BMW M5 (E34): Catch it while you can

The early 3.6-litre E34-generation BMW M5 up for sale at a German classic car show looked more than a little forlorn. The car in question, a slightly faded dog knob red example, with a worn interior, but a little less than 100,000km showing on the speedo, almost looked like a bomb-site special car of the week that had been tarted up and pushed to the front of the lot. But the 17,500 euro sticker price on this car, for me, took steep to a new level. Or so I thought.

Just the 1 Hand from new? Perfect
Just the 1 Hand from new? Perfect
Don't get me wrong, I'm used to high used car prices in Germany, much of which is down to consumer protection legislation. This makes any mechanical issues with the car down to the seller to sort - and that's legally binding, even for private sellers and small-time traders. But my gut feeling that this was pricey was soon challenged. On closer inspection, there was an honesty about this M5, which according to the advert had been laid-up for a few years. For a start, it was wearing four premium Michelins on its immaculate Turbine alloy wheels - always a good sign - so, perhaps this wasn't so dear after all.

My friend Martin, a German market analyst, who loves these cars, confirmed that it's an honest enough price. 'Early E34 low-mileage M5s are very hard to find these days,' he said. 'And some enthusiasts are now paying well above book values to secure good, original examples.' This really got me thinking, especially as it doesn't seem that long ago that the PH Classifieds were littered with enthusiast-owned examples from as little as £3,000. These days, it would seem, are now long gone - and that this brilliant car became rare quite quickly, and it's on the upward curve in terms of market value. Time to catch it while you can?

B&W photos? Wow, '92 was a long time ago
B&W photos? Wow, '92 was a long time ago
There are two types of E34 M5, the early 3.6-litre examples, with 315hp and those iconic Turbine alloys, which is my favourite, and the later 340hp 3.8-litre cars with the 'Flying Star' alloys. Those cars had a few essentials added to the spec-sheet, most notably Electronic Damping Control, and - later - a six-speed gearbox, and was offered in a number of special editions.

Owning an old M5 does take financial commitment, there's no two ways about it. But here's the thing - if you buy wisely, choose an enthusiast-owned car that's been well-maintained, and stick a little in your war chest on a regular basis for when things go wrong, there's no reason why you shouldn't enjoy the best saloon money could buy 20 years ago. Servicing and general running is expensive, there's no getting away from this, but treat your M5 like a weekend cherished car, and not as your daily commuter (who would these days?) and that's much less of an issue. The starting point now seems to be about £5,000 these days, with the best dealer cars topping out at £15,000 - and the really leggy, grotty, and abused ones now seem to have met their maker.

Feeling brave?
Feeling brave?
Mind you, if you're feeling brave, PH has this £4,495 example at a dealer. If you look beyond the 187,000 miles showing and replacement engine it had a while back, it does all look present and correct, and has documented history to back-up its long life. This lovely Nurburgring edition is probably a safer bet though, fully documented at £14,995. With 119,000 miles, there might be some room for negotiation, especially in view of the LE with similar mileage that 4Star Classics is touting for £12,495.

All E34 M5s are fabulous, possessing one of the finest six-cylinder engines ever made and typically impressive dynamics. The engine is the M5's crowning glory, without a doubt - it pulls cleanly and hard, and loves to be driven hard, although - subjectively, I prefer the sound of the earlier car, and its lack of driver aids. All look properly understated - even today, an E34 M5 is a car that aficionados will nod knowingly at when they spot one.

Check the EDC dampers on later 3.8s
Check the EDC dampers on later 3.8s
Watch out for EDC dampers on later cars, which work a treat, but cost dearly - up to £1,500 a corner if you replace, rather than rebuild - if they go wrong. Make sure it works on a test drive - the car feels noticeably different between modes - and if it doesn't, either walk away, or negotiate a price that reflects the high cost of repair. Beyond that, make sure it revs cleanly and pulls smoothly throughout the rev range - if it doesn't, you'll be diagnosing costly ignition faults, and chasing new coil packs, sensors, throttle bodies and all manner of other parts.

But don't let that scare you. Like all E34s, the M5 is a car that's solid and beautifully engineered, and if all the big bits have been maintained, it promises to look after those who buy one to use sparingly. It's a car that'll just throw up the odd - and often costly - niggle now and then, and will demand you feed it the best fuel, and service it luxuriously, using the best materials. But the first time you get it on a long straight, and hold the throttle, you'll find it's all been worth it. All of a sudden, that 17,500 euro M5 is starting to look very tempting indeed.

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (62) Join the discussion on the forum

  • derin100 20 Mar 2014

    Good article!

    I'd also add to the list of cautions that one should inspect bodywork thoroughly. E34 M5s seem to suffer more rust issues than main factory built E34s.

  • will261058 20 Mar 2014

    Love both versios but the 340 gets the nod from me and its mostly down to the alloys. Turbines look more like trims to me. The "throwing stars" look much better and make the car look less slab sided IMHO.

  • cuda 20 Mar 2014

    interesting you can buy the Nurburgring E34 for £14k - same as a 99k mile E60 V10...

  • Devil2575 20 Mar 2014

    I commented in a post just yesterday that values of the E34 are on the rise.

    I think the value of any M car will rise once it becomes old and rare enough.

  • loudlashadjuster 20 Mar 2014

    Almost bought one of these a few years ago, suffered from regret ever since.

    There isn't too much between the 3.6 and 3.8 in terms of performance IMHO.

    Fun fact about these cars: The wheels are actually an identical 5-spoke design in both the early and late cars, it's just the "wheel trims" (for want of a better phrase!) that differ. Hence, it's possible to change from turbines to throwing stars (or vice-versa) in a matter of minutes.

    The later 18" M-parallels spoilt this, but are lovely in their own right.

    Full-spec 6-speed Touring in Avus blue or Fjord grey for me, thanks cloud9

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