PH CARPOOL: BMW M5 (E34) TOURING
Paul Bridges introduces a rare beast - his E34 BMW M5 Touring
1994 BMW E34 M5 Touring
Various, from Porsche to Prius! Highlights were Peugeots, including a 205 XS and 306 Rallye, and of course BMWs, including various M5s, the splendid E46 M3 and a delightful red 'round tail light' 2002. A previously owned E34 M5 saloon was one of my all time favourites - in my opinion, BMW Motorsport at their best.
After owning many an incarnation of BMW M-car, including the mighty E39 variant, I wanted something different that would still transport a family of five in comfort. I'm fascinated by the idea of a single car that meets conflicting requirements - particularly the combination of driving fun down a winding B-road with the ability to hold all the family and our holiday clutter, roof boxes and bikes on epic drives across the continent. After deciding on a fast estate I looked at Audi RS Avants, Mercedes AMGs and others, but driving them left me feeling somehow 'distant from the action' and reinforced my taste for older M-cars. After 18 months of searching I found this car in Belgium and realised it was perfect.
What I wish I'd known:
I waited a long time to find one in the condition I wanted. With full service history and lots of pro-active maintenance done, I thought it would be enough to hold off the gremlins and significant costs for a little while. I was almost right! Let's just say I've spent a lot to get her mechanically perfect.
I most appreciate driving the car - which has two characters: Pottering about, the electrical dampers stay relatively compliant and the big capacity engine will waft the car along firmly in any of the long gears - perfect for transporting a family around in comfort. However, find yourself alone in the car, drop it cog or two, swing it around a few corners and suddenly it's like you're driving a different vehicle. The dampers stiffen, steering feel increases (an option) and, above 4,000 rpm, the 3.8-litre straight six combines instantaneous throttle response with a brutal spine-tingling howl. The balance between suspension, brakes, chassis and engine is perfect and even in touring form gives nothing away. Considering it was the world's quickest estate, the packaging is laughably subtle - it doesn't even have quad exhausts or M-mirrors - but it's exclusive, and engineered the way only the 90s German automotive industry knew how. Most people don't give it a second glance, but those that know clock the huge floating disks, or hear the burbling (standard) exhaust, and give a knowing nod.
Nothing. If I was being picky, there are a few internal rattles when passing over pot-holes, but she's over 150,000 miles and 18 years old! Of course the bills could annoy, but to own a car like this you need to ignore the usual financial logic. Set aside some funds for the worst and enjoy every day.
Er... this is an E34 M5 with Electronic Damper Control, so let's just say my wife has to be pretty understanding about the bills. To add insult to grievous bodily harm, this is a Touring with full electric and heated seats, mirrors, split-opening tail-gate and the brilliant twin sunroof, so there's lots to go wrong! Most of the M-related parts need importing from Germany; however, now that I've replaced most of the expensive mechanical components I'm expecting (hoping for) a few years of trouble free motoring! After trying BMW dealers and so-called specialists, I've actually found my local garage, Hutfields in Botley, to be very good indeed. Fuel is OK on the motorway at over 25mpg, but put your foot down on a twisty B-road and you'll quickly be in the low teens - we average just over 18mpg.
I don't track her; I don't see the point. After all, I'd rather go on a track in a Ferrari 360, Porsche GT3 or any Lotus. However, we've been on some epic road trips through the UK, France, Switzerland and Spain. A recent highlight was driving through the night from Calais, through France and Switzerland, to Tuscany, Italy, and, because of the huge 90-litre tank, only had to refill once. I know the car has rubbed off on the family: They regularly ask to wind down the windows when we approach a tunnel!
Nothing needs doing to the car - it's important to me that she's mechanically perfect and every gadget works (even the electro-mechanical system which applies additional wiper force at higher speeds!). She's no garage queen; I believe cars are for driving and should wear their patina with pride. I have no plans to sell - I honestly can't think of a car to replace it. It's not for lack of looking, but modern equivalents still leave me cold. Retro is good, though, so I really like the E28 M5 - if BMW had made a touring version, I might swap! Our other vehicle is an '89 VW Westfalia Vanagon Camper, the 'Swiss army knife' of transport. With two vehicles like this, we don't need another car!