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BMW 530i (E39) | Shed of the Week

One of the best BMW designs ever invested with one of its finest engines...

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, January 31, 2020

Anniversaries play a big part in the automotive world. They used to loom large in Shed’s world too until, in yet another backfiring attempt at light comedy, he gave Mrs Shed a broom for their 20th wedding anniversary. It was an artisan-crafted hazel creation that cost Shed a fortune. He genuinely thought that she would like it and had honestly given no thought to any witch connection. At some point you would think he might learn not to test Mrs Shed’s patience, or her impressive ability to ram poles where they hurt the most.

On that subject, kind of, few car manufacturers can resist a birthday-based opportunity to hoist a little heritage up the corporate flagpole. 2020 will be the 25th anniversary of the BMW E39 5 Series. Once upon a time, a car firm faced with this sort of situation would have invited the press to fly out to somewhere warm with the idea of testing a heritage collection car against the current incumbent. That would be a risky PR exercise with the E39. With fresh suspension and a nicely loosened-up motor, a well-preserved example of this Japanese-designed (not a typo – look up Joji Nagashima), Chris Bangle-approved saloon would stand up pretty well even today. Equally loosened by the relaxing effects of expensive beverages, silly journos entrusted with the task of saying how far the 5 Series had come in 25 years might reach a disastrously incorrect conclusion. That would be epaulette-removing time for the poor PR bod responsible for organising the shindig, so don't expect any of that to happen.

Luckily, for less than the price of a night’s all-expenses-paid Riviera-based accommodation for a couple of hard-drinking hacks, you can conduct your own independent heritage test by buying this week’s shed, a 530i. Not just any old 530i, either. According to the private vendor it’s one of 150 ‘Individual’ runout models of the 530i Sport, and it’s in Aegean Blue too, one of the most desirable BMW colours.

The downside of cars first seen on the road 25 years ago is that a lot of them are now quite well used. Even though our last-year-of-production shed is as young as an E39 can be, it’s still 17 years old and has covered 180,000 miles. Although the MOT is short (March), the history of previous tests suggests that some back-end suspension work was done to rectify advisories in the November 2017 test. That’s good to know because you’d like to think that it won’t have 5 Series shimmy, an annoying steering wheel wobble at everyday speeds that has evaded many owners’ best efforts to cure it. Just about every moving chassis component has been named as the culprit by someone or other at some point in time. The only possible cause that Shed hasn’t seen mentioned is misshapen tyres. He only throws that in because his own even more ancient German wagon recently had a terrible wheel shake that turned out to be nothing more technical than an out-of-round front tyre. A badly aligned E39 will quickly grind down the inside edges of its back tyres, especially if it’s a 228hp 530.

The good thing about the 5 Series saloon versus the Touring is that it doesn't have the estate’s irksome self-levelling airbag rear suspension. What it does have however is the automatic gearbox, which can cause trouble. On top of that you have other E39 mech glitchery. ABS, stability control and SRS warning lights can come on, either correctly in the case of the Bosch ABS module failing, which it does, or slightly misleadingly in the case of the SRS light because that might just be a faulty passenger seat occupancy sensor. The vendor admits that this car has an issue with its ABS sensor.

Under the bonnet you need to check on the integrity of the alternator, power steering pump, radiator and hoses, and look for oiliness around the cam covers and oil filter gasket, although that last one should be OK as our shed has just had an oil, filters and plugs service. Crank and camshaft position sensors, water pump impellers, crankcase ventilation valves, injectors, fans for the heating/AC and the alternator and piston seals for the VANOS variable valve timing system can all blight an E39 owner’s life.

Ahead of the bonnet, the headlight lenses get milky, but the test history indicates that these were defogged after the 2017 test. Behind the bonnet, in the bit you sit in, you have one of the best BMW interiors in terms of design and materials used. Typical problems in this area include electrics for the locks and windows, busted dash bulbs and missing display pixels, which this car has. The Sport seats are great, and apart from some inevitable wear on the outer driver’s side bolster, they look to be in good shape. The seat adjustment motors can blow, though. Check that the handbrake works as they often don’t.

Shed can’t see whether this car has a sunroof, but if it doesn’t that’s good because they can become noisy in operation. Generally speaking, the E39 isn't that hard or expensive to work on when it comes to the small stuff, though, and there is a wealth of knowledge out there to help you.

The seller informs us that, in his opinion (supported by no mention of rust on previous MOTs) it’s structurally sound. Some browning seems to be evident on at least one sill however, and we’re told that rust is also starting to nibble away at the front arches and bonnet’s leading edge. A biggish slice of paint appears to have fallen off the nearside corner of the back bumper too.

There’s no talk of service history in the ad, which could be a simple omission, but the cautious buyer would have to assume that there isn't one, so any decision to buy this 530i at the strong asking price of £1,500 will depend on how much value you place on a high-spec late model E39, and how much money you would be prepared to spend on stopping the rust and sprucing up the cosmetics. You could end up with a nice car, a big pile of bills, or both.


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  1. BMW E39 5 Series [96-04]

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