SOTW: BMW 540i Touring

I once took a lassie on holiday to France in a press BMW 540i. It was in a happier time before the A26 Calais road became infested by speed cameras.

In common with all UK drivers let loose abroad, I naturally gave the car the gun at the first whiff of autoroute, but the look of helpless terror on my passenger's face as the BM effortlessly cycled up to its governed 155mph top whack made me think I'd best ease off. We spent the rest of the holiday wafting around on creamy V8 power, kicking back and taking in the scenery at more relaxed speeds. It was no biggie.

Classy colour, V8, MOT'd until next spring...
Classy colour, V8, MOT'd until next spring...
Several decades later, an older and in some ways even stupider man, I have had it explained to me that her expression was more likely to have been one of arousal rather than fear. If only I'd realised that at the time, my life might have turned out different. Not better, necessarily. Just different.

Thinking back, it seems incredible that such a fine package of power, civility and classic RWD handling could at some point be available for a measly three-figure sum, but that point has now been reached, and here's the proof in the alluring shape of PHer Stevie750iL's 540i Touring.

From a used ownership perspective, many reckon the E39 to be the best 5 Series of all. The Touring is a stylish and very practical derivative, and that 4.4-litre V8 engine under the bonnet offers 0-60 in six and a bit seconds, with few issues other than the odd head gasket blow. Post-1998 models like this should have the 290hp VANOS M62TUB44 unit rather than the 282hp B44 lump Stevie's giving it credit for. Most importantly, it's not the previous M60 4.0-litre whose Nikasil liners were nibbled away by naughty high-sulphur fuels.

Black leather classier than usual beige
Black leather classier than usual beige
Anything else to look out for in this imperious Continent-crosser? Not a lot. Electrics in windows and doors, missing display pixels, dash lights, that sort of thing - not exactly life-ruining stuff. The strip of green service lights on Stevie's car is a heartening sight, too. Depending on how you use it, a year's painless satisfaction should be well within its scope. If you must spend money on it, do so wisely. Here's a suggestion.

Even as it stands, this is an interesting car. That Royal Red is a classy colour, and quite unusual in not coming with the usual semolina leather that can look a bit, well, German. And that's interesting because the 'BMW Niederlassung Munchen' numberplate on this 540i could indicate that the first buyer either worked in Munich or was a switched-on Brit who'd worked out that big savings were to be made by buying beyond the shores of Treasure Island, as the UK used to be known.

Whoever the first buyer was, he specced the car sensibly. Stevie hasn't bothered to mention what appear to be rear parking sensors, which may be because they're in fact just perfectly symmetrical blobs of mud, or (more likely) because they are parking sensors but they've packed up. Assuming the loom is OK, diagnosing and replacing duff sensors is easy.

A few little glitches but nothing too scary, hopefully
A few little glitches but nothing too scary, hopefully
Historically, BMW seems to lose interest when it gets to the back end of its Touring models. The Blackpuddin family's 320d has had its fair share of tailgate gremlins. A quick cleanup of this 540i's contacts might sort its fibbing tailgate warning light, and if the inert rear wiper isn't just a fuse, 50 quid will get you a scrapper motor off eBay.

You may be wondering about '5 Series shimmy'. This is a known issue with a wonderful range of hopeful solutions. You can add weights to the insides of the wheels, or to both sides of the wheels. You can replace the brake discs with less warped ones, replace the old tyres with less square ones, fit new wheel spigot rings or replace the upper and lower track control arms.

Our man Stevie has gone down the latter route, which suggests he may have already gone through those other cheaper would-be solutions. There's no mention as to whether he's done the most popular Five shimmy fix of all, which is new anti-roll bar bushes and droplinks. Aftermarket ones go for about £150 a set, including polybushes, so there may still be room for improvement if you insist on being anal about it.

Received E39 wisdom however is that, no matter what you do, up to and including steering box replacement, you'll probably never quite get rid of that shimmy. So, if you're the kind of perfectionist who can't turn a deaf ear to the tiniest creak, rattle or wobble, it's probably best to avoid this Shed.
And, indeed, Shed of the Week generally. After all, true Shedmen have ears of cloth, feet of lead, wallets of concrete, and lips that curl at the merest mention of the phrase 'preventative maintenance'. That's something the previous fellow pays for.

Advert reproduced below:

1999 BMW 540i Touring. FSH. Taxed January 2013. MOT'd April 2013. Royal Red Metallic. 4 previous owners.
This is my third car which I never really use. I work offshore so it seem a waste of a really good 540i.
The bodywork is really good with some scratches consummate with age. there is no rust on the car and it looks really nice. Tyres are all good with plenty life left in them. It drives as it should no nasty knocks or bangs. Starts first turn of the key. Uses no oil or coolant. It does have the 50-60mph shimmy but only very slightly despite new upper and lower TCA's. It's had new rear suspension airbags fitted recently.

Fully heated black leather sports interior.
Memory seats.
Multifunction M-Tech steering wheel.
Rain sensing wipers.
A/C ice cold.
Glass sunroof.
Electric steering wheel adjustment.
Dipping rear mirror.

Rear wiper does not work.
warning message " Bootlid Open" Although it's not.
Slight shimmy at 50-60 mph.

£950 ono


P.H. O'meter

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Comments (217) Join the discussion on the forum

  • richb77 09 Nov 2012

    The "slight shimmy" would bother me.

    Not a great colour IMO either but its one hell of a lot of motor for the money.

  • BeirutTaxi 09 Nov 2012

    SOTW keeps getting better and better!

    The tourings are rarer than the sedans, which makes them more appealing in that respect.

  • Stuart70 09 Nov 2012


  • funkyrobot 09 Nov 2012

    Ahem. This has been discussed on the smoker barge thread.

    Click on the advert owner link, then look at the recent postings from the user. This car has issues smile

    Bit of a sale failure really. smile

    PH really should do their homework with these things nono

  • Canningmister 09 Nov 2012

    I can't help but think that the 4.4l lump in this generation of BMW seems a bit underpowered? Im sure they are under-stressed for the sake of reliability, but are they actually that fast?

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