Tuesday 17th April 2012


PH FLEET: BMW M5 (E28)

You've had the overview of the Harris fleet; with the M5 stirring from winter slumbers it's time for a closer look


Normally I can remember exactly where and when I first saw a particular car, but not the E28 M5. It was almost certainly in a copy of Fast Lane, or Car, but I don't recall the moment. This is strange because it is a car that would remain in my thoughts for the next 25 years.

M5 was a dream for Harris from year dot
M5 was a dream for Harris from year dot
I love this about being obsessed by cars - the ones you lust after remain a constant in your life despite the turmoil and changes going on around you. Girls, friends, houses, fads, facial hair - they are all transient, but one of the few things that has remained constant about me since 1986 was that I thought the E28 M5 was the coolest saloon car ever built. I still do.

My first M car was a ratty 3.0-litre E36 M3 - tough as old boots and damned fast. This was replaced by the king of bork, otherwise know as the E34 M5 Touring, which was marginally less expensive to run than Concorde. The arrival of children and family dog persuaded me that Garching's limited edition estate car would be the perfect combination of practicality and subtle speed. But looking back - given how often the pooch actually travelled by M - I should have bought an E28.

Rarity just adds to the appeal
Rarity just adds to the appeal
Rude not to
A few months after the E34 left someone told me about a recently restored E28 that might be for sale. There was virtually no history but it was clean - that was the information. It turned out to be an absolute stunner but still with zero provenance, which in cruel market terms is a bit of a problem. But, much like Marty McFly being called a chicken, I cannot stand certain market conventions, especially ones where bits of paper become more valuable than the cars they supposedly document and they spur me into rash purchases. Balls to convention - the car was a minter. A few months later, I bought it.

What is it about the E28? It's the first of its type from the modern era. An ostensibly normal saloon car using the hottest engine BMW could find. For people who enjoy classic BMW styling the E28 is the exemplar: the hip-kink, the top-forward grille, the driver-centric dash. It's a fantastically proportioned car. But most of all, every time I drive it I imagine what it must have been like to be a roadtester in 1986, when a seriously fast saloon car might just crack 22 seconds from rest to 100mph and suddenly BMW produces a car that looks little different to a 535i and will do the same in 15.6 seconds. It would keep a 3.2 Carrera very honest.

Simple and hardwearing in here
Simple and hardwearing in here
Feelgood factors
I love the fact that it's rare - apparently only 187 came to the UK in RHD form. It also feels like a car that was handbuilt - the quality of the interior is remarkable, the leather is thick and robust, the plastics durable.

The driving experience is even better, helped no doubt by a set of Avon tyres that are far superior to the original Michelins. With 286hp pushing a little over 1,500kg it isn't in the same league as a modern super saloon but the flip side is that most people are staggered how fast something that looks like a taxi can cover ground. The driving position is good, the wheel a little too far away, so you bring the seat close and push the long-travel throttle right into the footwell. It sounds good at idle, then builds and builds and then above 5,000rpm it makes the classic, yelping, M straight-six noise.

Cooling system and timing chain among work
Cooling system and timing chain among work
The locking differential and slow steering mean it's a honey to move around in the wet, the ride is supple, the air-con is almost too powerful. In fact the thing that really dates the car is all the wind noise from the windscreen rubbers and general guttering. It'll do the claimed 147mph and the 15.6 seconds - I've confirmed both - but it sounds like you're driving an Ariel Atom above 120mph.

Meanwhile, in the real world
I have no idea what the car's worth now, nor in fact can I find any confirmation of what I paid for it in 2006. I know it was between £9.5K and £10K. It's the best value car I've ever bought because it genuinely is a dream purchase for me - a machine I lusted after as a child and never believed I would one day own, something steeped in significance and specialness. Everything else in that bracket is now six figures. These are still well under £20K.

M5 unusually hard to rouse from hibernation
M5 unusually hard to rouse from hibernation
Back in 2007 I had the cooling system replaced, including a new BMW radiator, and a new clutch at the same time. Dick Lovett BMW in Bristol did the work, and it wasn't that much more expensive than using an independent. The engine itself has only covered 7,000 miles since the timing chain was done - that's about the extent of the service history!

As for the present, things aren't quite as rosy. I didn't use the car last year, and always being accustomed to leaving it for months and having it rumble into life on the key, two weeks ago it refused to start. It might be the ECU. Anyways, I'm about to take it somewhere for a bit of a birthday, so if anyone has strong feelings as to who the best people for an E28 M5 are, please share the information.


FACT SHEET
Car
: 1986 BMW M5
Run by: Chris Harris
Bought: August 2006
Mileage: 131,000
Purchase price: £9,500 ... possibly
Last month at a glance: Attempted rouse from slumber, with no sign of life. Off for some TLC!

 

Author: Chris Harris
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