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Steve
Steve New Reader
4/27/23 1:49 p.m.

I've always had a soft spot for big body cars with a performance bent. In the late 90's, Tiff and Top Gear did this to me: 

https://youtu.be/bmpf_IJMZ_w

And I fell hopelessly in love with the M5. 

I know the 540/6 isn't an M5, nor do I see that as a practical solution for a "park outside on the street" type of car. But I'm getting closer to calling a 540/6 my mid life crisis car. To me, it is the apogee of the coolest car to pick up your kid from school in. It probably needs to be black, and it probably needs to be an M Tech. 

Trouble is, I've never driven one, sat in a few. But never lived with one. 

With the assumption that any prospective car would need a fair amount of regular maintenance and a healthy does of baselining, are they as good as I imagine them to be? This isn't in reference to the chrome window trimmed "standard" trim levels, but specifically the shadowline/M Tech/what's it called package. 

Realistically, from my research it looks like the 530 M Tech is just as good (or close) with slightly better fuel economy and less upkeep. Having had an E36 ages ago, I wouldn't turn down that inline 6 either. But you know, V8 noises and all that. 

Who's been behind the wheel of either a 530 or 540 for an extended period of time? There is so much myth and legend around the chassis that I can't tell what's real. Either basket cases or 200k+ examples that are beat on regularly. Should I get it off it's damn pedestal and have a reality check? Or do I just need to own one to figure it out? 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
4/27/23 2:02 p.m.

I've got a long weekend in a 540i Sport and a decade in an M5. It's a great distance cruiser and a very nice car around town. It's pretty much the perfect size - big enough for four adults and luggage, but not bloated.

They definitely need some maintenance and they have their particular quirks, but since it's a fairly high volume chassis these quirks are all understood and there are solutions for them. As always, I'd always get the best you can afford because it'll be less expensive than trying to rescue a basket case.

Working on the M5 engine is difficult because the chassis wasn't built to take it. I don't know about the 540 engine in that regard, but I believe it did have an effect on the steering rack and thus feel. Not sure how the M5 varies there.

Prices are probably pretty stable, so if you get one and you don't like it you can always sell it to someone else without too much financial pain :)

codrus (Forum Supporter)
codrus (Forum Supporter) PowerDork
4/27/23 2:39 p.m.

A friend of mine had one (540i/6-speed M package), I drove it a couple times and was a little underwhelmed by the motor.  It wasn't *bad*, but it was a bit lazier-feeling than the 4.2 Audi V8s (B6/B7 S4, S5, etc) I was used to driving.  More low end torque, but it falls off a lot faster and has a lower redline so it doesn't give the same satisfaction to winding it out that I was used to.

I haven't driven an M5, but from looking at dyno sheets/etc I expect it would it to have more of the "wind it out" feeling.

So it kinda depends on what you're looking for.

 

 

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
4/27/23 3:05 p.m.

Like any BMW, look for one that's been cared for and has service records.

Byrneon27
Byrneon27 HalfDork
4/27/23 3:08 p.m.

Largely by happenstance the three darkest periods in my life have ended in the purchase of three equally rough E39s to say I have some blinders/unrealistic love for this chassis is understating things. 

 

That said I recently impulse bought a rough but not ruined 540i/6 and it may very well be the most sublime car ever. It's excellent at nothing but making me smile, it maintenance needs are considerably higher than the MK7 GTI it isn't really faster or nicer than. If you get that it's a smile machine not a race winner and certainly not a sports car you'll love it. 

 

Get ready to change a lot of bushings, learn some unique wiring repairs, and learn how to power wash your driveway. 

E34 or X5 intake manifold, N62 throttle body, 4" MAF, 4" intake, tune, and a mufflerecotomy and the responsiveness and sound is on point, enough power but not too fast to toy with on the street. 

Tyler H
Tyler H UberDork
4/27/23 3:24 p.m.

I bought one with a blown headgasket and swapped in a low-mi junkyard engine for my daughter's first car.  These look much larger in pictures than they actually are.  They're pretty svelte my modern standards, with low belt lines and a clear view over the hood.  They're a joy to drive, practical and comfortable.  Lots of little quality issues to overcome with trim issues, plastic stuff is brittle (disitegrating fender liners, brittle hoses.)  

If you like tinkering and knock out all the little issues, they're great cruisers.

Edit - I'm speaking for the 535i.  I just saw you meant 540.  I would get a 535i with a manual 10 times out of 10 over the 540, if for no other reason than getting rack and pinion steering.  The 540 includes most of the complexity and expense of the M5 without the swagger.

 

buzzboy
buzzboy SuperDork
4/27/23 3:30 p.m.

I can find an E39, sedan, and an E39(2), wagon, but what is an E39/6? I thought I was good on my BMW chassis codes but this one is stumping me.

