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.”


bmw m5

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, 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.


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BMW X5 E53

Wanted: Dignity and Self Respect

Meet Andrew. He’s a suave man about town who used to float around in a tidy 1980’s Mercedes SL. He was a veritable transatlantic Patrick Duffy (of Dallas fame, not Man from Atlantis.) Then children happened, and he bought a Great Wall. He lost his mojo.

bmw e53 2


Sick of watching Toyota Camry drivers pass him up slight inclines, their hats positioned on the rear parcel shelf and elderly fingers wrapped tight around their steering wheels, he had to do something. He bought a BMW X5, but not just any old X5. He bought a V8. A late 2006 E53 4.4 litre V8 in fact, the very last of the first generation, with 315 horses under the bonnet, X-drive all-wheel-drive, ZF 6-speed auto, panoramic sunroof, auto leveling Xenon adaptive headlights and a nice facelift before the next gen hit the road.

For $22,000 and 138,000 on the clock, it seems like a steal to me. In a little under the year he has had it, he has subsequently put another 18,000 on to that which included a 2,000 km round trip to Noosa with no issues, not even an aching bum. Luckily he bought it from a dealer and the statutory 3-month warranty came in handy when the brake controller needed to be replaced. Other than $300 for a new battery, it’s just been service bills since for a more than reasonable $500 for a major service, and $250 for minor.  I think I need to get his mechanics number, because those figures are a little hard to believe.

BMW-X5 Interior

So what is it like? 

There’s a definite uptick in quality to most cars, my Disco included – the paintwork, the seats, the steering wheel. Even the switchgear feels organic, not an after thought or a filler sourced from a parts bin. My only beef would be with the information screen that is small and its pixels certainly have seen better days. But all in all, it feels more like a sports car than an SUV. You’re encouraged to sit lower, but the visibility is cut too much, so you raise the electrically adjustable seat to get a feel for the proportions. It’s sizeable, but a lot smaller than my daily drive. And then you turn the key.

Pass the tissues, it’s that good. I’ve obviously been around diesel eruptions for too long, for that deep, sexual throbbing that only a V8 can give, that raucous cacophony as you rev the bejesus out of it, is a thing of beauty. Was that loud? I find myself thinking, giving the throttle another blip. Yes, yes, it might be. There is some sort of primeval connection between the guttural rumble all around but particularly beneath you and your pleasure button. Like sitting on a washing machine for more than 60 seconds, assuming you are male of course. I head toward the driveway which is, as you may remember, a bit steep and the perfect place to nail it for 30 metres. It really doesn’t matter what the car is like from here on, I am hooked.

Without the benefit of a Top Gear track, I can’t tell you how quick it really is, but Andrew is right, the throttle seems to learn your style of driving, it seems to sense that there’s a gap up front and wants you to floor it. It’s there, it’s ready, it’s like an energetic Rottweiler. Turn in is sharp, the brakes are strong and progressive and though it sits on far stiffer springs than most large 4×4’s, it takes the speed bumps and dips surprisingly well, not crashy at all. The only thing that began to bother me was the nearside wing mirror that automatically folds in when you select reverse. It’s fine if you’re looking for the pavement but not when you are gauging the width of a parking space or need to avoid a pillar. I later learn that this can be switched off.

What can he expect if he keeps it for a few more years?

