Sunday, April 17, 2016

$10k Used M5 Faceoff: BMW E28 vs E34 vs E39

The M5 was the luxury reincarnation of the classic Muscle car formula, which was to take a big engine and shove it into a medium sized package.  However, BMW took this a step or two further and upgraded the suspension brakes and cosmetics to build the ultimate executive class fast sedan -- a segment that it dominated through much of the 80s and 90s.  The following is a selection of 3 classic BMW M5s from tipper FuelTruck.

First up is this 1988 BMW M5 E28 project offered for $13,500 in Fremont, CA via craigslist.  The seller says that the interior is perfect, but it has been in storage for 5+ years and that it needs paint and a fuel pump or relay.  However, if the S38 inline-6 rated at 256 horsepower from the factory is in good shape this could be good deal because prices of these things have shot up recently and BMW only built 2,191.

Next is a 1991 BMW M5 E34 offered for $9,200 in San Jose, CA via craigslist.  This white beast features all original paint (Apline White II) and has been a California car since new.  It does have 242,000 miles on the odometer, but the S38 inline-6 rated  at 307 horsepower will be reliable if properly maintained.  The E34 M5 has also shot up in price over the past year (or two) but with 12,254 produced you (and other buyers) have more options to chose from.

Finally we have this 2001 BMW M5 E39 offered for $8,500 in San Mateo, CA via craigslist.  This M5 has a few miles on the odo (218,232) but the seller claims it runs/drives great with no error messages or leaks whatsoever.  The seller has put in new tensioners, belts, alternator, & vacuum hose on the S62 V8 rated at 394 horsepower.  With 20,482 produced the E39 should be reasonably priced for a few years to come.

See a better deal on a used M5?


  1. 1) Very nice cars for not much money
    2) Might be ok if you could confirm proper maintenance on the high mileage vehicles but The possibility of one or more expensive repairs during the first 12 months of ownership reminded me of the Seinfeld episode where George's wallet explodes when he tries to jam one more receipt into it.

  2. I might buy a work truck with 250k miles on it, but an m5? Oh hell no. My mom had a new 01 540i and id happily get by with only 300hp to get one with half the miles and somewhat easier to work on. That car was awesome. Im sure the M is amazing but thats a lot of miles on a pretty high strung motor

    1. yep, 300HP E39 540 is plenty - i borrowed an M from a a friend for a few days and found it to be just too much stuff for use on a daily basis - couldn't ever take it out of 2nd gear around town

  3. I might buy a work truck with 250k miles on it, but an m5? Oh hell no. My mom had a new 01 540i and id happily get by with only 300hp to get one with half the miles and somewhat easier to work on. That car was awesome. Im sure the M is amazing but thats a lot of miles on a pretty high strung motor

  4. It's sure nice to see the owner of the '91 list the stuff it probably needs. This is typical for these. They get over 100k miles and/or 10 years old and parts are needed. If you are a DIY'er, they aren't really very difficult to work on. On the other hand, you get an amazing driving experience. I love my E39, and really enjoy driving it every chance I get.

  5. The 91' is the one for me. FSH with a reputable shop. A BMW 6 is always my choice over the V8. I have seen too many ads for 540's with blown engines.

    Could be a bad streak of ads over the last 8 years or so?

    My lingering, old man senses tell me BMW's were better engineered and built in 1991 v. 2001's. Myth?

    1. Personal take:

      The E28 doesn't interest me as a driver. I like E28s but I will not own a black road car. Never again. The US-spec E28 needs to ditch those laundry shelves it got for bumpers, and IIRC it needs some exhaust work and a cam sprocket to get back some of the 30HP it lost to US emission tuning.

      The E34 is an emotional favorite and it makes nice six-cylinder sounds but it doesn't feel any lighter over the road than the E39. Maybe a little better built in some of its plastics though the guys gluing their rear door panels back together might argue. I see no reason to prefer a high-mile S38 over a high-mile S62. But I could see trading my E39 M5 for an E34 M5 Touring, just 'cause. But only for a Touring.

