Future Classics: BMW E39 M5
All photos from bmw.com
The Future Classics road was destined to be driven in a BMW E39 M5. It is the last 5 Series to have a truly clean, uncluttered design, and will likely be the last to keep a naturally-aspirated V8 under the hood; it was also exclusively available with a manual transmission, which is guaranteed to never happen again. Unlike the E60, which was famously overstyled by Chris Bangle and utilized a ridiculous 5.0L V10, the E39 was a perfect sleeper with just the right amount of power under the hood. At the time, the M5 and its 394hp 4.9L V8 was the most powerful sports sedan on the market, easily outperforming the Mercedes E55 AMG and Audi S6. Although it is a heavy bastard at more than two tons, the S62 was able to launch the midsized tanker from 0-60mph in a tick under 5 seconds. The power, luxury, reputation, and a current price around $20,000 make this M5 a Future Classic.
The 5 Series made the switch from the blocky, squared-off edges of the E34 to smoother, more rounded E39 in 1996, although the M5 variant wouldn’t see the light of day until 1999 after its 1998 debut at the Geneva Auto Show. The 4.4L V8 from the 540i had its bore and stroke increased, resulting in a final displacement of 4.9L in the M5, increasing the power output by 112hp to 394; this allowed the engine to breathe freely to its 7,000RPM redline. All the power was routed to the rear wheels by way of a Getrag six-speed manual transmission. Shocks, anti-roll bars, LSD, and brakes were all upgraded from the 540i to beef up cornering and stopping performance, helping counteract the M5’s heaviness.
The E39 was the first M5 not hand-built, as it was constructed on an assembly line in Dingolfing, Germany next to the other 5 Series sedans. This doesn’t make the E39 any less special, however. Although larger than its predecessor, the addition of two extra cylinders and 80hp more than offset the 200lbs weight gain in the transition. Also in transition was the M5 and its adaptation of 21st century technology. It featured the first use of satellite navigation in a 5 Series, and was thankfully introduced before the first generation of the much-maligned iDrive system percolated throughout BMW’s lineup.
So now that we’ve established what makes the E39 so fantastic, which years are the best to buy? The M5 was refreshed in 2001, with a larger display for the infotainment system, the steering wheel from the E46 M3, and a new headlight and taillight treatment, among other revisions. The 2001-2003 models are the ones to get because of these modifications, along with the probability of a low-mileage example. What makes the E39 M5 a future classic? It is likely to be the only M5 with a naturally-aspirated V8, an engine that was very well received upon its initial release and continues to be held in high regard. It was the last M5 offered solely with a manual transmission, before BMW started pandering to drivers uninterested in rowing for themselves (the subsequent E60 M5 was offered solely with a seven-speed auto until enough BMW diehards convinced the company to offer a standard transmission). There were far less electronic aides and components than in the later iterations, making it more of a driver’s car than a second office for its occupants.
Well-maintained M5s start at less than $20,000, but expect to pay $20-25,000 for low-mileage examples.