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:
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:
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:
For many, the top dog of the E31 lineup for BMW was the 850CSi. Others will contest that aftermarket tuner Alpina got it just right with their modification of the 850CSi, the B12 5.7 Coupe. Letâ€™s be honest though â€“ great condition examples of those cars are hardly affordable for most, and the exotic performance comes with some potentially costly maintenance on the big V12. But I think our reader John may have spotted the perfect alternative to those cars, and itâ€™s a bit unusual. When BMW launched the 840Ci, I remember initially thinking it was a bit of a letdown. After all, the company was seemingly running away from the signature V12 and replacing it with a smaller and less powerful V8. That, in many ways, doesnâ€™t seem like progress. But the M60 produced 9/10s of the power of the M70, yet was less expensive and got better fuel economy. Of course, unfortunately it was also only available in the U.S. with the 5-speed automatic â€“ and it was a lot less powerful than the CSi model. At least most of them areâ€¦
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:
People don’t really give BMW enough credit as a risk-taking company, in my opinion. First came the M1, a mid-engined supercar from a company that was producing primarily economy sport sedans. Audi has been applauded for bringing the brilliant R8 to the market, but BMW did it nearly 30 years prior. Then they introduced that same M88 motor into their mid-range sedan and big coupe, changing the definition of sports sedans and bringing GT cars to a higher level. The M3 helped too, and forced Audi and Mercedes-Benz’s hands to make higher performance small sedans that enthusiasts have enjoyed for a few generations now. More recently, the i8 has gone from concept to reality, and stands as one of the most game-changing designs in history. But one that was often overlooked was the i8’s spiritual predecessor, the E31 8 series. A soft, big and angular departure from BMW’s styling in the 1980s, the E31 received a tremendous amount of development and accolades when it was released, but enthusiasts remained skeptical – partially because it seemed the 8’s performance didn’t live up to the promise of the design cues from the M1. Enthusiasts hoped for a high-performance “M8” that magazines taunted but never came. Instead, we received the heavily M-division-modified 850CSi:
We saw this stellar looking Daytona Violet European-spec M5 here in the U.S. last September. We loved the 3.8 motor, rare color and M-cloth interior – items not found on U.S. versions in general. Interestingly the car has moved to Wisconsin and has re-appeared on Ebay from a new seller with a new description, now at $15,990 “Buy It Now”. It’s about on par with good examples of the E34 chassis in terms of pricing, but this car has an interesting history; it makes me wonder why the new owner is flipping it so quickly and having added only a few miles. Second time’s the charm?