The Beast. Editor-in-chief Kevin has always called this particular car, a 1990 BMW E34 M5 2+2 ordered by the King of Norway and previously owned by friend and contributor Nick Underwood, the beast. The car had already obtained near-legendary status in the C! Magazine offices and I was chomping at the bit to let the thing loose.
It became apparent immediately that the nickname is appropriate on many more levels than you would expect. All the rights specs create all the right noises and moves. Power comes from the BMW S38 SOHC inline-six that is a direct descendant of the iconic 1978 M1 but beefed up with a twin-cam head and some extra displacement. Incidentally, though the straight-six was long considered BMW’s forte, the next M5 used a V8, and the one after that went to the formula One-inspired V10, so clearly the Ms are still and always at the forefront of the sporting life. This M5’s 3535 cc DOHC 24 valve engine produced a rated 310bhp at 6900rpm, and torque maxed out at 265 lb-ft at 4750 rpm. The engine and tuning managed to produce a sports sedan for BMW in the early 1990s that allowed both high-speed cruisings as well as the ability to accelerate to those speeds quickly and with no serious drama. There is a rumble at idle that tells you they are serious over in the engine bay, but the smoothness with which power is delivered will full you into believing you aren’t accelerating that fast. At least until you either check the speedometer or hear the wail from the engine as you begin banging on the 7200 rpm redline door. The E34 M5 would hit 60mph in 6.4 seconds and had an estimated top speed of 155mph, and this amount of grunt at your foot made the rear-wheel-drive car a joy to throttle steer without, again, to drama. You were not, however, sacrificing too much comfort for all this performance; indeed the ride was hailed as taut yet supple for the early ‘90s and has become a deserving benchmark for many sports sedans to come.
But the car is two generations old already, and although it doesn’t feel like it terms of being roughed up or ridden too hard, it certainly shows that the pinnacle of technology and speed of two models past is nowhere near what it is today. The engine and powertrain need to be sufficiently warmed and lubed up before you are allowed to play, and while the newer M’s have the more graphic and clear reminders of this required restraint, the older M5 communicated more by grumping at you until it really woke up. The car at low speed is definitely tight and taut, you know immediately that this is not where the car wants to be. Steering requires more effort than you may be willing to take it most modern cars, although it is very precise and direct. Putting the pedal down gets you a wondrous growl, but nothing as fear-inducing as the V10 in the newest M5. A bit deeper and maybe a bit more full of character, but nothing like the new F1 scream. The older M5 also gets moving rather quickly from a standstill, but not as spectacularly as any new M either. This M5 is meant for high speed runs well north of 200kph, and that is where you really want to be. Rolling the power on as you exit a curve on a clear, smooth autobahn, not pitching into tight corners and grunting out in lower gears.
This is, in many ways, indicative of how the power cars have changed. The new sports sedans and sports cars, even the supercars, are as drivable and pleasant in around-town traffic as they are at nosebleed velocities and heart attack curves, In the newer cars, you get the feeling of power and presence early on without having to put up with too many idiosyncrasies. You don’t necessarily need to play at two tons to realize how special either newer or older car is, but the older seemed rawer and in many ways truer, they were double-edged swords that required skill and respect and a bit of subservience. In older cars, you needed more than just money to be able to take the ride.
So this M5 is a great specimen of a legendary car, but it would probably not handle daily duty as nicely as a newer, fewer sports-oriented car that could already run with it fairly well. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the car has more character in its rare buffalo hide upholstery than you will find in many a modern car that manages to keep up.
|Cylinder Head||Aluminum, dohc, 4 valves per cylinder|
|Max Power (bhp @ rpm)||315 bhp @ 6900 rpm|
|Max Torque (lb/ft @ rpm)||265 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm|
|Transmission||Manual 5 speed,LSD|
|Top Speed||249 kmh - 155mph|
|0-100 km/h | 0-62 mph||6.3 seconds|