Shed of the Week: BMW 528i (E39)

Mention the name Chris Bangle in any chat about car designers and the chances are you'll split the room. Some reckon he was a genius, others a - well, not a genius. Bangle wasn't initially responsible for the design of the BMW E39. A Japanese chap called Joji Nagashima was. Joji also did the E36 and E90 3 Series, and the least said soonest mended Z3. These days he lectures at the Technology Design department of Tokyo University, where he is a visiting professor.

Anyway, Bangle joined BMW as head of design in 1992, which meant he was able to freeze Nagashima's design for the gen-four 5 Series. That was one of his smarter decisions, as the E39 was not only extremely stylish but also a big dynamic improvement on its hardly poor predecessor, the E34. The E39 was 40 percent stiffer than the preceding E34, which itself was something of a standard-setter for the class, handling-wise.

(May we briefly interrupt this programme for a geek fact? If you've ever wondered what the E in BMW factory names stands for, it's Entwicklung, which is the German word for development. You can bring that up as a useful diversion if things are getting heated in your next Bangle-based conversation.)

Talking of geek facts, one aspect of Shed's previous life involved the gathering and maintenance of fascinating automotive datasets. One of those was to do with car awards. Knowing who'd won what was a useful lead for magazine ad sales folk. As the years rolled by, it became clear that one car stood head and shoulders above all others in terms of the plaudits it had received over a long period from the more informed sections of the UK-based car press. That car was the 5 Series, starting with the E12 of 1972.

Based on its all-round package of quality, performance and driving manners, the E39 of 1995 is commonly referred to as 'the best Five'. Annoyingly, and in the opinions of many prematurely, BMW stopped making it in 2003. As a result, most E39s today have huge numbers on the odometer or in the 'number of previous owners' box of the V5 - or quite often both.

If either of those factors have put you off potential E39 purchases, this week's Shed should be of considerable interest. For a (good) start, it's a 528, powered by BMW's superb 190hp straight six engine. Next, it's a manual - another plus point for those hankering after ultimate handling and perhaps also harbouring dark thoughts of drifting.

So, let's have a squint at the mileage. 147,000... not a lot for one of these. Interesting, interesting... now the number of owners... one. What's that? One? Yep, one owner from new. Oooh. Do we dare hope for a full BMW service history? We do dare, and there it is: every receipt from new, plus the original bill of sale. Throw in the Avus Blue paint black leather, the tasteful M Sport accoutrements, and the vendor's claim that this is Britain's cheapest manual-gearboxed E39 528 Sport, and you may now be wondering if this is finally the time to scratch that six-pot itch.

In June, the MOT tester mentioned a non-excessive oil leak and thin front brake pads. The MOT history indicates that a fair amount of suspension work has been carried out over the last two years/20,000 miles, which is good to hear. As you know, the E39 was the first Five to feature plenty of aluminium in the chassis and specifically in the front suspension. Outside of the V8 models it was also the first Five to use rack and pinion steering.

The springy/steery bits do take a bit of a hammering on these cars. Poorly aligned steering will grind off the inside treads of the back tyres. E39 'shimmy' at medium speeds is one of life's great unsolved mysteries. Some say it's the anti-roll bar bushes and droplinks, others the track control arms, steering boxes, dented alloy rims or warped brake discs, others blame Mercedes or Brexit.

E39 ABS modules by Bosch were known for fritzing out and that oil leak thing is hardly unheard of either: the cam covers are a bit leaky. Then there's VANOS. That's an internet's worth of stuff on its own. Sunroofs and windows can be noisy, locks can be clunky, and dash pixels can be missing pixels. Fans conk out and engine bays are rarely 100% dry thanks to leaking power steering or coolant systems. The boot can let water in too.

This particular car is interesting from the back. Does anybody know what effect that tiny little boot-top lip had on the handling? And there's no 528 badge. Presumably it was deleted by the owner, which Shed likes as the big typeface BMW used back then kind of dates this model. Is debadging still popular in 2018? Do they still charge for it? Most of Shed's motors are debadged, but that's mainly an aftermarket thing carried out by his friendly neighbourhood hooligans.

There it is then. Well, at least, there it was when Shed spotted it. It might not be there by the time you finish rubbing your eyes. Only the owner knows this car's foibles and glitches - it would be worth making an enquiry for the chat alone - but on paper it's hard to imagine where you might find a more honest 528 for this money. Hell, it's even got the original BMW rechargeable glovebox torch.

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Comments (156) Join the discussion on the forum

  • HeMightBeBanned 30 Nov 2018

    A Holy Grail shed.

  • darkblueturbo 30 Nov 2018

    I used to have an E39! Awesome. I’m tempted, but the kids need Christmas presents more than I need a new shed.

    So what does the F stand for in the newer BMW models?

  • Cambs_Stuart 30 Nov 2018

    Superb shed. Nice car and great history. Good find.

  • mcelliott 30 Nov 2018

    darkblueturbo said:
    I used to have an E39! Awesome. I’m tempted, but the kids need Christmas presents more than I need a new shed.

    So what does the F stand for in the newer BMW models?


  • rallycross 30 Nov 2018

    Is 728 am to early to call someone about an old shed?

    Looks very clean and tidy.

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