BMW E39 M5

How to cure a cold in only a few minutes? Just add power

Used Price – E39 (1998-2003) – $38,000 – 60,000

Current Price – F10 M5 – $230,000

It’s been 2 years since I was introduced to James. We’d met at the auction with a common goal of trying to get the best price for a Quattro I’d written an article about some weeks before. James was in the enviable position of being a previous owner of many auto exotica, including two quite beautiful Ferrari’s, but he had always owned a BMW, “because they just work.” His current Bimmer, as then, is quite probably the best sporting saloon car ever made, the BMW E39 M5 but he hasn’t been ready to show his pride and joy off until now.

 

The E39 M5 was the first to be produced at BMW’s mainstream production line in Dingolfing, Germany, highlighting that it was intended to be the most useable drive on a daily basis, but with a kick when you really needed it. That kick came in V8 form, normally aspirated, producing 294 kW (394 bhp) and 500 Nm of torque, via a 6-speed manual and it’s rear wheels. 100 km/h came up in a mere 4.8 seconds and if delimited it had the potential to reach 300 km/h.

Impressive right? Well not quite enough for James. Whilst not a racer, he does enjoy a track day and he needed something a little extra. A supercharger would do it, along with Supersprint headers, Schrick cams, a reinforced differential brace, adjustable Koni shock absorbers, adjustable sway bars, a lightweight flywheel and a race clutch. But being an accountant he didn’t like frightening the neighbours, so also installed Milltek exhausts with vacuum operated valves to keep it quiet around town. A short shift gearbox was next because the standard one was just too long and slow to snick in, and he followed this up with an enlarged radiator and oil cooler to keep the extra heat in check. Custom made wider wheels, front and rear, topped off the package and once he’d debadged the car as much as he could – because he is not a show off – he was almost ready.

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“There’s a little surprise,” he said, holding a plastic watering can and unscrewing what I thought was the washer tank. “Methanol burns really cold, and helps to cool things a little more.” Just cooling James? “Well maybe it helps add about 10% more power.”

That ‘help’, according to James’ mechanic, brings torque up to around 700 Nm and 466 kW (625 bhp) and bothers even V8 Supercars out of the way down Phillip Island’s straight.

After warming the oil and driving sedately around town to get some heat into the tyres, we find a nice little loop that includes a relatively traffic free entrance and exit to the freeway in order to test the accelerating powers of his teutonic project.

“Don’t be frightened of it Mike,” James says, obviously aware that I am feeling a tad nervous about wrapping his car around some lamp post, “it’s meant to be floored.”

 

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The noise alone is intimidating enough, but flooring this thing to it’s red line, a red line that goes all the way to 7,300 rpm (as opposed to the standard 7000) is sweaty palm time indeed. My first attempt is anaemic by James’ standard and I excuse myself by explaining I just need to get a feel for it. Rolling around again, I steel myself and begin accelerating hard at the apex of the first corner and bury my foot into the carpet as the straight comes into view. Out of the corner of my eye, I see James grab for the roof handle, nervously perhaps, I am not sure, but with the red line fast approaching I just have time to change up into third and be pushed into the seat as hard as anything I have ever driven before. The car in the distance is quickly reached and I slam on the brakes before any damage can be done.

“I think I am getting the hang of it now James,” I say smiling from ear to ear.

Third time around I get on the power even quicker and this time I feel the wheels squirming, desperately searching for traction in both second and third gears, and we snake up the road in a fiendish bellow of noise and smoking rubber at wharp-like speed. We are both laughing hysterically as the adrenaline kicks in and I never want this day to end.

Though power is what this car is all about, I am somewhat in awe with how well composed it is at normal speeds, on rickety roads and over speed humps. It is supple and compliant and you can quite literally take your granny to church in it without her ever feeling uncomfortable.

“I took my dad out in it once for a decent drive up a mountain, and all he had to say was that it was a little bumpy in the back seat, as we bottomed out around the bends up the hill. We’d been doing speeds of up to 230km/h but he apparently didn’t notice or care”

After a couple more loops, I feel I have got some measure of this monster. Its tyres are now properly up to temperature and that snaking from earlier under hard acceleration transforms into grippy, mind-bending shunts up the hill. Please omnipotent deity, if you exist, let this road transform into a track so that I can taste the remaining 3 gears and then add a few corners in for good measure. Eastern Creek would be nice. But all good things come to an end and I sadly, but contentedly, turn for James’ home, happy that I still have my licence, and hoping that I have not disappointed James with my driving.

So what does all this machinery cost? James bought the car some years back with only 19,000 kms on the clock for around $125k. He spent a further $25k or so getting it to where it is today, so it is certainly not cheap. That said, you can find an E39 M5 for around $40k these days and James recommends that you spend around $15k to improve its brakes, the exhaust and cooling systems. You might not get as much power as this example, but you will certainly find joy and excitement, safe in the knowledge that it is designed to be used everyday.

James did admit that the engine had to be changed 30,000 km’s ago. It’s a common issue among M5’s that it’s big end can go every 50,000 km’s or so, if driven hard. And let’s face it, why have one of these cars and not drive it energetically. The forums, such as M5board.com, provide some great advice and suggest installing stronger big-end bolts and replacing the rod bearings every once in a while. James was told that a new donk would set him back some $45k and a rebuild a wallet wilting $65k. He rang BMW and because he is such a nice man, going about it in a nice way, BMW agreed to supply a new engine for only $22k. When asked why he was given such a discount, he was told that as he approached the matter in a professional manner, they do have some flexibility with the cost. So there is a lesson there for us all, I think.

Other BMW bargains can be found in the US. The rear view mirror for instance contains some trickery for dimming, and will set you back over $700 to replace. A bloke in Texas builds replicas and charges only $99 plus postage. So owning a car like this need not be for the super-elite, if you do your homework.

For me though, I woke up with a stinking cold but after an hour of heart pumping hilarity, I felt 100% better. Thank you James, thank you very much.

Forums:

M5Boardwww.m5board.com

Bimmerfestwww.bimmerfest.com

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