The BMW E39 M5, Like a Glove

The BMW M5 has long cemented itself in the automotive history as a perfect example of harmony between class, speed, and practicality. From the model’s inception in 1984, the high performance saloon has set the standard for the ultimate driving experience with four doors. The third generation, dubbed as the E39, shocked the automotive world upon its release in 1999. The car boasted BMW M division’s first street-going V8 mated to a six speed transmission – yes, three pedals were the only option if you wanted an M5. At first glance, the car appeared to be an unassuming executive sedan. Only enthusiasts knew to look for the special wheels, bumpers, and small M badging if they wanted to confirm the witnessing of a beast.

Rated at 400hp, the E39 M5 could hit 60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds with an unrestricted top speed of  186 miles per hour. The car was a major success with over 20,000 units leaving Munich from the year 2000 to 2003. Fast forward almost two decades later, many car lovers still consider the E39 M5 to be among one of best sports cars ever produced. It was the peak of German build quality combined with the right balance of size, simplicity, and speed that still hits the heart strings of enthusiasts today. Now I have the fortunate opportunity to have one sitting in the garage, and here’s my review thus far.

How about a used well-loved M5?

Buying any vehicle, regardless of make or model, at 184,000 miles tends to be a bit of a gamble. Many parts, both mechanical and cosmetic, fail or deteriorate with this amount of use. This makes the due diligence prior to purchase extremely important.

Firstly, know what models of vehicles even last this long. As a general rule of thumb for used BMW’s, the more cylinders, the more problems haha!

That is what my mechanics have always advised anyway.

Fortunately the E39 M5 is a bit of an exception here with many examples finding themselves well past 200,000 miles. The important factor here is the quality and frequency of maintenance. With used high performance vehicles, you oftentimes buy the car’s story just as much as the car itself.

The owner decided a For Sale sign in the shop parking was sufficient advertising!

We picked up this Carbon Black 2001 model just outside Phoenix, Arizona, where the previous owner had daily-driven it for the past 14 years. He purchased it with just 54,000 miles on the clock at a local BMW dealership in 2006. Being just the second owner, he maintained the car meticulously through the years. The car came with file of over $29,000 in repair bills including the major items such as timing guides, VANOS rebuilds, clutch replacements, suspension overhauls, etc.

Research on forums will emphasize how important staying on top of these items are for an E39 M5. Being able to find a car that comes with verified history and receipts is a huge factor when making the purchase decision. The way the car performed on the test drive confirmed its story– smooth, tight, and straight.

Fortunately the car had just undergone installation of new steel brake lines, so it came with a fresh inspection by a well-known BMW independent mechanic. We would always suggest having an unbiased mechanic who is familiar with M cars do a pre-purchase inspection.

The leather was in need of some serious TLC.

Our experience

How has the car held up over the past month of driving? Even with its 20 years of wear, including some faded leather and an inoperable sunroof, we can see why the E39 M5 is considered one of the greatest cars ever produced. The V8 provides torque throughout the entire rev range, and the VANOS puts your head back once you hit 4,000 RPM. Press the indiscreet “Sport” button below the radio and you instantly feel the timing change to give you maximum horsepower.

The driving position and visibility is excellent, giving the driver a feeling of complete control at all speeds. The suspension is a perfect balance of smooth highway cruising and precise cornering ability – truly an all-in-one engineering feat when you consider the electronically adjustable suspension of modern M5s. The six speed manual transmission feels perfect for the car with no gears being too short or unusable. We couldn’t get enough of sunset highway cruising the desert highways of Arizona.

Exactly what this Autobahn cruiser was made for.

There’s always some needed reconditioning

After some long drives across the city in 110° F heat, our radiator decided to develop a hairline crack along the plastic side casing. The local guys at Desert BMW got us in and out within the day and we were back on the road for $850!

Desert B.M.W. in Chandler, AZ is great backyard shop started by two former BMW Master Tech.’s

The car was purchased with the intention of selling, but as we polished up the paint, reconditioned the leather, and shined the tires; that decision became harder. We purchased the M5 for $9,750 and committed to paying off the previous owner’s brakeline bill for $750. Add in the radiator cost of $850 (look at all these nice even numbers), we were into the car for a total of $11,350.

We decided to throw it up online for $17,500 just to see if we would get any interest. And I guess the pictures spoke for themselves or we priced it too low (the collector car market continues to surprise me) – it sold for the asking price just 12 hours later to an older enthusiast here in the Phoenix area.

She cleaned up nicely!

When life pays you to drive amazing machines and share their story with others, you know you are doing the right thing. Whether it’s the subtle, yet classy appearance of the E39 M5, or its glove-like driving experience; I am going to miss it a good bit when it leaves the garage this weekend. Life is too short to drive boring cars, especially a well-loved M5.  

A closing advert for your viewing pleasure.

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