This topic has been looming on my mind for long now, and ever since i received a few brickbats for appreciating the E60 M5, i wanted to know what would one really buy?
The E39 M5: The long time king of the performance sedan setup. Prior to its arrival, the E34 had already set the benchmark for performance sedans, leaving the E55 and XJR to eat its dust. But the others had caught up and its 340 bhp no longer seemed great. It was 1996 and BMW had just launched the E39 5 series across the world. With engines ranging from the relatively pedestrian 2.0 litre to the potent and torquey and 4.4. Infact the performance benchmark set by the 540i was so high that BMW contemplated not launching a new M5 at all. That stunned purists and led to a furore across lines by enthusiasts, owners and reporters alike.
BMW knew it couldn't let the few thousand buyers who would want to buy an M5 head to Stuttgart or Coventry for an alternative. 1997 and BMW internally along with feedback decided that it would launch the E39 M5. Within a very short span of 18 months, BMW took the whole M-division to task.
First up, the new M5 engine would no longer be hand-built. Sure it saved time and money, but it would upset purists. But BMW had its way.
Next, it would be built on the same line as the regular 5 series.
Then BMW would build a car with superior power to the outgoing M5 and it would be a V8. It was known much later that the V8 would be made simply to impress the more than 40% buyers who would be Americans. The engine would be based on the 4.4 litre V8 by simply increasing the bore and stroke to a 4.9 litre engine. Power had to be upped, so a figure close to 400 hp was decided. The engine would have 4 camshafts, individual throttle bodies for each cylinder and BMWs now famous Valvetronic variable valve system. Mind you, to build 5000 such cars each year on a normal assembly line and an engine that would put cars even 4 times more expensive than it to shame was an achievement.
With targets set BMW launched the E39 M5 in November 1998. And the world never remained the same after that. People were so impressed by the car that cars took more than a year to be delivered in some places. The auto writers hailed the car as an icon. And the competition stood stunned!
So what is it that makes the E39 so enduring? First up, i have heard several V8s. The American muscle cars sound terrific especially if you hear it on a Nakamichi system. But this V8 had a quiet rumble. A rumble so distinct that it hooked a generation of people into buying one. 20,000+ cars were sold during its lifetime.
What though made the car was the way it looked. With just a slightly modified air-dam, fog lamps, skirts, 4 tail pipes and M mirrors, one would believe it was enough to distinguish it. Yet it was so subtle, that an ordinary person would think its just another 5 series. And that's what made the situation ripe for an M5 owner. All he needed to do was remove all the M badges from the car and make it the perfect Q car. It was the understated king of the hill. It lulled its competition into the false sense of belief that it is just another 5 series, so lets take it on the traffic-light drag. And the M5 owner waited for his next victim to come up on the traffic light. When 5 seconds were left for the signal to turn green, he'd just press a small button on the dash that said "sport" which sharpened the throttle response and lowered the suspensions and turn the traction control off. Then as the light turned green, 400 hp was lit up thru the rear 285 18 inchers and the car was flying. How fast? Well 0-60 mph in 4.9 seconds and if you were sensible, you'd de-restrict the limiter to take you to 186 mph. The only sports cars that did those crazy speeds were F355s and upwards.
To put it " it was the perfect wolf-in-sheep's clothing with a little to give away the power that lurked beneath." So how did the M engineers do it? The M division is legendary for creating user-friendly cars. It stripped the chassis bare, strengthened it, then gave it stonger, stiffer yet compliant suspensions, an aerodynamic kit and developed an engine that could still win an "engine of the year" oscar. The package was so well put together that it can be summed up in two words. Perfection and Balance.
So great was the car to become that it not only killed the competition, but 4 years later when the 476 hp E55 and 450hp RS were to come, Car in December 2002 was to crown the M5 "the king of the hill" by saying the old are still the best!
Sadly though the M5 had come to the end of the road. A new 5 series was up and therefore a new M5 was to be based on it. So May 2003 and the last of the E39 M5s and Z8s rolled out of Munich. It was the end of an era!
The E39 M5 anytime...anyday! Be it less powerful, a little slower...watever infront of the new E60 M5...but that was one car that proved that its not only sportscars with 2 doors that are fast....but a car having a boot and 4 doors can also create mayhem..! The look of the E39 M5...that essence of it...makes it very very different from any other BMW that existed in the past...or is present..or will be in the Future! Love it to death!
