Shed(s) of the Week: BMW 5 Series x2

This isn't something that BMW makes much of a fuss about, but some of the company's most enduring designs were created by a clever chap from Tokyo.

Joji Nagashima was the quiet man behind no less than four BMWs, three of which were the Z3, the E36 and the E90. He did some pretty interesting stuff before joining BMW, too. Next time you put your windscreen wipers on to intermittent, tip your hat to Joji, because he invented that in 1964.

Arguably his greatest work was the E39 5 Series. Signed off in 1992 by gnomic, notebook-toting beardmeister Chris Bangle, the purposeful and chiselled E39 was beautiful in 1995 and still looks fresh now. That's all the more impressive when you realise that the E39 development process began way back in the mid-1980s.

The last E39 saloon was built in 2003, and a 530 petrol from that year is one of this week's Sheds. We say 'one of' because today we're giving you a bonus Five in the shape of another petrol six, a 2001 525, and at the end of this we'll be inviting you to pick your favourite.

The ongoing debate as to which is the 'best' E39 is getting muddied by the withering effects of time and the inevitable downward slide of owners' experiences. However, while most E39s have been to the moon by now, and many have made the return journey too, these two have somehow stayed on planet Earth, mileage wise. The E39 is a reasonably easy DIY maintenance prospect, with many OE parts being surprisingly affordable, so ownership of either of these specimens could satisfy even the most curmudgeonly.

Refreshingly, neither vendor is a graduate of the 'exclamation mark' school of ad writing. The 525 is described as 'not a bad car', while the 530 is equally quietly described as 'very original'. Both cars have reassuringly empty-looking MoT histories. It's good to see big faults on MoTs as long as they've been put right, and that seems to be the case with the 525 which was showing ABS and stability control warning lights at its last MOT in March. On the assumption that it's the faults rather than the warning lights that have been fixed, that's two potentially expensive sources of worry we can forget about - for the time being, at least.

In the electrical department, Bosch ABS modules are known for going. Also check the sunroof for noise, the windows for clunk, the door/boot locks for smooth operation, and the dash display for missing pixels. An illuminated SRS light could be a faulty passenger seat occupancy sensor, while the seat adjustment motors can go west, along with the fans for the heating/AC and the alternator.

Under the bonnet, E39 liquids may try to escape through leaky cam covers, oil filter gaskets and power steering systems, radiator cracks or perished hoses. More natural liquids will try to get into the boot lid, so check the floor for damp.

Internal engine woes may or may not include failed crank and camshaft position sensors, busted water pump impellers, problems with the PCV (crankcase ventilation valve), leaking injectors and failing piston seals in the VANOS variable valve timing system, normally indicated by an offbeat rattle at idle and dodgy engine running at lower rpm.

On the chassis side, E39 handbrakes don't always do much, and a poorly-aligned E39 can quickly chomp through the insides of its back tyres. Of these two cars, the pokier 530 is more likely to suffer from that.

If the steering wheel seems a bit wobbly at moderate A-road speeds then you've got a dose of 5 Series shimmy. This is an odd manifestation that not many seem to understand. Every man and his dog will tell you of a 'cure' - anti-roll bar bushes and drop links, upper and lower track control arms, steering boxes, bent rims and warped brake discs have all been tarred as the culprits - but you might have to try a few of these suggestions before you find the one that makes it go away.

This may seem like a frightening tally of trouble, but half-fullers will see it more as a reflection of the enormous amount of experience that's been built up around a warmly-regarded car that's seen as well worth looking after. When there's not much knowledge floating around about a given car, that could be because it hardly ever breaks down, but frankly it's more likely to be because owners haven't loved it enough to find ways to keep it going.

So, which of these two would you have? It's a harder choice than you might think. You can't split them on MoT length, as both tests fall due within a day of each other in mid-March. The 525 has a slightly smaller mileage on its clock, and a smaller price, but the leggier 530 is two years younger, comes from the last year of E39 manufacture and has a near-complete full BMW service history. Plus it has a 30 on its bootlid rather than a 25. That number alone could be enough to justify the £1,500 price tag.

Here's the ad for the 525i.

Not a bad car...drives very well PLEASE CALL BEFORE TRAVELLING AS NOT ALL CARS ARE KEPT ON SITE Air Conditioning, Front & Rear Parking Sensors, Leather Upholstery, Accoustic Parking (front & rear), Electric Mirrors, Electric Windows, Cruise Control, Central Locking

And here's the ad for the 530i.

A very original E39 
BMW FSH to 106,000
Factory Extras include:
Comfort Seats with lumbar
Glass Sunroof
Split/fold Rear seats
MOT to 20 March 2018

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (86) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Bencolem 01 Dec 2017

    The 530i all day long, those comfort seats are fantastic, in fact the whole car looks lovely.

  • Mr Tidy 01 Dec 2017

    Such fantastic looking cars!

    It would have to be the 530 for me - those seats look so comfy compared to the flat looking items in the 525i, it's got a sun-roof, and a better badge on the boot. (Split fold seats are pretty rare too, even if you never need them)! What's not to like?

    Now I just need to convince myself I don't need one! laugh

  • keith2.2 01 Dec 2017

    We had a 2003 530i M-Sport. It was ruddy fantastic.

    I still fondly remember the smell of the interior, weirdly.

    This has gone and made me want one..

  • CDP 01 Dec 2017

    I've always loved the styling on these and cylinders are always best arranged in neat rows of six...

    For me it would have to be the 530 - it's faster, no less economical.

    Also in the case of these two cars, the seats look quite worn in the blue car.

  • alorotom 01 Dec 2017

    Sweet baby Jesus ... is this dross the best shed can come up with ... its nearly Christmas and you come here dousing our dreams of lovely sheds in petrol and then take a blow torch to them.

    Actually I’ll have some of that petrol and the torch, it’ll come in useful for ridding the world of 2 more awful E39s ... (not that these are any worse than any other E39)

    Ahm Ooot

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