To buy or not to buy? 1990 BMW E34 M5 for £5850

To buy or not to buy? 1990 BMW E34 M5 for £5850

You could own BMW’s super-saloon for less than the cost of a new Dacia Sandero, and its evocative straight-six engine could have you heading straight to the bank

Last week’s £9995 Maserati 3200 GT sent a parting wave between you, with half of you considering it a tempting proposition and the others regarding it as a ticking time-bomb.

So, how about this – potentially more reliable and less costly – BMW M5. Besides the fact that the E34 generation of 5-series was one of the manufacturer’s best-built cars, this second-generation M5, launched in 1990, also featured what I regard as one of its best engines.

Its 3.5-litre 24-valve straight six, codenamed S38B36, churned out an impressive 315bhp and 266lb ft. It was an engine that loved to rev, howling to the red line with vigour every time you pinned the BMW’s floor-hinged accelerator. It was also durable if maintained properly and, barring intermittent valve shimming requirements, easy to care for.

Despite a hefty 1670kg kerb weight, the M5 could muster a 0-62mph time of 6.3sec and reach an electronically limited top speed of 155mph. Power was sent to a limited-slip differential at the rear via a slick five-speed manual transmission, allowing for suitably heroic-feeling tail-out action if so desired.

BMW’s M5 was more than just a fast car though; it was also practical, with seating for four adults, a refined cabin, a large boot and a 90-litre fuel tank that granted a sensible touring range.

This 1990 example looks to be in superb condition and it ticks a lot of the right boxes. It’s got the desirable extended leather option, climate control and, more poignantly, it benefits from a recent comprehensive service that included new bushes and brake discs. Pitched at a tempting £5850, it represents a lot of bang and sheet metal for your money.

Admittedly bright red might not be the best colour for an M5, with their subtle appearance suiting more restrained colours, but it’s still a very sharp-looking car. The visible elements of the interior look relatively untarnished too, suggesting care and proper use – although it’s somewhat disappointing to see the leather on the driver’s seat rucking up.

What’s most appealing about this particular example, however, is a claimed mileage of just 76,000 miles. Most M5s are well into triple figures, and it’s not uncommon to see examples knocking on the door of 200,000 miles either. Many, particularly those that you see priced anywhere from £2.5k to £5k, can be in need of some overhauling too, helping justify spending more on a good example.

As mentioned, build quality is excellent for these 5-series, but usually by this point they’re in need of a general refresh – brake lines, fuel lines, discs, pads, bushes, cooling system, steering box adjustments and so on – through age and mileage alone. Opt for this comparatively low mileage and seemingly well-maintained one, though, and you might avoid a lot of those potential issues.

If its odometer reading is true, and there’s a sensible stack of history, there’s the potential here to buy a super-saloon that won’t cost a vast amount to run. Unlike the later 3.8-litre variants the 3.6 is seemingly less prone to major problems, and it also doesn’t feature the later car’s complicated electronically controlled suspension. You’ll have to look at the car very carefully though, both on the structural and the mechanical fronts, to help ensure you avoid any unpleasant surprises further down the line.

Admittedly you’ll still have to deal with the occasionally troublesome rear-mounted hydraulic self-levelling suspension, which is standard on M5s, but it can always be deleted or you can opt to get it recommissioned, and never have to worry about it again.

Let’s face it, six grand isn’t a huge amount to invest in a classic high-performance saloon, especially one that’s only going to continue increasing in value. Provided you found it to be a reliable and comparatively trouble-free example, you might stand to either do quite well out of it, or simply recoup the majority of your costs by the time you come to sell it. Either situation would be a notable victory for any enthusiast.

Few cars offer up such a delectable brand of performance, everyday usability, refinement and handling too, further adding to the BMW’s potential appeal. There is a catch with the M5 though – the fact that, for 90 per cent of the time, it can just feel like any other E34. Unless you really open it up, and take it across country, you may feel like you’d have been better off buying a less troublesome £2000 525i Sport.

Some, however, will adore the exotic nature of its engine and the delight that comes from owning the last of the hand-built M5s. If you’re one of those people, you’re probably already on the phone to the seller.

So, would you make room for this six-cylinder sledgehammer on your drive, or does the idea of dealing with its race-bred engine and ageing components give you nightmares? Have your say below.

Read last week’s ‘to buy or not to buy’ here.

Search the Pistonheads classifieds here.

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