PH Carpool: BMW M5 (E34) Touring

Paul Bridges
1994 BMW E34 M5 Touring
Owned since:
May 2010
Previously owned:
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.

Pace & space for five and their luggage
Pace & space for five and their luggage
Why I bought it:
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.

The perfect car for all occasions
The perfect car for all occasions
Things I love:
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.

Black leather interior offers plenty of toys
Black leather interior offers plenty of toys
Things I hate:
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.

One satisfied owner!
One satisfied owner!
Where I've been:
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!

What next?
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!

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Comments (130) Join the discussion on the forum

  • E24man 11 May 2014

    The fallibility or otherwise of the E34 M5 is a contentious issue.

    Most cars have one weakness or 'issue' that will need addressing at least once during it's life aside from standard rust prevention and maintenance. The E34 M5 has possibly two, the engine and the EDC suspension.

    The engine issue is predominantly the 3.8 engine and how highly tuned, and hence highly stressed, it is. It is the fourth generation or iteration that started with the M1 M88/1 277bhp engine and ended up with the 340bhp S38B38 engine. It has a very high compression ratio, big valves, a long camshaft overlap all giving very tiny tolerances and no room for error. The sheer power of the engine also stresses the mechanical parts of the engine and so engine failures have occured, most often without any warning and commonly to the top end of the engine with valves being particular culprits. The issue is that in most cases there has been no real explaination or reason why the failures have occured which leads to owners thinking, 'When will or might it happen to mine?'. Anecdotal evidence easily leads anybody to summise that these sudden failures predominantly affect the 3.8 engine and hardly ever happen to the 3.6 and 3.5 engines fitted to the earlier E34, E28, E24 and E26 cars.

    The suspension issue is a cost and reliability issue with the EDC (Electronic Damper Control) shock absorbers. They are very expensive in comparison to conventional shock absorbers and, again anecdotally, can have an uncertain reliability. In many cases they are now unavailable from BMW so rebuilding old shocks or replacing them with after-market conventional shocks are the two choices. Until relatively recently rebuilding shocks has been very tricky but I believe this is now possible but the long term reliability of the rebuilt shocks is yet to be proven. Aftermarket set-ups can be found but underlying the decision making process for owners facing this choice is the fact the car handles so incredibly well on a fully working EDC set up.

    The easy solution is to buy an earlier 3.6 engined E34 M5 (most of which came without EDC) in which case you potentially reduce the engine risk and remove the suspension issue but in doing this you miss out on the Touring models (all 3.8 engined) and the rather nice UK market last 50 LE (Limited Edition) models.

  • tgr 10 May 2014

    Owners allude to big bills without going into detail: what would be the rough maintenance budget of an M5 touring per annum?

  • E24man 10 May 2014

    Read the thread - Paul, the owner of the Avus car is on here, page 5.

  • Total loss 10 May 2014

    E24man said:
    Said loads

    The rebuilt by owner (info I was given) Avus blue one I mentioned earlier seems to be the Munich conversion one. The owner Paul did have it for sale 2012/13 over on the M5 board and is/was in Bracknell, Berks., the other one I had been told of and saw a poor pic. of was dark grey(?) and was in Norfolk/Suffolk area a few years ago. I would not know if it was a genuine M5 or a tourer conversion.

  • E24man 10 May 2014

    Total loss said:
    robinessex said:
    off_again said:
    If only they did them RHD. Shame. Tried relatively posh estates with big engines, but I would go for something that is special. Merc E class V8's are great but lack the fiz. BMW M cars have the fiz but no real demand to make estate or 4 door models in RHD. Shame. Oh well.
    I believe there is a RH E34 touring in existence. I might be right if I said Munich Legends built it for a customer.
    I believe that 2 were known built in the UK, one built by the owner from his written off LHD car (for sale by him last year I think) and the other built for a customer by ???????
    Page 5 of this thread....

    vetrof said:
    toxicfrog said:
    E24man said:
    toxicfrog said:
    off_again said:
    If only they did them RHD. Shame. Tried relatively posh estates with big engines, but I would go for something that is special. Merc E class V8's are great but lack the fiz. BMW M cars have the fiz but no real demand to make estate or 4 door models in RHD. Shame. Oh well.
    There is 1 RHD about.........
    E24man said:
    There are two E34 M5 Tourings that were converted from lhd to rhd, one in Avus blue and one in purple - the purple one is presently for sale. There were/are also two rhd 525i Tourings that were converted to 3.6 M5 Tourings with a full powertrain transplant.
    People tell me this but can never prove lets see it????
    Well, I'm 50% convinced. I've seen the Avus Blue genuine M5 conversion, it was owned for a while by Paul at Infinicar (he used to post a bit on m5board,they were breakers of some interesting cars - website doesn't seem to be active).
    And the Daytona car is indeed for sale.
    E24man said:
    As noted above the two rhd 3.8 M5 Tourings are well known. I went and saw a purple (Edit: it might have been dark blue) 525iT to 3.6 M5 conversion many years ago in Glasgow. It was well done mechanically and had the correct bits and pieces except they had a left a rather faded and tired biege comfort interior in it - I was looking for a minty car so despite driving all the way there from Yorkshire I walked.

    The other 3.6 M5 Touring is/was a white [edit: or light green] example which may not even still be around; I certainly haven't heard about it for years. There is also one solitary rhd M5 Touring in the southern hemisphere - a 3.8 again made from a 525iT; he posts sometimes on the M5board.

    I have come close to buying three of the four at some stage but each time something else came along; the first time an M635CSi (instead of the Avus 3.8), the second time a minty fresh E34 540i Touring six speed (instead of the purple/biege 3.6),and the third time a stunning E39 B10 V8 Touring (instead of the purple 3.8).


    Daytona 3.8 for sale link in posts above

    Avus 3.8

    White/green 3.6 and blue 3.6 mentioned
    Edited by E24man on Saturday 10th May 07:47

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