  • Interestingly a number of contributors to the forums have suggested that the X5 has been beset by a few problems, worse even than the Mercedes M class in fact, the SUV that in its early days almost ruined Mercs iron clad reputation for quality. If Andrew’s beast is anything to go by, this may be unfounded, as it feels and looks as solid as a rock.
  • That being said, this being the V8 all good things do come to an end, and by 150,000 kms or so he needs to check the timing chain guide rails, as the plastic they are made of tends to go off about then.
  • As with my Discovery, there have been issues with the air suspension, something that many SUV’s will have from now on. It’s a small compressor and eventually gives up the ghost after 5-8 years. It’s not cheap either, probably $1400-1500 plus labour. However, it is worth checking the sensors before replacing the pump. At around a fifth of the price, the fat credit card size boxes can be a little temperamental.
  • Nonetheless, because of how the rear suspension is set up, the rear knuckle is loaded up with the air spring compressing down on it, this puts pressure on the rear wheel bushings and ball joints. This then gives rise to a common rear camber issue, exacerbated more so by larger than standard wheels.
  • Issues with the intake manifold leaking seem to be a regular occurrence along with weeping valve covers.
  • The cooling system is generally in need of an overhaul around 100,000-150,000 kms. The radiator has a reputation for leaking on models built between 2001 and 2008, and when it goes it has to be replaced. The rest of the cooling system should be checked and repaired at the same time and this can be expensive.
  • The water pump should also be replaced every 75,000-100,000 kms I’m told.
  • CV joints need constant attention, but I haven’t found a heavy car yet that doesn’t have this issue.
  • Externally, the door handle carriers are prone to break, but parts can be found reasonably cheaply online.

Considering it’s a hefty machine, this V8 is almost as frugal as my diesel, which I am finding hard to fathom. I specifically chose an oil burner to avoid huge fuel bills but perhaps I should rethink this strategy. With the sun roof open to its fullest extent, windows down, and heading along a twisting piece of tarmac, this is a great place to be. Then the kids switch on the pop box and the serenity is shattered. Bugger. 

Useful X5 Forums & Clubs 


OzBMW  –

BMW Owners Club 

BMW Club Australia


bmw e53 x5 v8

Mazda MX-5

Can I have my car back, Dad

Mazda has revealed its new MX-5  and for me it’s a thing of beauty and encapsulates everything a sports car should be – light, rear-wheel drive, slick manual gearshift, brilliant handling and simply fun, fun, fun. Who give’s a toss it’s not particular fast and has a 0-100kph time of around 8 seconds. That’s not the point and well done Mazda engineers for keeping to its principles and not overloading it with every imaginable electronic device that supposedly helps us become better drivers. No wonder they’ve sold over a million of the little blighters since inception in 1985.

mazda mx-5
2015 Mazda MX-5 – courtesy of

I’ve already singled it out as a potential first car for my son when he is old enough to start driving. His mother may not agree though, but what does she know? I can’t think of a better car to kick his driving career off. There’s only two seats so no late night joy rides with a bunch of his mates. It’s manual, so in my book will teach him how to handle a car far better than an automatic. It’s not a speedster, so no point in out running the cops or trying to burn off some dill in a Commodore. And of course, I will want to drive it, often.

Brand new, it will cost around $40k for the 1.5 litre model and closer to $50k for the 2 litre, which sounds about as expensive as a tinder date behind your third wife’s back. A quick glance through the classifieds suggests that it holds its price rather well too, with 2011 versions asking over $34k, and even 10 year old examples going for between $15-24k.

But when I get around to looking for one for my eldest (the jury is still out whether I’ll be asking him to stump up the cash or not – it doesn’t hurt to suggest he can chip in at the very least right?) will we be purchasing a money pit?

As I have written in an earlier post regarding a car older than a decade: tells us to “check that the Mazda’s engine starts easily, idles reasonably smoothly and doesn’t blow smoke from the exhaust under hard acceleration. The gearbox should be light and positive in its change action and not balk or crunch even on the fastest of changes.”

The soft top needs to be in good condition with no stitching missing. Hopefully it has not been used to race or run around too many tracks. A roll cage and things like a fire extinguisher would be a big give away. As with any car this old, if the numbers on the odometer do not align perfectly, you could be staring at a car that has been clocked. At this price though, I don’t care how limited edition it is, it would need to be exceptional to hand over your hard earned.

Anything else?

Well, the brake callipers are known to seize a bit but there are plenty of reconditioned parts available.

MK1 and MK2 models are prone to rust unfortunately, less so in Oz of course, but it’s well worth checking. Overseas this is probably the biggest MX5 killer outside of a teenager with a leaden foot. Areas of concern need to be the rear sill sections, rear wheel arches and the front chassis rails near the front subframe mounting. Thoroughly clean the drainage holes regularly and you can mitigate the issue.

