PH Service History: The Famous Five

"Restrained outside, restrained inside, restrained to listen to. And the new M5 is also relatively restrained to drive." So says my esteemed colleague Mr Prior of the latest BMW M5, and to be frank I'm a little concerned. Doesn't exactly sound like classic M5 territory, does it?

My fear could be misplaced, of course. After all, BMW M5s in times past have always had an element of restraint about them, and that nature is what's made them so appealing (well, second to the glorious engines. Yes, ok, and third to the fabulous chassis balance. Shh.) Nevertheless, I can't escape the niggling notion that, we may be looking here at an M5 whose Hyde is in thrall to its Jekyll.

If that doesn't sound like the sort of M5 that floats your boat, I wouldn't blame you. In fact, I might well join you in having a poke around the classifieds for some that might.

A good place to start is at the beginning. So we'll do just that, and instantly I'm having to calm my trembling fingers as I write this, for this £38,500 example of an E28 M5 we have in the classifieds at the moment looks to be an absolute peach. Look at the shine on that black paintwork; note the tidy-looking interior in a very tasteful contrasting beige leather; feel the warm feeling the careful description gives you. In short, were I anywhere near being able to afford an E28, the chances are I'd be finding something else to write this column about right now and picking up the phone to the vendor.

The price on this example sounds about right, too, though the rarity of right-hand-drive M5s means it's hard to gauge exactly where they should sit. Nevertheless, they've crept up more slowly than other M5s recently, having enjoyed a price growth spurt a year or two ago. So much so, in fact, that I'd say an E28 M5 doesn't look like horrendous value these days - certainly not compared with some other 1980s favourites (Sierra RS Cosworth, anyone?).

The big rises in the last couple of years have come from the E28's successor. There was a time not too long ago when the E34 was the poor relation of the 5 Series family, when a good one could be yours for less than ten grand. But no more. Buyers are growing more attracted to the super-stealthy looks, not to mention the E34's status as the last M5 to feature a screaming six with its roots in the BMW M1 supercar's, and the result is that prices are on the rise. That said, there are some overpriced examples out there; this one for example, looks steep for a car with this sort of mileage at £32,995. I'd be much more excited by this one if it hadn't already sold at auction last month for a shade over £13,000 - a rare special edition with only 20k more on the clock and a solid history, for less than half the price. Of course, if you're really feeling flush, there's an extremely rare E34 M5 Touring for sale at the moment for a fiver under £50,000 - very, very pricey, but where will you find another?

If you're after a true M5 bargain at the moment, though, I reckon the E39 is where you'll find it. As with the E34, prices aren't quite as low as they once were, but they're still remarkably reasonable given the E39's legendary status. I know many a motoring hack who'll proclaim it's their favourite of the bunch, and I have to confess it's probably mine too, with just the right blend of new-car usability and old-car character - not to mention one of the most sensational V8 engines going.

With all that in mind - as well as the barking prices of some of the cooking-spec E39s I've seen out there - I'm surprised the starting price for an E39 M5 isn't higher. Take this example which, as I write this, is the cheapest in our classifieds, and yet looks like a perfectly serviceable M5 with a full history and a reasonable mileage. At £7,295 it's a bargain in my book, even after you've spent a grand or so getting the rust bubbles taken care of. Or if you fancy something a little tidier to start off with, how about this utterly gorgeous Carbon Black example? The mileage isn't really any lower, but it is claimed to be rust-free and has had a recent VANOS rebuild, which is an obvious benefit.

Having said all that, I think you could make a case for the E60 as the bargain of the bunch these days. Prices are now down to a fraction over £10,000 for tacky, modified examples, but you don't have to pay much more than that to get yourself into a sound-looking high-miler such as this one with a tonne of options on it, yours for £13,950. But the best is yet to come, for you don't have to pay much more again to get a hold of one with low miles - £15,995, the cost of this 84k example, is actually quite a bit less than you'd have to stump up to get an E39 of similar mileage.

Of course, part of the reason for such low prices is the rather ruinous combination of... let's say 'questionable' reliability and high maintenance and repair costs. E60 M5s are notoriously expensive to keep going, so think carefully before you take the plunge. Perhaps the mechanically simpler E39 isn't such a bad idea after all.

What if you want something more modern, though? Well, you can probably tell where I'm heading next. Yes, it's the F10 M5 - a car which doesn't quite float my boat as much as the others here, lacking as it does the intensity of earlier iterations. But few people really care what I think, and rightly so; the F10 has its fans, and if you're one of them, you'll be glad to know prices for these are on the wane too.

That said, even the earliest F10s are only five years old now, so don't expect billy bargains just yet. You'll still need to find £30,000 or so to join the club, though if you can do so, that figure should get you a choice of average-mile examples with history. This one looks about right - though I'd find this slightly leggy Competition Pack example for just a couple of grand more pretty tempting too.

The question is, which would you choose? For me, the modernity and crushing ability of the F10 undoubtedly has its appeal, but... nah. I'd find the E60 tempting, simply for the fact that it must be the cheapest way to get behind the wheel of a V10. My first love among M5s has always been the E39, mind you, and with prices as they are it might be my last chance. And then there's the E34, which is only looking better and better as time goes by.

Despite all this, though, I still find myself looking back at that first advert for the gorgeous E28. Black over cream, with good mileage and a recent restoration? I'll take three.

Find your own BMW M5 for sale in the PistonHeads classifieds

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (34) Join the discussion on the forum

  • sidewinder500 09 Dec 2017

    As I still admire the latest M5 for its tech kudos I think the concept of the competition-car-engined-one-off has overtaken itself and became a numbers model which lost its real heritage.
    The E28 was a handmade, almost bespoke thing and in line with the original M3, even as it never was used in racing (as the M535 was) but it started to bloat as it became a better car in the E34, less original in its core, like all journos at the time mourned.
    In a time where even the most mundane cars could fight it out with the first M5s performance-wise, the point has to be the delicacy, the lightness of touch, like the original Golf GTI or old 911s.
    So only the first for all what it started and still is, has to be the M5 of all M5.
    Silly money though...

  • warberlinni 09 Dec 2017

    I feel reasonably qualified to add to this thread as over the years I've owned an E34 Touring, E39 and still have an E61 Touring. They are all wonderful wonderful but the E39 was the least enjoyable. It really wasn't a proper drivers' car IMHO. It was insufficient tied down - damping was lazy and it pitched and wallowed; the steering was a bit vague - I think it had a recirculating ball set up; and it just felt heavy. Remember the performance saloon market was a bit soft back in the late 90s and BMW wasn't convinced of the business case to build an E39 M5. I believe the 540 was going to be the top model. The M5 was rushed to market late once it became clear Mercedes was doing good business and the market was picking up. I think it showed in the car - it was really a 540 plus plus.

    By contrast the E34 was fabulous at all speeds and very special (although mine was a bit long in the tooth). But the E61 is just spectacular - the greatest car I've ever owned. Mine is 10 years old with 92k miles - but I don't know what to replace it with. It is fine to mooch around in - in standard settings it's very comfortable. The gearbox is fine too, contrary to reports - you just need to drive it in manual and lift off properly when you shift, like a conventional manual. Then when you want to drive it fast...just wow. All the cliches about a supercar trapped in an estate body apply. That engine! The turn-in and balance! The feel! Yes the range is an issue (a Tesla goes further) but it only takes 5 minutes to 'recharge'. I just love it. I sometimes think (sorry if this sounds weird) "I'd love to meet the man who led development and signed off this car, just to shake his hand and salute him".

    Oh and it's been completely and utterly reliable (touch wood) - although I recently had the famous rod end bearings replaced preventatively (perhaps needlessly - but seemed a sensible move if I'm going to keep the car).

    I share the view of others that these and the E92 were the last of the real M cars. Cost-no-object engines rather than standard engines with the boost turned up (the recent cars are much more profitable for BMW of course). Every time I hear a current M3 come farting past sounding like a Saxo, I just wince.

    Long live the Garching cars and the V10!

  • Dr G 09 Dec 2017

    Well, that's quite impressive!

  • belleair302 09 Dec 2017

    I loved my five years with an E34 M5, although it was not a cheap car to service with vale clearance issues, weak water pumps, radiators and the concern of failed NLA EDC suspension parts. To drive epic and above 3600 RPM the engine just sang and the chassis was very well balanced. Sadly these like the E28 are now collector cars and NOT for every day use. The E60 is worth a punt with some money in the bank for the engine alone....V10 wow. As technology and tyres advance everybody wants new, but for driving older cars weigh so much less and require so much more real world involvement. M5's are great cars just remember a £50 K car ten years later is still a £50 K car to service, fuel and insure!

  • CrouchingWayne 09 Dec 2017

    I'd like an E60 (or E61) next as I could use a bigger car but am always a bit scared by the reliability stories. I also do a few short trips locally, how do they cope with town driving and short trips?

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