540i’s grunty V8 and 6-speed fun-lever.
So, sounds like an amazing find, especially with a No-Reserve Auction starting at $4,999. A shockingly low number for such a rare 5er, but its had 10 owners in just 101.5k miles, and it needs shocks, springs, mounts, fan shrouds, cosmetics… it needs. The interior looks to be in good shape, as does the trunk, but the engine bay remains a mystery. If you’re handy with the E34 platform, you’ll probably have a wealth of options to take get it awesome, but you could probably have a sharp-looking, now intelligently-modified M540i that lives up to its name.
I have a bit of an interesting comparison today, and I think in many ways it’s harder than it would first appear to be. If you said to most enthusiasts “Would you rather have a manual or automatic?”, the collective ire of autophiles towards self-controlled cars is akin to suggestion a revision to the 2nd Amendment at a NRA rally. And outwardly, today’s two E39 5-series wagons seem quite similar. But they represent two different directions for BMW and I think it will be interesting to see which foot enthusiasts land on. So, what would it be, then – a 5-speed 528i Sport Touring or a 5-speed (automatic) 540i M-Sport Touring?