The M5 might not have been the original super sedan. It wasn’t even the first hot 5-series. But just like the GTI is synonymous with the hot-hatch segment, the M5 became the standard by which all other super-sedans were judged the moment it rolled onto the scene in 1985. Power seemed other-worldly; 280 plus horsepower from the race-derived M88/3 hunkered down with beefy suspension upgrades and huge (for the time) alloy wheels linked with a limited-slip differential. At a time when “fast” cars had 180 horsepower, BMW’s first M-offering in the sedan range might as well have been a space ship.
BMW promised limited production for the U.S. market, too – and, indeed, only 1,239 were produced for the U.S. with the slightly de-tuned S38. Unfortunately, that was 700 more than BMW had promised to make, and that led to a lawsuit. It also wasn’t very long before the M5’s power reign was eclipsed; first by its replacement E34 model, then by the whole range of new V8 models emerging on the market, from the 1992 Audi V8 quattro to the 500E. Values quickly fell as these old-looking (even when new) boxy rockets fell out of favor, and they remained there for quite some time.
But recently there’s grown a much greater appreciation for all things 80s M, and though the E30 has grabbed the headlines as the market star, outside of the M1 it is the E28 M5 that was brought here in fewest numbers. Even fewer have survived, and finding clean, lower mile examples can be tough. This one appears to tick the right boxes:
Every once in a while, something sneaks under the radar and offers a great opportunity to grab a quality classic for a relative bargain. Perhaps posting this blows up that chance somewhat, but odds are with only a few days left, Sars-CoV-2, and the recent stock market crash, you’re not in a position to drop everything and buy an extra car on a whim – but hey, who knows? And this one is a doozy.
What we have here is a rather inconspicuous 1995 M5. That means it’s a Euro car automatically, and yep, it’s a 3.8 liter S38 coupled to a six-speed manual. And, just like the last one, it’s my favorite Daytona Violet! But this one is a sedan and it doesn’t look like the best example out there, so what’s the draw? It’s a no reserve auction.
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:
Until quite recently, the best value in the classic BMW M market was 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 its father – the original M5 – is a lot more expensive today than it was a decade ago.
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 is just now catching on in the marketplace – and values are reflecting that:
If I’m honest, most newer cars bore me. I’m much more excited to see a clean ’85 GTI than I am to see a modern M anything, frankly. I don’t live in the most expensive or opulent area in the world, yet within a shockingly short drive from me there are several new M3s, M4s, M5s and the like being daily driven. It’s not unusual for a Ferrari or Lamborghini to roar by my house. Porsches are downright commonplace. Please understand, this is not intended to elevate my status as a braggart. But when I was a child you just didn’t see these things, and I grew up very close to where I live now. I still remember the excitement of egging my father on as he chased a Ferrari 308 down the highway just so that I could get a closer look. My son doesn’t even turn his head when the multiple 488s cruise by.
I’m not just spouting off a baseless ‘back in my day’ statement as I shake my fist towards the clouds. I was a bit older than my son is now when the E28 M5 launched. 1,340 were shipped to the United States. The same was roughly true of the replacement E34; 1,678 shipped here. Then the markets went wild; 9,992 E39s, 9,491 E60s and 8,088 F10s. While they’ve steadily been losing ground to the growing field of competition and fast SUVs, the fact is they’re far more common than their ancestors. So how do you stand apart from the crowd? Well, BMW’s Individual options are certain to assist:
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. They’ve got plenty of the right ingredients – the last of the individual throttle body S38 motors producing 315 horsepower, Motorsport details throughout, a great subtle look which still is commanding of respect, supreme road manners and limited numbers – only 1,678 were imported. It’s the right recipe for a future classic. This chassis is still generally overlooked compared to the E28 and E39 models, but those that have spent some time behind the wheel of these well engineered, hand-built Q-Ships proclaim they’re one of the best BMW products made. Recent market activity in since 2016 has started to remix the tune, though, and E34s have been on the rise. Hagerty currently places top value on 1991 M5s at over $70,000 – steep sounding given what many traded for over the last few years, but perhaps more in line with their legendary build quality and performance especially when considering their siblings. So let’s see what a top value M5 looks like today:
Let’s say you want to start a car collection, and for ease of argument’s sake, let’s say you’re really into BMWs. Which is the model you want? You could be a 507 enthusiast, love the classic 3.0 CSL or 2002, envy every E30 or lust over the modern muscle the company produces. But odds are if you’re reading these pages you, like me, gravitate towards BMW’s Motorsport models.