My friend has owned a manual E39 528iT for many years and probably 100k. It's been a great car to him. Cheap parts, easy to work on, fun to drive and very practical. There are plenty of E39 chassis cars in junkyards to provide parts. His has needed an ignition switch and a light control module and about nothing else.

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
4/27/23 4:08 p.m.
buzzboy said:

I can find an E39, sedan, and an E39(2), wagon, but what is an E39/6? I thought I was good on my BMW chassis codes but this one is stumping me.

My friend has owned a manual E39 528iT for many years and probably 100k. It's been a great car to him. Cheap parts, easy to work on, fun to drive and very practical. There are plenty of E39 chassis cars in junkyards to provide parts. His has needed an ignition switch and a light control module and about nothing else.

6 spd manual transmission vs slushbox.

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
4/27/23 5:36 p.m.

Personally, after owning an M5, 540, and another supercharged 540 (all e39), I cant justify the complexity and maintenance issues with either. Give me a 528i with an s54 swap or supercharge the 528i and call it a day. 

Valley pan gaskets, watercooled alternators, hydro steering, cooling systems, valve cover gaskets, control arm bushings, more than I can remember. 

M5 replica front bumper, some decal deletes, and you have a great looking sleeper. Love looking at them just wasnt a big fan of working on them (v8 powered I mean). 

Edit: Forgot timing chain guides.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
4/27/23 6:25 p.m.

In reply to codrus (Forum Supporter) :

The M5 engine definitely likes the top end. Max power is up near redline. Wonderful engine. Has high maintenance needs, but so does any supercar :) I think there's a considerable difference in overall feel between a 540 and an M5, so maybe the six is the way to go if you're not going all the way to the M. Can't say from personal experience. The 540 was a nice enough car, the M5 feels special. 

The previous comment about bushings is right on, they make a big difference. There's one (thrust arm?) where substituting an X5 part is a nice upgrade. 

CyberEric
CyberEric Dork
4/27/23 6:30 p.m.

My dad had a 2000 540i 6MT with M sport package from 2007-2015. I spent plenty of time with it. Stock except for a 545i short shift kit and clutch stop from UUC.

I liked driving it, tons of low end torque, handled pretty well, and was a great size. Plus it looked great. But it was what drove my dad from a string of BMWs to Mazda. Water cooler alternator going kaput was the last straw for him. I don't remember what else went wrong, but he got annoyed and he rarely drive it.
 

I'm with OleMiss540, I'd probably look for a 530i with a MT if I really wanted an E39. Not as fast but they've got rack and pinion steering that not even the M5 gets and have an engine with more space around it and less water cooled alternators (I think). 
 

That said, I had an E36 M3 with lots of suspension mods at the time and that 540i felt as fast or faster in a straight line with all that torque. Great autobahn crusier with the 6 speed too, you could go 100 and not know it. I once played with a friend 911 turbo in the canyons. Brakes were smoking but it sort of stayed with it. Two things I hated, the shift knob always popped off on a hard one-two shift, and the power steering seemed like it lost boost in heavy cornering, weird. And the handling was nowhere near as good as the E36. But I like how hard it would pull down low, felt like a freight train coming on the on ramp. It didn't rev very high and I'd slam into the rev limiter easily. 

calteg
calteg SuperDork
4/27/23 7:00 p.m.

Put me in the "overhyped" camp. I think the E39 M5 was revolutionary...25 years ago. Now the market is lousy with 400hp + sedans and the M5 has appreciated, there are many cheaper, better options out there 

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
4/27/23 7:23 p.m.

In reply to calteg :

The run of the mill EV is faster in most street situations, just as serene on the highway and about the same size, but the BMW feels like a treat when I drive it :) Also, when you really let it off the leash it's quite a beast. Very mechanical feeling.

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
4/27/23 7:28 p.m.

In reply to Keith Tanner :

Six cylinder cars had racks, V8 cars had recirculating ball steering boxes.

At least, the E39 530 and 540 had boxes. Not sure about the M5.

02Pilot
02Pilot PowerDork
4/27/23 7:34 p.m.

Don't know the V8s first-hand, but I love the chassis. I was never willing to put up with the costs of the M5 or the leaky, expensive 540i V8. My fantasy was to S54 swap my 525i, which I think would be the perfect E39, but in lieu of that, the 530i with the sport package (to get the good seats) and the 6 speed is as close as you're going to get without significant effort.

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
4/27/23 7:37 p.m.
calteg said:

Put me in the "overhyped" camp. I think the E39 M5 was revolutionary...25 years ago. Now the market is lousy with 400hp + sedans and the M5 has appreciated, there are many cheaper, better options out there 

Maybe, but they became heavy and even more disconnected. 

