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Monday 19th July 2010

PH Heroes: BMW E28 M5

David Vivian looks back to one of BMW's greatest hits



The Nordschleife: 40 right-handers, 33 left-handers and one very, very long learning curve. Rather depressingly, given the length of time I've been doing this job, I've somehow managed to avoid racking up a manly number of close encounters with the legendary 12.9-mile circuit that winds its way through the forested Eifel valleys 90km southwest of Cologne and Jackie Stewart once encouragingly described as The Green Hell.


Until a few months ago, my tally of laps was a desperately pathetic two, posted way back in the early '90s. Then, last October, I was lucky enough to be invited to the BMW M5's 25th birthday bash. Based at the M division's long-established Nurburgring test centre a five-minute walk from the Nordschleife's pit lane, the idea was we'd get to fire pristine examples of all four M5 generations down the throat of The Green Hell.

An illuminating exercise it was, too. I got to spin-up my 'Ring track time by 200 per cent and made one interesting, but perhaps not altogether surprising, discovery. The best M5 for extracting maximum value from a far-from-mastered Nordschleife - and by that I don't mean the fastest and most accomplished but the most intriguing, absorbing, rewarding, playful and plain addictive - wasn't the 500bhp V10 E60 or the 400bhp V8 E39. It was the 286bhp 6-cylinder E28. The original M5.


As the E60 and screaming V10 power exit stage left to make way for the new twin-turbo V8 M5 in a few months' time, it seems only right to revisit the car that started it all back in 1984. And the first thing that strikes you as you walk up to it is how old and simple its design is. There was a complete step change in the way cars looked between the boxy, angular E28 and the softer, more rounded forms of the E34 5 series that followed it four years later. Which isn't to say the older way of doing things wasn't better.

Just look at that low waistline and the slim pillars. Step inside and, quite apart from the brilliant 360-degree visibility, the glassy cabin feels light, airy and voluminous in a way that more modern saloons hardly ever do. There's a startling clarity and absence of clutter to the design of the cabin as well. Maybe it's a little austere but it's also superbly practical, and the instrumentation - anchored by a huge and effortlessly readable speedo and rev counter - has yet to be equalled in a Five. The simple, intuitive switchgear is similarly satisfying to use.


Less impressive are the lofty driving position and stiff, sharply bolstered seats which, along with the thin steering wheel rim and mushroom-shaped gearknob, are rather more forceful reminders that this beautifully preserved, almost as-new, example is actually a quarter of a century old. The amount and quality of engine noise that enters the cabin is another giveaway. You sense that soundproofing wasn't top of the priority list when they made this one. The tappety clicks of the twin-cam valvetrain and whining cogs of the five-speed transmission are audible components in the soundtrack. But oh my, what a motor.

Derived from a racing engine designed by Paul Rosche intended specifically for the Motorsport division's first road car - the brilliant, Giugiaro-styled, mid-engined M1 - the 3.5-litre, 24-valve M88 straight-six got its first 'post-M1' try out in the M635 CSi. BMW Motorsport's CEO at the time, Jochen Neerspasch, reckoned the combination of coupe body and mighty engine would give Porsche's 911 Carrera a hard time. It did.


Meanwhile, the E28 5-series was being groomed for a similar insertion of supercar pace with the 'warm-up act' M535i - essentially a 535i with fancy wheels and modest spoilers and 'M Technik' branding - though getting the BMW board to agree to the marriage of the sober, sensible 5-series executive saloon and the mad, savage M1 engine proved trickier. The green light was eventually granted, but only on the strict understanding that the whole project was kept on the down-low.

Which is why the fastest and most powerful car on BMW's 1984 Amsterdam show stand was also the stealthiest. The cognoscenti clocked the lattice-pattern alloy wheels, the front splitter and the discreet 'M' badges. But there were no fanfares, no ballyhoo, no thrusting marketing campaign. The first M5 slipped into the world through the side door, just the way BMW wanted it. But this understated saloon had supercar-rivalling performance: 0-60mph in six seconds and a 151mph top speed.


All right, that's not so hot by today's supercar standards (you need an E60 M5 for that), but here on the Nordschleife it feels fast enough. The razor-sharp throttle response - achieved by having a separate throttle butterfly for each cylinder - hasn't been surpassed by any subsequent M5 and gives the car an eager, alert edge that urges you to press on. In that respect it seems very modern. But almost immediately you're reminded that it isn't.

