Home » V8s Along The Low Road: 2001 BMW 540i vs 2006 Ford Mustang

V8s Along The Low Road: 2001 BMW 540i vs 2006 Ford Mustang

Sbsd 11 1 2023
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Good morning! Today’s Shitbox Showdown takes us to the southernmost cross-country interstate in the country: Interstate 10, from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California. We’re looking at two sleek black stickshift V8s, one from each end. But first, let’s finish up with yesterday’s Subarus:

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Yeah, I figured. That would be my choice too. Also, I see by the low comment count and voting total that you all shared my lack of enthusiasm for these two. Point taken, lesson learned. If I don’t care about the cars, you won’t either. So let’s move on to something more interesting, shall we?

Interstate 10 runs along the south of the country, from the Sunshine State to the Golden State. There is no chance of running into a snowstorm along this route, so it seems the perfect place to look for rear-wheel-drive V8-powered cars with manual transmissions. And lo and behold, I found a couple. Let’s check them out.

2001 BMW 540i – $3,900

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.4 liter dual overhead cam V8, six-speed manual, RWD

Location: Orlando, FL

Odometer reading: 242,000 miles

Runs/drives? Yep

The E39-chassis BMW 5 Series is a popular car around here. Matt has one. So does Mercedes. Both of theirs, however, have BMW’s admittedly excellent inline six under the hood. This one does not. The 540i is powered instead by a 4.4 liter V8, which I’ve heard turns it into a completely different animal. I’ve never had the chance to drive one myself, but as good as a six-cylinder E39 is, I can only imagine that more horsepower makes it even better.

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It also, however, makes it a hell of a lot more complex. These cars can be reliable, more or less, if the maintenance is kept up – but “maintenance” is a broad term that can include preventive replacement of the timing chains and the entire cooling system. With as many miles as this one has on it, we can assume it has received all that and more, or it wouldn’t still be running, but a thorough inspection is the only prudent course of action.

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Overall, though, this car is in beautiful condition for its age and mileage. The paint is still shiny, the interior is intact and clean, and it looks completely stock, which itself is rare for an old fast BMW. There are a lot of electric and electronic gadgets in this car, and one can assume that at least some of it no longer works. But finding stuff like that is just part of the initiation ritual when purchasing a car like this; the first day, you push all the buttons and see which ones don’t do anything, and you start making your list of things to fix.

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I don’t know that I would trust this car as a daily driver, at least without a backup, but it would be a fun weekend toy. The E39 is a fantastic handling car; it’s still the standard by which other cars are measured. This V8-powered one is an order of magnitude more complicated than the six-cylinder variants, but it’s still just nuts and bolts – if you have the knowledge and the patience, you can keep it going.

2006 Ford Mustang GT – $4,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 4.6 liter overhead cam V8, five-speed manual, RWD

Location: Los Feliz, CA

Odometer reading: 200,000 miles

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Runs/drives? Indeed

When it comes to three-pedal V8 fun, however, you can’t go too far wrong with a good old Ford Mustang. This simple, working-class hero has been available with a V8 and a stick since before Dylan went electric. (Well, if you don’t count 1974, that is.) For 2005, the Mustang was redesigned with a retro shape reminiscent of the first generation, joining the retro-styling movement alongside Volkswagen and Mini. Personally, I’ve never been too fond of this style Mustang, at least as a coupe, but I think it works as a convertible.

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This Mustang is a GT model, and as such, has a 4.6 liter version of Ford’s “Modular” V8 under the hood. This one has three valves per cylinder, and sends a nice even 300 horsepower to the rear wheels through a five-speed stick. This one runs “excellent,” the seller says, even with 200,000 miles on the odometer. It isn’t quite stock; it breathes through a Roush cold-air intake that may or may not actually add any horsepower, but I bet it makes it sound faster anyway.

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Compared to the BMW, this car is a bit crude inside, but when you consider their original price points and intended markets, that isn’t surprising. It’s in good shape at least, except for the carpet, and that can be solved with a set of floor mats. A black leather interior isn’t ideal for a convertible, though – those seats can get awfully hot in the sun. Here’s hoping the air conditioner works.

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Outside, it looks good in basic black, except for some scorched clearcoat on the hood. It looks like the top is in good condition, but most of the photos show the top down, so it’s hard to say. At least the Mustang has a glass rear window, so you don’t have to worry about a plastic window going all opaque.

These cars weren’t competitors when they were new, but time is the great equalizer, and twenty years after the fact, they have more in common than it may seem at first glance. They’re similar in price, not too far apart in performance, both manuals, and both fun to drive in their own way. So the choice is yours: refined sports sedan, or rowdy pony car?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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MikuhlBrian
MikuhlBrian
7 months ago

I owned a 2006 Mustang GT convertible with a 5-spd manual. It was a great car, great cruiser, sounded great with the Borla Axle-Back exhaust. Routinely got 23-25 mpg on long highway drives. Great fun when the road got twisty.