Within the Pantheon of classic models, there then comes the difficult decisions. How do you choose between the E30 M3 and the 1M, for example? Well, Enthusiast Auto Group has a suggestion. Why not have them both? Or, even better, why not assemble all of the greatest hits from BMW’s M division over the past 40 years and put them together into one curated, turn-key package?
I promise that this post wasn’t by design, but rather is completely a coincidence that it follows hot on the heels of the neat supercharged E34 540i 6-speed from yesterday. How do you possibly trump that potent hot rod? Well, starting with a M5 is probably a good bet.
If the E34 was a potent athlete, the E39 comes across as a consummate professional. It was immediately the new benchmark for sports sedans once again, and when BMW finally did make the call to bring a M5 to market they produced what many consider to be the definitive driver’s car in super sedan form. Whatever you had from the period, the M5 was just plain better. With 394 horsepower kicking out of is snorting S62 V8 and mated solely to a 6-speed manual transmission, it was hard to conceive how that package could possibly be improved upon.
That didn’t dissuade Steve Dinan, though. His S2 package fixed a car that wasn’t broken according to Car and Driver. Power was up to a massive 470 yet the car was still naturally aspirated. Bigger, better intake was met with bigger, better exhaust, and the whole package was kept up with bigger, better suspension and slowed down with bigger, better brakes. It was…well, bigger and better. 0-60 was dispatched in a tick over four seconds and it would do a standing quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds. These numbers won’t scare a Dodge Demon, granted, but are still really respectable today.
Of course, if “respectable” isn’t quite enough for you and you really need to surprise that Demon driver…
Update 6/15/18: After not selling last year with a $14,500 Buy It Now, the Alpina B10 3.5/1 part of this duo is back up for sale having finally been washed at the same asking price. Will it find a buyer this time around?
Just because it’s got an exotic name or badge doesn’t mean it’s automatically out of your reach. That’s the lesson for today’s twin E34s. If you’re willing to undertake a bit of a project you can certainly save money up front. Just like we saw with the S65 AMG Andrew wrote up, the initial cost you pay only going to be part of your total outlay but for the price of a small economy car, you can grab another league of luxury, performance and exclusivity that a Nissan Versa could never dream of matching. So which of these project E34s is the one you’d chose, or are both busts?
To this point, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the E39 M5 referred to as the “first of the robot-builts”. Sound ridiculous? So does dismissing a car because it was produced in mass quantities. While the original run of 4- and 6-cylinder M-cars got the trend rolling, there are quite a few who’d argue that the recipe of the super-saloon was better achieved in the third generation M5 rather than the first two. It was still very understated, yet with 400 horsepower and instant torque it was quite a bit faster than the prior generations had been. It retained the ability to demolish back roads, keep up with super cars, and bath its occupants in luxury. Despite not being assembled ‘by hand’, it was also the last of the “analogue” M5s, with limited computer intervention and interface. And, they only came as manuals. This certainly sounds like a recipe for success.
It was. BMW sold nearly 10,000 E39 M5s in North America – triple the combined total of the E28 and E34 models. So there should be a lot of really great examples out there to consider. Yet many are starting to come to market with upwards of 150,000 miles a a laundry list of maintenance to catch up on. Where does a low-mileage example fall these days? This beautiful Royal Red one in California gives us a clue: