Memories of the yougtimer BMW 5 E39

An Autocar test from September 1995, the first month of sales of the new five-series, only confirms my assumption. “Perhaps the very best car in the world”, read the English subtitle of the road test. The five-series was and still is one of the core production pillars of the brand, and it has been so for at least 40 years.

Each of the generations of the five-series offers something different

I had the opportunity to drive at least briefly in my life and get to know the E12 generation, the first five, and I remember the speechless open mouth and amazed expression after driving one piece of this series. I have never sat in such a comfortable car before or since. After all, even the recently tested six (E24) only confirmed exactly those old impressions. It was a great time and amazing cars were being built in Germany.

Photo: BMW

Three successful generations of the BMW five-series, here all in M5 design; the first (red) E28 M5 personally fascinates me the most, it also has by far the highest price on the market today

Then came the lower, chassis sportier and more subtle E28, which I really like. It is the first of a series of large BMW sedans that we often associate with the term “sports sedan” and also for the first time it carried the “M5” badge on the trunk lid. In 1988, the extremely beautiful third five came under the code name E34 and became a symbol of the success of the nineties, and not only in our country.

For the first time, it offered eight-cylinder engines and the very successful six-cylinder TDS turbodiesel engine under the hood. This third generation was already a little heavier, a little bigger than its predecessor, and in the M5 version it was even initially not enough for the performance and driving characteristics of the legendary E28 M5. This was only achieved in 1992, when a redesigned 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine with a power of 250 kW appeared on the scene. This was then an amazing value that the engineers achieved without any turbocharging. Time went on and the planned fourth generation was supposed to be much further, and I think it was really the most sophisticated compared to its predecessors.

Photo: BMW

My 523i at the time looked exactly like this; the simple and elegant car in silver metallic drove really great, sometimes I remember it really nostalgically

Focused on quality

In 1989, the Germans opened the “E39” project and it took them six years to complete the final form of the car. The concept and the final look were designed by Joji Nagashima, the same designer responsible for the Z3 and later the 3rd generation BMW series (E90/91). The overall E39 project was consecrated in 1992 by the new chief designer of the brand, Chris Bangle, yes the same Chris Bangle, who was then hated by a large part of the fans for “destroying BMW” with a new design language. Many of us still vividly remember the embarrassing reception of the fifth generation of the five (E60).

Photo: BMW

The five BMW was often in a rather poor design with cloth upholstery, I used to have that too, only the wood decor on the dashboard was in a dark shade

The E39 project meant a huge investment for the brand, millions of test kilometers driven, hours and hours spent circling the North Loop of the Nürburgring and a lot of time in the wind tunnel tuning the aerodynamics. The car eventually went into series production with an amazing Cx value of 0.27. It was presented to the public in the fall of 1995.

Photo: BMW

The design of the E39 still seems modern and timeless to me

Memories of my own 523i (1997)

Although I was not lucky enough to buy this five new, I had the urge to buy an almost unused copy. I will probably never be able to do something like this again. In the year of the introduction of the E39, the author of the article was only in his first year of high school, so he could not buy a new car. I only read about similar cars in automotive magazines.

I got my own copy in silver metallic in 2010, when it cost an attractive 105 thousand crowns as a thirteen-year-old used car. In the ad, I was given a mileage of 58,000 kilometers, and I took it with a grain of salt. At that time, tachometers were still routinely turned and there were not many mechanisms to check the run-in of used cars. But I stood speechless during the inspection of the car. The car was really visually untouched, even in the interior. It still had the original brake discs, the engine smelled new. I probably didn’t even do a test drive at the time, it was enough to start the 2.5-liter straight-six (M52), listen to its whisper, and the decision was made.

I was lucky that I was the first to arrive at the car, because the next day would surely be a mess. Back then, there wasn’t a time like today, when you would pay so much extra for extremely well-preserved second-hand specimens. I bought the car directly from the original owner, who mostly kept it in the garage. The original price tag of the car was, with some extras, over 1.4 million crowns, and that was seriously a lot of money in 1997.

Photo: BMW

At the time, the BMW E39 boasted a very low drag coefficient of Cx 0.27

Why does the E39 still drive so well today?