But, i’ve never owned an E39 and always have wanted to so i’d lean to the BMW in this case.

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
7 months ago

Oh,tight race today. I voted for the BMW mostly because i don’t like convertibles,and also the BMW looks nearly perfect. I know it will require more maintenance but what is life without risk.

Paul Wilcox
Paul Wilcox
7 months ago

I’m a V8 E39 person, having owned a 540/6 and then two M5s. I thought all the 540 6-speeds were sport package cars. That car has the sport package wheels and the sport steering wheel, but the seats are not sport seats. Also, while this is more debatable, the ride height looks like the non-sport ride height.

Joe The Drummer
Joe The Drummer
7 months ago

I’m just here to quote my late uncle, whose teen years and young adulthood in south Alabama were basically script notes from “Dazed And Confused,” who once cryptically said, “Man, if I-10 could talk…”

‘Stang for me. I got 99 problems but a finicky German sedan ain’t one.

It'll buff out
It'll buff out
7 months ago

This is tough. I have owned both an E39 BMW and two SN95 Mustang’s. My Beemer had the inline-6 and manual, rather than the V-8. Have owned two 4.6L Mustangs ’05 GT auto, and an ’06 manual. When everything is working (which is never) the E39 is a beautiful thing to drive. You just feel like you could get on the Autobahn and drive until you run out of gas, and you wont be the slightest bit uncomfortable…except for the 3 warning lights that came on since you left the house. There was absolutely nothing (including an oil filter) that you could get at your local auto parts store for that car, and that was 15 years ago.

As for the Mustang. You could repaint that hood, and put a new carpet set in it for what the parts for a brake job on that BMW will cost, and the Mustang will make that sweet V-8 rumble (one of the best sounding factory exhaust systems ever), every time you turn the key, and you just feel like “Daddy’s home”. An alternator for it is like $65 new, at the local auto parts store, if you are in a hurry, and about $55 on Rock Auto.com, if you are not, and takes 20 mins to change.

Everyone should experience the E39 BMW for at least a while, to understand what all of this “Ultimate Driving Machine” stuff is all about. The V-8 is likely a magnitude better, too. Then….get the F rid of it, before it breaks (unless you are a retired BMW factory tech with a parts “hook up” in Germany).

If you want to do more than commute, and actually have a driving experience, on the way to work; get the BMW. If you actually want to drive it, again, and make it home from work; get the Mustang.

For me it’s the Mustang by a nose. Unless I find a good BMW shop, who works for beer, and has a huge stash of cheap OEM parts….

Last edited 7 months ago by It'll buff out
Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
7 months ago

I’ll take the Beemer!

Ricardo
Ricardo
7 months ago

convertible Mustang is going to deliver more feelings for me that a tired 540 even though it is manual.

Mustang parts are everwhere and cheap as well.

Rahul Mandala
Rahul Mandala
7 months ago
Reply to  Ricardo

Sure, the Mustang parts are undoubtedly cheap and common, and American V8s deliver an exhaust note of the gods, but throw some quality headers on the 540 and go to town! It’s still badass!

JDE
JDE
7 months ago

2001 4.4, man that is scary at those miles, but with a manual and it still currently functioning, it is hard to pass up. the mustang with a 4.6 will likely go another 50K before too much really serious issues, but it is hard to look past the BMW in this instance.

Eric Gonzalez
Eric Gonzalez
7 months ago

I’ve owned an E39 for 15+ years and it’s one of the most reliable cars I’ve ever had. Do the chain guides and simply keep up with maintenance, USING OEM PARTS, and it will take care of you for a very long time. Manuals are especially reliable. There are no issues with electronics as in old Italian or English cars either.

The biggest issue with E39s is that some parts are starting to become NLA. I would at least go and check that 540i out in a heartbeat if it was closer. The only thing I see wrong with it is that’s missing most of the wheel well plastic covers, so who knows what’s and what’s not under there. Those plastic bits are one of those NLA things by the way.

Last edited 7 months ago by Eric Gonzalez
OrigamiSensei
OrigamiSensei
7 months ago

I know nothing is more expensive than a cheap German luxury car but an E39 with a V8 in manual? Color me intrigued. Being in that shape at that mileage would tend to indicate some decent level of maintenance and the price is certainly attractive. I think this may be the first time I’ve ever voted for a BMW in one of these deals.

There’s nothing terrible about the ‘Stang but having owned and thoroughly loved a ’66 convertible in my 20s it’s more of a case of “been there, done that” for me. When I get another convertible it certainly won’t be a Mustang from the aughts.

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