If you’re a fan of discreet performance, few cars are up to the job as well as this beautifully built muscle car – a true gamechanger...
Today, the BMW M5 is an all-time great and still very much on the up – but in 2004, it was still possible to pick up a usable example for £2000. How far it had come from when it was new, when CAR magazine pitched a BMW E34 M5 against a Ferarri Testarossa in 1990. Then, it was moved to write: ‘The BMW is more practical, more comfortable, handles better, and is faster on the majority of public roads.’ When Georg Kacher drove a BMW E34 M5 3.8 for the same publication in 1992, he wrote: ‘The M5 is as much fun to drive as a proper sports car, and makes distances shrink like a time-lapse machine.’
The E34 M5 was the last of the six-cylinder M5s, and to connoisseurs, it’s arguably the best of these amazing super-saloons. It was the E34’s predecessor, the E28, which had created the template for the modern-day performance carry-all. Both cars were powered by engines based on the same straight-six seen in the M1; in the E34 it displaced 3535cc and there was 315bhp and 266lb ft of torque on tap, enabling the M5 to get to 0-60mph in 6.3 seconds.
The car seemed pretty much perfect, but BMW made things even better with the 3.8-litre M5 in 1992. This featured a 3795cc engine with an upgraded engine management system, plus revised Boge suspension (dubbed Adaptive M Technic) From September 1992 there was improved safety and security, then the final flourish came in May 1994 with a six-speed gearbox.
Torque 295lb ft@4750rpm
Maximum speed 155mph (limited)
Fuel Consumption 22-30mpg
Transmission Five/six-speed manual
Height 4ft 7in (1.39m)
Width 5ft 9in (1.75m)
Length 15ft 6in (4.72m)
Wheelbase 9ft 1in (2.76m)
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Look for rust at the base of the windscreen, in the rear wheelarches and along the edges of the bootlid. The plastic sill skirt covers can hide rusty inner and outer sill panels, jacking points plus the bottom of the front wings and A-posts. Also check the petrol flap aperture. Poorly repaired crash damage is common too; it’s easy to get an M5 out of shape on slippery roads.
That straight-six will clock up 200,000 miles if looked after. If the original coolant hoses are still fitted, it’s worth renewing them as a matter of course. Other cooling issues that can arise include leaky water pumps plus failed thermostats and viscous couplings. The 3.8-litre engine can suffer pistonor conrod failure on a poorly maintained car.
It’s pretty much unknown for a rear axle to fail, but check for leaks, with all cars getting a limited-slip diff as standard. The clutch should feel really light. If it doesn’t, get it changed. Both five- and six-speed gearboxes are strong, but listen for clattery bearings when the car is idling, with your foot off the clutch pedal. If a rebuild is needed it’ll set you back around £1200.Replacing oils seals costs around £200.
This isn’t made of stainless steel but it is reasonably long-lived. Because it’s double-skinned it can look tired on the outside but still be in good condition; the key is to listen for noisy baffles, which indicate a new set of pipes will be needed soon. Replacements are costly at £1200 – also make sure that the catalytic converter isn’t damaged by putting the car through an MoT.
Listen for pattering over bumps, which indicates worn dampers; front replacements cost around £180 per corner for 3.6-litre cars, with the self-levelling rears pitched at about £600 per side. The 3.8 has Electronic Damping Control (EDC) for which some parts are now unavailable; they were last listed at £1000 per corner, so check for leaks and corroded pipes. Swapping the SLS or EDC suspension for conventional Bilstein dampers is common, which in improves the handling, especially on 3.6-litre cars.
Bushes and joints
Wear on the inner edges of the front tyres indicates worn ball joints. If the centre section of the rear tyres has worn, the rear subframe bushes probably need to be replaced; they typically last around 100,000 miles. Replacement wishbones cost £250 per side while rear suspension bushes are £78 per side (both are plus fitting). Vague steering might be worn track rod ends wear too (a pair of new ones costs around £250) or a tired steering box. The latter can be adjusted but the box is unique to the M5 so one from a lesser 5-series will have a different ratio.
Some M5s came with cloth interior trim while others got leather. Extended leather was a less common but much more expensive option which meant pretty much everything was covered with nappa hide except for the headlining. Whatever is fitted it should last well; there was a choice of light or dark grey, with the former getting grubby rather easily.
All M5s got air-con so check it works as it should because compressors and condensers fail and if everything needs doing the bill can easily add up to £1000. Most front seats have electric adjustment; check everything works properly. If there are electrical faults, first check the wiring loom where it passes through the boot hinge. Chafing here can lead to exposed wires then an array of weird electrical issues.
The M5 is still a performance car bargain. No other car offers this level of grunt, usability, build quality and dynamic prowess for the money. Shame they don’t cost the same now as they did back in 2004!