Part 2 - "The new maketh the way for the old"
The E39 was dead. BMW now had no reason not to develop the next generation M5. Its competition had caught up. The 400 hp seemed too little with the competition knocking the 500 hp door. BMW had to answer the call. It developed the market, it pioneered it, it had to stay a leader in it.
BMW decided, it had to take some inspiration from its F1 programme. Mercedes did it with the McLaren SLR, Ferrari did it with the Enzo. So why not BMW?
The M division decided to take the car to the next step. First up, it was now to be a V10. Then it had to be very similar to the V10 in its F-1 programme. The new car had to be more powerful, so it had to be bigger than the outgoing one. And it had to produce the now required M standard of 100hp to the litre. A 5.5 litre was initially developed that produced 557 hp. But it was canned for reasons of driveability and reliability and a 5 litre engine was developed to produce 507 hp. But now it also had a challenge, the power had to go to a six speed or seven speed manual. The problem was, BMW didn't have such a transmission to handle such power and torque and a 7 speed manual would be far too difficult to develop than previously thought. Taking cues from its SMG II or Sequential Manual Gearbox Ver. II, it decided to develop a flappy paddle 7 speed sequential manual that could handle the power as well as do it as smoothly as possible.
And as they say, the rest is history. BMW was to anyways build a driver's car in the form of the new 5 series. And it did! So the new M5 would not have much work required to hone the chassis. The newer fatter 18 inchers would do the job of transferring the power to the ground while the V10 would be a virtual F-1 car on slightly diluted steroids.
The car has already usurped the trio. It has even quashed the hopes of Maserati Quattroporte of being the top dog! Magazines after magazines have hailed the new M5. Even though they complained about the lack of a manual, something which is against BMW philosophy.
So will it succeed like its predecessor? Is it true to M-division's heritage? These are questions only time will answer.
But my question still remains... which one? If I were asked to drive one all day, it would be the E-60. Nothing like having more power right? But ask me to buy and own one... its still the E-39 M5. Let me put it this way, while the E60 will beat records and set new ones, its the E39 which always linger as the benchmark creator. Even as looks go, its exactly how i perceive a car. I want it understated, yet enough power to teach an unsuspecting guy a lesson or two. It will pass in history books as the one car that changed the power equation in performance sedans for good. The new E60 looks too Japanese for my taste. I like it, but its not the car that i'd stay up all night and stare at from my window for hours on end. The E39 on the other hand makes me want to go down every now and then just to feel that power bulge on the bonnet, the M mirrors and the spolier on the boot-lip.
Its in the details. The E-39 was an exquisitely crafted and detailed car. The E60 feels sterile in comparison. It lacks the flame of its predecessor.
I can only predict one place for the E-39. The Mark II, the Rover Mini, the 288 and 250GTO, the Shelby Mustang, the Dodge Viper, the 993-911 all have one factor in common. Whether now or later, these cars will hold values, will appreciate, will become a collector's obsession. Will spawn young boys to make loads of money just to be able to buy one when they grow old. The E39 M5 will fit just such a place. It will be decorated.... for life!
Great write up, man you get way too poetic when it comes to BMWs, taking too many poetic liecences at the same time, but much appreciated.
Getting back to the topic, M5s have always been at the top of my much wanted list, and this poll only makes it more difficult. I would pick the E60 M5, let me tell you why. i absolutely respect the E39 M5, for being the benchmark in it's class, for the clean uncluttered lines, for being so darn understated, for being mistaken as just another 5 series. While at the same time the E60 manages to be brash and vulgar, screaming out it's intentions without hesitation, combined with criss crosses all over the place. But this car has taken it to a new level, a level where the E39 was. The V10, the 8250 rpm redline,the 507 German thoroughbreds, just too much for me to deny. The E39 i would still like to buy, for pure nostalgia, if i have money left after buying a E60. The same way, i would buy a GT3 RS before a 2.7 Carrera RS, though each one of them makes me feel funny in my pants, but the GT3 RS just does it better, not a fair comparison, but one nonetheless.
Both cars are great. Which one would I take?
Prepare to be surprised.
I may love the E39 and dislike the E60's looks, but, I'll still pick the new car. New cars are always going to be a development over their predecessors. Finances permitting, I'll move with the times.