      The E39 is as far as I'm concerned still one of the prettiest sedans ever built and one of the prettiest cars, period, and the interior design pretty much sold us our 540i. As for the M5, the body and chassis require exactly the same maintenance as all the other E39s - windshield and rear-window mouldings that disintegrate from the sun in a year, front suspension traction arm bushings, eventually rear suspension upper links - but these are $40 parts with an 80-120K lifespan so you can't say there's anything costly involved. It also has exactly the same electrical system failures as other E39s - climate control final-stage resistor, MID pixel-dropping - etc - none of these are any more or any less expensive on an M5 than any other 540. The M5 eats porkchops, but you can kinda term that 'driver carelessness' and those are the same part as in the later M-Sport 540i.

      The S62 engine is very different from the M62/M62TU, the block's water passages and coolant plumbing is nothing like the M62. It does not suffer valley-pan seal failures because it has no valley pan. It runs a colder thermostat which seems to be friendlier to the plastic bits.

      Both the M62 and S62 engines seem to have a safe cam-chain guide life of about 160K, and it's an involved job, but not notably worse than the cam-belt job that belt-drive Audi V8s need twice as often (we won't get into the salvage value of a 200K-mile V8 Audi S4 that needs cam chains...) The parts are somewhat more expensive for the M5 than for the 540i, but hey, you do it once every 160K...

      The S62 is known for VANOS seal leakage, which is another moderately involved DIY but not a catastrophic-failure issue, and the VANOS actuators on the early ones can rattle at startup (and can clatter like the end of the world if you haven't run the car in a couple weeks, until you get it warm and past 3000RPM) which is NOT symptomatic of failure.

      Owning both a '98 540i and an '00 M5, I would not say that the S62 is less reliable. It may be more expensive in some specific areas due to higher prices of unique parts.

    2. Oh, and if a mechanic particularly a dealership mechanic tells you you need a new VANOS actuator, swap the cam-position sensors bank-to-bank first and see if the code moves with the sensor.

  6. Fun article...thanks guys.

  7. The fewer people that like E28s, the better for me. Keep them cheap. They're really not very good to drive. The handling is crap and 256hp really isn't enough. The S38 engines are beaucoup dinero to fix when they go wrong (I've heard of 5 figure rebuild costs). The looks are terrible, too. They only came in black, which sucks. They're also too damn heavy. ~3450# vs an E30 M3's ~2650#. Or heck, compare to a se7en, which can be below 1000# if you build it right. Really, just about anything is a better car than an E28 anymore.

    Ignore the fact that I own more than one E28 and probably always will.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Hee hee. I have more than once contemplated owning an E28.

      But for driver purposes the E28 M5 wasn't as much better than an E28 535is as the E34 M5 was over the E34 535i.

      And, frankly, if a B35 swap into an E28 wasn't enough, there's that eight-hole GM LS3 thing shimmering on the horizon.

      The ultimate kitbash for me would be an E12 with E28 suspension and an LS3. Not gonna happen now, may not happen ever.

      I will note that among the other projects around here there's a C5 Audi S6 wagon with a mortally-wounded 5HP24A, and the nice thing about wagons is they can store their parts, so this one is full of a rebuilt 01E 6-speed and the bits to make that happen.

      Somewhere out there there's a whole field of mental health waiting for papers to be published.

    3. Compare an E34 540i to an E34 M5 though, there's really not a whole lot between those. Or even the E39 540i to that M5. BMW M doesn't make engines for driving around town, they make them for the race track. That's where they shine. If you're just using it to drive around town, you're wasting an awful lot of potential. That and the regular engine cars are great around town, while still being pretty darn good when you turn up the wick.

      The real tricky thing to do is to find a 528e (or 520i euro spec car) with manual seats to get a lightweight chassis, and then swap in a B35 for cheap. You can bring them in under 3000# if you build it right.

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    5. While I'm trying to get the reply in the right place...

      In California the target is to find an E28 524tdi so you're smog-exempt then you put in whatever you want to.

      There is a HUGE difference between an E39 540i and an E39 M5. Maybe not all useful in daily-driver conditions. But there's a huge difference. Bear in mind I own both.

      And if you're buying used just the cost of putting the M5 LSD in the open-diff 540 (this matters HUGELY even in road use) will just about cover the difference in purchase price.

      I would buy an automatic 540, but I'd never bother buying a manual 540 unless the price was exceptional.

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