• my E39 540i 6sp is an amazing machine – endless power, squeak-free at almost 200k miles, liquid-nitrogen-cold AC – but it really feels like overkill for the limited driving i do – lots of fussy, expensive bits under the hood – makes my credit cards all jumpy and excitable – i'd trade it for a clean and cared-for E28 535i

  • I have been shopping for an E car as well. Here is my current list
    E39 M5 – Legend status, fast as hell, probably will appreciate. Cons – 12mpg, expensive,
    E34 M5 – Rare, is and will appreciate, super fun. Cons – hard to find
    E36 M3 sedan – More practical, very fun, Great online support. Cons – not as special, missing independent throttle bodies, hard to find on that isn't beat, auto, or riced.
    E46 M3 Epic. Cons – I have two kids
    E46 330i Much more practical, quick enough, reliable. Cons – not nearly as cool as above cars.

    I have my eye on these two cars
    E39
    E34
    Any other suggestions/advise would be greatly appreciated

    • This E39 M5 is local to me and in amazing condition. 175k miles but the price leaves you with a smile.
      rochester.craigslist.org/cto/4725305929.html

      go for it. owner and his son are diehard car guys of the best kind.

  • I'm probably stating the obvious here but if you're getting E39 M5 you want one that the mains have been professionally replaced. They go with 13B-REW-like clockwork around 100k+

  • Very good info indeed! and if I am following along correctly then something like this might be appropriate?

    denver.craigslist.org/cto/4727007443.html

  • The most important thing to note about M cars, is the M stands for Money. A rebuilt S38 can cost close to 16K. For 5K, you're not going to get a very good one. I would try to get an E34 540i (that's had the motor replaced if possible – nikasil issues), or the E39 540i with a 6 spd, as kaibeezy stated. An E30 with a low mileage S52 would be nice, but would likely be over the price range.

  • I typed out a nice long comment yesterday but it vanished into the Blogger etherweb…Google, are you listening?

    To paraphrase:

    Since you seem to be looking for a late '80s – late '90s BMW in the $5k price range, there are several options that would be great and fun cars – but for different purposes.

    What's the main reason you want one of these, and what type of driving will you be doing?

    Mostly around town / twisties / trackdays / general hoonage: E36 M3 all the way. It is much more lithe and direct than a 5 Series ever could be. Steering is almost telepathic and the aftermarket is huge. They are at the bottom of their depreciation curve but as noted, it will be hard to find one for $5k that hasn't been spanked. Save up and buy the nicest one you can afford. The later E46 M3 is much more powerful and does just about everything better than the E36, but the engines alone are worth $5k. Those cars are still depreciating and likely won't be in your budget anytime soon.

    High Speed / Road Trips / Highway Commuting: 5 Series. In your price range you could find a very nice E34 525i, but those have less than 200hp from a 2.5L inline six (M50). Lots of upgrades are possible since the engine shares many parts with the S52 in the E36 M3. But this is a heavy car. You can also find nice E34 M5s near $5k. I bought one and a good friend just bought another. They will be needier, costlier to service. The S38 engine is a true BMW racing engine that happens to be shoved into a midsize sedan. They sound glorious and can make metric ass-tons of power, but upgrades aren't cheap. Rebuilds are prohibitively expensive as noted by Anon above. Find one that has already been rebuilt or has low miles but cosmetic needs. They are awesome highway cruisers but not really at home in traffic or doing daily duties. Also near $5k are the E34 540i and later E39 540i. These have a 4.0L V8 and some have a 6-spd manual. This is more of a cruiser / muscle car in a German wrapper. Will be cheaper to own than an E34 M5 but not as "pure" in a BMW-douchebag-purist sense, if that matters.

    Shuttling diplomats around / starting your own car for hire service / need maximum space or comfort: E38 7 Series. If you want a sporty car, don't look here. Sure they are closer to being a driver's car than a comparable S-Class Mercedes, they have classic good looks and some cachet, but won't be anywhere near as quick or responsive as an M3 or M5.

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