Also name one that spins your head around as fast as something that looks like this: https://www.autotrader.com/cars-for-sale/vehicledetails.xhtml?listingId=679358562&allListingType=all-cars&makeCodeList=BMW&modelCodeList=M5&city=Saint%20Louis&state=MO&zip=63101&requestId=2152820002&searchRadius=500&marketExtension=include&endYear=2003&isNewSearch=false&showAccelerateBanner=false&sortBy=relevance&numRecords=25&referrer=%2Fcars-for-sale%2Fall-cars%2Fbmw%2Fm5%2Fsaint-louis-mo%3FrequestId%3D2152820002%26searchRadius%3D500%26zip%3D63101%26marketExtension%3Dinclude%26endYear%3D2003%26isNewSearch%3Dfalse%26showAccelerateBanner%3Dfalse%26sortBy%3Drelevance%26numRecords%3D25&clickType=listing

Now an e28 m5 with 285hp and 3153 lbs and you basically have an e30 m3 mashed into an e39 m5. Love.. :-) E36 m3 sedan with a completely refinished interior may be second place for me. 

Caperix
Caperix Reader
4/27/23 7:56 p.m.

The e39 m5 was one of my favorite bmw's. It's still high on my to own list but current pricing is getting very high.  The 6 cylinder cars are less maintenance heavy than the v8, both are 20 year old minimum german cars though.  I don't think the 3.0 was ever offered with a manual though so you would be limited to the 2.5 or older 2.8.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
4/27/23 8:01 p.m.

In reply to Pete. (l33t FS) :

I tend to use "steering rack" generically because I'm lazy. 

Made me look, though. M5 has a box, but a faster ratio than the other V8 cars and speed sensitive assist, which is probably why you don't hear the same complaints about it. It also had the first "sport" button that decreased steering assist and remapped the throttle. Also, it originated angel eyes :)

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
4/27/23 8:06 p.m.

A friend who is is a BMW fan - he's got a clownshoe with the hot engine - is a big fan of the Sporty Shorty. Basically, a 540i in a 7 series chassis. 740i M Sport short wheelbase. 

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
4/27/23 8:08 p.m.

Even though it's an auto, I do enjoy driving my son's 2003 530i with the sport package.  There's something special about the chassis.  My wife doesn't particularly like the car because control efforts are a little on the heavy side, but the driver is rewarded with a feeling of control and precision that literally every other car I've ever driven seems to lack.  I wanted a stick shift car, but this automatic came along and it was so clean I didn't want to pass it up.  We've been very happy with it for four years now, taken it from 120k to 170k miles.  The inline six is responsive and pulls strongly from a stop.  I wouldn't want my kids driving anything faster, and the 6 tends to age a lot better and less expensively than the V8's.  Lately it's pulling down over 23 mpg on premium, which ain't great, but hey, even 20 years from new, it's a sweet-looking and very sweet-driving car.

m4ff3w
m4ff3w UberDork
4/27/23 8:49 p.m.

I loved my 540i/6 and the 545i/6 that replaced it.

Just really great cars.

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
4/27/23 9:31 p.m.
m4ff3w said:

I loved my 540i/6 and the 545i/6 that replaced it.

Guys! Found him! Found the masochist right here! 

I mean, they added idrive to the don't drive v8 package and leveled it up big time in the $50k to $8k in 50k miles challenge :-).

Sorry, couldn't resist. 

Pete. (l33t FS)
Pete. (l33t FS) MegaDork
4/27/23 9:48 p.m.
Olemiss540 said:
m4ff3w said:

I loved my 540i/6 and the 545i/6 that replaced it.

Guys! Found him! Found the masochist right here! 

https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/reader-rides/5384/

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
4/27/23 10:01 p.m.
Olemiss540 said:

Personally, after owning an M5 and a 540 (both e39), I cant justify the complexity and maintenance issues with either. Give me a 528i with an s54 swap or supercharge the 528i and call it a day. 

Valley pan gaskets, watercooled alternators, hydro steering, cooling systems, valve cover gaskets, control arm bushings, more than I can remember. 

M5 replica front bumper, some decal deletes, and you have a great looking sleeper. Love looking at them just wasnt a big fan of working on them (v8 powered I mean). 

Big car with V8, too much to maintain.

Motor swap a car with an engine meant for a car that weighs hundreds of pounds less. This will definitely be less of a hassle.

 

This is why GRM is great.

Olemiss540
Olemiss540 HalfDork
4/27/23 10:32 p.m.
Pete. (l33t FS) said:
Olemiss540 said:
m4ff3w said:

I loved my 540i/6 and the 545i/6 that replaced it.

Guys! Found him! Found the masochist right here! 

https://grassrootsmotorsports.com/reader-rides/5384/

:-)

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