The gearchange has a positive enough action but requires slow, deliberate handling. Then there's the body roll and comparatively modest grip. The 16-inch rims with their tall tyres, combined with soft suspension, give the chassis a distinctly unhurried, almost languid, demeanour. Everything feels cushioned, linear and progressive - almost as if you're forever 'taking up the slack' but in a very precise, measured way. Far from being a damper on enjoyment, it just seems to give you more thinking time.


Later in the day I'll drive the E60 M5 and that will seem almost supernaturally enabled by comparison, carrying tens more mph into bends and seemingly able to put down nearly all of its 500 bhp way before it would be wise unbridle the E28's 286. Yet in the E28 I feel much more intimately involved in the action. Yes, the limits are lower, but the rewards are that much more accessible and exploitable. All right, when it goes sideways - and if you're having fun on the Nordschleife it most certainly will - big armfuls of correction are needed. But it all happens so benignly and progressively it just puts a big grin on your face. Ease the pace a tad and you can balance it nicely on the throttle in a neutral attitude, just within the tyres' limits.

That the next M5 will be a hugely impressive machine, I have no doubt. But it won't offer the root-level rewards of the first one, a PH hero through and through.

   
   
   
   






Mr Viv
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007singh

Original Poster:

219 posts

54 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Great Classic - would love one!

LHD

16,798 posts

73 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Great article.

More of the Viv please.

Elskeggso

3,012 posts

73 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Looks great in red IMO. I love the look of the E28, there's one near my house in DIRE need of a clean up.

pSyCoSiS

1,868 posts

91 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Icon.

My mate has a Diamond black E28 M5 - number 50 of 187 I think. What a machine. Very quick for it's time, and still keeps with / destroys modern metal.

Looks so menacing too!

Great Pretender

24,759 posts

100 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
clap
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Chris71

20,726 posts

128 months

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Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
LHD said:
Great article.

More of the Viv please.
+1

olly22n

13,730 posts

92 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Awesome. I would love an E28 M5. my 535i was good but i can imagine the M5 would be the icing on the cake!

A large thumbs up from me.

belleair302

5,049 posts

93 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Great to drive, ownderful to own...a car with a soul which in todays BMW line up is hard to find. A true 5* hero.

Huntsman

4,329 posts

136 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
My E28 is a lowly 520i, but its the best car I've owned. I love em to bits.


Matt UK

9,391 posts

86 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
LHD said:
Great article.

More of the Viv please.
Agree with both smile

OllieWinchester

5,232 posts

78 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
I had a brief dalliance with a nice manual E28 528i, and it was awesome fun. I'd definately have a mint E28 M5 in my lottery win garage.

olly22n

13,730 posts

92 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Any chance of a hi res of the top picture?

Pretty pretty please? smile

Luca Brasi

839 posts

60 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Very nice and rare car. Lovely pictures too.

Andysywv

40 posts

51 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
I was lucky enough to buy a 'D' reg Diamond Black one of these fine machines in 1988, very few people knew what exactly it was, and often confused it with the lesser M535i - until the bonnet was lifted! smile, three years of brilliant motoring only came to an end as I was forced to sell frown. I've owned other M cars since but this is the one my friends all refer back to even to this day. Strong enough memories to produce my first post here !

Riggers

1,851 posts

64 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
olly22n said:
Any chance of a hi res of the top picture?

Pretty pretty please? smile
We shall have to see what the 'POTW fairy' brings this Friday...

Mermaid

17,785 posts

57 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
The one M5 that, I suspect, would not be a money-pit. But have bucket loads of charisma.

and Oh, it's quick too. biggrin

olly22n

13,730 posts

92 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Riggers said:
olly22n said:
Any chance of a hi res of the top picture?

Pretty pretty please? smile
We shall have to see what the 'POTW fairy' brings this Friday...
[excitedchild]but i want it now [/excitedchild]

adycav

7,615 posts

103 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
Matt UK said:
LHD said:
Great article.

More of the Viv please.
Agree with both smile
Er, thirded!

Justayellowbadge

33,596 posts

128 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
LHD said:
Great article.

More of the Viv please.
Agreed.

O/T, Mr V - your piece on the 8.32 in EVO's Mad Engined cars issue years ago had a significant contributory effect on my buying mine.

Always meant to thank you for that.

E21_Ross

14,960 posts

98 months

[news] 
Monday 19th July 2010 quote quote all
cracking review of a cracking bimmer. well done.
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