For 1990-93 cars the o-ring on the CAS sensor (crank angle sensor), situated on the back of the cylinder head, can perish and start to leak. Mazda moved this to the exhaust camshaft for the 1994-95 model cars and began calling it the CPS (camshaft position sensor), but they are one and the same in case this crops up at some stage – confusingly, later models get both a CAS and a CPS and become two different things, but that’s another story. Anyway, on 1.8 litre cars the oil can drip onto the coolant feed pipes for the heater matrix and this will eventually make them burst. It’s worth replacing the cam cover gasket when changing the cam belt too as this can start to weep oil.

The slave cylinder in the clutch can sometimes fail and the clutch pedal will sink to the floor. Luckily, replacement units are not overly expensive.

The transmission tunnel has a tendency to get warm but reading the forums there seems a cheap remedy by changing the rubber turret boot that sits under the centre console.

The judder of noisey tappets can easily be silenced by an oil change and apparently can disappear entirely by using a fully synthetic oil.

If the timing belt has been overtightened you may hear cam belt whine and timing belts need to be changed every 100,000 kms.

Finally, if the engine is misfiring, it is not uncommon for the HT leads to fail, particularly the shortest it seems – HT (high tension) leads carry the sparks from the ignition system to the spark plugs. If that doesn’t rectify it, you may be looking at replacing the coil pack, which is more expensive.

All in all though, with some research and a bit of work, we may find one of these little things in our garage within the next five or six years. There are plenty of parts available, some great forums and when the sun’s out on a decent road, there won’t be many better places to be ignoring my son’s pleas of getting behind the wheel.

Useful links and forums:

Mazda MX-5 Clubs of Australia –

Australian Mazda Owners Club

MX5 Mania –

Piston Heads –

2010 mazda mx5
2010 Mazda MX-5 (Miata) – courtesy of

Bentley Continental GT

bentley conti GT speed

Price when new (2003-2004): $ 353,000 – 400,000

Price now (May 2014): $ 120,000 +

For some unknown reason I have had this faint idea in the back of mind that someday I will be driving around in an all wheel drive Bentley Continental GT. Wishful thinking I hear you say, and I dare say you are right. The thing is I would probably plump for an Aston if I had that amount of dosh, something like $400-500,000 in today’s market, so it has always been a questionable dream for me. Why the Bentley? It ticks all the boxes of course. It’s beautifully made, looks a million dollars, has an extremely powerful engine and is superbly fast. But it’s not an Aston.


Back in 2003 when it was introduced, it was the first ever Bentley to use mass produced parts. Though much of it was still hand built, the marque’s new owners, VW, forced the brand to use the same platform as its wonderful Phaeton and share its brand spanking new 6 litre twin turbo W12 engine. Because of this, Bentley took more orders for its new car than any other it had ever built and has since gone on to be its biggest seller globally. It is perhaps because of the numbers sold that resale values plummeted and today in the UK you can get hold of a 2004 built model for as little as £25-30,000. Here in Australia, it is not quite as rosy, mainly because the car was sold at astronomically inflated prices in the first place, much like other high end makes and a practice I have whined about on this site before.

However, we weren’t immune from the depreciation issue and so the price you can get a GT for now is almost within our grasp, that is if you are a company director and have a company car budget that would get you a high spec Merc or Bimmer. So, consider this Mr. MD, or CEO, why bother getting a car that everyone is driving around in, when say, for $130-150,000, you can now get a 2004 or 2005 Continental GT with around 40,000 on the clock. Yes it’s second hand, but you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference alongside a new one, and who in their right mind would have spent over a third of a million bucks and not look after it properly? The car is essentially brand new!

2013 bentley conti gt interior
Courtesy of


Aha, I hear you say, think of the costs and how much of a money pit it will be. Utter tosh, I would reply, the car has a reputation for being over-engineered and almost nothing has been known to go wrong with them. I say almost nothing, because there a few little issues, but as you can read under the Research category, these tend to be sensor or electrical issues, and very minor ones at that. There will always be one owner out there who will moan, but look around the forums and you will notice that at least 85% of buyers have been utterly, ecstatically happy with their purchase. Even those who bought second hand.

