Nicknamed "The Beast" for a reason.
In the world of words, “perfection” gets tossed around an awful lot, but how often is it used correctly? When the subject is automobiles, the answer is never. Sure, there are cars that are so fast that they can dish out face-flattening acceleration with a mere tickle of the skinny pedal, and there are cars that are practical enough that parking them in the kitchen with all your other appliances would almost make sense, but the two species have yet to be distilled into a perfect 50/50 blend. That’s not to say some cars haven’t come close; in fact, many enthusiasts will tell you that the third generation BMW M5 comes dangerously close to attaining that happy medium.
Known within the company as the E39 platform, the 5 Series that made its American debut in 1996 was and still is an elegantly styled and fun to drive range of sedans and station wagons. However, the story goes that BMW didn’t initially plan on doing an e39-based M5, thinking that the 540i – fitted with a 282hp V8 and an available 6-speed manual transmission – would more than satisfy the moneyed hoons who were shopping for a family sedan. However, when Mercedes-Benz and AMG started selling big block E-classes, and Jaguar unleashed its XJR with a supercharged straight-six (later supplanted by a supercharged V8), the Bavarians realized they didn’t want to look like they had been caught with their Lederhosen down. Thus the engineering gods at Motorsport GmbH began work on a new M5. When the finished product was ready, some observers were convinced it had been carried down from the summit of Olympus by angels wearing crash helmets and Nomex skivvies; in reality, it was built alongside the more humdrum 5ers at the company’s Dingolfing plant, rather than hand assembled at M’s facility like the prior two iterations had been. Not that that really mattered, what with the thumping 4.9L DOHC V8 pumping out 394hp and 370 lb./ft of twist lurking under the hood. The lone transmission choice was the 540i’s 6-speed stick, though the power was received via a heavy duty clutch and sent to the wheels via a limited slip diff with a shorter 3.15:1 final drive. The M5 also retained the recirculating ball steering and steel front subframe of its V8 sibling (Six-cylinder E39s were endowed with rack-and-pinion steering and aluminum subframes.), but gained upsized brakes and revised suspension. Top it off with big, stylish alloy wheels wrapped in high performance rubber and you have the makings of a natural born canyon carver…that just happens to seat five and weigh two tons! Exterior changes were limited to deeper front and rear valences, wind-cheating exterior mirrors, quad exhaust tips, a teensy weensy lip of a rear spoiler, and an M5 badge on the trunk. In short, it’s the consummate Q-ship.
Normally, cars as iconic and desirable as the E39 M5 require one to pay out the nose (or some other orifice) to obtain one. Depending on mileage, condition, and accessories, prices can range from the low-teens to the mid- to high-twenties. The main areas for concern are the brakes and the clutch, as both wear out fairly frequently and are hideously expensive to replace. High oil consumption is also an issue on some examples. But really, when you’re talking about a driving experience that ranks up there with a supermodel reaching down the front of your trousers while placing Krispy Kreme donuts in your mouth on the Sublime-O-Meter (not that your humble servant would be able to honestly confirm or deny that sort of thing), with the added practicality of four doors and a trunk that fits objects larger than one vessel of boxed wine, will your really be fretting about maintenance, or much of anything else for that matter? I think we both know the answer to that question…