The latest instalment in the TCR Legends blog of fame is one of the true greats, The BMW M5 E39. The E39 was the first M5 ever produced to be powered by a V-8 motor and what a motor it was, producing 400hp, you have to remember this was 1998 and 400hp was a massive amount of power for any car let alone a rear-wheel drive saloon car equipped with a manual 6-speed gearbox and enough room to carry around passengers in comfort combined with the goodness of speed.
The M5 E39 was introduced in 1998 at the famed Geneva Motor Show, production began just six short months later in October 1998 the first V-8 powered M5’s rolled off the production line at BMW’s Dingolfing factory in Germany. During the M5 E39’s short production run, just 20,482 cars were built with the last car rolling out of the factory in 2003.
The standard E39 5 Series was already a great car. But for the M5 version, BMW got serious, very serious and replaced a majority of the chassis components with aluminium ones, this made the M5 chassis both lighter and stiffer. It also had stronger anti-roll bars, steel ball joints (as opposed to rubber and steel) and different shock valving, all these enhancements combined created a tighter more poised overall feel than the standard 5-series E39 upon which the M5 was based.
BMW then took this seriousness to whole new level with the M5 E39’s motor, they dug around in the parts bin and used the base 4.4 litres V-8 motor and fettled it up to 5.0 litres (BMW for some reason says 5.0 litres, but it’s really 4.9 litres), all this work resulted in 400 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque (500 Nm), and a 7,000 rpm redline. To make sure all that power meets the road, they added a 6-Speed manual and a limited-slip differential, the result was a monster saloon car. This monster can complete the 0-60 mph run in a very swift 4.7 seconds. You must remember that any car that could hit 60mph in under 5.0 seconds in 1998 was on the cusp of supercar performance. Ferrari’s of the era weren’t doing it much faster. 4.7 seconds is blisteringly fast, and even by 2016 standards, for a luxury fully loaded saloon car. All of this speed resulted in the governed 155mph limit, remove the limiter though and a staggering 186mph was possible if you could find enough road
BMW also got it absolutely spot on when it came to the M5’s handling, despite the M5 E39’s rather bulky kerb weight of 1,826kg, the M sport engineers made sure it handled like an M car should, pit the M5 against its closest rival of day, the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG and the M5 would run rings around the 3-pointed star in every way and form.
The M5 E39 may be 18 years old now but is still one of the most revered M cars around, this appeal has been helped by the M5’s appearances on film, in 2001 BMW made a decision which was unheard of at the time, they decided to make a series of short action films entitled “The Hire” featuring their own cars, these films would be written and directed by a selection of top Hollywood directors, these included the likes of the legendary John Frankenheimer, John Woo and Tony Scott to name just a few.
The results of “The Hire” films were gritty and beautifully shot, during this time car-makers were reluctant to see their finest products being destroyed on film, in this series, however, BMW allowed the directors a free hand to demonstrate the performance aspects of the cars on show whilst allowing the filmmakers to maintain a level of realism by allowing the cars to be almost destroyed in certain films.
The M5 E39 had the starring role alongside series lead actor Clive Owen as ‘the Driver’ in the short film ‘Star’ directed by Guy Ritchie and featuring his then-wife Madonna. The film was a somewhat exaggerated but amusing display of the M5’s handling and performance as Owen’s character slings and powers-slides the car around an unknown city at breakneck speeds attempting to avoid the paparazzi.
Roy’s car is dubbed ‘Team Polizei 144A’, this well used and slightly battle scarred M5 has been run hard on Bullrun’s and Gumball Rally’s across the world, chronicled in Roy’s book “The Driver’, there are many times Roy describes the times his M5 would be either the lead car or amongst the lead cars on these illegal road rallies, matching the likes of much more powerful supercars such as Porsche’s and Ferrari’s and the like. Roy’s M5 completed the coast to coast run in 31 Hours 4 minutes breaking the 23 year old record.
In 2016, here in the UK, you can buy a used M5 E39 for as little as £9,000, which for all the performance you get, is an amazing price, yes, it can be expensive to run, also if certain things go wrong expect a big bill, but find a good one, you will end up with a true performance great.
I personally can say that, next year if I decided to ignore the lease route and actually buy my own car, then I could well be in the market for one of the true greats, the BMW M5 E39.