As with any second hand car, super or not, if it is not maintained regularly then you are asking for trouble. Yes a Bentley will cost more to service than a BMW. Yes a part, however innocuous, will astound you with its price, though not quite as eye watering as a Lamborghini or Ferrari, thanks largely to the mass production, and because of the size of the engine and the lack of space under the bonnet, even a spark plug change can mean that the engine has to come out of its bay. And yes, you will be visiting the gas station more than you’d like.


The good news however is that there are no belts to worry about with this engine. The lack of kilometres driven even for an 8 year old car mean it is still within warranty, and if it is not, you can purchase an extra 1, 2 or 3 years from Bentley for peace of mind.

So perhaps my whimsical dreams are not so whimsical. Perhaps its because they are so much cheaper than I thought, so much more within reach, that I could actually be driving around in one. Perhaps that is why my brain has singled the Conti GT out. Perhaps someone will offer me the stewardship of a fortune 500 company and a car allowance to boot. Perhaps …

Fast Facts

Engine – 6 litre Twin Turbo W12

Power – 423 kW; 567 bhp

Top Speed  – 317 km/h / 197 mph

0-100 km/h – 4.4 seconds

Fuel Consumption – av. 14 L/100 km (but you’d be driving like your Gran)

Price – 2004 model with 40,000kms – $120,000 +

Research –







What does AU$10,000 or less get you?

Can you find a dream car for AU$10,000 or less? 

What do I constitute a dream car firstly? For me it needs an element of exclusivity. It needs power. It needs to be well put together and obviously well loved. Ideally it will have the best spec available at the time and it also needs to have as few kilometres on the clock as possible with full service history. Finally, it needs to be reliable. So, what does AU$10,000 or less get you?

In this part of the market we are more often than not talking about a car that is at least 5 years old and in many cases over 15. So we are in the realm of power loss, expensive part replacement and quite possibly rust. You can probably tell I am not talking about a run of the mill Toyota, Ford or Holden. Though undoubtedly there are some good buys among them, they simply don’t get my juices flowing. It doesn’t need to be Italian or German either, a nice little MX5 would suit me, for there are few cars around that would put a bigger smile on my face, especially for its price.

A glance around NSW shows up twenty possible contenders:

  1. 2002 Audi A4 3.0 137,000kms $9,499
  2. 2003 BMW 318is E36 Sport 145,000kms $8500
  3. 2001 BMW 530i E39 Steptronic 100,000kms $9500
  4. 2004 Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo 148,000kms $9000
  5. 2005 Ford Falcon XR6 171,000kms $10000
  6. 2007 Ford Fiesta XR4  91,000kms  $9990
  7. 1995 Holden HSV Clubsport VR 192,000kms $6500
  8. 2001 Commodore VX SS 114,000kms $8500
  9. 1990 Mazda MX5 Limited Edition 90,000kms $9880
  10. 1973 Mercedes 280 W114 30,000kms $7500
  11. 1998 Mercedes CLK 230 Kompressor 157,000kms $9990
  12. 2000 Mercedes CLK 230 Kompressor Elegance  170,000kms $9900
  13. 2002 Mini Cooper R50 106,000kms  $9500
  14. 1996 Nissan Skyline R33 GTS 104,000kms $8900
  15. 1990 Nissan 300ZX Targa 116,000kms $9990 (twin turbo)
  16. 1992 Nissan 300ZX 103,000kms $6500
  17. 1992 Subaru SVX 163,000kms  $9950
  18. 2004 Subaru Liberty 4 Gen GT Premium Pack 175,000kms  $10000
  19. 2005 Subaru Outback 150,000kms $9200
  20. 2000 Volvo C70T Convertible 103,000kms  $9000

As you can see there are some surprisingly tasty cars for the cash, and of all shapes and sizes too. Some are old, some rare but all tick the boxes in some way. But now I need to halve this list. A quick look at the odometers lends a hand, which takes out the Bimmer 318, Falcon XR6,  the HSV sadly, the older CLK even though it has less on the clock than the newer verson, the Skyline because it has an after market exhaust and undoubtedly been thrashed, one of the 300ZX’s and the Outback. So that’s down to 13, which goes next?