My five had neither the desired M package nor leather seats and only a few items from the then rich catalog of additional equipment. It had the second weakest petrol engine, which offered an output of 125 kW (170 hp) and a relatively modest 245 Nm of torque for today. In fact, BMW wasn’t slow at all with it. Thanks to its excellent aerodynamics, it almost always consumed less than ten litres, and when I once drove it with my dad to watch the Le Mans classic, it was sometimes possible to drive steadily over 200 km/h on the empty German highway, and the car didn’t mind at all, on the contrary , it felt like a fish in water at high speeds. It even got a look at the Nürburgring, but only as a towing vehicle, when my friend and I had the opportunity and a ride with a racing Caterham. We drove tens of thousands of kilometers with him as a family.

To this day, the five combines the right automotive characteristics for me. It offered incredible comfort, silence, an unprecedented genuine quality of materials used in the interior with very enthusiastic driving characteristics focused on the driver. The engines had a spark, and you could initially only choose from six or eight cylinders. The four-cylinder (diesel) came later in the model’s production cycle. The driver settled into the cabin exactly as he needed, and the steering was comfortable, but with enough feel. The front was always very happy to turn without difficulty, and the driven rear axle knew how to get out of corners sensitively and quickly under the gas. The car was balanced.

Photo: BMW

Cross-section of the chassis platform of the M5 (E39), all versions of the model range at the time had rear-wheel drive

Can they still be found?

Nowadays, the E39 is more of a car for enthusiasts who are looking for it purposefully. Even ten years ago, it was the first-plan route to a large sedan or station wagon. Few from that time survived with so much honor, and few in the catalog for the 1995 or 1996 model year could even be compared to the E39 five. Over the years, the market changed, but even so, this BMW maintained its supremacy until the end of the production cycle in 2003.

For many years, the BMW E39 resisted not only mechanical wear with a minimum of problem parts, but also corrosion. It was doing very well with the protection of the body, which already contained enough aluminum parts, including the chassis. But as time went by and most of the production reached the age of over twenty years, things are no longer so rosy with the bodywork. Most cars on the market today have corrosion blisters on the rear trunk lid, bad sills around the lifting points, and corroded door corners or fender edges. Crashed and poorly repaired cars are more likely to end up in scrap yards today. The choice between nice specimens is getting thinner and the prices are increasing.

However, the mechanical parts are still durable. The six-cylinder gasoline M52 series is one of the most successful Bavarian engines and there are no problems with them, as long as maintenance is not neglected and the cooling is checked. Of course, play will develop in aluminum wishbones on our roads after some time, but I would consider chassis repairs to be regular maintenance rather than troubleshooting.

After the facelift at the end of 2000, a new series of engines with the designation M54 appeared in the five BMWs, already with a number of improvements and variable timing of all Vanos valves. This engine had problems with the piston rings, and while it wasn’t a fatal problem, for many owners it simply used oil, and quite a lot of it. It is its characteristic wickedness, although it appears only in older model years and especially in the three-liter. Otherwise it’s a fantastic engine.

But the most interesting motorization of the five is undoubtedly the eight-cylinder. The top 540i had a cylinder volume of 4.4 liters and a peak power of 210 kW. Even the weaker 535i with an output of 173 kW (later 180 kW) has its own character and it is a joy to own such a car. For technical reasons, eight-cylinders do not have such precise rack-and-pinion steering as six-cylinders, but the soundtrack from the exhaust is all the more interesting. In addition to the top eight-cylinder M5 with five liters under the hood and an output of 294 kW (400 hp), the second most popular type is the facelifted 530i in the period M package. This fifth generation was a joy to drive if only because all versions could also be equipped with a manual transmission.

Prices on the market differ significantly according to design, equipment, and motorization. It can be said that you can get a reasonable driving 520i somewhere from fifty thousand crowns, but a rare Alpina B10 or BMW M5 in top condition will cost a million or more. A reasonable purchase is a petrol pre-facelift 528i in one of the more interesting colors and with nice equipment for 150,000 crowns. Facelifts and 525i/530i with the factory M package often cost up to a quarter of a million today, and eight-cylinder models even more expensive.

The exception is the 535i, which stands in the shadow of the stronger 540i and can be found relatively decent for under two hundred thousand crowns. However, there are few offers. There were also diesel models on the market, which were by far the most popular at the time. Today, on the other hand, you pay extra for the gasoline variant, and the combination of an eight-cylinder with a manual transmission is almost irresistible.

The article is in Czech

Tags: Memories yougtimer BMW E39

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