Apart from the ordinary looks, the new M5 is a car to drool over. F1 derived V10....
All this from a guy who's certainly not the biggest BMW fan in the world.
A rather interesting conversation took place b/w me and ported-head on this subject today in the afternoon. Here are some excerpts from it...
Porsches vie: i was up the whole night at the my friends
place doing drawing sheets
[12:46:29 PM] Porsches vie: now that might explain why i chose the e60
and not the e39
[12:47:08 PM] Revvmaster: hahahaha... hahahahhaha... oh... hell...
next time please post during the day time.. when u are
fresh n stuff..my poll is now neck and neck at 50-50
[12:48:00 PM] Porsches vie: thats darn close, i expected the e39 to
walk away with it
[12:49:12 PM] Revvmaster: yea i did too...well the kids wud vote for
the new one... it happens... the cars u grow up with are
the ones u cherish the most... the slightly older
ones...like me and older wud pick the E39... same
reasons i suppose
[12:50:04 PM] Porsches vie: the problem is the e60 now is just a
victim of bhp wars
[12:50:25 PM] Porsches vie: even though they pulled it off darn well
with a high revving v10, NA
[12:51:16 PM] Porsches vie: you think they couldnt have made the e39
put out more than 400 bhp? but they didnt right, and
thats what i like, it's how you don't go overboard, and
know where to stop
[12:53:29 PM] Revvmaster: true... thats why i put the two words...
perfection and balance
[12:53:54 PM] Revvmaster: its like a kid who knows where and when to
say yes and no and yet is flexible enough not to anger
[12:54:06 PM] Revvmaster: a smart yet sensible kid... that's the e39
[12:54:37 PM] Revvmaster: u know its the only reason why i like the
e39.. it is so human like... it keeps talking to u all
[12:55:49 PM] Porsches vie: you said it
[12:56:21 PM] Porsches vie: the e60 is like me, i know smoking is bad
for health and will probably kill me before im 40, but i
still do it
[12:56:51 PM] Porsches vie: but what i hate now is designs have
stopped being timeless, they age way too fast
[12:57:32 PM] Porsches vie: look at the 964, 930 and the 993s, they
still look damn beautiful, the 996 already seems dated
compared to the 997 now
[12:59:15 PM] Revvmaster: u know something... i saw a quite a few e60s
here in b'bay... and after seeing 4-5 of them, i am
bored... i don't think its special anymore... it just
looks to me now like any W211 E class on the road
[12:59:36 PM] Porsches vie: thats just what i mean
[12:59:56 PM] Porsches vie: you get excited the first time, but now
[01:00:07 PM] Porsches vie: i still turn my head when i see an old 3
series or the 5 series, the frumpy one
[01:00:39 PM] Revvmaster: yupp... i agree... the E39 does it for
me.,... so does the E34, E30, E28... i still turn around
[01:01:15 PM] Porsches vie: even the e36 looks darn good
[01:01:27 PM] Revvmaster: i mean look at the M3... it looks so good,
that even today... 3 years after seeing numerous M3s.. i
still have that weak in the knees feeling everytime i
[01:01:43 PM] Revvmaster: true... the E36.... one of the most
underrated 3 series ever!
[01:02:35 PM] Porsches vie: ah well all we can do is complain about
how it will never be the same
E39 M5 anyday. Well almost. With the E60, I guess it's more of the car driving me rather than the other way round. Too much electronics and stuff makes a car easier to drive, and finally leads the driver to believe he has done all the hard work......which infact is not done by the driver, but by the car's electronic mind (read computers and chips). So in a way, it detracts a bit from the total experience to know that it's nothing but a PS2 on wheels, albeit with a 500 hp V10. The kind of car that can make an average driver go fast and make him feel good about it. No way a bad car, but just too much gimmicks......I guess. Only if I could have that V10 in the E39....hmmm.
It would be the new M5 (E60) for me! I'm a sucker for gizmo's in a car, and the E60 has enough to last a decade!!
Who needs 507 Hp? Well, who needs 400hp even! Its always better to be overpowered than underpowered!
For me its the old E39 M5. Love the looks, and like revv said, Perfection and Balance. Those are the two keywords for me.
Revv, awesome write up!!
Its just the M-philosophy which is so in-tune, the only reason why i am so poetic about them.
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