The Volvo, though good looking, and a soft top to boot, falls short simply because it was never a “fun” car to drive, fast at any rate. Slow whilst tootling around town maybe, but I’d have to put the roof up for fear of embarrassment, and what would be the point of that?

Next goes the 1973 Mercedes 280. Bloody lovely car and with its white-walled tyres as advertised it is a really cool set of wheels. But for driver enjoyment, all the others run rings around it.

The Mini Cooper gets scratched next. Nice car, very well specified, but it’s still only a Cooper, not the S or JCW.

And so we have our top 10:

  1. 2002 Audi A4 3.0 137,000kms $9,499
  2. 2001 BMW 530i E39 Steptronic 100,000kms $9500
  3. 2004 Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo 148.000kms $9000
  4. 2007 Ford Fiesta XR4 91,000kms $9990
  5. 2001 Commodore VX SS 114,000kms $8500
  6. 1990 Mazda MX5 Limited Edition 90,000kms $9880
  7. 2000 Mercedes CLK 230 Kompressor Elegance (supercharged) 170,000kms $9900
  8. 1992 Nissan 300ZX 103,000kms $6500
  9. 1992 Subaru SVX 163,000kms  $9950 (leather, 3.3i 6 cyl, very rare)
  10. 2004 Subaru Liberty 4 Gen GT Premium Pack 175,000kms  $10000 (2 ltr Turbo)

So let’s take a look a closer look.

  1. 2002 Audi A4 3.0 137,000kms $9,499

It’s a well built car, with beautiful lines, better in my opinion that the latest version, but the 3 litre is far more fiddly to work on than the 1.8T or 2.8 and parts are more expensive.  Apparently its timing belt needs to be replaced every 4 years which can cost up to $2,900+ (debatable). When added to the cost of large service you could be looking at a bill in excess of $4000. Hmmm maybe this is one to walk away from.

  1. 2001 BMW 530i E39 Steptronic 100,000kms $9500

BMW e 39There are very few reported problems, especially with E39’s built after 2000. Its cooling system can cause problems in time and brake wear is a consistent complaint with owners facing a hefty bill for replacement rotors and pads. Look for oil leaks around the engine and a rough idle could indicate a lack of servicing and extended oil change periods. But it is rapidly becoming the front runner.

  1. 2004 Ford Falcon XR6 Turbo 148.000kms $9000 1248926024922

Cheap and fast. If the car has been hooned, you could be staring at issues with the clutch and transmission. Build quality is obviously not as good as a BMW, but then this was just over a third of the price when new. At 148,000kms, I kind of think that there’s some expensive replacements around the corner, but they’d be cheaper than its European rivals.

  1. 2007 Ford Fiesta XR4 91,000kms $9990

Fiesta xr4The smallest, cheapest and newest car here. It may come without some of the niceties that others on the list have, such as a footrest or cruise control, but this is a zingy little motor. It’s the precursor to the current ST which globally has been lauded as one of the best little hot hatches money can buy and the XR4 is no different. Is it a dream car though? If I were 18 again, maybe so.

  1. 2001 Commodore VX SS 114,000kms $8500

    By: FotoSleuthCC BY 2. 

From reading the forums piston slap, or too much clearance between the piston and the cylinder walls has been a persistent problem with the VX, particularly with the early models. By revving the engine from cold to around 1500 rpm and listening for a knocking sound, you can easily find out.  The water pump has been known to go, as well as rear cv joints, along with a tendency to experience backlash in the driveline, or a certain amount of play in the gears’ synchro assembly. By accelerating hard in first gear, taking your foot off and back on again you may hear a knock, which would be a tell-tale sound. But this is a Holden, so cheaper to fix than the Euros and with improved safety over its predecessor, such as Bosch anti-lock brakes and traction control for the manual, this is still a contender. Still would this be a “dream” car? The current model V8 SS would be, but personally this generation never did it for me.

  1. By: Martin PettittCC BY 2.0

    1990 Mazda Mx5 Limited Edition 90,000kms $9880

I love the MX5, always have done but this is expensive for such an early model and appears to be over-priced by at least $4k. tells us to “check that the Mazda’s engine starts easily, idles reasonably smoothly and doesn’t blow smoke from the exhaust under hard acceleration. The gearbox should be light and positive in its change action and not baulk or crunch even on the fastest of changes.”

