Those of us in the land of the free will often bitch 'n' moan about the price of gas, particularly when it hits some arbitrary threshold -- three dollars a gallon, I can get water for less! -- but our friends across the pond have paid taxed through the roof fuel prices for decades. For this reason the luxury sedan buyers in the States made have paid more for a big monster 4.0 liter V8 in his E39 generation 5-series, but the European buyer would have opted instead for the 2.5 liter turbo diesel with manual gearbox. Find this 1999 BMW 525tds offered for $10,900 in Lancaster, OH via craigslist. Tip from FuelTruck.
The E39 chassis was an interesting transitional generation for BMW's executive class steering systems-- the V8s were stuck with a reduction box steering but the inline-6s got a rack-and-pinion which gave far better feedback and road feel. Otherwise, the E39 is one of those cars that feels solidly assembled even with 250k miles on the chassis. On the scale of 2000 Nissan Altima to W123 Benz the E39 is squarely in the Benz side of the gauge.
Powering the 525tds is a 2.5 liter M51D25TU OL turbocharged and intercooled diesel inline-6 that produces 141 horsepower and 210 ft-lbs of torque into a 5-speed manual tranny. The M51 engine isn't as advanced (or free from the clackity clack) as modern diesels, but it should be easier to work on and is free of exhaust treatment devices (and their potentially wallet emptying issues).
Even the interior is in decent shape in this E39, frankly the biggest issue to a surfer like myself is that it would never get past the CA Smogestapo.
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