The soft top needs to be in good condition with no stitching missing. Hopefully it has not been used to race or run around too many tracks. A roll cage and things like a fire extinguisher would be a big give away. As with any car this old, if the numbers on the odometer do not align perfectly, you could be staring at a car that has been clocked. At this price though, I don’t care how limited edition it is, it would need to be exceptional to hand over your hard earned.

  1. 2000 Mercedes CLK 230 Kompressor Elegance 170,000kms $9900Mercedes CLK

As with the BMW, very little goes wrong with the Merc CLK. Its supercharged 2.3 engine, though no AMG, should give you enough of a push in the back to make you smile. However there has been issues with the control unit for the myriad of sensors it has. When some of these sensors go the car can’t be moved until the system clears itself, which can take anything up to 20 minutes, and can cost around $1000 to replace. Some drivers find the seats hard and uncomfortable, but most owners love their cars and forgive these little foibles. It is sleek and elegant and still looks as good on the road today as it did 13-14 years ago.

  1. 1992 Nissan 300ZX 103,000kms $6500

Nixxan ZXI was never too sure of these cars when they first appeared, perhaps it was the American badging, they called it the Fairlady, but today it still looks futuristic and very much like a sports car. The forums suggest it is usually a reliable beast but with no traction control it can be a handful in the wet. As with most of the cars here servicing and maintenance can be expensive but at $6500, you could put the remaining $3500 to good use and see many more kilometres of happily hairing around.

  1. 1992 Subaru SVX 163,000kms  $9950 Subaru SVX

This is the wild card, or joker in the pack, if you will. Subaru was intent on showing the world it could make more than just small hot hatches that like to go ram raiding. It was futuristic and quirky and, because it was a Subaru, was very well put together. Apparently its auto transmission was not up to much, and getting parts and replacements could be an issue today. The word is Subaru apparently lost $3,000 per car back in the 90’s but it is safe to say, this car stands out like almost no other.

  1. 2004 Subaru Liberty 4 Gen GT Premium Pack 175,000kms  $10000 

Subaru Liberty GT Gen 4Along with the Fiesta, the Liberty is perhaps the least “dream” like car on this list. But it would be foolish to ignore its capabilities. Famed for its unbreakable reliability, excellent build quality and, in this generation, its looks rivalled Audi’s A4. Some Subaru engines had a run of cylinder-head gaskets that were prone to fail and an ‘04 model could be one of the affected batches. Have it checked carefully but the new gasket design fixes the problem. This being said, the chances are that after 8 years this problem would have already been identified. Subaru engines do not tolerate poor maintenance and if oil changes have been missed, engines have been known to clog and die prematurely.

My Top 5


Ford Fiesta XR4

Mercedes CLK

Nissan 300ZX

Subaru GT

And the winner is …

If I follow my own rules, then the Merc CLK and and Subaru GT would fall by the wayside. Lovely as they may be, 170,000 plus kilometres is not something to ignore. No doubt the Scooby will go on for ever, they always do, and the Merc was built like a tank, but you know a transmission or an air conditioning unit is bound to go and that will take the shine off.

The Fiesta though the youngest and the easiest on the wallet just doesn’t quite shout “dream car.” The ZX, looks great, goes well, but I’d like to get home in one piece after a spot of rain.

So considering the small difference in price between them all, it seems obvious that my winner would be the BMW. Not only was the E39 one of the best saloon cars ever made, it was fast, supremely able and wonderfully put together. It may not be an M5, but surely it would be the next best thing.

To conclude then, it is quite possible to find an affordable car that ticks all the boxes and, depending upon the depth of your pockets to keep the vehicle in tip-top condition, there is a car for you. 100,000kms these days is not such an issue and for many cars it means the engine has barely been run in. Ensure any one of the cars mentioned is serviced at every interval, the right oil is used and changed regularly, and you make note of important belt changes, you may never live to regret your decision.

bmw e39